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Hog Jowls and Pork: Explaining Southern New Year's Traditions

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Marzipan Pigs

Marzipan Pigs - Copyright Roy Gumpel / National Geographic / Getty Images

I probably need to explain what a hog jowl is.   Some Yankees have never heard of this cut of pork.  It's the "cheek" of the hog.   It tastes and cooks similar to thick cut bacon.  It's a tough cut that is typically smoked and cured.  Hog jowl is used to season beans and peas, or fried and eaten like bacon.

On New Year's Day, hog jowls are traditionally eaten in the south to ensure health, prosperity and progress.   The south isn't the only place that eats pork on New Year's Day.   All over the world people are using marzipan pigs to decorate their tables, partaking in pig's feet, pork sausage, roast suckling pig or pork dumplings.  We're just the only ones who put so much faith in the jowl cut.

Hogs and pigs have long been a symbol of prosperity and gluttony. It's why we say someone is "being a pig" when they take more than their share. Some cultures believe that the bigger pig you eat on New Year's, the bigger your wallet will be in the coming year.  So, the "fatter" the pig, the "fatter" your wallet.  Spit and pit roasted pigs are popular New Year's meals.

In the south and other poor areas, pigs were considered symbolic of both health and wealth, because families could eat for the entire winter on the fatty meat one pig produced.  Having pork could mean the difference between life and death in a really cold winter.

Pigs have also long symbolized progress.  A pig can't turn his head to look back without turning completely around, so it's believed that pigs are always looking to the future.  They fit in perfectly with other New Year's celebrations.

Why hog jowls? You need to look at my black-eyed pea article for some detailed explanation.   The short answer is that we eat cured pork because it's winter time.  Hog jowl is a cured product which stores well for long periods.  During the winter, cured pork would be one meat that would be accessible.

Plus, it goes well with black-eyed peas and collard greens.  It's a good thing the people who made these superstitions up didn't come up with something like snails, cornbread and black-eyed peas.  I don't think it would have caught on.

How do you cook hog jowl for New Year's? Some people only use the jowl to season their black-eyed peas and collard greens.  Most in the south would say that's not enough to make you prosperous.  You also have to partake in some fried hog jowl.  It's cooked similar to bacon, but hog jowl is a bit tougher and takes a little longer to cook.

Jowl typically comes in a package, sliced like thick bacon or uncut on the "rind."  Most people remove the rind, slice it and fry the slices in a skillet, like bacon, until brown on both sides.  It's then drained on a paper towel and served.  Since it's a cured food, it typically doesn't need extra salt, but some like to serve it with pepper or hot sauce.

Enjoy!

About Black-eyed Peas, About Collard Greens and Cornbread

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