Bon Appetit!

cow tongueSee 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.

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7 thoughts on “Bon Appetit!

  1. That’s not my mother’s Fanny Farmer Boston Cookbook! But I do remember being served cow’s tongue for dinner during WWII. Horsemeat was available during that time too. I am not a meat eater – it is not good for you–sad for the animals–bad for the environment.

  2. Yikes! Back in the day I would watch my mom prepare a chicken or a Cornish hen before stuffing it and knew I could never do that – it gave me goose bumps. I can’t even touch the skin of a chicken because I don’t like that clammy feeling, so I have to buy chicken breasts ready to cook. I am thinking I am missing some important cooking gene that didn’t load in properly when I was born.

  3. We have several old cookbooks. My mother’s American Woman has some of our small art work from grammar school along with pressed leaves, flowers, thank you notes, etc. I’ve added our grandchildren’s mementos. The Victory has a picture of Gen. Doug. MacArthur. The Settlement with the binding barely holding has infant feeding schedules. But, my dear departed 102 year old gentleman told me all about the depression. They ate fresh road kill if they didn’t get much hunting and trapping in these WV “hills”. They ate pretty much most of the animal, nothing was wasted. I was born after the war, and we still ate tongue in the 1950s.

    1. I love this B. I love that you have saved all the old cookbooks with their mementos!! . I think we have no idea how much that war loomed in the daily lives of our parents. The summertime piece especially : VJ day: they all describe the same thing. They all describe literally running out into the streets or getting in their cars and gathering in whatever town center they had , blowing the horns, everybody kissing and hugging everybody. The loss of life was huge on our side to say nothing of how many the The other nations lost and then the Holocaust – and all that following the devastation of World War I were a whole generation was wiped out. What a bloody century it was! It is a comfort to read the domestic arts

  4. Nana Marotta used to cook tripe and encourage us to eat it in the 1950s, when she was alive and presiding at the Marotta family home on Princeton Street. It was right around the corner from the homes of the Irish grandparents of Simon Donovan and Terry Lyons. The Italians and the Irish, still among my favorites!

    1. Great to know this Tobi. I guess tripe is considered a delicacy in some quarters. Remember that the Irish don’t know much about cooking: we boil everything. I thought Italian food was a can of Franco-American spaghetti growing up. When I met David he was appalled by my provincialism – and you know confesses that Sunday dinners at my family’s house were a bit of a trial for him

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