Dealing with dubious delicacies

Readers offer experiences with shad roe, duck blood and liver

April 09, 2011|Jacques Kelly

Last week I fessed up to employing a pina colada to mask the taste of shad roe. I recounted that tense moment socially when the rest of the room was praising this old Maryland culinary springtime dish, but I was in agony. As it turned out, there were others who found themselves in a proper dining room with a plate of dubious delicacy in front of them. What do you do?

I heard from E. Christian Mattson, who offered this suggestion: "I grew up in Highlandtown and my mother, being Italian, served us wonderful dishes.

"However in 1970 I had the occasion to be invited to a dinner party. Compared to my upbringing, the hosts were wealthy people. I was a sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District at the time. These people lived in Homeland. After living in an East Baltimore row house, I thought that their home might as well have been a castle in Europe.

"They enthusiastically said that the menu tonight was shad roe. When they served it, I nearly passed out," he said. "So with some wit, I said my family only ate this with grape jelly and it was a tradition my great grandfather had passed on to the family. They all looked at me strangely, but the maid brought me a jar of Welch's grape jelly, which I smeared a heavy coat on the shad roe. Even then I barely got it down. I think I was ill for a week… It was like eating an oil filter."

He also maintains a "will not eat list" — brains, tripe, sweetbreads and liver. Then he recalled another memorable Baltimore food experience. He was dating a Polish girl and her family served duck blood with fried onions. "I still have nightmares over that one," he said. "Too bad she was a beautiful Polish girl."

I would agree that that brains, tripe and sweetbreads will never made the food hit parade, yet they do turn up. One day in Florence, Italy, the owner of a fancy restaurant insisted I try a little something to start my lunch. Only when I chewed and chewed on what seemed to be vulcanized meat did he release its identity — tripe. At least I didn't have to be in the kitchen as it was being prepared.

My mother regularly bought baby beef liver at the Cross Street Market and it was delicious if not overcooked. For years you could get a beef tongue at the Lexington Market, and I was a happy consumer of it. But then came this one:

"I am an old farmer out in Cecil County," writes Clifford England. "I have memories of cow tongue sandwiches, which I carried to school in the 1940s. It was not all that bad with a good dose of mustard. Better than ground hog.

"We had a butchering day every year in November. Nobody liked the liver, but dad never threw anything away. One year he decided to grind the liver up and mix it in with the ground beef on the theory that a few pounds of liver in a hundred pounds of hamburger would never be noticed. WRONG! I can tell you that a pound of liver will flavor a ton of hamburger. That was truly the winter of discontent."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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