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© Vonna Shults, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Biskinik

Bacon. Bacon is everywhere. We see bacon on our breakfast plates, on our cheeseburger at lunch, wrapped around a filet mignon for dinner, and we may enjoy bacon-flavored ice cream for dessert. Folks love the flavor of bacon, have their preference for the wood used to smoke it, and have a favorite brand. Chahta people love to gather together with friends and family to socialize with each other and more often than not, food is shared. One of the most popular Choctaw foods can easily be described as “bacon on steroids” and we call it salt pork. My first experience with salt pork came many years ago in the heart of Jayhawk country in Lawrence, Kan. I had traveled there with a group of fellow Choctaw Nation employees to attend a community meeting with nearby Choctaw families. While we were there, a local Choctaw group invited us to eat a traditional meal at their church. I was so excited because I never had the pleasure of enjoying a traditional Choctaw dinner before. As I watched them prepare the food, I noticed one gentleman carefully watching over a Dutch oven and ever so often he would very carefully remove some sort of fried food. I was not close enough to tell exactly what he was preparing, so I assumed by the size of the portion and the hot grease that he was preparing fried catfish for all of us to enjoy. I love to eat catfish, as most Oklahomans do, and I was thrilled to enjoy one of my favorite foods for dinner. Finally, we were called over to eat. We were instructed to go through the line to fix ourselves a plate. I stacked plenty of this “catfish” on my plate. As I took the first bite, I noticed right away that it was very salty and tasted a lot like bacon! I made the comment to my co-worker about how my “catfish” tasted and she immediately burst into laughter at my ignorance. She quickly let me know that I was not eating catfish, but salt pork. I felt like a fool, but I was a happy fool because in my mistake I had gotten plenty of this delicious creation for myself. I ate and savored every morsel. After our dinner, we then greeted all of the guests that had traveled to come to the meeting. My responsibility at the meeting was to take photos of anyone who wanted a photo with Chief Pyle. We would then print the photo out for you to take home that evening. It was at the beginning of the photo session when I realized my mistake in eating so much salt pork – it makes you very thirsty. Desperately, I searched to see if I had any sweet tea left to drink. It was empty. I then searched to see if my co-worker had any tea remaining. Her glass was also empty. At this point I am desperate. My thirst had made my mouth feel as dry as C-3PO’s joints as he crossed the Tatooine desert. I wondered why my fellow co-workers had not warned me as they sat next to me at dinner about the perils of eating too much salt pork. I made a mental note to question them thoroughly, but right now finding something to drink was my number one priority. I turned to check on my waiting guests, the thirsty part of me hoping for a small line of people who were willing to wait their turn with Chief. No such luck, the line is out the door of the church. Finally, the last photo is taken and printed. I sprint from the sanctuary of the church and used their kitchen faucet as a drinking fountain. Never has there been a time that tap water tasted as good as what I was drinking directly from the faucet, using my hand as a cup. Did I even bother to wash my hands? I do not know, nor did I care. As I was leaving the meeting, I felt much better. As we walked out of the church, I thanked the elders for the meal they had worked so hard to provide for us and told them next time I would only eat two small slices of salt pork. I told them what had happened to me earlier and how much salt pork I had eaten. They were very gracious and did their best not to laugh out loud at me. We then bid each other “chi pisa la chike.” I knew after that evening that salt pork, in small portions, was a very delicious addition to a meal. It is a true delicacy of the Chahta people. Only now I needed to learn how to prepare it for my family…