Sunday, December 3, 2023

Cooking Hogs at Dockery Farms

Recalling an annual tradition in the foodways of an historic place

The soil of Dockery Farms in Cleveland, Mississippi grew not only crops but a patch of Mississippi’s history. It lays claim to being the birthplace of the blues, as Henry Sloan (often cited as the original bluesman) and blues legend Charlie Patton (who learned from Sloan) were both born on the property. But as in any region, town, community, or farm in the South, the foodways of Dockery Farms have their own song to sing, and its lyrics are all about the connection and relationships between the people who lived there.

Former Delta State University art professor Bill Lester lives at Dockery Farms and is executive director of the Dockery Farm Foundation. In this oral history audio slide show by the Southern Foodways Alliance, Lester describes a ritual he witnessed as recently as the 1970s, when men of the plantation prepared and cooked hogs using methodical techniques and steps practiced for many decades.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. Its mission is to “set common table where black and white, rich, and poor—all who gather—may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.”

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi, SFA stages symposia on food culture, produces documentary films, collects oral histories, and publishes compendiums of great writing. In the Atlantic Monthly, Corby Kummer dubbed the SFA “this country’s most intellectually engaged (and probably most engaging) food society.”