Megan Hutchinson:: Cat Head Biscuits ::


Southern Legitimacy Statement: Born in Huntington, WV and raised in a little, coal-dusted town along the Ohio River–hailed “the Southernmost Point of Ohio,” in fact–I never felt like an “Ohioan.” When you think of Ohio, you probably imagine silos and cornfields or maybe one of the big cities that dot the state. I’m not from those places. I’m from a little, dead-end road where, as children, my brother, our friends, and I would hike the hills in flip-flops and meet by the creek that ran through all’ve our yards to collect smooth skipping rocks. I’m from my grandmother’s back porch where she would tell (and still tells) stories of her daddy–a moonshiner-turned-pastor–and watch the chickens cluck in the yard. I’m from the foothills and ancient mountains that stretch prominently through the south-eastern portion of the country and I’m haunted by their lore and mystery like a siren song. Having lived in Kentucky for three years now and currently working my day job as the editor of a small, rural newspaper, I want to bring the magic of this south–these hills–to life as much as possible, whether that be through poetry, fiction, or newspaper articles chronicling the lives and achievements of folks in this southern county. It’s a region I love, with a multi-faceted culture as rich as my aunt’s Kentucky butter cake.

Cat Head Biscuits

1. Growing

We raise cat heads in Southern Ohio. Raise them up from the onion grass until they’re as furry and large as a grown man’s fist.
Growing up, my mother had a whole slew of them bobbing in her garden, twitching their ears in the fluttering breeze. Gold-Nosed Calico. Appalachian Long-Eared. Persian Cotton Blossom. All the cat heads you can imagine.
Why, I reckon she was only outdone in variety by old Mamie Babcock out Possum Hollow. I heard talk she got so tired of growing all them regular cat heads that she went and bred new cat heads all her own. She had yodelling cat heads, doo-wopping cat heads, cat heads reciting poetry that drifted into the yellow-moonéd sky.

How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?
When day’s oppression is not eased by night,
But day by night, and night by day, oppress’d?
2. Harvesting
Now, reaping cat heads is delicate business. They’re awfully timid creatures, so you have to catch them unaware or otherwise distract them so you can pluck them up without them knowing their whiskers ever left the ground. My mother, in her linen apron and elbow-length gardening gloves, would swear to being the best cat head harvester in all of Lawrence County.
“I’ll take this Peach-Tufted Himalayan while it’s napping real soft, ya see, and cup my palm like so,” she would say, demonstrating as if I hadn’t gotten the same lesson all the prior years of my rearing. “Then, place it on the crown of its head and tug,” the green eyes stared back at her, black slit pupils swelling and glossy fang teeth snapping, “like it’s a turnip.” 
3. Preparing

Baking a bushel of cat heads into a buttery, fluffy batch of biscuits is something only women of a certain blood can pull off. My mother taught me and her mother taught her and that’s the only right way to learn, but that’s only part of the trick. See, only women whose grandmothers have bathed in the ice-cold veins of the foothills know how to pluck the whiskers, coarse as a cock’s quill, without disturbing the fur. Only women whose feet have been stained by dirt as black as mulberry juice know how to knead the fur until it’s warm and rumbles under the heel of her palm. Only women who’ve stared into the eye of an Appalachian moon and saw it wink back at her when no one was watching know how to properly glaze the heads with a pinch of catwort, a dash of finely chopped ramp, and nine pinches of thyme in a golden pool of butter. Only women of this blood can bake a proper pan of cat head biscuits.