GUINEA HOGS - BLADEN COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA
“Meat” still means pork to many people in the State.—North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State (WPA, 1939)
The Guinea Hog, sometimes called an Acorn Eater or Yard Pig, was once the predominate breed of hog in the Southeast. As industrial agriculture expanded in the 20th Century, many heritage hog breeds, including the American Guinea, dwindled. In 2011 there were less than one thousand known American Guinea Hogs in existence.
Scott and Lydia McGhee believe that in order to save the breed, the animals have to be carefully raised for their highest and best use: to be eaten. On their farm in Bladen County, North Carolina, the McGhees are raising a modest number of pigs (among other things) on the ground amid long straw pines and acorn-producing oaks. The animals root and forage for the majority of their diet and have plenty of time and space to grow. Scott, a trained arborist and Journeyman Bladesmith, is also an accomplished chef and charcuterie maker.
“We’ll show you anything you want to see, but we’ll have to ask that you stand over by the shop when we kill the hog. That’s just out of respect for the animal. What happens over there is between me, my wife, and the pig.”
After the hog is stunned and bled, it is immersed, or scalded, in hot water so that its hair may be easily scraped off. When this is complete the carcass is hoisted by its hindquarters, butterflied, and divested of its innards. At this point it is ready to be broken down into distinct cuts: shoulders, hams, ribs, belly, fat, and so on.
Bacon, sausage seasoned with salt, red pepper, and sage, and country ham are the most typical pork products that North Carolinians have traditionally enjoyed. More elusive today are individuals making souse or pickling trotters. The hog harvested in these images went mostly into soppressata, fresh sausage, and bratwurst. Two years ago Scott also began making his own prosciutto in his bladesmithing shop.
In North Carolina, passion for pork is a birthright…Whatever happens in this humble state, as tobacco slowly becomes a memory with banking and bio-tech taking its place at the center of things, hogs will remain nearest and dearest to our hearts. For better or for worse, pigs are us.
Editor’s Note: This work began as a project of the North Carolina Folklife Institute. Learn more about Scott’s knives at http://www.guineahogforge.com.
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Guide to North Carolina and the South Chris Fowler is a North Carolinian, photographer, folklorist, and curator. In 2011 he was awarded a Lewis Hine Documentary Fellowship from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Follow his work at http://www.chrisfowlerphoto.com.