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A Town With a Gut Feeling for Chitlins

Charles Hillinger's America

July 10, 1989|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

SALLEY, S.C. — "Chitlin Capital of the World" proclaims the town limits sign here. Atop the sign is a figure of a large pig.

Because of chitlins, or chitterlings as they are also called, this sleepy little South Carolina town, population 584, boasts the lowest taxes in the state, minimal utility bills and excellent municipal services.

"Our property taxes haven't increased in 24 years," bragged Mayor E. W. (Pete) Clamp, 76. "Our trash and garbage pickup is free. We pay $3.50 a month for water where other towns our size pay $15 to $17. We have a new town hall, civic center and two new fire trucks, thanks to chitlins."

It's the Chitlin Strut held the Saturday after every Thanksgiving that pours money into the town coffers.

Ever since 1966, Chitlin lovers from all over the South have made pilgrimages to the Strut to feast on their favorite delicacy--the intestines of pigs. Last year 55,000 showed up to consume 20,000 pounds of chitlins.

"You can smell Salley five miles out of town on the day of the Strut. The smell is raunchy. Just like a pig sty. The odor wafts into the air from huge kettles the chitlins are cooked in," said Esther Miller, 65, who drives 55 miles to the Strut each year with her husband, Chalice, 69, from their home in North Augusta.

The Millers never eat chitlins. "How in heaven anyone can eat that smelly food is beyond me," allowed Chalice Miller, pinching his nose in disgust. "We go to the Strut for its big craft show, the parade and to laugh at the crazy dancing."

Men and women compete for the coveted Chitlin Strut championship following the hog-calling contest. "Soooo-weeee! Soooo-weeee!" shouts the emcee summoning the hog callers. After that he calls out: "Strut! Strut! Strut!"

The strut is peculiar to Salley's annual chitlin festival. "We don't allow cloggin' or shaggin', just chitlin struttin', " said Mary Minus, 40, a Strut judge each year.

"Doing the chitlin strut is shaking every part of the body at the same time to country music on a stage erected in front of the Civic Center. Some years a woman wins the Strut trophy. Some years a man wins. Most of the time a man is victorious."

It was the late Ben Dekle, a country music disc jockey known as the "Palmetto Philosopher" who first suggested a Chitlin Strut, but he could never find anyone with guts (guts also being a popular nickname for chitlins) enough to do it.

The town of Salley had the guts to do it. Now they reap a huge profit on food, T-shirts, crafts and other concessions sold at the Chitlin Strut. Every year thousands of T-shirts are sold here showing three pigs dancing together with the inscription: "I've got the guts to strut (at the) Chitlin Strut--Salley, S.C."

Cooking chitlins is no small task. Townspeople first boil chitlins for 24 hours in eight huge kettles, each holding 400 pounds of seasoned pig intestines. Then the chitlins are dredged in flour, fried in peanut oil and served with cole slaw, rice and gravy.

Mayor Clamp admitted the odor from cooking chitlins is unpleasant. "Many men tell us they come to the Chitlin Strut because their wives refuse to cook the smelly chitlins at home. For the finicky women and others who'd rather not eat chitlins we also serve barbecue dinners.

"I've been eating chitlins all my life. Sure they smell but they taste so good you ignore the odor. I have them with grits and eggs for breakfast, for lunch and dinner," said Salley's $220-a-week police chief, Keith Matthews, 41, who happens to be the entire police department.

Said David (Mr. D) Dunbar, 60, the official head chitlin boiler at the Strut: "You can't beat chitlins. I was raised on guts. This kind of eating goes back to our old ancestors."

"My grandbabies don't want me to cook chitlins in the house because of the smell," insisted Marion (Bubba) Milhouse Jr., 49, a Salley town councilman in charge of cooking chitlins at the Strut, "so I boils them out back behind the barn. I can't get enough chitlins."

Frozen chitlins are sold in the meat section of local grocery stores along with pig ears, pig tails, pig's feet, pork stomach and pork kidneys. "We eat every part of the pig in South Carolina," said Brenda Burkette, 32, as she purchased 10 pounds of chitlins. "Folks around here always serve chitlins on Christmas and other special occasions."

"Just think," Mayor Clamp mused, "if Indians had brought chitlins to the Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving, everybody probably would be eating chitlins on that holiday and maybe here in Salley we would be having a turkey strut."

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