Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stuff Dad Would Eat

My Dad, though not a world traveler, was very open to other cultures' philosophies, arts, and foods.  And, I think it was this that drove him to introduce us to all kinds of foods not found on the school cafeteria menu.  As adults, my youngest brother loved to tease about Dad mowing the lawn...then serving it for dinner.  This exaggeration is certainly entertaining...and not terribly far from the truth.

Dandelion sprouts in early spring (before the grass), so it makes an ideal candidate for harvesting-by-child.  Basically, Dad could send us children out with various cutting implements (to sever the greens from the root), with really simple instructions, and have high confidence that if we gathered something green, it was edible.  Mom cooked them like mustard greens, and for-the-most-part they were pretty good.  Now naturalists like to promote the benefits of eating of which is here.

Dock is most obvious in North Texas during the winter season.  I'm not a plant specialist, but it seems to die-back as soon as temperatures are consistently above about 80-degrees.  Wikipedia lists these plants as part of the Rumex genus, and I'm not sure what variety grew around our neighborhood, but I still see them occasionally, growing at the side of the road.  They are remarkably large plants, with leaves around a foot long, and 6+ inches wide.  Collecting Dock was usually a one-person job, as one plant can provide all the leaves one can fit into a cooking-pot.  Dock must be par-boiled (boiled until soft, then drained and cooking completed) to remove Oxalic Acid which is natural to the leaves.  The amount of Oxalic Acid is not dangerous, but it can make you pretty sick (which one of my brothers learned when, as an adult, he put fresh Dock through a juicer).

Calf Fries (aka Rocky Mountain Oysters) were a favorite of Dad's.  And, on our periodic trips to Oklahoma to visit Mom's parents, he liked to stop at one particular restaurant for this treat.  One day, Dad ran-into a "great deal" on calf-fries.  He found a meat market that would sell items wholesale, provided you purchased a box-full.  The boxes were waxed cardboard boxes, and I would guess that they held 30 to 40 pounds of meat.  Significantly, meat purchased in this fashion is not prepared for display.  That is to say, stuff goes from the slaughterhouse into the box, without benefit of a butcher.  Each of the testicles (which I assume were from bulls, rather than calves, as they were about six-inches-long) had to be peeled and sliced prior to cooking.  Dad did all of the cleaning (which my brothers and I watched VERY briefly), and packaging for freezer and cooking.  As I remember them, they had all the flavor of a rubber eraser, and were MUCH tougher to chew.

Beef Heart was another of Dad's box-buys.  Like the other boxed meat, it required cleaning/trimming.  This time, I was enlisted to help.  And, I found the cleaning process to be tedious and distasteful.  An attitude exacerbated by my certainty that heart would be as palatable as calf-fries (since I'd never before tasted it).  Hearts have an abundance of connective tissue, and a good deal of fat.  As I remember it, we took the better part of a weekend to complete the cleaning task.  But, unlike Calf Fries, I enjoyed the flavor of Beef Heart, and still occasionally partake of it. 

Calf Liver was something that Dad enjoyed, but his sons hated.  He knew of our dislike, but felt that it was his responsibility as a parent to make certain that we ate things that were 'good for us'.  These meals became a marathon ordeal.  We could not leave the table until our entire serving was consumed.  I'm quite certain that my body classified calf liver as hazardous.  Because, as soon as it hit the back of my throat, by body tried to expel it.  But God-help the poor kid who allowed that reflex to turn into action.  Because Dad was certain that we hurled on-purpose.  Thankfully it only appeared at our table about once a year.  And, to the best of my knowledge, my sons have never tasted liver.

Frog Legs are something that Dad apparently grew-up with. He always maintained that his mother could cook the best frog-legs.  So, on those rare occasions when she came-to-town, Dad would have to go frog-gigging.  I've never actually participated in frog gigging, but it apparently involves beer, a boat, a multi-pronged spear on the end of a stick, a flashlight, and a burlap sack.  I recall the story of one night of frog-gigging.  There were 3 or 4 men in a flat-bottom boat, rowing along the shore scanning the plant-life for the tell-tale glow of eyes.  They were apparently having quite a good night, with a number of frogs in the sack, when one fellow gigged a monster frog.  Just as he got the frog over the boat, it fell-off the gig.  Several of the men lunged to grab the loose frog...tipping the boat, and sinking it.  Eventually, they got the boat on the right side of the water. They had lost their sack-full of frogs.  But there, sitting in the bottom of the boat, was the monster.  As I remember it, he measured 21-inches from nose-to-toes.  People frequently compare frog-legs to chicken.  But, whenever I hear that, I wonder where they get their chicken.  Because frog-legs have a very definite 'fishy' taste. 

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