‘Using everything but the squeal’

Published 5:31 pm Saturday, November 3, 2018

By Terry Rector

This past week I tried out a jambalaya recipe that read more authentic than my normal attempt.  It called for four meats, all pork: ham, smoked sausage, Andouille and tasso.

That much pork got me to thinking about an old saying that when slaughtering and processing hogs we “use everything but the squeal.” That was true a hundred years ago and still is.

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Granted, not as many people find delicacies among swine digestive tracts and nasal passages as during past times of more rural poverty.  But food traditions and the conversion of non-food parts of processed hogs into many useful items keeps “all but the squeal” real and updated.

I remember studying swine by-products in school and learning hog hair back then was used for brush bristles. Nowadays pig hair is more valuable for its protein used to soften bread dough. And though we are done with lard and modern hogs are much leaner than their ancestors, pork fat is in toothpaste, floor wax, soap and shampoo.

Collagen and gelation drawn from hog skin winds up in edibles like candy, ice cream, yogurt and marshmallows plus fruit juice and beer. Even injectable collagen contains some from pig hide.

It’s not a stretch to think of hog bones yielding substances used for making glue, paper and wallpaper. But bone extracts are also in cadmium batteries and film.

And medicinally for our human bodies, hog bodies contribute heart valves, insulin, hormones and much more. Pound for pound, pituitary glands are likely the most valuable “cut” of pork because of their medicinal contributions.

With all the uses for swine by-products, it is still the meat that is the main reason to raise and process hogs. And that brings me back to the tasso I needed for the jambalaya.

I haven’t seen tasso in groceries anywhere near here. It would be rare to find it sold outside South Louisiana because it is time-consuming Cajun creation from way back and only used in a few jambalayas and gumbos, plus some folks like it as a seasoning meat for red beans and rice.

Tasso is pork shoulder that has been pickled and/or highly seasoned for days before being smoked.

None being available to buy, I searched to find out how to make my own and found a few sites with instructions, all of which required from four days to a week. Then it still had to be cooked. I went with the four day recipe because my deadline was halftime, Saturday night.

Unrelated to tasso other than coming from a hog, a traditional food that is readily available in stores is chitterlings.

Now, I know most grownups who grew up in the country call cooked hog small intestines “chittlin’s” but consumers in England came up with the proper name half a millennium ago.

Here in the South, if you’re ever invited to your first “chittlin’ eatin’” by bonafide country folks, ask if the chittlin’s are clean and whether they were “stump whupped” or “creek slung.”

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.