According to my friend Dr. Susan Parker, Alabama politics is not just about politics; it is about food and lots of it. No political rally is complete without a fish fry, a barbecue, or, heaven help us, even a chitterling supper. Dr. Parker, who currently occupies Place 2 on the Alabama Public Service Commission, has been on the campaign trail this summer. I asked her to tell Swampland readers about eating chittlins--as we call them in the south.
Let me add that although I have eaten almost everything that did not crawl away from me including "brains and eggs," I have never eaten chittlins. Nor do I plan to. (Photo of Susan Parker and me at a Derby Day party.)
Few people will cook chitterlings because pig intestines are so very hard to clean. Some die-hard chittlin' aficionados employ a garden hose (commonly called a hose pipe) to flush the undesirable materials (I will leave that to your imagination) from the guts of the pig. I have heard it told that cleanliness does nothing to improve the smell, but that is another story. Apparently, politicians don't kiss babies anymore (for obvious reasons), but they are sometimes called upon to eat food that most people might find downright revolting. Here is Dr. Susan Parker writing about eating chittlins on the campaign trail.
Oh, the fun things an Alabama politician gets to do. When Vice President Joe Biden or Rahm Emanuel uses foul language telling some adversary to eat s __, little do they know in Alabama that’s just what candidates get to do.
For fifty-one years, in the tiny town of Arley, Alabama, hundreds of people have come to Meek High School gymnasium to the Chittlin' Supper. A chitlin' , in case you don't know, is a pig intestine. We southerners eat them fried, of course, like everything else.
When I was a child, every fall after the first frost, we would butcher a hog. The first things my mother always cooked were “brains and eggs” and “chittlins”. She was very particular about both. The brains had to be fresh and the chittlins had to be “slung clean.” She would wash and wash and sling and sling and beat on a stump and finally declare them clean enough to batter and fry—just like chicken.
At the chittlin’ supper, all the candidates give their stump speeches to hundreds of folks eating chittlins and fried chicken. I always have the feeling that those folks who host the supper aren’t deciding who to vote for based on the speeches but whether a candidate can get down the chittlins—without grimacing. And the dedicated campaigner who can down seconds is a sure winner.
I was only able to get down a bite or two with a lot of sweet tea. I did, however, participate in a buckdancing contest, but I lost to a much more agile second grader.
My mother has gone on to heaven, but I believe she would have declared the chittlins in Arley “slung clean” and ready to eat.
Thanks to Susan Parker for sharing that special moment. I think I will stick to fried chicken.
-- Penne J. Laubenthal
Possum Tales and Other Southern Fare