Column: Eat head cheese? Not on my life, or my husband’s

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 6, 2005

You should know my husband sanctioned this column.

With a sick mother, he has been traveling back to his hometown, New Rockford, N.D., quite a bit lately, to sit with her while his sister goes to work.

He grew up on a farm where nearly everything the family ate was raised and butchered or home-grown and preserved. So it is not uncommon for him to suggest I ingest some pretty awful-sounding foods which he considers delicacies. Perhaps some of you farmers and farm wives know the kind of foods I’m talking about: Blood sausage, liver sausage, head cheese, pickled pigs hooves, brain, cow tongue, to name a few of the most icky foods, to my way of thinking.

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Randy’s father, Joe, was known far and wide in the county, perhaps even the state of North Dakota, for his sausage-making. If Joe couldn’t make it into sausage, it probably wasn’t worth eating anyway. Randy picked up his love of these exotic farm foods from time spent with his dad making such family delicacies.

His dad passed way in 1988 and the recipes, which were all in Joe’s head, died with him. Ever since, Randy has been searching for a sausage that tastes as good as his dad’s, much to my dismay. Apparently, he found some on his recent trip. However, he is still seeking good liver and blood sausage.

Despite his weird tastes, Randy is a great chef. In our family, we call him the master griller &045; he is quite accomplished at cooking food the way we like it prepared. So much so, he spent a great deal of money a number of years ago on an expensive grill.

I didn’t oppose this purchase because I knew we would benefit from his culinary prowess. And he hasn’t let us down. He can prepare just about anything on this elite grill. Now some might say it’s the grill that allows him to prepare food so perfectly; I contend he could grill anything to perfection on any grill &045; it’s his attentiveness and great skill that provides his ability.

He often says he will grill and eat anything that is dead, though I draw the line at road kill.

Anyway, on his most recent return from North Dakota, he brought back what he insists is a culinary delight: Head cheese, just as he remembers his dad made when they all still lived on the farm.

He called me from his cell phone, still several hours from home, to share the good news. Forgive me for being less than enthusiastic. Every other word was head cheese; we would enjoy this delicacy in any manner of dish, he said.

Randy was much like the character, Bubba, in the movie, “Forest Gump,” who befriended Tom Hanks while they were serving in the military. Bubba’s family harvested shrimp, which his mother could prepare in a 1,000 different ways. Imagine Randy extolling the various ways to eat head cheese. I stopped him when he suggested head cheese topping for ice cream.

The more adamant I was in my denial to eat head cheese, the more he insisted it was just pork and spices. But I know better, with a name like head cheese, there has to more to it than that.

In the last few days, he has encouraged me to have head cheese sandwiches, or just plain. Trying to spare my loved one’s feelings, I keep telling him I won’t eat head cheese, no how, no way; not in a house, not with a mouse; not with a fox, nor in a box … well, you see where I’m going with this.

Early in our marriage, all trusting and naive, he convinced me to try head cheese and I gagged. I learned back then not to trust his palate over my own. He doesn’t remember the episode because he wasn’t traumatized by it, but it is a vivid recollection for me, almost to the point where I can actually still taste it.

My stubborness to sample Randy’s coveted head cheese is matched only by his insistence to get me to eat it in a dish he has prepared, with me none the wiser. He has suggested surprising me one evening with lutefisk, another food I avoid, prepared as his mother, a full-blooded Norwegian, might have on the old farmstead, filling the house with its most distinctive aroma.

Now, I know I took wedding vows something to the effect “for better or for worse,” but I’m sure that vow didn’t include eating something disgusting prepared by the spouse, did it?

I remain on my guard as long as there is head cheese in the house.

(Debbie Irmen, Tribune editor)