Teaching about liver!
I have to teach Offal – it’s on the syllabus, and I face these lessons with dismay. How can I persuade a class of teenage boys and girls that liver, kidney and hearts are delicious, nutritious foods that they must learn to cook for their exams?
I don’t like offal any more than they do.
As a child, on every Wednesday, our evening meal was leathery liver and bacon in a brown slop. The later my father and I arrived home from Northampton, the longer the liver had simmered to old cardboard and the bits that stuck outside the gravy-slop were curled and crisp. Only the creamy mashed potato rescued the meal but the liver was scooped into my handkerchief, so I could throw it in the garden later.
When I started teaching at East London school some friends took me for a meal of tripe and onions in the Walthamstow pie and mash shop and I gagged at the white lumpy mess.
On my awful offal day the butcher delivers 25 lamb’s hearts. We’re going to stuff them with Paxo’s parsley and thyme stuffing and cook them with chopped onions, Oxo cube gravy and thicken the sauce with flour. Oxo is supposed to give a meal man appeal and any encouragement to eat this dish is essential.
They perch on stools around my demonstration table where a small, pink lamb’s heart sits forlornly on its wooden chopping board. There’s groans of ‘I ain’t eating that’ as they push for a place on the stools at the back.
Terry addresses the group.
‘What’s that miss? Looks like something I feed me ferrets.’
‘I’d give it to me dogs!’ chirps Ray.
Cackles of laughter from the rest of the stools.
I hold up a copy of O level Cookery with its red cover, the colour of blood.
‘Listen to what it says – ‘Offal used to be despised and was very cheap, but because of its increased use and realisation of its high food value it is now popular and more expensive.’
You see, liver and other offal like these hearts are excellent sources of iron – an essential mineral for you teenage girls and offal is a cheap, nutritious food and I must teach you how to cook it! So we’re going to cook Stuffed Heart and learn a bit of biology on the way.’
O level Cookery says that girls need more iron in their diet but doesn’t say that it’s lost in blood during their periods, so I’m keeping schtum too. This lesson is hard enough without bringing sex into it.
Back to my demonstration, I peel off stiff fatty bits from the tiny heart and remove the tubes, then give the heart a squeeze. A large clot of blood oozes out the top. Groans and vomiting noises as some of the girls pretend to stick fingers down their throats.
‘Look at this strong heart muscle that moves blood around the lamb! See it’s just pushed out a clot.’
‘Oh my god. I feel sick. You ain’t normal.’
It’s disgusted Liz, who is revving up the rest of the girls.
‘Miss, one week we learn about vegetarians not eating meat, and next we’re chopping up lamb’s bits and saying they’re good for us. I want to make cakes not do this.’
She gets a fierce glower as I push the Paxo stuffing into the heart pouches and plump it into shape so it still looks like a heart.
‘Now fry some onions then add the Oxo stock and some flour and roast it in the oven. It’ll taste delicious.’
It is their turn to cook but they’re stuck to their stools.
‘Please get started – the sooner we begin the quicker it’s done. Let’s share the tasks – girls can cook the onions and boys can do the hearts.’
Beefy boys relish the heart dissection and stuffing Paxo into the cavities. The room warms to the nourishing smells of fried onion, parsley and thyme stuffing and gravy and roasting heart.
‘We’ll come back after school and fetch it miss.’
They pack and hurry off to more sensible lessons.
Sylvia helps me sweep up bits of fat, heart tubes and onion skins and makes us a cup of tea.
We line up their stuffed heart dishes for collection.
Ray pops his head through the door.
‘Sorry miss – we won’t eat it. Why don’t you sell it to one of the teachers?’
This is the last stuffed hearts lesson I’ll ever teach. The recipe for this delicious dish is for all to use. We’ll have to use liver for the awful offal lesson instead.
Today, hearts are a major ingredient in modern dog food, so my students are right – if you don’t like them, they end up as the dog’s dinner.