Andrew Dys

Pass the chitlins, and sing Hallelujah!

The spelling doesn't match how anybody says it, and first you gotta get past the smell.

For today's Rock Hill Ecumenical Chorale fundraiser at Mount Prospect Baptist Church, George Harris already has cleaned and cooked. He's cooked and cleaned this dish for more than 50 years, even has a secret to keep down the smell.

"Started cleaning at 7 Thursday night," Harris said. "Finished around 1 in the morning. Cleaning's the most important part. You have to get the fat out. Anything inside, too."

Then, you must get past what is in the big pot on the stove with the onions and the seasonings, cooked slow.

Wendy Carter is president of the chorale. Here's how she said the "what is in the pot" explanation went down at her house:

Carter daughters: What are chitlins?

Carter parents: Part of the hog.

Daughters: What part?

Parents: The inside.

Daughters: What part of the inside?

Parents, finally: The intestine. Small intestine.

Daughters: Uhh, oh.

Mom and dad Carter might have ordered a pizza that night, just to change the subject.

Spell it 'chitterlings'

Chitterlings, spelled proper, yet pronounced always by blacks and whites as "chitlins." Chitterlings have been around as long as people have eaten pigs. In the old days, many families ate them to stretch use of the whole hog.

But not everybody. I called Dori Sanders, Filbert's rightfully famous novelist, cookbook author and peach grower, but she said she can't recall ever eating chitterlings or even cooking chitterlings. She asked her older sister, Virginia, if she liked chitterlings, and all I heard through the phone was a shout: "No!"

"Some families ate them, some didn't," Dori Sanders said. "Ours didn't. We knew plenty that did."

Certainly, many people of limited means of any color in the South ate chitterlings, Sanders said.

"Poor hog knew no color when it came to who was eating his insides," is how Carter put it.

At her Saluda Street restaurant, Redbones, Minnie Taylor sells chitterlings every day. Right there on the menu. By the pound, half-pound, over rice, if you like.

"I sell till it's gone, and it goes," Taylor said.

But to whom? Taylor said at her restaurant, chitterlings eaters are more old than young. "But some young, too," she said. More men than women. More black than white, but, "I have a man named Sonny calls to find out if I have some for him," she said. "He's white, and he sure isn't poor. He just loves chitlins."

Chitterlings events are not unheard of, but are nothing like fundraising barbecues that dot the landscape every weekend. There is the annual Chitlin Strut in tiny Salley, southwest of Columbia, a place normally populated by about 413 people -- and that probably includes the people driving through to get somewhere else quick. The strut for guts swells Salley to more than 50,000 strong the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

But why would a choir -- that represents several churches from many denominations, that has tried fish fries and barbecues and hot dog sales to raise the dough needed to put on this free concert that has wowed so many for almost a decade -- try selling chitterlings today?

Because Harris, a deacon at Mount Prospect, offered the idea and his expertise. A few choir members scratched heads and asked, "Why chitlins?" But the group came around.

People are picky when it comes to chitterlings, Carter said. That's where Harris comes in.

"First question people want answered: 'Who cleaned and cooked the chitlins?'" said Johnnie McCoy, another event organizer.

Still, some people can't get past knowing what was inside that intestine when the hog was still grunting and snorting.

So what? Today, the choir will practice upstairs at the church. Downstairs, the intestine will be served. It will be called chitlins.

Harris is a humble man. Except when it comes to his chitterlings.

"I guarantee if anybody eats my chitlins, they will come back again for more," he said.

Pass the guts, I'm hungry.