By my count, a pig's foot has sixteen bones. This number may be off. The label on the nine-ounce jar of pickled Hormel Pigs Feet that holds my test foot clearly states that the product is "Semi-Boneless." So it's like U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said: "[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns the ones we don't know we don't know."
The case of the pickled pig's foot falls into the second Rumsfeldian category of knowledge, that of the "known unknowns." The foot I extract from its vinegary resting place is pretty mute on the anatomy matter. Pickled and pulverized, it more closely resembles a prolapsed small intestine than any cleft hoof.
But our mission is to masticate, not enumerate. So with a little pinch to the pig ankle, I put my incisors to work, tearing through integument and veins, scraping against pig bone and pig cartilage. And oh, the vinegar! This acid is fresh. I can feel my own tongue beginning to pickle.
They say pig bodies are a lot like our own. Aspiring tattoo artists spill their first ink into butchered porcine hides, geneticists grow pig organs to replace our own. Maybe that's why this pig meat's stuck in an ornery holding pattern.
It's not the vinegar. That's vile, yes, but this I can handle.
No, it's the piggyness of the thing: the soft bones that yield to the teeth; the tougher hide; fatty flesh; smooth-edged joints. The odd pig hair brushing wisplike against my tongue. Finally, by force of will, my throat opens and the little ankle rides the vinegar wave down my throat.
How many bones in a pig's foot? Ask Donald Rumsfeld.