I come from a family with close connections on both sides to purveyors of food and drink. Great Grandpa Harry was a grocer, the proprietor of Edward H. Jukes, Family Grocers and Provision Merchants, in the Birmingham suburb of Handsworth. Grandpa on the other side was a manager of S. Ward, a butcher shop in Birmingham itself. And whereas my mother’s side of the family (grocers and provision merchants) never talked much about its roots in “trade,” my dad’s side of the family reveled in them, learned from them, and continued to honor them all their livelong days.
Thus do I remember on many an occasion, going to the outside “loo” at the house in England–fully plumbed, not an outhouse, but as did many homes in England, ours had a toilet outside in something called the “yard.” The yard was distinct from the garden, and was a small enclosed area where laundry was hung, the coal was kept, the dustbins lived, and yes, the outside toilet awaited–but as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I remember my trips to the outside loo, many of which involved sitting on the throne and contemplating the beady eye of the pheasant, or the fuzzy tail of the rabbit hanging from the water pipe on the ceiling. Just as I remember the large vats of salty water in the garage with hams curing in them, or a happy summer spent building a new facility for smoking mackerel, in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island. Dad didn’t care what sort of “provision” it was; he was catholic in his tastes, but utterly devoted to the best methods of capturing, preparing, and I might add, consuming them, all with the same sort of glee and gusto with which he did everything in life!
And having been brought up in a world which abhorred wastefulness, he used every part of the animal he could in his culinary pursuits. Thus it wasn’t all that unusual to find a bowl of pressed (cow’s) tongue in aspic in our fridge (delicious in sandwiches, with mustard). Or a bag of pigs’ trotters (one of my mother’s favorites, gelatinous and unbelievably messy). Or even to be presented with a spread of brains on toast for breakfast (similar in texture to scrambled eggs, and just another example of the British penchant for putting absolutely anything on toast, although I will confess to having rather gone off this after the mad cow business). Tripe and onions (very good, but another thing I don’t eat any more). My mother’s party-piece, and one of the very few things she could ever rouse herself to produce in the kitchen: liver and onions with bacon (my mouth still waters, every time I think of it.)
One thing I never cottoned to was “lights,” or the unfortunate beasties’ lungs (they’re often a component of that Scottish national dish, though). Even Dad wasn’t all that keen on them, and used to prepare them and bottle them for the cats. The only family “lights” story I have involves the jar that exploded, and the mess my mother discovered when she opened the door to find that the contents had adhered themselves to the revolving overhead fan, and were flicking themselves, bit by bit, and sticking themselves at the same rate, to the walls and everything else in the room.
I know we have a lot of world travelers here at Ricochet, and that many of you have found yourselves, either under your own steam, or under duress, in some pretty out-of-the way and unusual places. What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever eaten, I wonder?
And for the rest of us who’ve spent most of our days in less exotic climes, what strange foods have you sampled, and would you recommend them, or were they just offal? Should we give some of them a try? Please share.