Headless hog head cheese
1 Boston butt
8 pig ears
6 pig feet halves
1-1/3 cups apple cider vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 heaping teaspoonfuls crushed red pepper
Cook Boston butt, ears and feet in separate pots until tender. Chop butt into small pieces. Throw away fat. Pick pig feet and cut gristle and skins into small pieces. Finely chop pig ears.
Mix all meat, vinegar, salt and pepper in large bowl. Pat down in several small containers and refrigerate overnight. Unmold and slice the next day.
This would make a great gift to share with an older person who may remember eating and enjoying hog head cheese.
Last week, I told you about hog-killing time and I left off where daddy took most of the meat to the Glennville ice plant where it was salt- or sugar-cured. There was still more work to be done.
The hog heads and feet were the last things to be cleaned. The heads were cooked in the wash pot and all the meat was picked off to make hog head cheese. The feet were cooked until tender and pickled in vinegar in a one-gallon glass jar. The pig tails were cooked with backbones and rice the next day. My younger sister Lois especially liked to eat pig tails.
While daddy was gone, we cut all the extra fat into small pieces. The small cubes were cooked in the wash pot until all the grease was cooked out of them and the cracklings were golden brown. They had to be watched carefully and stirred often with a wooden boat paddle to prevent them from scorching or burning. The grease that we cooked out of the fat was called lard. We depended on it for the next year to make pans of biscuits, season our food and fry chickens, squirrels or fish. We certainly did not want the lard messed up or the cracklings burned.
When the cracklings were golden brown, we scooped them up in a long-handled pan with holes in it and strained the drippings through a flour sack or pillow case into a large, tin can. After they dripped for a few minutes, we scattered the cracklings on a sheet to cool.
As soon as the cracklings were cool enough to touch, we selected the crispiest skins that contained a crumb of lean meat. We salted our selections in our hands and ate them. The rest of the cracklings were cooled, salted and stored in lard cans. They were eaten throughout the year or baked in pans of cornbread. We always had an abundance of them so mama would add them to cornbread she baked for the yard dogs.
I do not eat cracklings today because I bit down on one when I was 16 and broke my front tooth off. It was a couple of years before I was able to go to the dentist and get it crowned. For those two years, I never smiled or showed my teeth.
By the time the lard was poured into cans, it was usually dark outside. Everyone was tired and it was time to rest but we knew there would be more chores tomorrow.
The next morning, after daddy enjoyed a plate of grits and hog brains scrambled with eggs, we clamped the sausage mill on the edge of the dish table. We peeled the onions and picked meat off the hogs’ bones to make cheese. I liked to turn the grinder and watch the big hunks of meat go through the hopper. It was fun turning the grinder for a while then it became work. The ground onions brought tears to my eyes. When all the meat was ground, mama seasoned it with sausage seasoning that contained red pepper skins, salt, black pepper, vinegar and some other spices.
She mixed it well with her hands and packed it into small bowls that she turned upside down on a plate to drain the excess fat. The next day, she wrapped the ground, seasoned meat, which retained the shape of the bowl and could be sliced and eaten cold.
We never made stuffed sausage. We just ground the meat, seasoned it, made it into patties and fried them. With 10 or 12 people at the table for each meal, the sausage did not last long.
All the pots had to be scrubbed and cleaned. The barrel was returned and the hole was covered. The gambrel sticks were washed and leaned over the rafter in the corner of the smokehouse where they remained until the following year. The full cans of lard and cracklings were carried to the corn crib, but we left one can of each in the kitchen under the dish table for immediate use.
While we lived in the log cabin, my parents helped Key and Flossie Howard butcher many hogs each year. When all their sausage meat was ground and ready to be seasoned, only one lady was allowed to handle this important task. The Howards’ niece, Lelia Mae Parker, was the official sausage maker for the family. She seasoned, mixed, fried samples, tasted and judged. When she was satisfied, the sausage was stuffed into sheep guts bought from the grocery store. You really don’t know how homemade sausage is supposed to taste unless you’ve tried Lelia Mae Parker’s sausage.
The taste of her delicious sausage is why I have such a hard time finding sausage to suit me today. I am still tasting and looking. But a couple of hot buttermilk biscuits, grits with red-eye gravy, three or four of those fried sausage links, a big gob of homemade pear preserves or a dab of homemade cane syrup sure would be yummy right now!
I will share my recipe for headless hog head cheese, which you may want to try for the holidays. Also, if any of my readers want to reach me, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 654-9044.