September 22, 2010

Brains on the Brain

I was inspired to choose today's frightening food recipe because it brought to mind a childhood experience. The grandfather of one of my friends lived with her family, and every once in a while he would decide to butcher something.  "Why is there a sheep in your backyard?" "It's Grandpa's." "Okey dokey, then." As you might imagine, both farm animals and butchery were pretty rare in our suburban neighborhood. My grandfather kept a sheep in his yard one spring but I'm pretty sure that its life came to an end in some other, less residential, abbatoir.  (Yes, it took me years to connect that sheep to our Easter dinner).  My friend's grandfather was more of a hands-on guy.  Maybe he was a butcher back in the old country, and it reminded him of his days as a skilled worker.  Maybe he just wanted fresh meat.  I found his accent incomprehensible, so for all I know, he explained this in one of those 'conversations' where I just smiled and nodded and pretended I knew what he said but remained none the wiser.

Anyhow, here was the problem: every once in a while, I would be invited to dinner at my friend's house.  Back in the day, you didn't just say, "No thanks"; it was pretty unusual to be invited, and unless you had a good reason not to stay, politeness required that you accept.  And my friend knew perfectly well that I didn't have anywhere to go. So I would be staying for dinner, knowing that when Grandpa butchered something, they ate ALL of it. And knowing that to be polite, I would be eating whatever was served. Between "Thank you, I would love to stay for dinner" and "Dinner's ready!", my mind had just one train of thought - "Please don't let it be liver. Please don't let it be heart. And please, please don't let it be tongue or BRAINS! Please don't let it be liver...."

Well, my friend's grandfather may have been from the old country, but her parents weren't. They knew better than to invite a kid to dinner when they were serving strange organ meats.  Of course, I had no appreciation of adult intelligence at the time, so at every invitation I lived in fear until I saw what was on the table. And it was always something ordinary like spaghetti and meatballs, which I ate with GREAT appreciation, having been spared from BRAINS once again.

So, today's recipe is offered with great thanks that I have never had to eat brains, and with the hope that I never, ever will. This one is for you, Grandpa B!


1 set calf's brains
1-1/2 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 egg
1-1/4 cups milk
Bacon drippings or other fat

Precook brains [see instructions, below, if you have no brain-cooking experience], dry and break into small pieces.  Sift dry ingredients together; combine egg and milk; add to dry ingedients and mix well.  Add brains.  Drop by tablespoons into hot skillet greased with drippings and saute, or drop into hot deep fat (360 degrees F) and fry until brown.  Serves 4

Place brains in cold water for 30 minutes, then remove membranes.  Simmer for 15 minutes in water to which 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar has been added for each quart of water.  Drain and drop into cold water.  Use as desired. [!] Save cooking water to use as stock.

Recipe courtesy of 250 Ways to Prepare Meat, Culinary Arts Insitute, 1940.

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