I first heard of souse meat when I was reading Aunt Arie, A Foxfire Portrait. The students/interviewers were visiting Aunt Arie for the first time. She was busy trying to cut an eyeball out of a hog’s head for her souse meat. Now, this wasn’t extremely appetizing to me. I didn’t see myself as the one trying to dig the eyeball out of the head.
Well, here I am, a few years later, asking my husband, no, begging my husband to cut the eyeballs out for me. I just couldn’t do it. He made fun of me and said if I wanted to be a pioneer woman I had to do things like that. I’ve done a whole lot…but I couldn’t do that!
Souse meat is made out of the whole hog’s head. Each family had their own recipe on how to do this. I asked Papaw Fred about it. His mother made it, and it was good. He told me how she did it, so we chopped the head up into four pieces like he said. My poor husband spent a lot of time scraping the hair off the head, and trimming up the nasty parts…like the snout and lips. I didn’t want the ears either, because I read that it made it more grissly. The less grissle the better, I say.
The brains are not included. The brains were traditionally cooked, cut up, and scrambled in with eggs. Papaw Fred says they were really good. Unfortunately, the shot went right into the brain, so it was not edible anymore. (I was kind of relieved to hear that. I was fully prepared to cook them, but I don’t know if I was ready for that!)
The head portions are then soaked overnight in salt water. This makes sure all the blood is out.
The next day, drain and rinse and clean the head again. We singed the remaining little bristles off with a lighter, then scraped them off. John trimmed a little more…then it was rinsed again.
We put it back into the big pot, covered with cold water, added salt, and set to cook it for five hours.
This was a lot of meat. I checked it several times, until finally, the bone slipped right out from the meat. I had four perfect pieces of skull bone, and plenty of meat and stuff left in the pot. I strained the meat out of the pot and transferred it to another big pot.
Not gonna lie, it didn’t look that great. But we had come this far in the souse meat journey, and I was going to do it all the way.
I used my immersion blender to mush it up. This is the easiest way to describe what happened. I just chopped away until all the big pieces were chopped up.
Then, I added the seasonings. My original Foxfire recipe had variations on the spice combination. We decided to use about 3 tablespoons sage, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder, and cayenne powder. The old timers used their crushed red pepper. I am ashamed to say we forgot to grow red pepper last year, so we didn’t have this. We did use my dried sage though from my herb garden.
I stirred it all together. I added just a touch of cornmeal to help it thicken. I could already tell the gelatin from the bones were doing a nice job of thickening!
There’s a lot of grease in souse meat. Some people would press the grease out. I just left it in.
Now, I put some in a loaf pan, lined with plastic wrap. I also rolled some in plastic wrap for a summer sausage effect. It is then refrigerated until it sets up. We will cut it up, freeze some, and try to get rid of some!
My husband genuinely liked the taste. It was spicy enough for him with all the cayenne we added. I thought it had a good flavor, but the texture was a little mushy for me. It smelled pretty good. It will definitely remind you of potted meat or Spam.
Before anyone thinks “Oh my goodness, that’s so gross”, I just want to remind everyone that they have probably eaten a hot dog. If you saw what went into hot dogs or Vienna sausages, it’s probably not far removed from souse meat.
Overall, my souse meat experience turned out pretty well. It was rewarding to use every part of the hog head, something we would have usually thrown out.