See what you think of these dishes, the recipes for which I found in a cookbook that has rested on my kitchen shelf for decades. A fat volume of brown and food-stained pages, it was passed down to my mother from her mother, who received it from her mother, born in the long-ago 1830s.
Here’s a recipe that caught my eye right away:
“Wash a fresh tongue” it begins, and yes, I too thought “Gack! Whose tongue are we washing and for what purpose?”
But the recipe doesn’t say whose tongue. It just goes briskly on:
“Barely cover the tongue with water in a pot and until morning when you will put it in a kettle full of cold water, stand it over a very slow fire, and simmer it gently for four hours, until you can pierce it with a fork. Then, when it’s done, stand it to cool in the liquid in which it was boiled, peel off the skin starting at the tip,” and -boom! – “the tongue is ready to use.”
Ready to use HOW?” you might faintly wonder, as I did, the little hairs on the back of my neck stirring uneasily.
But back then people knew what a critters’ tongue was for: It was for dinner.
And you’ll admit it would make for some hearty eating, especially if it were a cow’s tongue which Google shows to be a good 18 inches in length.
Now a second recipe, for the delicacy known as Ox Cheek:
“Soak half an ox head – (yes, the whole head) for three hours and clean it well with plenty of water. After eight hours of cooking and four hours of chilling, remove the cake-fat and warm the head and the pieces in the soup, adding truffles and vegetables as desired.”
As a 21st century person I don’t know what cake-fat even is, unless it’s what shows up around your middle after pigging out on birthday dessert.
Finally why not try tripe, which Wikipedia defines in it its no-nonsense way as “a type of edible offal from the stomachs of various animals” and which the old cookbook says is “both delicious and easily digested.”
For those of you who have never seen it, tripe resembles a white, rubbery open-celled sponge.
To prepare it, “scald the stomach in boiling water sufficient to loosen the inside coating. Wash and scrape it well through several boiling waters, then soak it in cold water overnight and in the morning, scrape it again until white and clean. “
Which leads you to queasily wonder what it looked like BEFORE you scraped it clean.
Yet who are we to pass judgment on foods with which most of us are unfamiliar? Who are we to shrink and quake at these details? For the farmer of the 1800s or any folks prosperous enough to buy their food at a market, meat was at the heart of every good meal.
People enjoyed their meat dishes and would have seen no reason to practice denial about where it came from. We moderns are the ones practicing denial.
Styrofoam trays and plastic wrap help us do this but make no mistake: a living creature died so we could sit down to this roast, this burger, this chop. Let’s at least always stop and offer up that pre-meal prayer of thanks.