We’re mapping out Scrumptious Chef Pop Up Restaurant number eight.
The theme is Heritage Pork. We’ll be trying to make sainted Granddaddy Big Jim Sullivan proud as he was an old school-born at the beginning of the 20th century-hog farmer and rural charcuterie man. Back when Big Jim was getting his start in the business, Kentucky winters were absolutely brutal. It snowed early, it snowed often and winters were remarkable for their length and difficulty to bear. Enter the Duroc hog. Originally called the Duroc-Jersey, the origin of the breed is something of a mystery. Some swine historians claim that the breed originated in the Guinea region of Africa
It’s entirely possible that the slave trade vessels of that area contained early versions of what we now know to be the Duroc. Experts on hog lineage claim that reddish colored pigs were transported to America via Christopher Columbus on his 2nd trip to the New World.
Notorious drinker, gambler and statesman Henry Clay reputedly brought red colored shoats from Spain in 1837 to Kentucky. The long tradition of salt curing in Appalachia then had a new benchmark breed from whence to ply hams and bacon from the old smokehouses dotting the Cumberlands. My grandfather’s dad probably rejoiced.
The modern strain of Duroc most likely resulted from 2 different breeds: The Jersey Reds and The Duroc Strain. The former was well established by the mid-19th century hog farmers who loved the breed because they were enormous in size and well suited to the rugged northern winters. Only the strongest creatures could have survived these conditions. Joseph B. Lyman of the New York Tribune is credited with giving Jersey Reds their name.
Meanwhile in nearby New York state the Duroc was being named after Mr. Harry Kelsey’s prized thoroughbred stallion; Duroc. An Isaac Frink had visited Kelsey’s estate, spied the pigs, and, being smitten, purchased some of them. Since they did not have a known breed name he named them after the horse.
Frink went on to return to his home in Saratoga County where he eventually crossed some Red Berkshire into his newly-christened Duroc strain. The resultant breed would’ve been a forebear to what we now know as the modern Duroc.
At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Durocs took center stage leading to an explosion in the breed’s popularity.
My grandfather’s Durocs were famous in his corner of Appalachia. As soon as the weather got cold enough, it was pronounced hog killing time, and their great cries would rent the frigid air. After being dispatched, bled out and broken into primals and sub-primals, a good portion of them would be toted into the smoke house out back, sprinkled thoroughly with curing salt and left to age til they were deemed sufficiently cured.
Colonel Sanders, one of my grandpa’s cronies would make the occasional appearance at Sunday dinner (lunch) to sample Big Jim’s prized hams. To this day it’s the finest cured meat I’ve ever eaten.
So, it’s with a lot of history and responsibility that we shoulder our next pop up restaurant event: Heritage Pork. We take our work very seriously but with these antecedents in place we’ll be doubling down our efforts.
In the next few weeks we’ll be fanning out across Central Texas to find the single best purveyor of heritage hogs. We’re not dead set on Duroc but is sure would be nice if that was the breed we brought to table.
We learned something really valuable at our most recent event. Austin’s eaters are more than happy to pay a few extra dollars for high grade food and drink when it’s carefully sourced from vendors like Broken Arrow Ranch, Easy Tiger Bakery and Jester King Craft Brewery.
And one of our Txoko brothers just finished building his sous vide so we plan on utilizing it to its full advantage.
photo credit: National Swine Registry