Let's Eat Pig's Feet

John Cuneo
If you haven't tried them, you haven't lived!

I have never been inclined to prove my pedigree by staring down a stalk of poke salad. I'm not tempted by a chitlin'. I know what a chitlin' does. It is said that my grandma worked 18 hours to clean a chitlin', and it still smelled, in cooking, as if she were not altogether successful. I don't need a chitlin' to be authentic.

I do not feel like I am betraying my culture by refusing squirrel brains. I do not feel I even need to defend myself on this.

"We ate "em," my mother said, "but we were hungry."

I do not miss hog's head cheese. I remember walking into our kitchen once and seeing a hog's head lookin' at me.

I grew up with hog killings. I know you can't have a cracklin' or baked, crumbly hog jowl or fried potatoes or hot biscuits without them. But there was just something about the way that hog looked at me, like it knew something.

But some things call to me from the past. Pig's feet. Lord, I do miss them.

My mother eats them when I'm out of town. This is how old women will do you, if you made them mad once. They find out the things you enjoy, and cook them when you are over Salt Lake City.

When I told her some people were put off by pig's feet, she was mystified.

"They cut the nail off," she said. I think she meant the hoof, but this is semantics.

All a pig's foot is, is the far south part of a ham, just another joint. It's succulent fat and cartilage. You can boil them, then pan roast them, till they all but melt off the knuckle, or—and this makes me happiest—you can pan barbecue them in a spicy, sweet, tomato-based sauce.

I must scrounge for them now, as they fade away. On the road, I scanned a thousand menus till I embarrassed myself with gratitude at Thomas Rib Shack in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I had two of them, with good macaroni and cheese, yams, collards, and cornbread muffins. Once, I even had a pig's foot and a piece of fried chicken. I am not ashamed.

It is best not to take anything for granted. A few years ago, I walked into a little restaurant on State 59 between Robertsdale and Foley, Alabama, as they brought a tray of barbecued pig's feet out of the oven. I lingered, watching the sauce and clear fat from the feet mingle in the pan, and wondered if anyone would notice if I ate it with a spoon. I just ate it with my fingers. But the place went out of business, as if it had been a mirage.

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I'm like an addict now, even rifling through my mother's home. I finally found where she hoards her pickled pig's feet, behind a row of canned corn we bought by the ton at the dollar store. Conscience prevailed, and I went to the store to get my own. There was only a dusty ring on the shelf. I blame the squeamish, and the young, and the posers, talkin' about Roy Acuff with gelato on their breath.

But like that spooky hog, I know.

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