Wednesday, March 25, 2009


The day the pony dumped me in a puddle of blood behind the slaughterhouse was the day I learned where breakfast comes from. Morning meals on my uncle's Dodge City farm were extravagant feasts of deep yellow free range eggs, fresh baked biscuits, yeasty cinnamon rolls rich with butter, raisins and sugar, and always, heaping platters of smoked meats and plates of fried, crispy head cheese.

Though I didn't know it at the time, it was head cheese my grandmother was making when I rounded the corner of the slaughterhouse dripping blood. She vaulted to her feet, dropping the hog's head from between her knees and lunged for me. "What happened, what happened to you?," and then, finding me uninjured, "What did you do?"

She shook me ~ hard ~ but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the bloody pig's head that rolled to the ground when she rushed to my aid and I was mute in my shock. It was a grotesque thing, upside down, one hairy ear stuck out to the side. The creature's tongue poked from between enormous teeth and it glared at me with its sole remaining eyeball.

I screeched once and collapsed. I came to surrounded by my kin, half with knives, and all of them grinning. Immediately wary, I sat up and looked for the hog's head. There was grandma, perched on the bench, digging and scraping with her arm buried deep in a bodyless head. She was singing softly in German, the melody of Sunday mornings interspersed with the teeth-on-edge sound of knife on bone.

She caught my eye and smiled. "This is for that head cheese you gobble up at breakfast, and I've got the brains soaking for scrambled eggs tomorrow." Then she winked and my kin dispersed and I was left sitting outside the slaughterhouse, the smell of scalded pig skin stinging my nose, my fingernails filthy with swine blood.

I hesitated the next morning when the platter bearing head cheese passed me, and I have never yet tasted scrambled eggs and brains. But by the end of breakfast, the repugnant realities of hog butchering dimmed and I tore off a piece of head cheese, swirled it through the yellow yolk of my egg and ate.

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Blogger Chris said...

Fun story...haven't had head cheese, but have had fried brains and eggs!

March 25, 2009 10:17 PM  
Anonymous ewe said...

I must admit i am somewhat traumatized. I also had to put down my yogurt and bananas at the beginning of the second paragraph. Vivid detail for sure has placed me behind your eyes but..... i really do not know how i feel about all this brains and crispy fried head cheese. You did keep my attention. I just do not know if i missed out or was spared. lol

March 26, 2009 12:53 AM  
Blogger evilganome said...

This story brought back memories of the big breakfasts at the family farm. I remember pig slaughtering and the attendant chickens finding their way to the dinner table as well. You need sausage casings after all.

My grandmother would never have wasted all that blood though. Now I want boudin noir and scrambled eggs.

March 26, 2009 4:37 AM  
Blogger Doralong said...

I absolutely hated slaughtering time in the fall when I was a little girl. I'd be unable to eat for days, but given my love for all things porcine, I'd eventually get over myself.

March 26, 2009 5:59 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

That was so vivid. I remember head cheese and liked it, but never knew of it being fried. My mom and aunt used to eat it on crackers. I can imagine the fresh made-on-the farm head cheese was really good. I haven't had it in years and probably won't go looking for any. Great story.

March 26, 2009 7:20 AM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Whew! The closest I've had to that experience was when my mom made chicken dinner, starting with the chickens out back. She did the neck-wringing thing, but it didn't work, and she had to chase after the thing after it was "dead". We had a hog that Mom refused to name, so she wouldn't get attached. The hog was destined to be ribs, bacon, ham and the like, but Mom didn't have the heart to slaughter Pig. Yes, Pig became her name, and she was never slaughtered, so I never had to face head cheese.

March 27, 2009 5:15 PM  
Blogger David said...

This makes me feel better about my choice not to eat pig flesh.

March 31, 2009 1:23 PM  

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