Puddin Pot (2014)

Woodward on making Puddin Pot

When I visited Indian Field Methodist camp meeting to shoot Puddin Pot in 2000, I knew nothing about it, and was there because a friend who learned I had returned to South Carolina and was shooting folklife documentaries had asked me whether I had ever heard of Puddin Pot stew. When he learned that I had never heard of the stew before, he invited me to come to his family's tent on the camp ground on the first day of camp meeting to watch the Whetzel brothers prepare the Puddin Pot. When I asked him to describe it, he laughed and said, "I'd rather you come to cam' meetin' and learn for yourself." I did so, and not only did I shoot the Whetzel brothers making the Puddin Pot, I found myself at the bicentennial of Indian Field camp meeting and learned that all during the week there would be activities, stories told about "the early days after Indian Field was founded in 1800, and events that would not be held again for the next 100 years. As a result of taking time to shoot Puddin Pot stew I stayed the entire week at the camp meeting and recorded historical footage that preserved the events of the bicentennial. This then led to my learning about the four other neighboring camp meetings (two Anglo-American, two Afro-American) that met for a week annually, returning thousands of folks to their roots each year. When all was said and done I had shot and documented each of these in addition to Indian Field, putting them together in a five-DVD set entitled, "Hallowed Ground".

In documenting Puddin Pot, I learned that it is an historic folk heritage foodway of South Carolina. It is a pork stew made with offal meats from the hog that is the precursor to the popular dish called "hash" served at barbecue restaurants across South Carolina today. The stew historically derives from "hog killing time" - when hogs were butchered on rice plantations in the South Carolina Lowcountry during the fall months of the year (after "first frost"). This stew was made when plantation owners gave African American cooks for the slave quarters the "lesser" parts from the hog in order to concoct a good-tasting protein-rich stew that could provide the energy needed for the arduous labor of the slave population who worked the rice fields each day. The result was a thick, gravy-like meaty broth spread over rice that served as an economical "extender" of the stew that became known as "Puddin Pot stew". The stew was so tasty that it was served as a side dish for the finer cuts of pork eaten in the dining rooms of the "big house" by families of the plantation owners. It later was taken up by owners of small farms that spread inland in South Carolina. It became a traditional meal for farm families during hog killing time.

The offal meats (internal organ meats like liver, kidney, heart, and thalamus), joined the hogs head meats (ears, tongue, snout, brains, and jowl-meat) to form ingredients for the stew and gave reputation to the saying that "in Puddin Pot you use everything but the squeal". These parts were set aside for making Puddin Pot (also known as "stone stew") as well as for the production of liver pudding, sausage meat encased in intestines, and "souse-meat". These meats were cooked down and seasoned in boiling water using huge wood-fired black cast iron wash pots (multiple-use pots for washing clothes, making lard, cooking hominy and bathing) which were found on every farm, large and small. The meats were removed for either serving as a meal over rice at large gatherings or for use in a finely chopped meat hash re-introduced into the black iron pots to be seasoned and cooked down into what is best described as a "meat-gravy simply called "hash", that is served over rice.

Hog-butchering is a labor-intensive, day-long affair. When a farmer held a hog-butchering in the old days he would ask the help of neighboring farm families and their laborers or farm hands. They would gather at dawn to begin the work and pause at noon for a meal that consisted of lesser parts of the hog not being used as prime cuts like tenderloins, shoulders and bacon and these parts would be cooked down in the Puddin Pot. Served over rice along with vegetables cooked by the women, each worker would be asked, "What you want - tongue, liver?", and whatever the person chose was served over the rice on his or her plate along with gravy from the Puddin Pot. When done, the parts were finely cut into a hash and re-introduced into the cast iron pot for seasoning. The hash was then bottled and putting away for later meals.

Puddin Pot hash became the forerunner of the barbecue hash served today across South Carolina at barbecue restaurants. A peculiar fact is that you will not find that barbecue hash is known in the states bordering South Carolina. They serve Brunswick stew instead.