Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Souse for Thanksgiving

Every year my dad hosts a large Thanksgiving feast. Perhaps because we live in South Florida, where the weather is mild and the culture very mixed, this is rarely a typical "Turkey plus the fixin's" affair. Or perhaps it is because my dad is passionate about everything to do with food. No matter, the result is always the same, that is: Different. From anyone else, from anything you have every called "Thanksgiving." It took us some time to get used to, but now, we (the family, the guests--who are all asked to bring something, though often the request is accompanied by an attached recipe and an offer to source hard-to-find ingredients) just show up expecting Good Eats.

This year we are expecting 65 people to a Southern-themed spread. So far, I have gathered that we will be eating: fried chicken and catfish, fried green tomatoes, oxtail stew and barbequed ribs, coleslaw, cornbread, hoppin' john, and souse (my part). Also, pecan and squash pies, and who knows what else. Personally, I am hoping what else is beer, because I can't imagine a wine to go with that meal.

Souse is what made me want to write this, not merely because I am making it. If you've never heard of it, maybe one day it snuck by under one of its aliases, brawn or headcheese. It's not a cheese, though it is molded, and it comes by the name "brawn" through the Old French for "meat." And it has no alcohol, though you might think so from the term "souse," which here means to wet thoroughly or cook in a marinade. So what is it? An age-old dish to use the bonier parts of pig or steer--the ones with all the gelatin, such as the head and the trotters. You cook them in seasoned, vinegared liquid until the meat falls off the bones, then chop the meat finely and cover with the gelatinous broth. This sets hard, like Jello, then is sliced and served as an appetizer or lunch, on lettuce with mustard and pickles.

It is a thrifty dish, one our Foremothers who created the Thanksgiving Feast would have been familiar with. It is also an Autumn dish, coinciding with butchering time. So maybe, just maybe, this is not the first time Souse has been served for Thanksgiving. Maybe, alongside our National Bird, slaughtered for the occasion, there was a lovely dish of souse. Because, to be properly thankful for the Bounty we are privileged to receive, we want to use every bit that is given with the same appreciation and relish.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy every last morsel . . .

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