There are a lot of peculiar political rituals we could talk about here at PolitiFact Georgia.
But few are more colorful than the pre-legislative feast laid out for the Georgia Legislature every year for the past five decades. It takes place at the old train depot near Underground Atlanta and is attended by hundreds of folks -- lawmakers, the governor, state officials, reporters, lobbyists and just about anybody else who can score a ticket.
"Since 1962 the Georgia General Assembly has opened its new legislative session each January with the 'Wild Hog Supper,' at which legislators enjoy such state delicacies as barbecued wild pig and Brunswick stew," notes the New Georgia Encyclopedia in its extensive entry on hogs in Georgia history.
No doubt about the Legislature kicking off the year with a "Wild Hog" feast. But in an age of "cloud computing" and factory farms, are they REALLY still serving "wild" pigs, the intrepid fact-diggers at PolitiFact Georgia wondered?
To get to the answer, PolitiFact trekked back into the legendary swamps of south-central Georgia.
Bob Addison, who runs Addison Wild Boar Hunting near Abbeville, and whose family and community still supply the victuals for the Wild Hog feast, knows the history as well as anyone. He's lived it most of his life.
The story begins with Addison's late father, E.C. "Boo" Addison, who for most of his 80 years pursued a cunning and dangerous animal that has roamed the wilds of south-central Georgia since the first Europeans arrived. Early settlers brought domestic livestock into the area and often let their hogs and cattle roam free. Some of the pigs became wild, and later were crossbred with a much larger Russian boar to produce the wild hogs that now populate the swamps.
Back in the late 1950s, "Boo" Addison was camping in a Dodge County swamp with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Phil Campbell and state House Speaker George L. Smith when the idea of a legislative hog supper took root. Thousands of feral hogs still roam those river-bottom woodlands.
"They got some hogs and they barbecued 'em down in the swamp," Bob Addison said. "George L. said to Phil, 'This is mighty good eatin'. It's a shame the legislators in Atlanta couldn't have a chance to get some of this good food.' And Daddy said, 'I'll furnish the hogs.' Well, they went back to Atlanta and decided that the Sunday before the Legislature opened, they'd have this supper. And it's been happening ever since."
Addison said the first supper took place at the Henry Grady Hotel -- since demolished -- and was attended by about 300 people. The event moved to its current location about a decade ago and now attracts more than 1,000 guests.
Over the years, the Wild Hog Supper came to define the Legislature's return to the Capitol. About 15 years ago, organizers began issuing tickets to control the crowd. "Busloads of people would pull up, and we had no idea who they were," said former Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.
One thing that hasn't changed much over the years is the entree.
The hogs that end up on dinner plates begin life in litters of up to 14 born deep in the dark undergrowth of Addison's swamp. Coyotes and other predators quickly thin their ranks.
The hogs that survive eat just about anything that won't eat them -- acorns, roots, even snakes and small animals. Addison supplements their diet with grain, peanut shells and barrels of discarded candy from a nearby factory.
The male hogs, the boars, are the wildest. They average 250 pounds but can tip the scales at 600. Their razor-sharp tusk can rip a man or dog to shreds.
"No matter how young they are, boars have a strong taste," said Bob Addison's wife, Jo Ann. "We don't use boars for the Wild Hog Supper."
The Addisons use only sweeter-tasting female hogs for the legislative shindig. The hogs -- very wild indeed as it turns out -- are captured in large "Jurassic Park"-looking cages several weeks before the supper. They are penned up and fattened on grain before they are slaughtered.
"It sort of tenders them up a bit," said Jo Ann Addison.
She said they used 20 wild hogs for this year's supper, which attracted a packed house even as a major snow and ice storm moved into metro Atlanta.
It turns out the hogs at the 49th annual Wild Hog Supper were indeed wild -- these critters never see a pen until they are captured. We rate this one True.
And in case you're still reading, we're including a bonus. Below you will find Bob Addison's recipe for cooking a wild hog -- just in case you ever need it:
Prepare oak coals two hours before cooking begins in the evening. Allow the coals to form a thin dusting of ash. Place the hog carcasses on metal racks 18 inches above the coals in special covered pits in the ground. Put the skin side up. Keep the pit temperature about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook for eight hours. Just after sunrise, turn the meat. "That boils the grease back up through the meat as a natural tenderizer." Cook for a few more hours until the ribs separate from the meat. Total cooking time --- 12 hours. Serve with barbecue sauce and enjoy.