Let's Reminisce: When readers write
By Jerry Lincecum
Feb 26, 2019
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I am always delighted to hear from readers of this column, especially when they share a reminiscence of their own that was stimulated by one of my columns.  The column on “Barn Creatures” struck a chord with several people, and Rebecca Shirley shared this story:


Being a tomboy, I spent many hours in the barn.  Ours was not as elaborate as yours, but there was always something to hold my attention.  When I was a teenager, Dad and I would go “rat hunting” after supper.  He was armed with the single shot 22 and I with the flashlight.  I would shine the light on the rafters and find the rat.  I think the light sort of blinded them long enough for him to shoot.  That rat would come falling down and we would move on to the next one.


One night we heard a racket in the barn.  The hens were raising an alarm that something was amiss.  He grabbed the gun, which was always kept loaded behind the back door, and I got the flashlight.  When we reached the barn we immediately looked for the obvious predators: a skunk or possum.  But, none were seen.  We could not figure out what set the hens off. 


As Daddy was inspecting every corner, he shined the light into the nest boxes.  These were apple boxes that had been nailed to the barn wall.  The wall was simply 1x12 rough boards that 20 years of weathering had caused there to be about an inch crack between them.  And then, on the outside, Daddy had nailed some old “sheet iron” (tin) crosswise to keep the rain out.  There was a huge chicken snake in the nest and between the boards and under the tin.  Daddy took a pitchfork and secured the snake to the inside of the nest box.  He told me to hold the pitchfork while he took the light outside to see if he could find the snake's head.


There I stood, holding the pitchfork with a snake on the other end, in a dark barn.  I could hear the rats running on the rafters overhead, and Daddy and the light were on the outside!  I don't remember what he used to cut the snake's head from the body, probably a shovel, but very soon we were pulling that snake from the nest boxes, from his wrapping around the boards and under the tin.  When we got him out, all 6-foot of him, he had a big lump in his belly. 


Daddy took a hoe and cut him open to discover the glass nest egg that he had swallowed.  Daddy popped it out, wiped it on his overall leg, and pitched it back in the nest box saying, "The hens won't know this was in a snake".  That was the longest chicken snake I think I ever saw.


Another reader commented on my column about hog butchering, and he reminded me about one product that I failed to mention, namely “souse or head cheese.”  Here’s the way it was produced. Head cheese is a meat jelly usually made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig, and often set in aspic. The parts of the head used vary, but the brain, eyes, and ears are usually removed. The tongue, and sometimes the feet and heart, may be included. It can also be made of trimmings from pork and veal, adding gelatin to the stock as a binder. Sometimes it is made with nothing from the head. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature.


Historically, meat jellies of this type were made of the cleaned head of the animal, which was simmered to produce stock. When cooled, the stock congeals because of the natural gelatin found in the skull. The aspic may need additional gelatin, or more often, reduction, to set properly.  When pickled with vinegar, head cheese is known as souse.


I recall reading that the big packing plants that process pork have found ways to use everything except the squeal of the pig, but obviously our ancestors did not waste anything either.


Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: