Between You and Me

Metro Magazine
March 2008

High on the Hog, and other Parts

By Carroll Leggett

In late January, I exchanged e-mails with David Cecelski, the author and historian, discussing an interview he had published. David, once again, had found a North Carolina living treasure — Mrs. Helen Hoggard, 91, of Aulander, NC, who had given him a wealth of information about traditional hog killing practices. Mrs. Hoggard has helped with more hog killings than she can count, but there was one thing that I questioned. It had to do with a piquant regional dried sausage known Down East as Dan Doodle.

I warn you here that the content that follows may be objectionable to a person of even average sensibilities. But, if you can, please bear with me. Mrs. Hoggard had said that the sausage was stuffed in the “end of the big gut, the last part of the large intestine,” and I had always believed a Dan Doodle to be the same as a Tom Thumb — sausage stuffed in a hog’s stomach.

David was convinced that Mrs. Hoggard knew what she was talking about, but I decided to call Godwin’s Country Meats in Ahoskie, NC, which has a devoted regional following, and ask what kind of casing they use.

“Could you tell me what you stuff your Dan Doodles in?” I asked.

“Yes, sir.” He paused and contemplated. “I believe they is stuffed in testicles.”

Careful not to offend, I replied, “For some reason, I think that may not be right. Is there someone else there that you can ask?”

“Yes, sir. Hey, y’all, what is a Dan Doodle stuffed in?”

In the background I heard a woman’s voice say, “’Testines. ’Testines.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I think that is right — intestines.”

I have written before about Tom Thumbs and Dan Doodles (December 2004), so I will not rehash that discussion. However, David and I concluded that over the years the terms Dan Doodle and Tom Thumb have come to be used interchangeably in some areas of Down East and that, of course, Mrs. Hoggard knew exactly what she was talking about.

In the course of our e-mails, I told David I had a hankering for a dish served only at hog killing time, called simply “hash,” but I didn’t know anyone who still makes it. (If you are still with me, remember the warning I gave you earlier. You can bail out now, if you like.) It is the lungs, heart and liver cooked with onions and potatoes until it becomes a stew, or “hash.” As a small child who would eat doggone near anything, the sponginess of the lungs (also called “lights”), the chewy bits of heart and the smooth, creamy broth created by the cooked-down liver were a contrast in textures and a rare and remarkable tasty treat.

Friday evening, Jan. 25, I received this e-mail from David.

“Carroll, I don’t know how desperate you are for hash, but by coincidence I just heard that there’ll be some in Kenly tomorrow at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum. They do an annual hog killing down there to show folks how it’s done — that’s tomorrow starting at 8:00 a.m., and as part of the day, they serve lunch with sides that apparently include hog hash. Might be worth the trip.”

8 a.m. And then a three-hour drive. 5 a.m. Early. Mighty early. Regardless, I turned in at 10 p.m. and told my internal clock to wake me at 4:30 a.m. — just in case.

I slept fitfully. I had “the gout” in my left big toe. That is generally where it attacks — in the big joint. Such a silly condition. Swelling and pain. If you are prone to the disorder, eating pork hastens an attack and eating “organ meat” is really asking for it. Maybe it was the prospect of gout that caused Jews to shun hog meat. You may not go to hell for eating pork, but when you get the gout, you may wish to hell you hadn’t.

Jan. 25 was a cold, gray and dismal morning. I awoke right at 4:30 a.m., thought about the long drive to Johnston County and asked myself what kind of fool would consider getting up in the wee hours of the morning and driving several hours to a hog killing. “By God, I would,” I told myself as I stumbled toward the shower. And then there was the “hash.”

Actually, by Saturday morning the Johnston County “hog hash” had been reduced to a mere curiosity. I got Mrs. Irene Stancil from the Dixie community of Johnston County on the phone Friday night — she was cooking the hash — and we talked about the recipe. She confirmed what I knew — hog lungs cannot be sold commercially. Hash has to be made by a family slaughtering its own hogs that doesn’t have the USDA meddling in its business. Consequently, making of the traditional hash is all but a lost art. Her hash would be made of spare ribs, backbone and liver cooked down until the meat fell off the bones, the liver making rich gravy — an interesting prospect.

It was perfect hog killing weather in Johnston County — bitter cold with snow flurries and a little sleet. Nothing can be worse in the old days than to put down meat and then have it turn unseasonably warm and have it spoil. I arrived a little after 8 a.m., and the men folks were already cutting up the hog. They spared onlookers the traditional slaughter and “dressing” of the hog, which is difficult for the squeamish. It’s easier to believe that a farmer claps his hands and the hog instantly is transformed into bacon and pork chops at Whole Foods.

(My Glamorous Greek told me a story about the legendary Wilmington socialite Emma Bellamy. Supposedly, Emma went to New York to visit a longtime friend and insisted they buy a live turkey for their Thanksgiving feast. They found a turkey, but once they got home, they had no notion of how to kill it, dress it and get it on the table. Not to be outdone, Emma and her dashing male companion tied one end of a fashionable red silk tie around the turkey’s neck, and the three of them took a leisurely stroll down Fifth Avenue instead.)

Meanwhile, back at the hog killing, the men at the Farm Life Museum were saving choice cuts, such as the loins, shoulders and hams, and the other parts and trimmings were consigned to the sausage pile. Shelton Hinnant shortly had the fat bubbling slowly in the black, cast-iron wash pot — a process of some five-six hours to render grease for use in frying and baking. I always learn something. Putting rosemary in the lard prevents it from becoming rancid and inedible.

Within a matter of minutes my clothes were saturated with the smoke of the wood fire around the wash pot. My neighbors noticed when I returned to Winston-Salem. And my feet were numb from the biting cold.

I bought a sausage biscuit and washed it down with a cup of steaming coffee. Sturdy fare on a snowy morning. Bobby Hinnant of the Buckhorn area of Wilson County was in charge of making the sausage. Later, I learned Bobby had made the sausage in my biscuit too. I watched him grind the pork, add Old Plantation Seasoning, mix it, place it in the stuffer and slowly fill the casings. Country folks in overalls and smartly dressed townies huddled together in the harsh weather and watched in awe. The sausage was snapped up the moment it was offered for sale.

Folks waited in line for a taste of Mrs. Stancil’s hash. They had only 100 servings, and most had been ordered in advance. It was tasty, especially eaten with the locally grown collards and thin, crunchy cornbread. I shared a table with folks who were especially good company: Earall and Helen Pollack and Jimmie and Candice McLamb. Earall and Jimmie are barbers in Wendell, and we swapped a lot of stories. But between you and me, I am still searching for the hash of my half-century-old memories.

If you haven’t visited the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly, NC, please do. The neat, compact “campus” has a fully equipped and operational blacksmith shop, a furnished farm house, (Lord, there is no way that family could have used all those chamber pots!), a pack house, a milk house, a tobacco barn, the one-room, 1900 vintage Barnes Crossroads school house, and a band stand. I was taken by the modern, expansive collections building with an interactive area for children and a gift shop that has an excellent selection of Eastern North Carolina rural genre original art and prints. Works by Jim Brown, Peter Turner and Nancy Compton caught my eye, as well as a painting by EP Sauls of a tobacco barn in flames — a common occurrence when tobacco was king.