Meet Clarissa Clifton: Food Historian and Founder of A Whole Hog Family
Clarissa Clifton peeling sweet potatoes for a traditional recipe.
Clarissa Clifton is a Food Historian and the heart behind the unique business, A Whole Hog Family. The venture is based on cooking whole hogs using traditional methods, either in the ground or using cinder blocks, a practice passed down from enslaved ancestors. A Whole Hog Family also extends to preparing side dishes and desserts over an open firepit, honoring the health benefits and superior taste of food prepared using these age-old techniques.
How A Whole Hog Family Began
The inception of A Whole Hog Family was sparked by a profound revelation during a class led by Dr. Howard Conyers in South Carolina. The class delved into the history of whole hog cooking, a method initiated by the enslaved. After the class, Clarissa visited her relatives in Bulloch County and discovered that her Uncle Bobby was well-versed in this cooking method. This discovery prompted the establishment of A Whole Hog Family, focusing on the historical cooking method and offering classes on the same.
A Distinctive Approach to the Art of Cooking
A Whole Hog Family is distinguished by its commitment to preserving the authenticity of historical cooking methods. They refrain from injecting nitrates into the hog, a common practice in modern BBQ, and instead, use smoke from wood, historical herbs, and spices for seasoning. This method, according to Clarissa, not only promotes healthier eating but also enhances the flavor of the food.
Preserving History Through Food
Among numerous projects, Clarissa takes great pride in her demonstration of a whole hog cook at Willow Hill School, a historically black school established post-Civil War in Portal, GA. This event was a poignant reminder of the school's traditional end-of-year celebration of cooking a whole hog outdoors. Alongside the hog, side dishes like Hoppin' John and Roasted Beets were prepared, a testament to the rich culinary heritage of the African American community.
A Family-Inspired Venture
Beyond the business aspect, A Whole Hog Family is a tribute to Clarissa's family history. Her biggest influences include her paternal grandmother's hoe cakes and her maternal grandmother's sweet potato pie. Her ongoing quest to collect and preserve her family recipes is a testimony to her belief that family history is passed down through recipes and stories from generation to generation. The smells and tastes of the food keep the legacy alive.
Connecting With the Community
Currently, A Whole Hog Family has been reaching out to the community via word of mouth and interviews like this. Clarissa volunteers as a food historian at Smith Plantation in Roswell, GA and The Root House in Marietta, GA and has traveled across the Southeast giving demonstrations.
One of the biggest challenges has been advertising and educating the public about historical cooking methods. Clarissa has been overcoming this challenge by doing demonstrations and leading cooking classes, providing hands-on experiences to those keen on learning.
Plans For the Future
Clarissa's future plans for A Whole Hog Family include publishing a second cookbook based on her family recipes and participating in local festivals around Bulloch County, alongside her uncle and brother. Her mission is to keep the legacy of her family and the enslaved ancestors alive, one recipe at a time.