Pig knuckles and chicken feathers

The whole hog: a batch of pig ears ready for the fryer.

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More savory wit from our featured food blogger Diana Hossfeld, who writes the food blog Diana Takes a Bite.

Pig knuckles and chicken feathers. These were my mother’s favorite scary stories when my brothers and I were growing up.

“When I was a little girl I had to pluck the chickens,” she told us of her days spent visiting her grandmother Mamie on her farm in Arlington, South Dakota. She went on to provide vivid details about their butcher and how even after the chickens’ heads had been chopped off they’d still run around the yard.

“And the smell,” she continued, pausing for emphasis as she described how Mamie would soak the chickens’ lifeless bodies in the sink so it was easier to remove the feathers. “It filled the entire kitchen. But it was nothing compared to the time I had to eat…(dun, Dun, DUN!)…pig knuckles!”

It was this point that I would scream, press my hands over my ears as if that would somehow erase what I’d just heard. I was infinitely grateful that the only form of pork I’d been exposed to at that point was bacon, lean strips of barbecued tenderloin and the country-style ham that we piled into doughy white rolls from the supermarket. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles after graduating college that I even considered ingesting other cuts.

The sudden change in my eating demeanor was not by choice. It was the heyday of pork belly and I was easily influenced by peer pressure from my more adventurous contemporaries who convinced me that it was no different than eating bacon. The caramelized hunk I encountered at Animal, an LA restaurant notorious for being a meat lair, was like a gateway drug for me. As I forked my way through the shreddable strands of fatty pork that were assertively paired with kimchi and peanuts, I had what Oprah might call an “aha” moment.  I couldn’t wait to rush home and tell my mom that I had eaten a pig’s belly. And liked it.

From that point on, I was far more open to trying different piggy parts. Pork shank, pork butt, pork jowl, pork neck, pig tail, pig face – Wilbur was my oyster. And after each new bite I’d call my mom, relaying the details of my latest gastronomical adventure with pride. The roles had reversed; Suddenly I was the one disgusting her with lurid descriptions of my latest head-to-tail conquest.

“You ate what?” she squealed in horror, as I told her how I’d eaten around the bones of the rump to consume all the sticky sweet filaments of pig flesh. While I was proud of how far I’d come since the days when I ran screaming out of the room at the merest mention of the infamous pig knuckle, each new texture was not always particularly pleasurable for me. The visual of my first encounter with pig ears is still seared into my mind with disturbing clarity. They looked innocent enough, fried into coy, little triangles and nestled into a cleverly outfitted paper-lined metal cup. “Just like French fries!” I thought as I extracted my first and final ear.

The initial bite tasted fine – salty, crunchy and rife with that quintessential porky flavor I’d come to not only respect, but enjoy over the years. But as I started to pop the rest in my mouth I made the grave mistake of looking at the half-eaten ear in my hand. The oozing, gelatinous cartilage stripped clean of its fried shell glared back at me. The image churned my stomach, so I did the only thing I could do to get it out of my line of sight. I ate it. I chewed into the aloe-like ear as my brain gagged in revulsion.

This will be the horror story I tell my children one day when we’re sitting around the campfire making s’mores. “Mommy ate a pig ear and it looked just like the inside of this marshmallow,” I’ll say as I tear the toasted mallow apart to reveal the sticky interior. Then I’ll pop it into my mouth, laugh maniacally and watch my kids run away in horror – just like the headless chickens on my great-grandmother’s farm nearly sixty years ago.

Hungry for more? Tune in for a cross-country road trip with celebrity Chef Ludo Lefebvre as he reinvents American cuisine. LUDO BITES AMERICA airs Tuesdays at 9p on Sundance Channel.

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