Wait a minute--are you saying that you're never going to eat another animal again?
What about bacon?
What about ham?
What about pork chops?
Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Yeah, right, Lisa. A magical, wonderful, animal.
--From The Simpsons episode, "Lisa the Vegetarian."
Homer was right. The pig is a magical, wonderful animal. It's the most widely-distributed large farm animal. It eats the widest range of stuff, under the widest range of conditions. And it provides the widest range of cuts to eat, from nose to tail.
Pigs loom larger in my memory than other livestock. We lived on a hog farm until I was three. One of my earliest (and worst) memories is of using a stock trailer as a jungle gym, falling down into the trailer, and getting a mouthful of what the hogs left behind on the floor. I remember how cute baby pigs are, and how big adult pigs look to a toddler. I remember how cozy warm the farrowing (that's birthing) barn is in the winter, and the smell that it has. Later, we lived on a small acreage, and I raised at least a couple of hogs for 4-H every year from the time I was nine until I graduated from high school. We put a hog in the freezer every year, too, so I grew up eating lots of pork.
We had a neighbor who was an old rancher (as a kid, he learned to ride and rope from an old man who, in his youth, had driven cattle up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas--how cool is that). This rancher leased a small part of his ranch to a teacher who raised pigs as a hobby. Part of the lease payment was a fat hog, on the hoof, delivered after the first frost each fall. The rancher would butcher the hog there behind the house to have pork for the winter. One year, I rode my bike over and helped him out a little. That was the first time I ever saw an animal butchered and turned into food. Incidentally, this rancher was famous in our church for making wonderful rolls that no one could duplicate. He would freely give out the recipe (I wish I had a copy of it now), but no one could make rolls as good as his. The secret? He used lard instead of shortening, and it gave the rolls a lighter texture.
I've been around a lot of hogs in my life, and I've eaten a lot of pork. However, I realized today that my gustatory experiences with the pig are somewhat limited. Pigs are famous for being eminently edible--farmers tout that you can eat everything but the squeal--but I've only had a few of the big muscles. Today, I resolved to remedy that situation: I'm going to eat a whole hog, and post it all here for your enjoyment.
This is the part where I get all lawyer-ish, and set forth the terms and conditions that make up "eating a whole hog."
1. I'm going to eat a WHOLE hog, not A whole hog. That is, I'm going to eat each of the parts that make up a whole hog, rather than the parts of one single pig.
2. I'm not going to eat the whole thing by myself. I'm going to share with family, friends, guests, well-wishers, and food adventurers.
3. "Whole" is used here in the platonic sense, not the accounting sense. I'm going to cook and eat a meal made from every single part of a hog, but I'm not necessarily going to eat the entirety of each major muscle group. In other words, I'm not going to eat thirty pounds of pork chops, two entire hams, two entire shoulders (well, I may eat two shoulders, because I love pulled pork). I'll try every part, but the total of what I cook and eat probably won't total up to the 200 pound live weight of a hog.
4. Finally, though I'm going to try every part of the pig, I'm not going keep eating anything that's nasty. I reserve the right to stop eating any part after I've tried a bite. Some of the parts worry me--chitterlings and feet in particular--but I'll be a trooper and at least taste everything.
Keep checking back, and I'll give you a guided tour of Homer's magical, wonderful animal. And, as Homer has said so often: