My great-great grandmother Martha Cloud's husband, Sam Miller, circa 1941, Modoc County, California
I think I'm a pretty good eater; I don't shy away from too many things. But like most of us I have my likes and dislikes; more likes than dislikes. I abhor any kind of dried fruit; I simply don't eat it. And I don't like cooked apples so not a big apple pie eater. My dislike of dried fruit disallows a goodly number of cereals, granolas, trail mix, and some baked goods and desserts. I've learned to check first to avoid the interminable picking out of unwelcome items. The reason I don't like dried fruit is textural. I hate that it sticks to my teeth -- end of story. I can't get beyond that. I can't exactly explain my issue with cooked apples just that they're oddly, uhm, slimy. I hate apple sauce. Again, it's a textural thing; how it feels in my mouth affects how it tastes. Offal can and does fall into the textural issues category but I've still eaten my fair share of it. I wouldn't say I'm an avid consumer of it however. Living in and traveling often to France I've had many French offal preparations, liver and kidneys, among others that I've enjoyed. I do like sweetbreads, and blood sausage a lot and will order them in restaurants. However if there are offal dishes on a restaurant menu invariably I'll choose a non-offal dish. Recently I've noticed that there seems to be a much keener interest in offal here in the U.S. -- at least in restaurants, in food journalism and in foodie circles. It's almost as if offal is replacing pork this year as the favorite food item? This offal uptick has me wondering why I don't eat it as often as I eat other animal protein, and I've decided there are a few reasons.
The first is related to the dried fruit issue: textural. A lot of offal is gelatinous, sinewy, and chewy in ways a well-prepared steak is not. Depending on what gland or organ is being cooked the feel of the food is different too: liver, kidneys, tongue, brains, tripe and so on. It has a different texture, and often a different smell, than cuts of beef, pork, lamb or chicken. These differences have always given me pause. And then there's the cultural issue. I wasn't raised eating the stuff. It wasn't a part of my diet growing up in the '60s and '70s. It was a part of the diet of my relatives, a generation before my mother. My great-grandparents, my grandfather and great-uncle ate it. They had a ranch; they raised their own chickens and sheep. My great uncle hunted, butchered and prepared deer. My mother tells the story of watching my great-grandfather chop the heads off of chickens and how they ran around headless until they died. That was normal to them. I've never seen an animal killed let alone butchered. We bought our chicken already cut up, wrapped in plastic in a styrofoam tray. If we did buy a whole chicken the giblets were wrapped in a small sealed paper bag which was easy to just throw away. Fast food did not help my palate adjust to eating offal either. Just think of the textures in fast food: 'soft' comes to mind first; with flavors that are 'bland,' 'salty' and 'sweet.' We ate a lot of fast food when I was a kid and while it probably contained offal we didn't know it. My mother did cook us a fair amount of liver and we hated it; it wasn't until I left home and lived in France that I first understood that offal could be tasty and interesting. I ate my first blood sausage at a French friend's house: broiled blood sausage, couscous, a green salad and cheese. It was a revelation to me. I ate a few other offal dishes the year I lived there. After France when I was first back home in Sonoma County, a friend and I went to a 'fancy' restaurant and we both ordered sweetbreads, and they were delicious. Besides the liver I ate as a child and the dishes I ate in France those sweetbreads are the first offal food memory I have. I've eaten sweetbreads over and over ever since.
Upcoming Trips: Napa Valley - 2/27-3/1 - Cochon 555 ~ 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers ~ 2010 US Tour. Big Sur - 3/5-/38 ~ Dinner at Big Sur Bakery.
Upcoming Posts: An Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.