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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.

ORAL HISTORY

Rufus Brown


Johnston County Hams

Rufus Brown is the son of a Ham King. In 1967 – the same year Rufus was born – his father, Jesse, moved the family from Tazewell, Virginia to Smithfield, North Carolina. Jesse brought his Uncle Brett’s curing formula with him. After serving in World War II, Jesse trained as a master butcher and traveled around buying fresh hams for curers scattered around the South. Rufus says his father “never met a stranger.” One of the original owners of Johnston County Hams, Richard Edmonson, brought in Jesse and his expertise. One piece of Jesse’s legacy at Johnston County Hams was creating the equalization period, or the springtime element, of ambient curing. He also designed and built a wooden curing attic. Jesse passed away in 2001, but Rufus continues to use that attic to cure small batch specialty Heritage breeds like Mangalitas, Ossabaws, and Berkshires. Like his father, Rufus is the plant manger and curemaster. Today he balances his father’s legacy while adapting to a different era of curing, from stricter USDA regulations to the size of the modern-day hog – hogs Rufus says are much leaner than the ones from his father’s era.

Interviewer:
Sara Wood

Photographer:
Sara Wood

Download Transcript

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