Food In Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pickled Pig Knuckles and Ambrosia

Originally published on November 3, 2009

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout

The last entry in the To Kill a Mockingbird recipes is one you probably won’t try and one I’m making up as I go along.  I wanted to include Pickled Pig Knuckles for one reason only, because the section of the book where this shows up is so touching, it brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it.  Atticus has lost his case and Tom Robinson is on his way to prison.  The next morning, as the children struggle with what has gone on, Atticus sits down to breakfast, only to be greeted by an incredible plate of food like he has never seen before.  Confused, he lets Calpurnia lead him into the kitchen, which is filled to overflowing with gifts from everyone who appreciated all he did for Tom Robinson:

The kitchen table was loaded with enough food to bury the family: hunks of salt pork, tomatoes, beans, even scuppernongs.  Atticus grinned when he found a jar of pickled pigs’ knuckles.  “Reckon Aunty’ll let me eat these in the diningroom?”

Calpurnia said,”This was all ’round the back steps when I got here this morning Mr. Finch.  They – they aren’t oversteppin’ themselves, are they?”

Atticus’ eyes filled with tears.  He did not speak for a moment.  “Tell them I’m very grateful,” he said.  “Tell them – tell them they must never do this again.  Times are too hard.”

I searched for Pickled Pigs Knuckles recipes, this one for Pickled Pigs Feet seemed like the best one, so  thought I’d link to it, since I’m not likely to recipe test it anytime soon.  I think you could easily substitute knuckles without any ill effects.

Pickled Pigs Feet:

Nowadays the commercial products are just so expensive that it’s more economical to make your own. Besides, homemade pickled pigs feet taste far better than what you can get from the jar. I prefer to make my own as opposed to spending about 1 dollar and 25 cent for each piece of pigs feet.

Pickled Pigs Feet Recipe

6 – fresh pigs feet, split in half lengthwise
2 – red chile peppers, fresh
1 – medium onion, chopped
2 – bay leaves
2 – tablespoons salt
1 – teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 – tablespoon mustard seed
1/2 – tablespoon coriander seed
1/4 – teaspoon cloves
sliced ginger
white vinegar

to read more, go here

The Ambrosia appears earlier in the story, at a disastrous Christmas celebration, where the only redeeming feature is the food.

….Aunt Alexandra didn’t understand girls.

But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat; summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles; two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modes Christmas dinner.

Ambrosia is pretty simple, but a fresh ambrosia salad in 1930’s Alabama in December, I wasn’t sure what would be used.  I decided that peaches, grapes, banana, whipping cream, pecans, little bit of sugar and mixing it together could work.  For a more modern touch, substitute ginger ale for the sugar and sprinkle with coconut.  Neither may be authentic, but they are tasty all the same.

For more fun, check out the nasty bits posts.

3 thoughts on “Food In Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pickled Pig Knuckles and Ambrosia

  1. Actually, given how most butchers (and asian markets) cut them, the recipe is probably just as fairly named “pickled pigs knuckles”.

    The knuckles include the carpals and the feet include the phalanges. Depending on who is telling the tale, the metacarpals are one or the other. Often when I see the ‘pig’s foot’ in the store it’s actually all three sets of bones — everything below the hock (tibia and fibula).

    (sigh – I should do a blog post on this. Oh well…)

    When making a pot of red beans for red beans and rice, some regions use pickled pork instead of salt pork; it’s historical from when meat was pickled to preserve it (especially in warm and hot climates). The few times I’ve gone that way I’ve used pickled knuckles/feet because of the umami they add. They are extremely rich in tissues that break down into gelatins and it just enriches the whole dish.

    Since pig’s feet/knuckles fall into the “nasty bits” category (That is, the parts that make a lot of people gag when they encounter them) putting them in as a supplement also makes it more likely they’ll get eaten. When you’re poor you don’t pass up food regardless of sensitive stomachs – you just hide it if you have to.


  2. Thanks Kirk. Reminds me of the family tradition (the generation before me) of not leaving any part of the chicken to waste. I remember being very, very young and watching my Grandmother make use of every part of a chicken my Grandfather just butchered. I suppose they did the same with their pigs, but I wasn’t around to witness that. Loved your piece on fish cakes today.


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