From the pen to the pan
It has been said that marriage is a deal in which a man gives away half of his groceries to get the other half cooked. I am sure this is true, but few people are fortunate enough to marry a woman like my wife Janis, who has written four cookbooks, and man can she cook! On a side bar, they say a man who does not marry is incomplete, but when he does marry he is finished. Well, so much for that. Today I want to share something I believe you will find very interesting, especially if you like to eat.
I have a friend by the name of Paul Taber who, before his retirement, was the plant manager for Odom’s Tennessee Pride meat processing plant in Little Rock. One day we were visiting and he shared something with me that brought back a ton of memories. It was a handout on how a 250-pound hog is processed and all the various cuts of meat that are rendered from it.
This brought back memories of when I was a young child. Because of his background, my father had bought more than 500 hogs and was planning to fatten them up and sell them at the stock yards at Kansas City, Missouri. This is how he made a living. Of course, the company that bought the hogs would butcher them and follow the same path that my friend Paul traveled in his work.
Here is the sad but very interesting part. The 500 hogs I just talked about developed a rare disease fatal to hogs, and they all died. Of course many of the sows were expecting piglets in a very short period of time. You will never believe the extreme measures the whole family took trying to save as many of the piglets as we could. For a poor family this was money, and every one we could save meant we could eat and pay our bills. You know, that memory is one thing that death cannot destroy. Even though both of my parents are gone, I can still remember those days, as they are indelibly etched in my mind.
Now in view of what I have just shared you can understand why it fell my lot to do most of the grocery shopping, and when I pass by the meat section I often think of those childhood memories. Both Janis and I love those spiral sugar cured hams, beautiful butterfly pork chops, bacon and other pork products. Here I will spare you the gory details, but once a hog is dressed it is hung on a rail and placed in a cooler where it is quickly chilled. When it is chilled it is cut into retail cuts where another 20 percent of the weight is removed making it ready for the pan.
Here is what you see in the meat section of your local grocery store. Dressed, cut, wrapped and ready to bring home, a hog yields: 28 pounds fresh hams, 33 pounds pork loin, 23 pounds fresh side bacon, 6 pounds spareribs, 9 pounds Boston butt, 12 pounds fresh picnic, 3 pounds feet, 5 pounds head, 23 pounds back fat, 9 pounds miscellaneous trim, and 3 pounds jowl. And here is another benefit most of us don’t think about: Pig skin leather is turned into coats, work gloves, book covers, leather suitcases, and inner lining for women’s handbags.
If you lived in the country on “Hog Killing” day, the neighbors would drop by to help, and much of the tenderloin, ribs and other choice cuts were payment for their help. Nothing was wasted, except the Pig Squeal. - “Woo-Pig-Sooie” - Please smile if you have done that!
On a more serious note, please remember there are a great number of people who work in this industry, required to bring us wholesome nutritious meals and other important products, and for one, I am grateful.
(Editor’s Note: JIM DAVIDSON is an author, public speaker, syndicated columnist and Founder of the Bookcase for every Child project. Since its inception in 1995, Jim’s column has been self-syndicated to over 375 newspapers in 35 states making it one of the most successful in the history of American journalism.)