Sometimes the most eye opening experiences are also the simplest. If you live in St. Louis, you should know Lona’s Lil Eats. If you don’t know, then read on and prepared to have your mind blown. We had the pleasure of hosting Lona, Pierce and their family at the farm for a special experience. Lona wanted the opportunity to slaughter and butcher chickens and hogs like she did back in her tiny hill tribe village in southern China. When she said that all she needed was the animals and hot water we were intrigued to say the least. So on Monday afternoon, we got her all set up and we ended up learning all about her culture and her tribe’s butchering methods. And we learned just how much of a badass Lona really is. Our minds were blown.
More about Lona: Lona grew up in a tiny hill tribe in southwestern China’s Yunnan province. It’s also very close to the northern border of Thailand, so a lot of her cooking is a fusion of these two cuisines. Her father is a member of the Luo Luo people, an ethnic group of cattle herders. Lona’s mother enjoys spending her days collecting herbs and firewood from the jungle. By middle school, Lona was in charge of cooking every meal of the day for her and her brothers. Her village is sub-tropical, high mountain and specializes in teas, orchids and of course, delicious fresh food. The village is home to only about 50 people. And in case you want to visit this beautiful village, you would need to take a flight into Shanghai, then a three hour charter flight. Then a fifteen hour bus trip and then walk into the village on the dirt path or get someone to pick you up on their motorbike.
We got in contact with Lona via her husband Pierce via his brother, Henry, who used to go to high school with Dave. Lona mentioned that she had wanted to slaughter and butcher a pig the way that she used to do in her village. It just so happened that the same day we were butchering some of our old chickens for stock and she took some of those home as well. When we asked what we needed for her, all she asked was for some hot water. We set up a propane burner with a 55-gallon barrel full of water under our harvest station; readied a a stainless steel table for her, and then away we went! What happened next was a lot of lessons about her village’s culture and how they butcher their animals.
NOTE: If you aren’t interested in hearing about or seeing how animals are butchered in her tiny Chinese village, then you may want to skip the rest of this post and visit us later!
When she showed up, she went out to our chickens and grabbed up a handful of our old biddies. The way she slaughtered them was so gentle, fast and quiet. She had someone hold them at their feet and hold the wings behind their back, Lona plucked a few feathers right underneath their waddles to get a good clean cut at their artery and made a tiny cut at their neck, not too deep at all. Then she arched their head back ever so slightly, kinda like a pez dispenser, allowing the bird to bleed out quickly. She let the blood pool into a shallow bowl to save it for later. There wasn’t a lot of death flaps or anything. The bird was extremely still and quiet.
I asked her what she did with the chicken blood and she said that she mixes it with sticky rice to form a blood/rice patty. Then she adds it to soup. The blood is apparently very cleansing, especially for people in her region. The dust from the mountains settles in their lungs and digestive system. The chicken blood helps purify the dust that’s built up in their system. Who knew?!
The chickens were then ready to be scalded, plucked and gutted. The same way we do ours. But I noticed that her friend was taking the small intestine and started to clean them out. I’ve heard to saving livers (which we do) and the liver/heart for eating or dog treats. But the small intestine? Never! She squeezed out all of the gross stuff, then cut them in half by threading them through a tip of a knife. Of course, I had to ask what to do with chicken intestine. She stir fries or sautes them like noodles and adds ginger and maybe some fish sauce. So… there’s another way to use parts of your butchered chickens!
Lona has been butchering chickens exactly like this since she was a young teenager. Wrangling up chickens, bleeding them, plucking and gutting them and saving every part of the innards they could use. The only tools she needed was a knife and a pot of hot water for scalding the feathers. By the time that they were done with their chickens, and had all of their innards cleaned and saved, we were ready to do the pig.
Back in her village, she said that the men used to do the pig slaughtering and the women stuck to the chickens, goats, deer, etc. The men would just grab up a 300+ lb pig, one person per leg and stab it once through the heart and let the blood drain into a bucket to keep for later. Of course, the pig would be screaming and kicking and the men would just hold on tight until it was done. That was crazy. We didn’t do that. We stunned it with a .22 gun, then once it dropped, Lona went in and made one swift and small cut right to the heart to bleed it out into a bucket. Once most of the blood was drained out, she plugged the knives’ small hole with a round stick.
Then it was time to start scalding and scraping the pig. In her village, one person would be on hot water duty, pouring and endless supply of hot water over the skin while another person held the skin taught and the third person would scrape the hair and skin. They would work in small sections, doing the head, front leg, side/belly and hind leg then flipping and continuing to do the other side until finished. They work very efficiently, our first time doing it wasn’t so quick and easy. But hey, we haven’t had hundreds of years of practice. Once the pig was scalded and scraped to her liking, it was time to start gutting. But first, she rinsed off the pig and rubbed salt around the skin to pull out any other dirt or impurities.
I thought we were going to hang it in some way and gut it from end to end but they don’t need any extra equipment for gutting. Again, all that’s needed is a knife. We laid the pig on our table and she cut off the head, keeping any extra blood that drained from the major arteries. Then she cut off the front and rear hocks. This was so badass. She cut down to the bone right at the knee joint then twisted and made one clean break. No bone saw needed for Lona! All that was left was the center mass of the pig (belly/shoulder/loin/hams). She cut small slits in the skin where the hocks used to be so we cut use them as handles to keep the pig steady while she cut.
Very carefully, she gutted the pig starting from the tail and continuing up to the neck. The innards came out neat and clean, not messing up any of the meat, fat, or skin. She saved the offal that she wanted (heart/liver/kidney/spleen/etc). From there, she was ready to take it home and break the pork down into cuts. She mentioned that since her village doesn’t have any source or refrigeration, they salt cure every piece of meat. And that would be a really cool thing to learn someday. But still, I couldn’t believe that we were able to break down 10 chickens and a whole pig using only hot water and a few knives!
We hoped to giver her a little memory of her village back home. More than anything, we were thrilled to learn from her and her friends and family. Also, while we were cleaning up at the end of the day, one of our gilts started giving birth! So they were able to witness our new sow push out babies #2 and #3 out of 7!
But this all got us to thinking… it would be so interesting to learn different culture’s process of slaughtering/butchering pigs or other animals and how they use every part of the animal. What’s the South American way of butchering and using the animals? What about German? What about the different ways of roasting whole hogs? If anyone has an authentic cultural method of doing any of the above, please let us know, we would love to open up our farm and learn from you!
And again, big thanks for Lona and her friends/family for coming out and sharing their day with us at our farm. We hope it was as a great experience for them as it was for us! And for the love of Peeta Melark! Go and visit Lona’s Lil Eats! (2199 California Ave, St. Louis MO 63104)