Pigs in America

What does this have to do with baking? Almost nothing! But it’s an interesting subject, and who’s the one that’s doing the writing here?

Ever ask yourself where pigs come from? I mean…historically? And why are they so popular in the South? It all goes back to Spanish explorer and so-called “Father of the American Pork Industry”, Hernando de Soto. Pigs, you see, aren’t from this neck of the woods, geographically speaking. They’re native to Asia, where they were domesticated by the Chinese some 7,000 years ago. Hogs had to be brought to America, and were, to Tampa Bay, Florida in 1539. Hernando de Soto landed there with thirteen of them, and in just three years’ time they multiplied into a herd of some 700 (not including the ones they ate, the ones they sold, they ones that ran away, that died, or were stolen in Indian raids).

How is this possible? Because the pig is an eating, growing and reproducing machine. Fully 25% of everything a pig eats is converted to more pig. Compare that to a cow that converts just 5% of what it eats to bovine flesh and bone. Female pigs can bear two litters of between 5 and 15 piglets a year, each of which can grow to up to 250 pounds. Add all that together and what you have, my friends, is serious meat on the hoof.

They’re also amazingly adaptable. Runaways from de Soto’s original stock took to the wilderness like pigs to, well…you follow me. Their eating and foraging habits initially disgusted the Indians, though one taste was about all it took to turn even the most die-hard hunting-gathering Seminole into a serious barbecue buff. And of course nothing goes to waste in the hog world. As pork connoisseurs like to say, you can eat everything on a pig but the oink.

So by accident and intention, pigs became a fixture of the South, and well before most settlers arrived. In fact, by the time settlers began moving into the area en masse some 150 years later, de Soto’s runaways had evolved (or de-volved depending on how you want to look at it) from plump dopey buffets on four legs into boney, nimble, ugly and decidedly foul-tempered “razorbacks”.

Initially, Southern settlers couldn’t decide if these creatures were more threatening or hilarious, but one thing they did agree on was that they’d rather eat the home-grown variety, which they did in great numbers. Being far more economical than cows, they were the perfect livestock for poor country. Cows were kept, but mostly for their milk, since they required more food and land to raise. The pig was space efficient, cost efficient, and above all delicious. What’s not to love?

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