Southern cuisine: Go whole-hog
November 26, 2006
“What are hog maws?” Christina asks me. I dodge the question.”Oh, look,” I reply, pointing to the menu we’ve pulled up on the Internet. “They have BBQ sandwiches, too! Those look good, don’t they?””Tell me what hog maws are,” she repeats. She knows when I’m trying to change the subject.”Hog maws are pig stomach,” I say. She stares.”But not JUST pig stomach,” I add, as if I’m actually helping matters. “Sometimes they use jowls and the esophagus. Hey, let’s Google ‘antebellum homes’ now. You love antebellum homes, remember?”By the time you read this, my wife, Christina, and I will be in the deep, deep South. Mississippi, to be exact. And Alabama, to be exhaustive. This is a moment in my life I never, ever thought would come to pass. And, even though we have plane tickets and a rental car and people expecting us, Christina’s recent discovery of hog maws is making this trip seem suddenly unlikely.”Do a search for ‘vegetarian restaurants,’ and ‘Deep South'” she says.”I did one yesterday,” I say.”And?””It just came back with, ‘ha, ha, ha.'”I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, so for me this is a bit of a homecoming. I’ve been back twice in the last 15 years, the last time nearly 10 years ago. Christina has never been to the South, unless you count Southern California. Which, for this example, you shouldn’t. She’s bided her time in New York and L.A. and Aspen, places where one can live long and adventurous lives and never once encounter hog maws. She thinks we’ll be issued bowls of hog maw when we get off the plane in Memphis, like getting crowned with a lei upon arrival in Hawaii.And, OK, I’ll admit to being part of the reason she thinks this. See, I never thought these two worlds of mine would meet. Since Christina has never shown even the slightest interest in visiting Mississippi, I’ve spent years regaling her with tales of my Deep South upbringing; dining on squirrel, deep-fried dill pickles, how catfish are cleaned. Apart from the occasional tale of encounters with my Uncle Satch, they were mostly food-related. Look, if you’re telling a scary story, and you know your audience happens to be terrified of spiders, you’ll spin an arachnocentric tale, right? Well, when we first met Christina displayed an unnatural terror of Southern cuisine, so I did what any good storyteller would do. Chitlins … boo!”I’m getting another box of Luna bars,” she announces. She is squirreling them away (mmmmm … squirrel … ) like a shipwrecked sailor, convinced there is nothing edible in the entire state of Mississippi. I decide to not continue to sell her on the merits of hog maws.As excited as I am to see my family – aunt, uncle and cousins with respective spouse and offspring, most of whom I’ve never met or don’t remember – I’m more excited about Christina meeting them. I’m excited about Christina looking out the rental car window at cotton fields, about Christina’s comments on passing landmarks.”Why would anyone boil peanuts?”It’s like having guests visit who have never been to your town before. You show them around, and in your role as tour guide you probably end up going places you might not ordinarily go. You get to see your town, and your life, through the eyes of another, and it generally gives you some good perspective. In this case, I will be seeing Mississippi through excited eyes, too. Both mine and Christina’s.”Let’s practice your lessons,” I say, trying to undo the 10 years of damage I’ve caused. “Ask me how I am.””How are y’all doing, y’all?” Christina says.”Just one y’all is fine. And drop the g. And try to contract ‘how are.'””How’r you y’all doin’?””Better, much better. Still not quite there, though. Ask me if we serve tea in this restaurant.””Y’all got sweet tea?” Christina dutifully asks.Perfect! She’s a quick study, and has picked up the language enough to get us through at least the first few hours, and she’ll get the hang of it as we go.”Now, repeat after me: The rain in Spain falls mainly on the hog maw.”(To be continued …)Barry Smith’s column appears on Mondays. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.