If you think about it, I’m sure that you’ll remember seeing pictures of the old days where someone is proudly bringing a whole roasted animal to the banquet table. Usually, they were calves, pigs or hogs, especially the latter two. Often, such swine would have a whole apple in their mouths as roasted garnishes. If you think a little harder, you may also remember pictures where it was only the head of a hog or pig being served. I assume those were served in homes that couldn’t afford a whole animal.
I’m not sure just why we got so squeamish that we refuse to eat the end of a critter that does the eating. We certainly have no qualms about curing and eating the end of the hog where the poop comes out. Only a hundred years ago, headcheese was still a common food in many homes. In one of the Foxfire books, an elderly lady receives a pig’s head from a neighbor that butchered and is tickled pink with the gift. Of course, the old timers always said that they used every part of the pig but the squeal, with even the feet, tail, ears and mountain oysters all used, along with the intestines, hide and other parts.
I think about such things every year when I see the head of nearly every slain deer laying on the gut-pile for the possums to find. Have you ever noticed how much meat is usually left on the head, and the bit of neck that’s often attached? Plus, there’s the tongue. The brains may not be safe anymore with some of the diseases going around, but they used to be fried up just like squirrel brains. (The brain was my paternal grandfather’s favorite part of the squirrel, I’ve been told.)
I suspect a couple deer heads would provide a good meal for a family that didn’t have much else. I don’t think I’d let my kids go hungry over squeamishness. Even now, we eat more head parts than we think. I’ve seen “beef lips,” tongue and udders mentioned as ingredients in hotdogs and bologna and, frankly, that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the chemicals and salt with which such products are loaded.
Fish heads are another wasted resource. I used to pull out the fins and cut the body loose from the head just behind the gills on the panfish I used to catch and fry. Sometimes, I’d follow the example of others and even cut the tail off. Eventually, I learned not to bother removing the fins OR the head. I fry them whole and get the little piece of meat that usually gets wasted at the back of the head, plus, the jaw muscle on each side is worth eating, sort of like the claw meat in a large crawdad or small lobster. The top fin now guides my fork as to where to start rolling off the meat, plus, I eat right back to the tail, while I’ve seen a lot of folks whack a good-sized bite of meat off with the tail.
Personally, I enjoy the extra food and hate to see such things wasted. However, I suspect if hunger ever gets really common in this country, we may once again see fish cooked whole, ox and hog heads roasted and head cheese made in home kitchens. © 2015