Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Years Good Luck Food: Chitlins

From What's Cooking America, "History of Chitterlings/Chitlins: Chitterlings/Chitlins History - Chitterlings/Chitlins Recipe," by Linda Stradley-- Let us consider what chitlins are - they are hog intestines or guts. Some people turn up their noses at the mention of chitlins; other leave the house while they are cooking, driven away by their odor. However, the volume sold for New Year's dinners, with Christmas and Thanksgiving not far behind, attests to chitlins popularity in the United States. Chitterlings is the more formal name, but most people call them chitlins. They are usually part of a larger meal that includes collard greens, fried chicken, and other traditional Southern foods. Chitlins are not for the faint of palate or smell, which is why traditionally they were cooked outdoors at backyard hog killings in winter. They are a food that you either love or hate!

Chitlins take a lot of time and effort to clean. They are partially cleaned when they are sold, but require additional hand cleaning before they are ready to eat. The secret to good and safe chitlins is in the cleaning, not in the cooking. They are available in supermarkets in African-American neighborhoods, especially during the holiday season. they can also be ordered from a butcher, but be prepared to buy 10 pounds of chitlins to get 5 pounds to cook.

Animal innards have long been treasured foods around the world. Scotland's national dish is haggis (sheep's stomach stuffed with the animal's minced heart, liver, and lungs). Throughout Europe, tripe (cow or ox stomach) is popular, and French chefs in upscale restaurants serve dishes based on cow's brains and kidneys.
In 1966, the town of Salley, South Carolina, inaugurated the annual Chitlin' Strut. The first festival attracted about a hundred people. Today the festival draws about 70,000 people. It is estimated that more than 128,000 pounds of chitlins have been eaten during the festival's history.

Eating chitlins in the rural South is not as common as it once was. In colonial times, hogs were slaughtered in December, and how maws or ears, pigs feet, and neck bones were given to the slaves. Until emancipation, African-American food choices were restricted by the dictates of their owners, and slave owners often fed their slaves little more than the scraps of animal meat that the owners deemed unacceptable for themselves. Because of the West African tradition of cooking all edible parts of plants and animals, these foods helped the slaves survive in the United States.


The informal circuit of juke joints and clubs patronized by African Americans has long been called the "Chitlin Circuit." The Chitlin' Circuit was a string of music venues in the South that sold chitlins' and other soul food dishes. In the late 50's and early 60's these tours were crucial to Black artists. Because there was no media coverage for these artists, the Chitlin' Circuit was the only way to perform for their fans.

By mid-century there were several active chitterling eating clubs - Royal Order of Chitlin Eaters of Nashville, Tennessee and the Happy Chitlin Eaters of Raleigh, North Carolina. There is even a song on chitlins called Chitlin Cookin' Time in Cheatham County:
There's a quiet and peaceful county in the state of Tennessee
You will find it in the book they call geography
Not famous for its farming, its mines, or its stills
But they know there's chitlin cookin' in them Cheatham County hills
When it's chitlin cookin' time in Cheatham County I'll be courtin' in them Cheatham County hills
And I'll pick a Cheatham County chitlin cooker
I've a longin' that the chitlins will fill

Health Officials Issue Precautions for Preparing Chitterlings
by Virginia Health Department

Families across Virginia will soon be cooking holiday meals. If your meal includes chitterlings (pig intestines), the Virginia Department of Health has recommendations for preparation that will keep your family from getting sick.

"When preparing chitterlings the best way to avoid bacterial contamination and illness is to buy pre-cooked chitterlings," recommends State Health Commissioner Robert Stroube, M.D., M.P.H. "If raw chitterlings are used, they should be pre-boiled for five minutes before preparing as usual. Pre-boiling makes cleaning chitterlings easier and faster and does not change the taste."

Dr. Stroube warns that bacteria in raw chitterlings or pig intestines can cause severe diarrhea, especially in infants. Chitterlings, commonly called chitlins, may contain the Yersinia bacteria. The bacteria are spread from raw chitterlings by hands or by eating or drinking contaminated food or liquid

"Preparing chitlins is a lengthy process. Contamination within the home is hard to avoid. Baby food or formula should not be prepared or handled while preparing chitterlings due the potential for contamination. Infant formula or food should not be placed anywhere near raw chitterlings in the refrigerator. The Yersinia bacteria are different than many bacteria, because they multiply and spread even in the cold," Dr. Stroube said.

Yersinia can cause severe diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. The symptoms usually begin within three to seven days after contact with the bacteria. Infants and small children who contract yersiniosis may require hospitalization, although the illness rarely causes death. Older children and adults may experience appendicitis-like stomach pain.

The Virginia Department of Health recommends the following tips when cooking chitlins:

  • Wrap the container containing the raw chitlins in plastic wrap when thawing in the refrigerator
  • Keep children out of the kitchen until the chitlins are pre-boiled and the kitchen is thoroughly cleaned.
  • Handle raw chitlins as little as possible until after they have been pre-boiled.
  • Keep raw chitlins away from all baby food and formula.
  • After touching the chitlins, wash your hands with warm water and soap, and clean under your nails.
  • Clean sinks and all places touched by raw chitlins or their juice with hot soapy water or a chlorine bleach solution.
  • Wrap all waste promptly and throw into an outside garbage can.
  • Clean all pots, pans, buckets and utensils in the dishwasher or in hot soapy water.
  • Wash dishcloths, towels or sponges used in cleanup in hot water.
[Image source: artist Kara Walker; Text source: What's Cooking America;© copyright 2004 by Linda Stradley - United States Copyright TX 5-900-517- All rights reserved. This web site may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission and appropriate credit given. If you quote any of the history information contained below for research in writing a magazine or newspaper article, school work or college research, and/or television show production, you must give a reference to the author, Linda Stradley, and to the web site What's Cooking America.]


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