Going Whole Hog

Pon-hoss: Glen and Fern Heatwole

Highland County residents share recipes and tips learned from generations of raising hogs for pork

By Susanna Byrd

Pon-hoss is the lesser-known, southern cousin of Scrapple, that Pennsylvania-Dutch delicacy of pork bits and cornmeal. There are very few people who still make Pon-hoss these days and in Highland County, Fern and Glen Heatwole might be the only ones. So special a food is it, that Glen told me a story of an old man who called him up at the store one day:

hog“I heard you still make a good pon-hoss and I want to order some by mail” he said. “Could you send it to where I live now in Florida?”

The old man had moved to Florida from Highland County. He was 94 years old and had heard from the doctor that he only had so much longer to live on this earth. He said that the only thing he wanted to make sure he had before he died was another taste of pon-hoss, the real thing. So Glen wrapped him up a few precious loaves and sent them off to Florida. The old man called back, thoroughly happy and full of compliments. Glen heard that he passed away not long after.

To make Pon-hoss is to also butcher a hog. The process cannot really be done independently if the product is to be the true thing, worthy of an old Highland County man’s memory-infused taste. The various stages of making Pon-hoss correspond with the stages of butchering and it is therefore a day-long process.

Pon-hoss is made in a large copper kettle, like apple butter. As you butcher the hog, all the bones that you remove are tossed into the kettle with water to boil. Throughout the day, bones are added and the pot boils away, extracting the meat, grease and flavor and creating a strong stock. At the end of the day, the bones and bits are strained out. Any remaining meat is stripped off the bones and set aside for “puddings”* (to make scrapple, this meat would be put back into the mixture. According to Mr. Heatwole, true Pon-hoss does not include the meat bits, only the leftover stock).

In the remaining stock, a mixture of 2 parts cornmeal and 1 part flour are added and stirred constantly until it thickens to a cake batter-like consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into bread pans and freeze. Later, cut the loaves into slices and pan fry them in lard or butter. Delicious with apple butter, applesauce or maple syrup on top.

  • “Puddings meat” is made with these leftover meat bits, lard and salt and pepper.

Self-sealed crock sausage: Donna Hooke, Sandy and Edmond Hevener and Nancy White

One common practice to preserve sausage before electricity was to keep it in a large crock. The raw, ground sausage would be put in a crock and cooked in the oven. The grease would naturally rise to cover the meat and when the sausage was fully cooked, the crock was pulled out of the oven and the lard would congeal in a thick layer on top of the meat. This formed a natural seal that kept the sausage underneath from going bad. The crock would be stored in the root cellar and whenever sausage was desired, you could simply scoop the lard aside, pull some out from below and re-cover the top with the lard.