From my Happy Place – Special Edition

This post veers from my usual hacks, shortcuts and recipes from my happy place, aka my kitchen. However, I’ve found success in my search for something I recall from my beloved grandmother’s table, and I’m so excited that I have to talk about it!

I found someone to make me hog maul!!!!! What is that, you ask? Well, hog maul (also spelled maw) is the stomach of a pig. More specifically, it is the exterior muscular wall of the stomach organ which contains no fat if cleaned properly. It can be found in American, Chinese, Pennsylvania Dutch, Mexican, Portuguese and Italian dishes. In addition, it can be prepared in various ways including stewed, fried, baked, and broiled.

I can imagine some of you making a face and muttering, “Ewwwww!” But before you do, think about this: If you eat sausage links of any kind, you should know that the casing for those links is the material that encloses the filling of a sausage. Natural casings are made from animal intestines; artificial casings, introduced in the early 20th century, are made of collagen, cellulose, and extruded casings.

Now, I’m all for collagen, since that’s good for youthful looking skin. But trust me, this body does not need any extra cellulose, having developed its own over the years. And, I suspect that ‘extruded casings’ means something that involves using some part of the natural casing. So, is eating pigs stomach any worse than eating animal intestines or, perhaps worse yet, artificial casings?

So, back to hog maul. In the farmers’ markets throughout Lancaster County, you can often purchase frozen pig stomachs from any butcher case. However, that would require thawing them and doing all of the work to prepare the stuffing that goes into them. Once filled, they must be tied off or netted (twine wrapping) to keep them from exploding when the stuffing gets hot and expands.

The most usual stuffing is made from loose sausage, onions and potatoes plus seasonings. Shredded cabbage is a common additional ingredient. However, you can stuff the casing with almost anything you like! Bread filling (usually inside a turkey or chicken) is another choice. Believe it or not, diced apples with cinnamon and sugar is also a good choice if you’re looking for a side dish or an unusual dessert.

There are many who are more than willing to eat the insides that are cooked but not the outer casing. The trick is to steam the entire item until you know the inside ingredients are thoroughly cooked, then transfer it to the oven to bake until the casing gets crispy. Honestly, if done well, the casing will become crispy, much like the skin on a turkey or chicken. There are many, me included, who enjoy that crispy skin of poultry, so there is no reason not to enjoy the crispy casing of hog maul!

As I mentioned in a previous blog(see “The Rest of Last Weekend”), during my last trip through Lancaster County, I stopped at Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market, in search of this delicacy. I found two different butcher cases who had the stomachs in frozen form. I explained to the associate who waited on me while I purchased my cup cheese that I was looking for it pre-made, and she suggested I contacted the owner and gave me a business card. I finally emailed him, as I am headed back to the area at the end of the month. I explained what I wanted – quantity, weight, price per pound I was willing to pay, when I would be there to pick them up, etc. I received a reply mail late yesterday that said, “We are going to do our best to make it happen for you” and included a smiley face!

Well, color me excited! Actually, color me doubly excited! After mentioning in another blog about grandmother memories and talking to a stranger that shares my grandmother’s first name, this coming to fruition is yet, perhaps, another sign that she is with me, watching over me! So, not only is my mouth watering in anticipation, but my heart is full with memories of this beloved lady! (See “Addendum to ‘The Rest of Last Weekend'” for those memories.)

So go ahead, turn up your nose. I don’t really care! But I can tell you that I intend to have some good Lancaster County made hog maul in my very near future, and I am going to be happy about it!

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