“I was the only one that could jump on em & hang on,” she says.
“We had 6-7 pigs year round. We’d kill 4 every winter, all in one day.”
Our waitress Amanda tells of hog killing up on Toms Creek in Buladean, or “Beautiful Dean” as the locals call it, a fitting name for a stunningly gorgeous mountain community in Mitchell County NC, west of Little Switzerland and close to the Tennessee line.
“The grown-ups, they were busy pouring boiling water on the skin and scraping the hair off of the last one killed. So I was the one to slit their throats. I liked it. Then my Grandaddy would bring the tractor up and we’d hook the carcass and lift it up to let the blood drain.”
The Moffits farmed 40 acres on that mountain and still do. Amanda’s cousin still farms up there. They had cows, chickens, grew tobacco, cabbage and potatoes, most anything they could to get by. This was not long ago. Amanda is under 30. That’s what Lora and love about the Blue Ridge. It’s like stepping back in time. Many of the old time practices are still beloved here. Recessions come and go and we don’t really notice.
“One time my daddy, cut off the pigs head, made it’s face scary and chased me around with it. I ran to the house and hid under the bed!” She is laughing as she tells this. I ask her if she ever felt sad or cried about killing animals. She says “no”, it meant they would eat good.
Now I should say here that while the childhood picture Amanda describes may sound chilling to some, it is real. The meat we American’s consume is killed in a way no less humane than the family farm. Some would say less so. Hiding the messy details of animal consumption may make us feel better, but it is still there and is still a part of our lives. Lora and I do not support cruelty to animals. But neither do we support cruelty to people. Our world is changing fast and not always for the good. The loss of the family farm is a big part of that change.
“Later, after we got done, we’d have fresh tenderloin with biscuits & gravy for breakfast.”
The Moffit smokehouse had stacks of hickory and oak and a steel set-up with rotating racks for meat and hooks for slabs. Using salt and smoke the men would fuss over the meat for near a week or two until it was just right. “Pork is good eatin,” says Amanda with a smile.
At the Café, we use pork shoulders for our pulled BBQ. The tenderloin, the most tender part of the loin, contains no muscle or fat and can be cut up as a kind of small steak or roasted in one piece on a backyard grill or in the oven. The 12 bones of the ribs are smoked and served with our own sauce, whether cut as St. Louis style, (meaty) or as baby backs. In many parts of the south, pig intestines and skin pieces are fried up and eaten as a snack called “chitlins”. The feet are pickled and represent a treat to many a mountain child. And then there is our beloved belly meat, which when cured we call bacon.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years you probably know that bacon has become a very big deal in culinary circles. It has permeated everything from chocolate to mayonnaise. There’s a National Bacon Day and even Burger King has a baconized a dessert. But until you’ve tasted honest to goodness old fashioned, sweet, smoky, real American-style bacon, made in your home, you’ve never really tasted bacon.
Along with bacon’s rise in popularity, pork belly from which bacon is made, has moved from Asian menus to mainstream menus across the nation. The major difference between the two is that bacon is cured with a lot of salt, slightly sweet, and smoked, while belly is often just rubbed or marinated, and roasted without the smoke. But when it comes to both, there’s room for a lot of creativity, and the lines are blurring.
Far from the beauty and solitude of Buladean, large meat companies make commodity bacon by injecting pork bellies with a brine and flavorings such as liquid smoke. Then the slabs are sprayed with more liquid smoke and baked. The result is the product we have loved and come to know, but there is no substitute for the flavors of slowly smoked bacon made the old fashioned way.
Now supermarket bacon is usually cut from the belly and chest where the ratio of meat to fat can be 1:3. But our favorite bacon is made from the layers of fat and meat that lie on top of the spare ribs, called “side bacon” or “streaky bacon”. It can be about 1:1 or 1:2, with more meat, depending on the breed of hog, age of the hog, feed, and other variables. When shopping, ask your butcher to order some fresh, unfrozen, raw side bacon.
Curing bacon is surprisingly easy and the results are leaps and bounds better than the stuff from large commercial producers. Once you have the basic recipe down, you can vary the ingredients to make a flavor profile to suit your taste. It is an easy process of curing pork belly with a salt and sugar. This process takes about a week, rinsing, drying, then smoking over wood. The smoking can be done in a steel box, a grill with a lid over hickory chips, in your fireplace – most any set up which applies smoke to the meat and maintains a 200 to 250 degree temperature, will do.
Or you can call up Amanda’s cousin. He might could help you out.