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Cured Pork-Ham, Fatback and Jowls
Get Your Chin Greasy?
Having grown up here in rural Western North Carolina,most of the families who lived in the mill village where my family lived and in the nearby countryside grew almost all of their food supply. From the family garden we always had an abundance of green beans which were grown in several varieties. Seeds of favorite varieties had been saved from previous years crops or seeds were handed down by family members. Sweet peas or snow peas in the Spring and field peas similar to black eyed peas only not as robust in taste in the late summer and early Fall.
There were also several varieties of tomatoes. Big boys, Better Boys, German tomatoes with the pink and orange colors. Okra, squash and corn. Flour, sugar and coffee and a few other things were basically the only commodities that could not be locally grown and having them on hand meant a trip to town to an A&P or Winn-Dixie grocery store. My Grandmother also bartered butter and eggs from the farm at a mom and pop store near town for coffee, sugar and flour.
We were blessed to enjoy good country cooking and some mighty fine vituals most of which were seasoned with pork. Pork was a staple in our diet;especially, for the breakfast meal where we often ate fresh sausage, tenderloin or country cured ham. My Grandpa would sometimes laugh when he would ask us if we had gotten our chins good and greasy. We had no alarm clock but the smell of fresh pork sausage,tenderloin or country cured ham frying in mama's kitchen was all we needed to make us come out of bed and and hurry to get our clothes on and to the breakfast table.
Almost every family grew a garden where there would be an abundance of vegetables that would be preserved by canning or drying. Quart jars lined shelves in the cellar or were kept in secure place in an outside building. The building used for storing canned goods had been built partially underground below the freeze line to protect the jars from the elements.Those quart or sometimes half gallon Mason or Ball jars were filled with green beans,yellow squash, homemade vegetable soup and so much more. Peaches also were often canned and sometimes berries.
The green beans that would find their way to mama's canner were broken and strung under her watchful eyes and we all were expected to pitch in to help. Breaking and stringing beans became a family activity and was a great way to pass a hot summer afternoon doing something productive that would benefit the entire family. Some beans and peas were also shelled and canned. Many times mama would send us to the cellar or the "dairy" to get the jars of vegetables she might need to cook for a meal or berries or fruit (apple sauce) to make a pie or cobbler she was going to make for us.
It was not uncommon for folks to have several hogs they would feed until time they gained enough weight to slaughter, usually two to three hundred pounds. My daddy always had four to six hogs he would feed until the late winter when they would be slaughtered. He fed his hogs a feed that he called "shorts." When the piglets had been weaned from their mother, daddy would add warm water to the shorts and stir it all up creating a mush like texture which he would pour into their feeding trough. I suppose this may have given rise to the term "slopping the hogs." One thing for certain those piglets loved eating it and grew quickly.
The hog shorts smelled good enough for humans to eat and I don't mind confessing, out of curiosity I did taste that concoction! Maybe it was the combination of the smell and the happy grunts of all those little pigs that moved me to give it a taste. I was soon disappointed and educated at the same time,it sure smelled much better than it tasted! The shorts were actually made of ground corn and not that different from grits only a bit more coarse.
School lunch in the 1930's
Seasoned with Fatback
Most of us who were blessed to be born in the South and here in the mountains of Appalachia were brought up on biscuits, cornbread and hog meat. Around our meal time tables were have enjoyed eating foods that have been seasoned with salt pork. There are several names given this meat from a hogs middle. Sowbelly, streaked meat, middlings and fatback are a few. While nutritionists and maybe our family doctor will frown on consuming large amounts of salt, no other seasoning will satisfy a country boys palate like the taste of salted pork. It gives fried foods especially cabbage a college education.
Fatback comes from the belly area of a hog between the hams and shoulders. After butchering it is usually rectangular in shape and easy to lay down and pat with the curing salt. When used to season pieces may be cut approximately the size of an average bacon slice and added to green beans to season them or fatback may be fried in a cast iron pan cooked until crispy. The grease that remains may then be used to season cabbage or a pan of taters. Taters fried in sausage grease are especially tasty. Fatback is where we also get bacon!
Curing Pork belly-fatback
A New Year's day meal at our house just wouldn't be complete if we didn't have some good country cured hog jowls. No part of a hog goes to waste and recently I was talking to my brother in law about some hog ears that he had bought to try. No thanks! Jowls are a different story and if cured are very much like bacon. You can find them in your grocery meat market almost all year long and the butcher will most likely be happy to slice them for you.
My wife uses a pancake griddle to cook our hog jowls and they always turn out so crispy. They add so much to flavor of our traditional meal of collard greens and blackeyed peas.
Sugar Curing Hams
Ham or Shoulder
Who doesn't like a good country ham? Country cured ham has long been a favorite and as a young boy, I remember my daddy curing hams. and shoulders. Hams for those who don't know are the back legs and shoulders the front legs of a hog. Shoulders are just as good as the hams but usually are somewhat leaner and smaller. At Easter dad's hams would be fully cured and we would enjoy the ham for breakfast and occasionally the entire ham would be baked for Easter dinner. Some people also boiled hams.
Daddy didn't have the luxury of a smoke house as some folks that lived out in the country where pork sometimes was smoked in the curing process. Hickory wood was most commonly used to enhance the flavor of their curing process. My dad only used salt and brown sugar to cure his hams. We lived in a cotton mill village house that had only four rooms and a trail so the bedroom where we slept out of necessity also served as a place for the hams harvested after killing hogs.
Daddy had a big table which he covered with a cloth of some kind to absorb any blood or fluid that would seep from the hams,in the curing process. Shoulders and middlings were cured in the same way by covering and patting with salt and a special type of brown sugar. The process took at least 3 or 4 months and required turning often. The salt removed almost all the blood and water in the meat. As I stated earlier, my dad's hams would have been totally cured by Easter and mama would begin cutting slices for breakfast. She would slice the ham as needed and the salt preserved the meat no refrigeration was needed. The salt preserved the meat until it was used up and there was never any worry about it possibly spoiling.
Some folks had smoke houses and cured many hams at a time. After the initial patting down and turning process, the hams would be put into a fabric bag and hung up until used or sold.