Awful Offal! #TruePrue

Awful Offal!

What’s the matter with us? Why will we happily eat the shoulder of a sheep or the backside of a steer but not their livers? We nod wisely when adjured to eat ‘nose to tail’ because it’s delicious, nutritious, economical and the right thing to do. But there is almost no demand for kidneys or liver, for sweetbreads, trotters or tripe, for tongue, pig’s head, chitterlings, or even for ox heart or tail, so butchers just don’t stock them. Most offal ends up in pet food or turned into fertiliser or fuel.

It’s not the flavour we object to, it’s the thought, or maybe the sight. I will eat pretty well anything, but even I would baulk at a sheep’s eye. In Malta recently I had to close my eyes when our host enthusiastically forked the eye out of my grilled fish, including the stringy optic nerve, insisting it was the best part and that I open my mouth. I did and he was right. It was delicious.  It seems we will only eat offal if we don’t know we’re doing it. No one realises their sausages are encased in intestines, and that a good restaurant bolognaise is likely to have been enriched with minced offal. Or that gelatine can come from horses’ hooves.

When we first moved to the country, in the seventies, our farmer neighbour, who had a healthy dislike of townees, thought he’d wind us up by bringing me two buckets – one of fresh sheep’s tails, the other of their testicles. He’d spent the morning castrating his flock. To his disappointment I was thrilled. I boiled the tails to remove the skin and fleece. They smelt, unsurprisingly, like woollen socks in the washtub, but the skins came off. Then I griddled them for the children’s supper. Barbecued lamb bites, crunchy and delicious.  I served the marble-sized, pale pink, testicles like sweetbreads, in a cream sauce on toast. My mother had two helpings. She was spitting feathers when I told her what she’d eaten.

Forty years ago my children wolfed down fried liver sausage for breakfast, and today they’ll happily eat pate or terrine, made of course from liver, but I doubt if they have ever bought and cooked any liver.  Ready-made dishes like Haggis (made from cow’s pluck) and black pudding (with fresh pig’s blood and fat) are still findable, but unforgettable dishes like jellied brawn (from pigs head and trotters) soft roes (the male sperm or “eggs” of fish) on toast are fast disappearing.

I fear I am disgusting you, dear reader?  Am I alone in mourning their passing?


Footnote: There is hope for Londoners in The Notting Hill Fish and Meat Shop 07761343510.