Monday, December 13, 2010

hog heaven

I was a city mouse.  Steve was a country mouse.  And never the twain shall meet without something going awry.  It was true forty years ago, and it remains true to this day.

About a year into our marriage, we had scored a small cockroach infested apartment.  The cockroaches actually belonged to the neighbors next door.  The husband was a trucker, and his wife and baby had a penchant for going on runs with him, and just coincidentally forgetting to clean the food off the table or wash the dishes before leaving.  So when that happened, the cockroaches, being neighborly Alabama cockroaches, would pay us a visit.  But I had a crawling baby and that made my skin crawl.  So I spent a lot of time on cucaracha search and destroy missions.

One day Steve asked me to make butter beans again.  Yes, again.  I had learned that butter beans made your gut look like it was inflated by a tire pump, so we never wanted to eat them more than once or twice in a row.  That was how I measured butter beans to cook.  One handful, one day of gut filled gas, two handfuls, two days of gas, and so on.  So I  was in  my comfort zone with butter beans.

Then Steve asked for ham hocks in the butter beans.  Now I had heard of ham thrown in with beans while they cooked.  Mom used to cook them with navy beans (the butter bean's more refined bean cousin), but what the hell was a ham hock?  Was he making fun of me and telling me to throw a hammock in the beans?  I looked at his face carefully.  Even after a year I hadn't learned to tell when he was lying.  But he was serious.  Ham hocks.  I told him he would have to go shopping with me to buy them, since I didn't really know what part of the pig they came from.  He agreed, and I was trapped.

Turns out that ham hocks aren't much ham at all.  They are actually the ankle of the pig.  And those ankles are ugly.  They reminded me of something the crew of Star Trek would eat in outer space.  When I looked at those, I almost became a vegetarian on the spot. 

But at this point in my marriage, I still wanted to please Steve.  And I was still naive enough to think the way to his heart was through a pig's ankle.  So we bought them and took them back home to my kitchen.  It was the next day I decided to swallow my bile and cook the ugly things.  Steve had told me his mom just boiled them with the beans, so with barely a glance at them, I dropped them in the pot with a couple handfuls of beans.

They actually started smelling good.  They were smoked after all.  And had been connected to somewhere on the pig close to the ham.  This wasn't that bad after all.  I made cornbread, and while I was cooking, Steve's sister Jean called.   She was working in Birmingham at the time, so I invited her over for lunch.  Steve and Jean arrived not far apart from each other.  Our apartment was small, so our table was actually in the kitchen.  I was proud that I had actually made something southern that was edible (my triumphs in southern cuisine were rare at that point) so I dished up the butter beans and ham hocks,  cut the cornbread in generous slices and we all sat down to lunch. 

We were all sitting there chatting, and eating.  Suddenly I looked at my ham hock.  I mean I took a really close look at it.  I hadn't really looked at it until then.  And I saw it.  These little prickly stiff things sticking out of the ham hock, just a few.  Enough that I poked at them with my fork, then in curiosity I laid the fork down and poked them with my finger.  And while I was poking I said "what are these things sticking out of this ham hock?"  Steve and Jean had paused eating and were looking at me.  As suddenly as I said it, it dawned on me what they were.  And I said the fateful words:

"Oh my gosh those are hog hairs!"  I was fascinated by them.  I had never seen that part of the pig before.  It never dawned on me to check the pig to see if it needed a shave before I dumped those hocks in the water.

Did I mention that Steve and Jean share the same affinity for vomiting when they are grossed out?  We only had one bathroom. and I think Jean ran for the bathroom, which meant Steve dived out the back door of the kitchen at the same time.

What did I do?  I scraped the hair off the ham hock and pushed it to the side of my plate and finished lunch alone.  The ham on the hock was actually quite tasty, and the beans were perfect.  (Did I mention nothing grosses me out?)

I guess I don't need to add that Steve didn't want leftover butter beans and ham hocks the next day.  He also never asked for ham hocks in butter beans again.

Score one for the city mouse.


  1. Hi cath. My huband taught me to cook with ham hocks. I put them in my pea soup. Great for flavoring. Then I take them out and add ham or sausage before serving. That way I get the full flavor without the gross factor.

    When I first married into my huband's Portugese family, they butchered a pig yearly and used it's intestines, blood and meat to make blood sausage. I was three months pregnant when I experienced their first pig killing. My job was to carry a bowl of vinegar to the men doing the slaughtering. I had no idea what the vinegar was for! When I reached the men, I had to hold the bowl of vinegar under the pig's neck to catch the blood. I almost added my own addition to the bowl. I've never quite forgiven my inlaws for putting me through that. But to them it was no big deal.

  2. if I had been you Margaret, that would have been the last pork I was ever near! My country mouse grew up on whole milk (straight from the cow), fresh chickens and eggs, and homegrown pork and occasionally beef. This was before my time, but when he was young they would slaughter and cure their own pork (there is still the remnant of a smokehouse on our property). I came here fresh from the city thinking potatoes grew on top of the ground and meat was nicely packaged in cellophane, and had a rude awakening! :D
    thanks for your comments!