Mom stood at the kitchen counter rapidly stirring the contents of a bowl. Dropping my school books onto the table and grabbing a cookie, I went to perch on my old highchair step stool and propped my feet up on one of the chrome and red plastic kitchen chairs. Mom asked, “How was your day?”
Unable to come up with a short, one or two word answer, I shrugged and grunted, then took another bite from the cookie. Nothing really interesting had happened. Swallowing, I asked, “What are you making?”
Mom said, “Sweet and sour heart and tongue. Do you remember the cow we butchered last week? I made a big batch and canned several quarts of it today.”
Heart and tongue with gravy was delicious. My tummy growled. I said, “Yum! I hope you make liver and onions sometime soon, too. We use almost every part of an animal when we butcher, don’t we?”
Nodding, Mom said, “I used to even use the brains, but years ago I had a batch turn out poorly. I’ve never tried to make it since.”
No one in my family was a picky eater. We happily gobbled up whatever Mom cooked or baked. When Daddy bought headcheese or blood sausage from Davel’s, I slapped slices of it between buttered slices of Mom’s delicious homemade bread and considered myself an extremely lucky person to not only have enough food, but to have gourmet foods to eat!
Sometimes when we butchered a pig, Mom would make something she called sulze. After cooking the pork hocks until all the meat fell off the bones, she’d cut the meat into small pieces and add garlic, some spices and vinegar to the broth. When this mixture was poured into a cake pan and refrigerated, it jelled up stiffer than Jello jigglers. Unlike the modern sweet treat, sulze was meaty with an exciting hint of vinegar.
A friend recently told me that she’d made a batch of sulze. I looked at her in surprise. I hadn’t heard anyone talk about sulze since I was living at home with my parents. The sample she gave me was delicious and brought back many happy memories.
It has always been my understanding that sulze is a homemade version of headcheese. Curiosity sent me off to do a small research of the topic. Despite the word cheese, in its name, there are no dairy products used in making it. It is a Terrine cheese, which means it is a meat jelly.
Headcheese started out being a humble meal prepared by peasants during the middle ages. To make it, they boiled the skull of an animal, usually a pig. One article stated that they didn’t use the brain, eyes or ears. I think I’d rather not know if that is true or not. I figured the ingredients couldn’t be any worse that what goes into making hot dogs. The difference that I see between headcheese from a butcher shop and homemade sulze, is that we jazz sulze up with vinegar.
My sulze-making friend and I are not related to one another, but by coincidence share an aunt. Elaine said, “I used Aunt Mary’s recipe to make the sulze. It calls for half a cup of vinegar for every two cups of broth.”
Feeling even more fondness for this nostalgic food, which people rarely make anymore, I said, “Yes! That’s what my recipe calls for, too! I think I have the same recipe as you.”
As an adult, I look forward to trying new things. My daughter, who lives in a metropolis, takes me to ethnic restaurants so we can try different dishes when I visit.
I am aware that not all people share my enthusiasm for trying unusual foods. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face one night when I was at a restaurant sampling the small spicy octopi. Her face was green when I looked up after biting a little one’s head off.
After doing some research I discovered that in some places of the world, small octopi are eaten alive. Thinking of doing that makes me feel sick. I also don’t think I ever want to knowingly eat eyeballs, brains or kidneys. Who knew I was so picky?