Originally created 11/30/97

Crowds gather for chitlins



SALLEY, S.C. - The smell of diesel fuel from chartered buses and the throaty rumble of Harley-Davidson and Honda Goldwing motorcycles. Horse manure, marching bands and festival maidens.

Onlookers clutching coffee cups and huddling together for body heat. Cigarette smoke. Souped-up car engines, sirens and Miss Piggy.

Welcome to the 32nd annual Chitlin Strut.

U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond waived to the crowd Saturday; his Republican colleagues tagged behind. First there was U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham. Then came local House Rep. Charles Sharpe. Soon after, James Metts, in another attempt to unseat Gov. David Beasley, rode by. And on the sidelines, Rebecca Sutherland, an Aikenite running for state superintendent of education, shook hands with constituents.

Meanwhile, about a quarter of a mile down the road, Paul Salley and his nine-member cooking crew steadily fried chitlins while the smell slowly clogged the cool air.

They'd been there since 5:30 a.m., and the first heap of hog innards was served about five hours later.

Salley residents call them chitlins. Webster's dictionary calls them chitterlings. They're about 3 yards long and smell just like the word sounds - raunchy. Because so many are cooked at the festival Saturday's intestines were chemically cleaned for safety.

Generally, hog intestines are used for stuffing sausage. But here, they're used like glue to hold people together. Some have said that intestines are to Salley what Chanel No. 5 is to Fifth Avenue.

A few days ago, the chitlins arrived pre-boiled from Smithfield Packing in Virginia. About five tons were unloaded and placed directly into a refrigerated truck.

"We bring 'em in. Flour 'em. Throw 'em in the basket of grease for about eight minutes at 375 degrees, and they're ready for your belly," explained chief cook and Councilman Paul Salley.

About three pounds of raw innards is the equivalent of one pound of fried chitlins, Mr. Salley said. And one of the first 200 people in line for the delicacy was Mr. Thurmond, who's never missed a Strut.

"The first time I was here, I didn't think I could eat one `cause I knew where they came from," Mr. Thurmond said. "A buddy of mine double-dared me to taste one. I did, and it was pretty good. Now I eat 'em by the plateful.

"They might smell rotten like a hog, but they sure taste good," he said, rubbing his belly and licking is lips.

Some say the intestines taste like pork skins, only a little stronger.

"It's definitely an acquired taste," said Darla Jones. A native of Sumter, Mrs. Jones has attended the Strut for the past 10 years.

"If you put enough ketchup on something, it will eventually taste good," she said.