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Brawn: A favorite Christmas treat

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others.
Persuasion

Christmas celebrations wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t pull out all those favorite recipes year after year. For some people it’s cookies and cakes, for others a particular bread or main dish. The Georgians were no exception and their celebrations called for many party foods- traditional favorites that could be made ahead and brought out to tempt company. Whether it was the Austen’s “Black Butter”, White Soup or the famed Christmas Pudding. Another favorite dish was Brawn or, served cold, Souse. This dish, now commonly called Headcheese, was made from pork and bones spiced, boiled and set to cool in molds. The result, turned out on a board, was similar to today’s Jell-O and was served with mustard.

Brawn
To a pig’s head weighing 6 lbs. allow 1 1/2 lb. lean beef, 2 tablespoonfuls of salt, 2 teaspoonfuls of pepper, a little cayenne, 6 pounded cloves. Mode-Cut off the cheeks and salt them, unless the head be small, when all may be used. After carefully cleaning the head, put it on in sufficient cold water to cover it, with the beef, and skim it just before it boils. A head weighing 6 lbs. will require boiling from 2 to 3 hours. When sufficiently boiled to come off the bones easily, put it into a hot pan, remove the bones, and chop the meat with a sharp knife before the fire, together with the beef. It is necessary to do this as quickly as possible to prevent the fat settling in it. Sprinkle in the seasoning, which should have been previously mixed. Stir it well and put it quickly into a brawn-tin if you have one; if not, a cake-tin or mould will answer the purpose, if the meat is well pressed with weights, which must not be removed for several hours. When quite cold, dip the tin into boiling water for a minute or two, and the preparation will turn out and be fit for use. Time- from 2 to 12 hours. Average cost, for a pig’s head, 4 1/2 d. per lb. Seasonable from September to March.

Note-The liquor in which the head was boiled will make good pea soup, and the fat, if skimmed off and boiled in water, and afterwards poured into cold water, answers the purpose of lard.

From Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book; 1865

A Modern Interpretation of Brawn

1 Pig’s or Calf’s head
1 Large Onion, Quartered
4 Whole Cloves
6 Celery Tops
4 Sprigs Parsley
1 Carrot
1 Bay Leaf
12 Peppercorns
Cayenne Pepper
Sage
Nutmeg (optional)

  • Clean head, removing snout and reserving tongue and brains. Scrub well and palce in a large kettle. Cover with water; add onion, stuck with cloves, and tongue. Tie celery, parsley, carrot, bay leaf, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and drop in kettle. Add salt.
  • Bring to boil, skim carefully and simmer slowly about 4 hours, or until meat is tender and falls easily from the bones. Remove tongue from water after it has cooked 1 1/2 hours.
  • Lift head onto large platter. Strain and reserve liquid in kettle. Remove all rind from head; cut the meat and the tongue, skin removed and excess tissue from root end, trimmed, into tiny pieces. (Some women like to put the meat through a food chopper.) Place in large bowl.
  • Drop brains into a little of the cookin liquid; simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Remove, drain and add to meat and tongue. Season lightly with cayenne, sage and nutmeg. Toss to mix well.
  • Pack mixture inot 9x5x3″ laof pan or mold, pressing firmly. Pour 1/2 c. cooking liquid, cooled until lukewarm, over mixture. Cover pan or mold and put weight on it. Chill at least 48 hours before using. Slice to serve. Makes 18 1/2″ slices or 8 servings.

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