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Coltrain, County Extension
North Carolina State University,
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
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
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
Most families who love to cook
chitlins have their own recipe passed down from generation
to generation. My friend, Andra Cook of Raleigh, North
Carolina, says her mother, Martha McCollum, always fried the chitlins after they were simmered. Andra says,
"If you can get past the smell, they have an interesting flavor.
When my mother prepared them, the whole neighborhood
Cook time: 3 hr
10-pound bucket fresh or frozen chitterlings
Cold water to cover
1 cup cider vinegar
5 bay leaves
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce
If chitterlings are
Using a small soft
brush, clean chitterlings thoroughly; rinse in several changes of
cold water. Cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces.
Place the cleaned
chitterlings into a large pot; cover with water and vinegar. Add bay
leaves, onions, potatoes, green or red pepper, garlic, salt, and
pepper. Bring to a boil; turn heat to low and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3
hours or until chitterlings are tender. remove from heat; drain
Serve with your favorite
hot pepper sauce.
Makes 6 servings.
Health Officials Issue Precautions for
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 liquids.
"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
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
Keep children out of the kitchen until
the chitlins are pre-boiled and the kitchen is
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
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.