Weekend Mashup – Episode 1
Lately I’ve been reminiscing a lot about the old days. I suppose it has something to do with becoming another year older. The pack of ‘Hog Head Cheese’ or as it’s commonly referred to down South, ‘Souse Meat’ I saw in the grocery store didn’t help matters. It was next to the liver pudding, olive loaf, and various other cold luncheon meats. Cheap cured stuff guaranteed to clog your arteries and send your blood pressure soaring. Something I thought nothing about back in the day.
Years ago a friend from Phillie mentioned ‘Hog Head Cheese’. I thought she was talking about cheese you put on sandwiches. Not. ‘Hog Head Cheese’ like ‘Souse Meat’ is a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a pig. The heart, tongue, and sometime the feet may also be used.
Souse Meat/Hog Head Cheese originated in Europe and was considered peasant fare. The Souse Meat Pop(my grandpop) and I ate atop saltines was a vinegary, peppery, allspicey, gristly, meaty gelatin that had been formed into a loaf. An excursion from the ‘Vanilla Wafers’ and cheese but just as tasty especially paired with cold, sugary beverages. Pop was partial to Dr. Pepper but I loved me some ‘Jungle Juice’. Souse Meat or Hog Head’s Cheese it was all good as I soaked up all the tales Pop told me about his life. Now as yet another birthday approaches, memories wring from my head. Souse meat, Pop and me.
I also have memories of the time I worked in the kitchen at the Marriott. There were two restaurants. While they both served regular fare like burgers, chicken fingers, pasta, fish, and steak, the so-called high end one included escargot, oyster on the half shell, and the biggest prime ribs I’ve ever seen. Once for a banquet the chef roasted a whole pig then replaced the ball of aluminum foil in its mouth with a shiny, red apple right before serving.
Thank God I don’t recall them having Foie gras. Perhaps the French delicacy, essentially enlarged duck or goose liver, was a bit too high-brow. Recently banned in California, what I found out about the expensive cuisine conjures up unsavory images. I can’t even make eye contact with the water fowl at the park these days. Imagine a metal tube rammed down your throat and you’re force fed to fatten up your liver for human consumption. The technique is called gavage and it dates as far back as 2500 BC.
Gavage-based foie gras production is considered so inhumane the sale of foie gras has been banned in several European countries and other jurisdictions. The French, the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, aren’t too pleased with the ban as it’s a high menu item and fetches a pretty penny.
Despite the $1,000 fine, some California chefs have found ways to circumvent the ban. How about a free chunk of buttery French froie gras to go with that outlandishly priced toast? When did we make nice with the French? If memory serve did we not boycott French wine, French (Freedom) Fries and all things French shortly after 911 over a particular war. Now here we are going to great lengths to serve the fattened livers of cruelly force-fed water fowls sold mainly by the French.
Some might argue hogs and other animals slaughtered for human consumption don’t fare much better than the ducks or goose. That may very well be true but eating saltine crackers topped by Souse Meat with Pop serves up rich memories I will always cherish. No doubt many consumers of froie gras have their own memories to look back on. Rich folk fare, poor folk fare, in the end the poor animals are slaughtered for our consumption. The only differences are degree of animal suffering, cost of finished product, and memories of the experience.