A Family Tradition
Every year for dozens of years, the Schwenk family has gathered at the family farm for a weekend of hog butchering. The tradition goes back to the days when farm families gathered to share the work and put the meat on the table. Four generations helped with this year's butchering.
Logan Niehaus of Ireland, 12, center, took aim at one of the pigs with a .22-caliber rifle as his cousins Jared Schwenk of Jasper, 12, left, Travis Main of Ireland, Chase Schwenk of Jasper, 16, and family friend Brian Schmitt of Ireland watched. Most of the young men took a turn at shooting a pig.
A tradition that began with Herb Schwenk’s family before his time has continued annually over the years on the family farm in Ireland. Now 87 years old, Herb has passed on the knowledge to keep the tradition alive to his children, grandchildren, in-laws and some family friends. Herb’s son Keith Schwenk of Ireland checked the temperature of a vat filled with water and quicklime. “It’s my magic potion,” he said jokingly. After the hogs are killed, they are placed in the mixture heated to 145 degrees, a temperature high enough to loosen hair from the body without cooking the pig.
No members of the family shy away from any portion of the butchering, no matter how dirty the task.
Mike Schwenk of Ireland, Herb’s oldest son, hosed down the hogs before processing them. The organs — kidneys, livers, spleens, lungs, hearts and sweetbreads — are all put into separate piles to be used later. The only portions of a pig that the Schwenks don’t use are the stomach and the intestines. The family butchered 16 hogs this year.
The Schwenk family has been taught by Herb to use every part of the pig possible, including the head. The family turn the heads into head cheese, which several family members said is best served on a cracker with spicy mustard. The only portion of the pigs not used are the stomach and the intestines.
Jared Schwenk of Jasper, 12, used his digital camera to capture the process of the family tradition, including photographs of the livers piled on a table. Jared said he would receive extra credit in his science class for sharing the photos with his classmates.
With the farthest-away family member traveling from Evansville, all 12 of Herb’s children and many of their spouses and children come together to help with the family tradition throughout the weekend. Ron Schwenk of Ireland, second from left, laughed with his sister Shelly Main of Ireland as Ron processed a pig’s head. Also helping with the process was Shelly’s husband, Roy, left, and her son, Travis, right.
Rendering the lard was one of the last tasks the Schwenk family finished before the final cleanup began. The rendering process requires the lard to be constantly stirred, so Mark Kordes of Jasper, clockwise from front left around the kettle, Roy Main of Ireland, Nicholas Hoffman of Birdseye, 16, and Nathan Verkamp of Jasper took turns stirring the lard. Josh Dahmer of Evansville, back left, watched and helped stir as well.
Hannah Schwenk of Jasper, 9, watched as the head cheese was mixed. While some of the family members don’t like the head cheese, the several members that do say it’s best served on a cracker with spicy mustard.
During the annual hog butchering weekend, family members make ground pork sausage, liver sausage, blood sausage, head cheese, pickled pigs feet and lard and carve the meat into select cuts.
Marilyn “Toot” Schwenk of Ireland handed her brother-in-law Roy Main of Ireland a freshly cooked piece of liver as she made liver and onions for the family to eat for lunch on the second day of butchering.