My mother’s generation was big on serving organs for dinner. My mother said that her mother made the best kidney stew she ever tasted. My grandmother’s secret was to boil the kidneys, rinse them, drain them, and then repeat the process several times. This ensured that all traces of urine were removed. My mother never cooked kidneys, and nobody asked her to, after hearing that story.
However, we didn’t get off scot-free. Liver was a favorite of my mother’s. We had it often enough that I recall dreading dinners when it was on the menu. It was cooked with onions and eaten with relish by my parents. The rest of us ate it with ketchup—lots and lots of ketchup.
Every Thanksgiving, the gravy was made with giblets—those slimy organs that are found inside the turkey in a tea bag. My mother always removed the giblets once the gravy was made, but many of my friends’ mothers chopped them up and served them in the gravy. We all loved giblet gravy, until we found out how it was made.
I’m fine with organ meats, as long as I don’t know what I’m eating. I used to love liverwurst sandwiches. I brought them to school all of the time, and my friends were always jealous—except for the ones who had brought tongue sandwiches. Tongue was considered a delicacy in my neighborhood. I was always grateful that my parents weren’t familiar with it. Every time I saw a big slab of tongue with visible taste buds between two slabs of rye bread, I shivered. I truly would have rather starved than eat a cow’s tongue.
But back to liverwurst: my father was of German descent and he loved sausages and wursts of all kinds. (He even tried to pass off fried bologna as “flatwurst.”) Liverwurst was my all-time favorite until my paternal grandfather, Popeye, told me that it was made from liver. From that day forward, I could not eat liverwurst.
My husband’s Italian mother made blood sausages, but he wouldn’t eat them. Black pudding is popular in England, probably because “black” is substituted for “blood.” If my mother-in-law had called them black sausages, my husband probably would have eaten them—just like generations of children were tricked into eating brains because they were called sweetbreads.
Not long ago, I attended a birthday party for a native Russian. The food was wonderful and wildly varied, but caviar was the star. I grew up with a mother who loved shad roe (the eggs of shads, or river herrings), so it was natural for me to eat fish eggs. I eat regular eggs, so I have no problem with fish eggs. In fact, I like caviar; it’s a good thing, too, because it was served on everything—on sturgeon, tuna, blini, toast, and ice cream. Okay, not on ice cream.
When the escargot was served, one of the diners urged me to try it, saying that it was “garlicky and yummy.” I took a tiny bite, but I just couldn’t swallow it. It was chewy, and all I could think of were the slugs in my garden, and the giant slugs that would come out at night and crawl all over the steps at my mother’s house at the Jersey shore.
My sister, the wife of the Russian birthday boy, showed me the secret to eating and enjoying escargot. She handed me a shot glass filled with vodka, and assured me that I would love eating slugs after a few shots.
It turns out that you can enjoy anything after a few shots of vodka. Maybe I’ll try liverwurst again.