A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing.....

        A Timothy Sexton Production

 Whole Hog

 

Homer Simpson: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.  Lisa, honey, are

            saying you're never going to eat any animal again?  What about bacon?

            Lisa Simpson: No.

            Homer Simpson: Ham?

            Lisa Simpson: No.

            Homer Simpson: Pork chops?

            Lisa Simpson: Dad!  Those all come from the same animal!

            Homer Simpson: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa.  A wonderful, magical animal.

                                            From The Simpsons episode, "Lisa The Vegetarian"

            I like steak provided it's actually cooked and not bleeding profusely all over the plate.  But I can take or leave hamburger.   I love fried chicken, rotisserie chicken and chicken salad that's not creamy, but really when it comes right down to it, chicken is chicken is chicken.  I think most people would have a hard time picking out what piece of chicken meat was fried, baked or rotisseried if the skin was taken off and you only had a huge chunk of the meat to pick from.  But the pig really is a wonderful, magical animal.  I mean, honesty, lay down a piece of bacon, a piece of ham and a pork chop in front of a person who didn't know any better and try to convince them that meat all came from the same animal.  I think it's very possible that you'd get a reaction similar to Homer Simpson's.

            Porky Pig is not one of my favorite Warner Brothers cartoon characters.  He's really only funny later in his career when he was teamed with Daffy Duck for a series of cartoons in which he played Daffy's wiser and more philosophical sidekick.  The highlight of his career as a second banana was probably the cartoon in which he played Friar Tuck to Daffy's would-be Robin Hood.  No, Porky Pig I don't much care for.  Pork of pig, however, I love. 

            If I was on death row and had to pick my last meal before the execution, my demand would be that my mother be allowed to cook it.  The meal would consist of fried pork chops, collard greens, rice and gravy, brussel sprouts and fried sliced potatoes.   Very healthy stuff, no doubt.  And if I had to choose only one item from that menu, it would be the pork chops.  I don’t care what anyone reading this thinks, my mother makes better pork chops than you've ever eaten in your life.    They are truly food of the gods.   She flours them and seasons them with pepper and salt and then slaps them down in a pan full of oil and fries them to a golden brown.  The taste of pork has never been topped in the history of pork preparation.  I kid you not, my mother's pork chops are legendary.  Everyone who eats them comes back asking for more.   Seriously, they're addictive.  If I die of heart disease, the fault rests entirely on my mother and my inability to just say no to her pork chops.  And you know what?  If I knew I was going to die of heart disease, I probably would still go on eating them up until that fateful day.  That's just how good they are. 

            I'm not actually sure what part of the pig is technically the "chop."  I would be hard pressed to pick it out on one of those charts showing which segments of the pig are edible.  But I sure do love the lowly little pig for having been blessed by God with having "chops."   I think the fact that they've been blessed with having chops elevates the pig to a certain level of greatness.  And it's not just that they have them, either, it's what they do with them.  I've tried lamb chops and they just left me chewing for an eternity.  To quote a song from the British new wave group General Public, where is the tenderness?  Lambs may be cuter than pigs—and actually I think I would argue that point—but when it comes to having great chops, there's no contest.  The pig is champ. 

            They call breakfast the most important meal of the day.  Of course, one of the great mainstays of breakfast throughout the centuries has been bacon.  Specifically, sugar-cured bacon, though I know there are many who prefer the hickory smoked variety and I'm not going to argue the merits.  I mean both kinds are certainly better than this thing they've got now called turkey bacon.  Ever tried it?  Just once, no doubt.  If you can stomach it, more power to you, but as for me, give me pork bacon or give me death.  Does anything smell better in the morning than the aroma of freshly cooked bacon wafting through the house?  I think we can almost all agree that the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven is the single best fragrance that can be manufactured in the kitchen, and I personally think that the scent of bacon runs a close second.

            I'm one of those people who don't like their bacon to be crispy.  I like my bacon to be limp and unable to stick out straight when held by the end.  The way I cook my bacon is to lay down the strips in the pan and fry it over a low heat so that it doesn't get brittle on me.  As the aroma begins to fill the house, I augment the effect by adding to it the exceptionally mouth-watering bouquet of Tabasco sauce.  I pour about two teaspoons into the pan and let the bacon cook in a taste-tempting mixture of its own rendered fat and the famous hot sauce from Avery Island, Louisiana, which I purchase by the gallon.  The result is simply to die for.  But it doesn't end there.  Take the bacon out, all limp and curling around the tines of the fork, and place it to the side.  Then get a can of collard greens—or better yet some leftover fresh greens that my mother made a night or two before—and put them into the bacon grease/Tabasco mix.   Fry well and you've got yourself the making of one memorable southern-fried meal.   Can a horse make collard greens taste better?  Can a dog?  Can a lamb or a cow?  I think not.  The pig comes through again.  Long live swine!  The Jews do not know what they are missing.

            Turkey is the undisputed king of Thanksgiving.   I admit it and I love the bird myself.  But in our house, Thanksgiving isn't complete unless there's also a nicely baked ham.  Now I know a lot of people go for the honey-baked variety or the glazed kind with the pineapple and cherry cooked on top, but I just like a simple hock of ham tossed into the oven and cooked until it's in the pink.  Ham is the only meat I eat that's still pink after it's been cooked.  I don't pay twelve dollars for eight ounces of steak that hasn't even been cooked all the way, you know what I mean?  And as for salmon and the other pink fish, well, frankly I prefer not to eat anything that expends every second of its life inside its own toilet.   But ham, well, there's nothing wrong at all with eating pink ham.  Though I must say I prefer to eat the white part of a baked ham.  All that juicy white fat is thoroughly unhealthy, I know, but I can't get enough of it.  Sometimes I'll just take a knife and cut me a slice of ham that's nothing but fat.   How can something so bad for you taste so darn good?  Oh yeah, everything that tastes good is bad for you.  I almost forgot.

             A form of pig-related food that Homer Simpson didn't get around to asking his daughter about was pork ribs for use on the barbecue grill.   I don't really like to grill out myself because whatever food I put on the grill invariably winds up dry, charred or otherwise inedible.  I put my pork ribs in the oven.  I don't mind beef ribs, but really they don't compare to pork ribs.  Once again, it comes down to the fat.  The fat on a pork rib is just so much juicier and delicious than on a beef rib.  It's true, you don't get as much meat on the rib, but as Spencer Tracy once said of Katherine Hepburn, what's there is mighty cherce. 

            I've had some fun with pigs in this essay, relegating my enjoyment of them for the most part to the food products they offer.  But, actually, I really do like pigs.   In reference to my statement about not eating fish because they swim around in their own toilet, many people would counter that pigs roll around in the mud all day.  That may be true, but most animal experts agree that pigs are among the cleanest animals on any farm.  Pigs are also considered to be the Einsteins of the farm and in fact many experts think pigs are more intelligent than dogs.   Pigs haven't really gotten their fair due in pop culture until recently.   As mentioned earlier, Porky Pig was very popular for awhile.  And Arnold the Pig on the TV sitcom Green Acres certainly achieved a measure of immortality.  But pigdom finally achieved pop culture greatness with the appearance of one of the most memorable film characters of the 90s, Babe.  Babe the sheep-pig's call for putting aside judgments based solely on appearances is one that everyone should heed.  He is truly a philosopher-pig.

            I bet he'd produce some yummy pork chops, too.