Preparing a family Sunday lunch yesterday, part of which was broccoli - one of our favourite veg. All the 'little trees' were nicely arranged in the steamer, but then came the peeling and slicing of the main stump - which to me is one of the delicacies of the vegetable, rather than something to throw away. Drizzled with butter, it has a flavour and texture reminiscent of an artichoke heart, which to me is a gastronomic pleasure of great delight (especially those bought, floating in brine, from the street market just off the Gugli bridge in Venice! )
Sliced and ready to go
Nothing wasted - off to the compost!
The prep procedure, and the thought that this part of the plant is normally discarded, set me to thinking of all the other things which were served to me as a child - all of which I happily consumed - that fell out of favour in later years, and would now definitely be considered 'funny bits'. My housewife mother was, shall we say, not well funded on the housekeeping front , such that - like most other valiant women of her background and era - she spent a good portion of her life shopping for, preparing and cooking food for her family. Economy - *great* economy was the order of the day - yet I have memories only of the most delicious and abundant meals appearing daily on the table.
In truth, most of the dishes would not now suit me, as they were mostly meat based and I now rarely consume animal flesh; but as a post-war child, I was used to food animals still being kept on a small scale in many back gardens. Chicken and rabbit appeared on my plate quite regularly (though whole chickens were reserved for Christmas and Easter). Apart from what was home-provided, money was spent on all manner of meats from the butchers - a place I now avoid, but remember from those days only as the shop with the doorway filled with tiled pictures of hearty bulls and sheep - and a smiling piggy-butcher 'mannikin', complete with pristine apron and knife held in trotter, in the window where pork joints would later lie!
(Looks as if they still make those figures now! *)
Those expensive joints rarely came home with Mam - but with what she did bring, she worked miracles. Huge cow's hearts - to be stuffed and sliced (and in later years, 'borrowed' to be dissected beforehand, as part of my 'A' level Zoology course); rolled breast of lamb; tripe - wonderful tripe - cooked in milk with carrots, potatoes and onions (oh, I can smell it now!). And there was more….
My father kept several Alsatians - brought with him out of the RAF from his time as a Police Dog Handler there - and my uncle was bailiff on a dairy farm. When a stillborn calf was born… well, put the two together and more economising was under way.
I clearly remember how expert I was - at the grand old age of four - in ably assisting the 'preparation' of such bounty; my own final job being to take the calf's head (already split in two) into Mam, in the jam-making pan, to be boiled up, cooled and then picked over, finally to make wibbly-wobbly brawn, and tongue, separately coiled and sliced. You might think that these sights would give a four year old nightmares - they certainly did not give me any - only abiding interest, awe and reverence at the bodily beauty and intricacy of all creatures.
But nowadays, I make do with broccoli!
Romanesco Broccoli - the Italians always do it better :-)
Much more on economical cooking at this interesting, entertaining and informative site
(* Pig-figure Image from www.lifesize-models.co.uk)