Between You and Me

December 2004
December 2004

Hog Heaven

By Carroll Leggett

I came across Jordan & Hope quite by accident.

I had stopped in Clinton to visit with Rogers Clark at Sampson-Bladen Oil Company. Rogers runs what Business North Carolina described as one of the largest and most successful family-owned companies in NC. He asked why I was rambling Down East. “Checking out country sausage,” I told him. “I’ve got a cooler full in my car.”

I had already visited Carlie C’s in Dunn where I have been buying air-dried sausage for years. My mother was partial to anything Carlie C. McLamb made and sold in his stores. Folks at Bowman Enterprises in Benson, where I had been doing a photo shoot with Cindy Carroll—a delightful lady with a delightful name, told me that Mac’s General Merchandise on NC Highway 242 South near Benson was the alpha and omega of Johnston County sausage. Scott McLamb, son of owner Shelton McLamb, showed me around, and I bought some of MAC’S “OLE FOLKS” country sausage. Hot and mild. Mac’s sells five tons of it during Christmas week through outlets that include IGA stores. Carlie C’s and Mac’s sausage have similar, old-fashioned, pepper and sage seasoning and taste.

Just before arriving at Rogers’ place, I stopped at Cedar Run Farms on 421 near Harrells. Their label shows a lovely old farmhouse, but the retail arm of the business is an unimposing cinder-block establishment on the old road to Wilmington. I like their fresh sausage (they don’t sell air-dried), liver pudding in a casing and sliced hog jowl for seasoning greens. Purchases at Cedar Run popped the lid on my cooler.

Rogers listened patiently as I talked. He is natured that way. Then he asked quietly, “Do you know about Jordan & Jordan here in Clinton? They make some of the best sausage in North Carolina.” I confessed that I did not. “Well, let me take you over there.”

Between you and me, I really didn’t have time, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me say, “No.” And Rogers wouldn’t let me say “no” either. Later, I was glad I didn’t.

We made our way across Clinton to 906 College Street near First Baptist Church. Jordan & Jordan, as Rogers referred to it, is now Jordan & Hope, incorporating the name of owner Hubbard Jordan’s daughter, Ann Jordan Hope. Ann is a feisty sort who makes the train run on time and is heir apparent.

Jordan & Hope operates in a 1930s vintage “filling station” with a covered shelter. The gas pumps are gone, but Hubbard Jordan was Rogers’ first customer when Sampson-Bladen went into the gas business. I got the spirit of the place from the sign posted on a trailer load of collards under the shelter. “Put your collards in the car first. Then pay inside.” When I entered, I understood why. Shelves were so close you couldn’t walk around with collards without knocking off corn meal, preserves, spices, molasses—or Kits or B-B Bats.

Like I said, I was in a hurry, but this place was a piece of history. I asked for a pencil, picked up a brown paper bag and scribbled notes furiously as Hubbard Jordan, a big man in a ball cap and a white apron, gave me a quick tour. I knew I had to come back when I saw rows of “Tom Thumbs” hanging in the cooler—pig’s stomachs (“maws,” as we called them) stuffed with sausage. I don’t know offhand of another place where you can buy them, but I do remember seeing Tom Thumbs in a Williamston store a few years ago. On the farm, they hung in the smokehouse until special folks came when you sliced and fried the dried sausage. The flavor was intense. Some cooks would put a Tom Thumb in a huge pot of cabbage and Irish potatoes as seasoning, and slice and serve it after it cooled.

It was a Saturday, months later, when I made it back, a detour on a trip to Wilmington. On my previous visit I had met Mildred Jordan, Hubbard’s wife of 53.5 years—a tiny lady with lots of energy. When I entered the store Hubbard was sitting in a straight chair beside a lady.

“I am going to tell your wife I caught you carrying on with another woman.”

“That would be all right,” he said laughing, “because this is my sister, Kathleen Bradshaw.” Jordan & Hope is mostly a family affair. Mrs. Bradshaw’s daughter, Phyllis Piner, clerks, as well as Jordan’s baby sister Barbara Hairr. Add to that his son-in-law Jerry Hope, who raises acres of collards sold at the store. Jerry saves seeds from a variety he found in Pitt County years ago—a cabbage-collard that folks love. Hubbard’s oldest grandson, Josh Jordan, clerks and grinds sausage.

Sausage. Down East style it’s ground pork with lots of fat—15-20 percent, I am told—and seasoning that always includes red pepper and sage. It’s the particular combination of these ingredients and the way you hold your mouth when you prepare it that makes the difference between good sausage and great sausage.

Jordan & Hope makes great sausage and sells tons of it during the holidays, fresh and air-dried (stuffed and hung in a cool place for several days while it loses moisture). A secret formula of spices is blended in Colera, Alabama, and shipped to the store eight to 10 times a year in cardboard drums. The sausage is stuffed in “natural casings,” paper-thin hog intestines that come in packages called “hanks.” During the holiday, hand-operated stuffing machines produce miles of plump, pink sausage. One customer in South Carolina sends a truck for his purchase of 1500 gift boxes. Josh mixes pork and spices and grinds it. Mildred Jordan mixes it again and does much of the stuffing, a delicate process that requires just the right amount of pressure, else the casings burst. It’s part science, part art and part decades of experience.

Hubbard Jordan has plenty of experience. His Uncle Ransom Jordan opened the store in 1936, and Hubbard started working for him as a boy shortly thereafter. On weekends, he sometimes would come from school on Friday and work straight through till Monday, sleeping in a niche under the stairs. Jordan & Jordan started making sausage in 1948.

Ann Jordan Hope, now 48, was clerking when she was five or six. “I couldn’t reach the cash register to make change,” Ann said. “The greatest day of my life was when Coca Colas went from eight cents to a dime. Then I could just lay a dime on the counter and Momma and Daddy would come along and put it in the drawer.”

She has always hustled. Her Uncle Ransom let her grow collards and market them in the store for half of the selling price “Daddy would know just about exactly what we would take in on a day. He would tell us that everything over a certain amount, we could have,” said Ann. “I would work until the lights went out to make that little bit of extra.”

There is still some sort of incentive system in play.

I couldn’t pin down Hubbard Jordan on what goes in his sausage, but I think he uses lots of hams and shoulders and whole hogs at least some of the time. I asked what he does with the heads. “Oh, Mildred gets them. They are hers.” The heads are big sellers at New Year’s.

The mention of New Year’s Day and the traditional southern menu of black-eyed peas, collards and hog jowl prompted this ditty from Ann: “Eat black-eyed peas for change; green collards for green money; hog’s head for good luck.”

During the holidays, locals going north stop by and load up with sausage, country hams, backbone, collards, turnip greens and the like. Folks coming home for Thanksgiving and Christmas bring long lists made by friends in far-away places. Ann keeps a hand-lettered list posted of places where she knows their Down East eats have gone. It contains 48 states—the last was Maine—and several countries, including Sweden.

Virginia Dixon is a customer of 40 years. I asked her why she shops at Jordan and Hope. “Cause I know what I be buying. If I want fresh sausage, I come here. If I want stale,” she said with a hearty laugh, “I go somewhere else.” Nicely put.

Ann made sure I left with a bag of sausage, and the next morning my hosts Andy and Jackie Margoles at Wilmington’s Landfall neighborhood served up a heaping platter. Neighbor and raconteur Harry Fronista joined us. Wife Jenny was out of town. We swapped stories for hours, and the sausage was something else.

For sure, there’ll be Down East sausage on my plate Christmas morning