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Where I’m From
by Jim Allen

After the Hog-Killin’

This is a tale of a country shenanigan and may not be something you would want to read during breakfast (or any other meal for that matter).

It had been hog-killin’ weather for a couple of months and most folks had their smokehouses or freezers filled with all the pork they’d need for the upcoming year. Country folks will tell you that the only thing left after efficiently butchering a hog is some bristle and a squeal. That’s not far from the truth.

At the end of a day of herding the hog(s), then all the lifting, hanging, scraping, cutting, chopping and sawing that goes along with the job, a person will be blessed with the fruits of the day’s labor: hams, shoulders, chops, loin, ribs, bacon, meat for sausage, hocks and jowls. But that’s barely half the critter and doesn’t touch on other organs and appendages that some people consider most delectable.

For instance, at breakfast, it’s hard to beat brains and eggs. To me, this chewy treat tastes like scrambled eggs with a hint of mild sausage. Ketchup is the condiment of choice for such a breakfast. Some folks insist that eating brains will make you smarter. You need to meet several people who eat brains on a regular basis before making that determination.

You can make gelatin from their hooves that can be used, along with meat that’s boiled from the skull and a little spice and vinegar, to make souse (head cheese). This manna from heaven with its occasional course snout hair, is a perfect spring or summer shade tree lunch when complimented with saltines and a cold RC cola. Souse should not be allowed to warm to room temperature. I remember on a couple of occasions, the electricity going out a Bard’s Grocery early in the evening after closing and things warming up in the meat cooler. Most everything could be salvaged the next day except for the souse. This precast, rubber-like block that had been shaken from its mold for display on a refrigerated rack would become an animated chunky goo that crawled into every crevice of the meat box. The store’s cat wouldn’t even touch it.

If not used in souse, ears, snouts, tails, and bones can be used in soup or to flavor a pot of beans. Stomachs (maws) can hold blood sausage or be used as a container for other meat and vegetable baked dishes. Skin can be used to make crackling for a snack food, crackling cornbread or deep-fried to make puffy pork rinds.

Then there are the ever-popular pickled pig’s feet. To eat a pickled pig’s foot properly, getting to all the little pieces of meat and cartilage that clings to the two dozen or more bones, can take the better part of an hour. Pig lips, snouts and tails can also be pickled.

Most animal intestines are considered to be a type of offal (some might say awful) that should be buried or otherwise disposed of. But swine intestines can be used to make sausage casings or cooked as an ingredient in some other dishes. There is even a special group of pork aficionados who insist that this part of a swine’s digestive system should be offered straight up as an entree, either boiled, fried or sometime grilled, accompanied with only a little nerve and some hot sauce. Chitlins, as they are called, are not for the faint of palate or smell. It is said that when cooking chitlins in a kitchen even the houseflies try to escape. You can turn the things inside out and scrub and soak for as long as you and several of your best and strongest friends can and you can’t reform a chitlin. They are what they are.

This is a chitlin story. There are few country people who don’t have at least one.

It was after the War in the late 40s and there was a boon in agriculture. With the era came better machines, new varieties of crops and livestock, better fertilizer, new pest control and better irrigation techniques. Along with these innovations came something that was alien to most people who made their living off the land, more leisure time.

The Dixie Farm Baseball League was born and teams from different districts traveled all over the South vying for various Southern Division pennants. Joe Trice played for a Missouri team that came to our county seat. Joe was a comedian who would point his bat, like Babe Ruth, toward a cotton field either behind right or left field and then bunt, hit a grounder or a line drive. He’d run to first then do somersaults while the pitcher wasn’t looking. He’d slide into base as fast as he could, head first, when there was absolutely no reason. Even though they trounced our poor boys, people learned to like Joe in the few days he was there. Apparently he liked our town too because, soon after the season ended, he came back.

Road construction was going on everywhere, and it just so happened Joe had built roads in the South Pacific during the War and immediately got a job on the state road crew. He played ball on the local team after work and on weekends.

Most everybody Joe worked with or played ball with ate chitlins. Chitlin cookings were often a multi-family or community event. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, birthdays, baptisms and even weddings were often followed with a big chitlin eating.

Joe was not a country boy. He was from St. Louis. He had used hog entrails like livers and kidneys for bait while fishing in the Mississippi River but had never considered putting such things in his own mouth.

At some gathering, I think they said it was the grand opening of the Five and Dime, Joe finally succumbed to peer pressure and had some fried chitlins. His new friends assured him that the innards of which he was about to partake had been thoroughly washed and scrubbed and not just pounded over a fallen tree or telegraph pole and rinsed (stump slung or stump whooped) like he’d heard of people doing. He found that chitlins weren’t near as bad as he expected. In fact, they were down right tasty!

A couple of weekends later, under a neighbor’s tractor shed, Joe would take the next chitlin challenge– boiled. He found, at first, the texture to be a little objectionable, but soon got the hang of it. As he started to get up for his third serving, a buddy patted him on the shoulder and told him to keep his seat while he fetched him more. In Joe’s empty plate a half-handful of corn chops was placed then covered with the boiled glop. A few minutes later, just as ol’ Joe ate down to the corn, the same buddy leaned down and whispered, "stump whooped."

That winter, Joe became a vegetarian.

Disclaimer: The story you just read is based on reality. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any likeness any character in this story has to you, your family or anybody you know or have known is completely coincidental.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006