The thought crossed my mind that the late Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard would have a ball today writing about the big comeback of pork skins.
It’s a subject ready-made for satire or ridicule.
Here’s the crunch: the crispy, lighter-than-air snack is carb free and tasty, if somewhat salty, and it has become the ideal snack for the overweight loyally attempting to follow a diet. The snack is 70 percent protein and can be found now in health food stores.
Just this past Sunday afternoon, while shopping at a local food store, I buggied by an upscale shopper — defined by stylish dress and heels, sparkling jewelry and stylish hair — who was putting several plastic jugs filled with Hog Heaven fried pork skins (slogan: “Put a little South in your mouth”) into her cart.
“My,” I said to myself, “how times and tastes have changed.”
A few years ago this lady would have fainted at the suggestion of eating pork skins or rinds. She appeared to be the type who would also forbid her husband from eating them while he watched NASCAR racing on TV.
In the old days, the only company around here cooking and packaging pork skins was Golden Flake. The cooked skins were packed in plastic bags and marketed toward NASCAR fans, college football loyalists, anglers, hunters and campers.
Now, pork skins have become an art form, somewhat akin to craft beer. They now sport attractive names and packaging like Epic Artisinal, Utz, Pork Clouds, Carolina Gold Nuggets, Turkey Creek.
Today, pork skins come in colorful bags and attractive round containers, with uptown labels that can be placed around the house without embarrassment when friends visit — not hidden in a kitchen cabinet or pantry like in the old days.
For decades, fried pork skins were associated with lowly, beer-guzzling Bubbas who lived in trailers and devoured loads of Vienna sausage and deviled ham along with the skins.
I remember that President George H.W. Bush was a big pork skins fan and was the first to bring the Southern snack to the White House. He beat Bill Clinton of Arkansas, no doubt a pork skins lover, to the punch.
Pork skins have played a major gastric role in the history of the South. The snack can trace its history back to plantation times, when every part of the hog was consumed, including the skin.
While munching on some tasty skins last Monday (yes, the upscale shopper convinced me to buy a tub), I experienced a flashback to my hard days of manual labor in my youth.
One summer, in the scalding heat of August, I worked on a crew putting up steel poles and digging anchor holes for high-tension electrical power lines running from Goat Rock Dam, not too far from Auburn in East Alabama, all the way to Birmingham.
The South was on the move then, and metro areas like Birmingham needed more electricity to keep growing.
Pounding those anchors into the ground was the hardest work of my life. The guys on my crew sweat and strained as we put the anchors in place beneath the ground.
We used large, long steel tubes with handles to beat the blades open beneath the earth. Then we attached metal wires from the anchors to the steel poles to keep them stable in high winds.
Anyway, so much for the exhausting labor narrative. The company was from Ohio, so there were Southern guys and Northern guys on the crew.
We Southern boys started each work day with a breakfast of pork skins and Royal Crown Colas. The Northern guys started the day with chocolate chip cookies and orange sodas.
Those Yanks consistently reminded us of the articles they had read and the talk they had heard about rednecks, much of it proven true by our breakfasting on pork skins.
Eating pork skins to them represented some kind of crude, country upbringing on our part. Man, they nailed us.
“Hey, dude,” we would say, “you’re missing out on one of the great tastes of life. Ain’t nothing better than good-old pork skins.” And they’d say, “Ain’t! Now that’s a good-old Southern word. Ain’t nothing worse sounding or tasting than pork skins.”
That type of back-and-forth banter went on all day long. And we could never convince those guys from the north to try our Southern pork skins.
So, I would like to tell the upscale shopper in the food market that there isn’t anything quite like our pork skins. They’re in a class all by themselves.
I’m sure that fried pork skins will always be a culinary part of our traditional Southern foods.
Back in the old days, pork skins came in just one flavor. Now they come in flavors like hickory smoked, salt and vinegar, and barbecue, among others, aimed at today’s expanded tastes.
But I love the plain old skins. Call me redneck. Doesn’t matter. Call me a low-life. Don’t care. I intend to keep eating pork skins.
The rest of you ought to join me, since eating the skins is the new “in thing” to do, thanks to changing diets and new respectability for this Old South classic.
Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives in nearby Phenix City. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org