Souse is a variety of head cheese found in Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. Head cheese is not a dairy product but rather a product made from (tah dah…) the head of an animal (usually pig or calf) along with some other left-over “scraps” that remain after butchering and often include the feet, tongue, and heart.
In a frugal household or in peasant cultures, no part of an animal that can be used is left go to waste. Pa Dutch and Coal Region favorites such as Pennsylvania Scrapple make use of “everything but the oink”. Head cheese itself, however, is not specific to the PA Dutch culture, but rather can be found in various cuisines across the US and globe including Caribbean and Eastern European.
The word souse itself probably comes from the Germanic souce, or pickling juice, which is related to sulza, or brine. Think of souse as head cheese with vinegar added. The traditional way to make head cheese is to simmer an animal’s head, which is very bone dense, for several hours which will then yield the bounty of rich gelatin needed to produce headcheese/souse. This gelatinous broth binds the meat together to form a terrine-like product usually in the shape of a loaf.
These days, if you find yourself without the source of a pig’s head because, well, say you gave up butchering your own animals when you took that IT job and moved to the heart of San Francisco, there’s good news. You can use some other parts to make this version of souse, like pigs feet. In fact, when made that way, some people refer to this dish as “pickled pigs’ feet”. You will find my recipe for actual “Pickled Pigs Feet”, HERE.
A good butcher shop or farmers’ market (plentiful in Pennsylvania Dutch country or The Coal Region) will often provide you with a source for the un-smoked pig’s feet. Some grocery stores with their own butcher on staff may also be able to get them for you.
This may not be a recipe you can make from items you normally find at the corner store in many places, but this page is dedicated to presenting authentic recipes for the foods we know and eat in the Coal Region and in Pa Dutch households, so I present it to you from my Coalcracker Kitchen.
(Many deli meat producers in the northeast Pennsylvania region make souse or head cheese commercially and you can try it that way from the supermarket deli. Distribution may vary widely, so calling your local market first is always a good idea.
Head cheese and souse are typically served cold or at room temperature. If in loaf form, they are sliced and served, as with cold cuts, on a sandwich or as an appetizer along with cheese and crackers.
SouseCourse: Appetizers, Snacks, EntreesCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal Region
4 pigs feet
1 cup chopped pickles
2 cups vinegar
2 cups stock
2 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon broken cinnamon stick
- Scrape and clean feet well and put on to boil in enough salt water to cover. Simmer for approximately four hours or until meat separates from the bones.
- Mix stock in which meat was cooked with vinegar, salt, pepper, and spices. Bring to the boiling point and hold for 30 minutes. Strain liquid to remove spices.
- Place pieces of meat and chopped pickle in a flat dish or stone jar and pour the sour liquid over it. (Coalcracker kitchen note: A loaf pan works well, too.)
- Chill in refrigerator until perfectly cold.
- Slice and serve.
- You can also form this by pouring it into a loaf pan. Excess fat can be skimmed off the top surface once completely cold. You can also add one or two mild red cherry peppers, de-seeded and cut up along with the pickles (often found in the pickle section of your grocery store).
- Recipe is taken directly as published in “200 Healthy Amish Food Recipes” by Lev Well