The question hung out there becoming one of those inadvertently spontaneous queries you blurt out and in retrospect immediately wish you could take back. That’s because people today just don’t understand; especially during these times. You talk about food is one thing. You add heaven to the mix and they might start thinking you’re some sort of terrorist martyr chasing a celestial epicurean reward.
Being posed between two friends made it no less strange. We were talking about childhood foods, our mother’s recipes that were missing in our present day, very-much-grown-up adult lives. Things, both sweet and savory. Things like my Aunt May’s chocolate fudge cake with an icing vaguely suggestive of coffee. That’s what it was. It all took me back to my mom’s kitchen while she made chitlins.
I think it’s the absence of it all that turned my reminiscing into manic speech. We all have food from our childhood that we miss, crave and seek complimentary substitutes for. Personally, I’ve tried Sara Lee, Oregon Farms, Pepperidge Farms and Entenmann’s and I still haven’t found the taste. It’s when you can’t find that suitable sub that the waxing becomes melancholic and blurty.
What I remembered was the process and that chitlins, or chitterlings as they’re called commercially, were a true labor of love; no bullsh*t. Requiring multiple rigorous steps to forestall foodborne illness, it was a tedious hand-cramping cycle of soaking, scraping and rinsing multiple times to fully clean the small pig intestines of whatever remained after commercial production. As a kid, I could only imagine what it would be like to be around them fresh off the hog. It was almost a day long process that made the house reek and sometimes during, my mom would tell me stories of how she learned to cook them, where chitlins came from, that sort of thing. My memory served me and my initial question was asked and answered. I knew that chitlins, a surprisingly delicious food, were indeed served prominently on heaven’s table.
That’s because they’re offal cooking and offal has in its roots significant hardship and sacrifice. It’s that extreme difficulty that becomes a major part of the identity or culture of the food, whatever country it comes from. Unfortunately, it’s usually the blood or heartache of the ones beset upon by others that pushes such a transformation into both popular and historical importance. In America, chitlins were first the food of slaves and the dirt poor.
Before that in Medieval Europe until the late 19th century, chitlins were considered the poorest choice of poor foods. Around the world today, they’re no longer simply the nourishment of the poor but the stuff of gourmets. It’s ironically funny how something so discarded could over the centuries become a delectable dish that even those living “high on the hog” embrace and celebrate.
I think it’s the same in every country because every country has their own offal cooking of some sort. Whether it’s England with their Steak and Kidney pie, or Scotland with their Haggis or Asia or Latin America with their chicarrons, they all have a beginning shrouded in suffering that eventually leads to a future of happiness, hope and good taste. If that’s not a food worthy of the table of God, I don’t know what is.
I wonder if this is what O’Reilly meant when he said that slaves building the capitol were well-fed. Probably not.
Some information from Chitterlings, Wikipedia.