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Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Let’s hear it for the hog

Well, I’ve always heard, but I ain’t too sure,

That a man’s best friend is a mangy cur.

I kinda favor the hog myself.

How ‘bout a hand for the hog!

— Roger Miller

I read the other day that someone somewhere had done some calculations and come to the conclusion that your average American eats 28 pigs a year!

I don’t know just what, exactly, they base that figure on, but I can say, without fear of contradiction, that I and my family and most of my friends have always done our part to keep pork consumption high. We are serious about swine.

Now I can’t claim any particular expertise when it comes to pigs. I only raised one. She ate what we gave her and fattened up real nice. I don’t recall mourning her passing, but I do recall enjoying the meat.

It’s like this. On a farm everything had a purpose, and a pig’s purpose is to get eaten.

Which is why farm folks I knew never made pets out of pigs. Still, among pig raisers I recall a certain respect for the animals, and that respect was most evident at killing time.

I have witnessed only a few hog killings. They were long ago and all sorta run together now, but thinking of them as one, what I remember most was the cold and the efficiency. It was cold because, even though by then we had refrigerators, you killed hogs in winter, when there was less chance of the meat spoiling. It was efficient because, after years of practice, those doing the killing, the cleaning and the carving-up, knew what to do and how to do it.

There was not a lot of talking and socializing, with the work. Those involved were intent on getting the job done as quickly as they could and, though it may seem odd to say it, with as little inconvenience as possible to the pigs.

Now, of course, there is a certain inconvenience in getting killed. But in the killing, there appeared an acknowledgement of the significance of the pig’s sacrifice. There was no laughing, joking or kidding around the way Southerners usually do when they get together. Death was serious business. And it was not until all the pigs had become pork that the mood shifted. That’s when they divided up the meat, setting some aside for smoking, and started rendering the fat into “cracklings” for cornbread. Then there was a scramble to claim the parts that the very mention of today causes consternation in polite circles – chitlins, brains, feet, knuckles, and of course, liver and lights (if you don’t know, look it up).

My Daddy was particularly good at taking bits and pieces and making hog’s head cheese, to which country connoisseurs gave their highest praise – “ain’t a hair in it.”

Today, most people who eat those delicacies don’t even know it. They are consumed as “assorted pork parts” that are unidentifiable in potted meat, bologna, sausage, and stuff like that – which, I suppose, was figured into the 28-pig calculation.

Which is a shame, for chitlins, knuckles, liver and lights once enabled Southerners to make two pigs out of one, and in the hardscrabble South, quantity mattered.

But so did quality. Southerners learned to do wonderful things with these, the least and the leavings. Which is why I’ll take pickled pig’s feet over ground-up pork parts any day.

Yessir, “How ‘bout a hand for the hog!”

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.