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June 18, 2008

Honor the Pig With a Helping of Salt Pork


As a species of primates that eats meat, few appreciate our special relationship with the pig, a wonderful animal that’s both intelligent and willing to wallow in filth. It is a magical creature that has bequeathed to our kitchens ham and pork chops and ribs and also bacon. It is an animal that can be consumed at all points of the day without worry about breaking social norms.


In fact, it gives and gives and gives, even providing us with things few consider, like salt pork.

There are no great secrets about salt pork. It is pork that has been heavily salted. It is bacon, but without the bacon flavoring.


It is not a standalone meat, typically. That is, it is something that is usually added to provide flavoring for other foods, and as an added delight – who walks among us who would not like to find a little nugget of meat while poking through something else.


The flavor of pork itself has a special relationship with the legume. You can find it often cooked with a pot of baked beans, and it lends itself well to black-eyed peas, themselves one of life’s earthiest foods.


So earthy are black-eyed peas that the only way to make them even earthier is to pair them with collard greens. It becomes a meeting of the earth with something that grows in it.


It also starts with two big bowls of water.


Cut the salt pork into pieces and drop them into the water and let it soak overnight. This will remove some of the extra saltiness necessary to preserve the pork. Into the other, add raw black-eyed peas. This is necessary to soften them up.


The next day, you will start not with either of those, but with the greens. Remove, as much as possible, the stems. You are after the lustrous leaves here, not stems.


Roll them into a long tube. Stifle any urge to light this on fire and smoke it. The leaves are considerably less nutritious when consumed in this way.


Instead, cut them into strips.


Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil at the bottom of a pot. Add the leaves, peas and pork and cover with enough vegetable broth to cover all of it. Add also a dash or two of vinegar for zing and to help break down tough leaves. Cover and simmer until the peas are soft.


How long will that take? Some questions are best not asked. But stir occasionally throughout, and if you’ve done things properly, most of the broth will be absorbed by the peas.


Once finished, add salt to taste and also a liberal helping of crushed red pepper.


Eat and enjoy, while also allowing a thought or two to pass through your mind in honor of the pig. It has given to you its belly, so that you might honor the earth in which it wallowed. If you feel the need, also ponder whether this constitutes irony.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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