Photo: Terry Manier
In the fall, when greens are in, Dan Doodles sell,” says Sam Edwards, third-generation proprietor of S. Wallace Edwards & Sons, which has been commercially curing hams and other pig parts in Surry County, Virginia, since 1926. “Most people serve them like my mother did. They boil one with collards, then slice and serve it alongside.”
Also known as Tom Thumbs, Dan Doodles are ground pork sausages that are stuffed in the large intestines of pigs and smoked for a day in a billow of hickory until they shade toward mahogany. (Conjure a link with the girth of a bologna stick, fragrant with sage, spiked with red pepper, perfumed by a pleasant barnyard funk.) In addition to using them like ham hocks to season a pot of vegetables, cooks here also slice and fry Dan Doodles for breakfast.
Once beloved across a broader swath of the South, Dan Doodles are now most popular in North Carolina and Virginia. For residents of Surry County in southeastern Virginia, they are edible artifacts of another era, when late-fall hog killings were community events. Back then, farmers salted down hams for the lean months to come. They hung bacon slabs in single-stall smokehouses. And they hand-chopped just about everything else for hog’s head cheese, souse, and other frugal goods we now refer to as artisanal.
Hams have always been the money product here. “As early as 1750, people in Surry were curing hams to send back to England,” Sam says. They remain so today.
Sam now markets his best stuff, long-cured haunches of heirloom breed hogs, as Surryano, a playful riff on the Serrano hams of Spain. But he’s not giving up on Dan Doodles, which natives of southeastern Virginia value as queerly named markers of their shared agricultural past, still bobbing in 21st-century cook pots. “We make these for the people who grew up on a farm and know the taste,” he says. “No matter what we make, I try to think about my grandfather and father. We try to get it right, to adjust as we need, so that what we make now tastes like what they made then.”