Friday, August 14, 2015

Collard Shack Revisited

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

A trip to the small town of Ayden is usually for wood-cooked barbecue because it’s the home to two of the state’s premier BBQ establishments – Skylight Inn and Bum’s Restaurant. However, when I traveled there, I was searching for The Collard Shack as much as I was for chopped whole hog barbecue.

Yellow cabbage collard bedding
 plants come in multiples of 25 at
The Collard Shack.
In 2011 when David Cecelski wrote about The Collard Shack in one of his legacy posts on this blog, he peaked my interest in its yellow cabbage collards. This type of collard is considered milder and more tender than most collards....

As a novice collard grower, I sought the wise counsel of Benny Cox, who manages The Collard Shack and advises beginners as well as expert gardeners. Talking to him was the highlight of the visit. He’s very entertaining and obviously loves his plants. His years of experience in the collard fields are evident in the lines and hue of his face. The bundle of 25 plants that I bought were light green with moist root balls and lengthy but fragile stems about four inches long. Cox explained how far apart to plant the collards and showed how much of the stems should be covered with soil.

Continue reading at the NCFood blog ...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Run, Piggy, Run

Pig races are a crowd favorite
at the Peak City Pig Fest.
You really haven’t had an exciting summer unless you’ve been to a pig race. When I was in Apex for the Peak City Pig Fest, I knew that I couldn’t leave until I had watched one of the four pig races. They were a featured part of the festival, which included a barbecue cookoff with 48 cooking teams.

As the crowd ambles into the area of the “Hogway Speedway,” honky-tonk music blares on loudspeakers, interrupted by an occasional “Howdy” by a Minnie Pearl-sounding voice. As race time nears, Brent Cook, the emcee, counts down the minutes remaining. Then “The Call to Post” blares loudly. It sounds as authentic as the one at Churchill Downs before the start of the Kentucky Derby. However, at Hogway Speedway, the 33 high-tempo bugle notes are a recording rather than live, but they alert the crowd that a race is imminent. Because the notes are insufficient to call the pigs, Cook leads the crowd in a boisterous call of “Soo-o-o-o-ey” that ricochets down the street among the festival tents, displays, and food vendors.

The crowd surrounds the "hogway" before the start of each race.

Cook is from Newton, home of Circle C Farms, where the pigs bask in their glory between events and are groomed for their next weekend race. After “The Call to Post” recording, Cook introduces each racing pig as it runs to the starting gate and explains the special lingo that Hogway Speedway needs: the far side of the raceway is a hamstretch (rather than a backstretch) and a hambulance is called for any injured racer who pulls a hamstring or collides with others in a pigup (not a pileup).

Brent Cook starts a race.
The racing pigs also have names and numbers just like NASCAR heroes. For this festival, four pigs competed in each race. Although their names are a humorous resemblance of real drivers, their numbers are the same: #11, Hammy Hamlin (instead of NASCAR’s Denny Hamlin), #14 Squealing Stewart (instead of Tony), #24 Piggy Gordon (Jeff), and #88 Oinkhardt Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.).

Just like NASCAR drivers on a real course, pigs run counterclockwise (must be a natural tendency). Oinkhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, won the 9:30 a.m. race. After the race is over, you learn why the pigs run so fast: it’s the reward. The winner gets to munch on a special plate of Wise’s Cheez Doodles. No treats for the losers, who have to wait until next race for another chance or the next meal after the long ride home.

Racing pigs pick up speed after a sharp turn.

When the races are over, the crowd returns to other areas of the festival to enjoy pork barbecue, ice cream, and other food. As everyone leaves, Cook calls out, “Don’t tell the pigs if you eat barbecue. They might squeal on you.” The pigs from Circle C Farms are also an annual tradition at the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh each October. Don’t miss them!

Note: This post appeared originally in the August 2015 issue of OutreachNC, a monthly magazine distributed in 10 counties of central North Carolina. Click here to see the article as it appeared in print.