Sunday, January 25, 2009

Headcheese / Part Two

Today, while David is at work, he's left me in charge of the pig head. After brining that beast for 5 days, today's the day when the cooking actually begins. I haven't had to do much really, just peek inside the giant stockpot once in a while to make sure everything stays at a low simmer. For the next six hours or so, there the head will stay, bubbling in its bath of aromatics.

The house smells incredible - like celery and allspice - and it has become hard not to see this grotesque operation in a new light. There's something romantic about a several-day-long cooking project. Perhaps it's the sheer amount of care and attention paid to something as lowly as a pigs head (you can't help but grow attached!), or maybe it's just my longing for any connection to farm life here in the big city. In any case, as I've been meditating on this pig's head, I keep thinking back to my very favorite series of books from childhood: Little House on the Prairie. I know well and good that this Brooklyn apartment is worlds away from that Little House in the Big Woods, but today this pig-related passage feels strangely familiar:

Uncle Henry went home after dinner, and Pa went away to his work in the Big Woods. But for Laura and Mary and Ma, Butchering Time had only begun. There was a great deal for Ma to do, and Laura and Mary helped her.

All that day and the next, Ma was trying out the lard in big iron pots on the cookstove. Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire. It must be hot, but not too hot, or the lard would burn. The big pots simmered and boiled, but they must not smoke. From time to time Ma skimmed out the brown cracklings. She put them in a cloth and squeezed out every bit of the lard, and then she put the cracklings away. She would use them to flavor johnny-cake later.

Cracklings were very good to eat, but Laura and Mary could only have a taste. They were too rich for little girls, Ma said.

Ma scraped and cleaned the head carefully, and then she boiled it till all the meat feel off the bones. She chopped the meat fine with her chopping knife in the wooden bowl, she seasoned it with pepper and salt and spices. Then she mixed the pot-liquor with it, and set it away in a pan to cool. When it was cool it would cut in slices, and that was headcheese.

The little pieces of meat, lean and fat, that had been cut off the large pieces, Ma chopped and chopped until it was all chopped fine. She seasoned it with salt and pepper and with dried sage leaves from the garden. Then with her hands she tossed and turned it until it was well mixed, and she molded it into balls. She put the balls in a pan out in the shed, where they would freeze and be good to eat all winter. That was sausage.

When Butchering Time was over, there were the sausages and the headcheese, the big jars of lard and the keg of white salt-pork out in the shed, and in the attic hung the smoked hams and shoulders.
The little house was fairly bursting with good food stored away for the long winter.


Anonymous said...

Very sweet Molly. I am reading your post whilst Brock is mopping. He says, 'I'm stoked on that pigs head!'. Happy Simmering!

Jennette said...

But what about my favorite part? I wish you had a pig bladder balloon.

"You can't beat hickory-cured ham," Pa said.

He was blowing up the bladder. It made a little white balloon, and he tied the end tight with a string and gave it to Mary and Laura to play with. They could throw it into the air and spat it back and forth with their hands. Or it would bounce along the ground and they could kick it."


mollyoh said...

oh man, jennette, i wanted to include that entire chapter! pig bladder balloon and sizzling pig's tail? i love it.

Nick Thalhuber said...

If you're starting to feel attached, then I really think that it's time to give this pig a name. I suggest Henry.

mollyoh said...

well, as of today, "henry" is nothing more than a cleaned skull sitting on the countertop. i have a feeling we may be past the point of naming. there's always next time, though!

karynbehnke said...

"Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill. I'm the Beast. You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are? Come now," said the Lord of the Flies. "Get back to the others and we'll forget the whole thing."