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Pig out on pork

Organizers prep for Preble County Pork Festival

Preble County Pork Festival organizers are preparing to cook up more than 30,000 pounds of pork loin at this year’s festival on Sept. 21 and 22 at the Preble County Fairgrounds in Eaton.

And that’s not to mention the 8,000 pounds of sausage, nearly 3,000 pounds of ham, 2,200 pounds of bacon, 2,500 pounds of pulled pork, and 3,632 plates of pancakes-and-sausage breakfast, plus the 11,000 all-you-can-eat smorgasbord meals of pork chops, ham, sausage links, side dishes, drinks and four types of fruit pies.

That’s some serious eats.

The festival features other activities, including arts and crafts vendors, live music, a parade, children’s activities and a Country Store where you can buy fresh pork to take home.

Festival President Cassandra Newton, who owns a hog farm with husband James, heads up the festival’s education activities. There will be a sow and litter for people to see and hold, a hog carcass retail cut demonstration, and fresh sausage making and pork cooking demonstrations.

But the main draw is the food, which is all prepared by volunteers, including groups like Boy Scouts, who cook breakfast, and the Eaton Athletic Boosters, who will man the pulled pork roasters. Festival volunteers gather around huge pits where they grill pork chops, the festival’s most popular food item.

“The smell is just awesome,” Newton said.

The chops are marinated in what used to be a secret-recipe marinade, but after 42 years of festivals, “the secret got out,” Newton said. (See a home kitchen version of the recipe below.)

When the festival was first held in 1971, pork production was a bigger business in Preble County than it is now. In 1946, the first swine testing station was established in Preble County, earning the county the reputation of “the home of swine improvement in America,” according to the festival website. And Preble County’s official website notes that it consistently ranks among the top 10 counties in Ohio for hog production. But Newton noted that the number of Preble hog farms has dwindled in recent years even though the swine production and agriculture industries as a whole have remained strong in Ohio.

From the festival itself, you’d never get any inkling that pork is anything but tops in Preble Countians’ minds. Organizers estimate crowd size at about 150,000.

Maybe it’s the free admission (food costs extra). Or maybe it’s just the food itself.

“The main thing is, ‘Eat, eat, eat,’” Newton said.

Preble County Pork Festival Pork Chops

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

3 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

2 pork chops (3/4” thick)

Combine all ingredients except pork chops in a small saucepan. Heat mixture until butter melts and mixture comes to a slight boil.

Preheat a 10-inch cast iron skillet on stove over medium- to medium-high heat.

Preheat another skillet or electric frying pan to 275 degrees (low to medium heat).

Brown chops in first skillet for 2 to 3 minutes per side until nicely browned, using a brush to baste each side frequently with cider vinegar mixture.

Move chops to the lower-heat skillet and continue cooking for 4 to 6 minutes per side or until juices run clear or internal temperature reaches 145 to 150 degrees, turning and basting each side with sauce every 2 minutes or so.

Remove from pan and let stand 5 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

SOURCE: Preble County Pork Festival

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