Friday, May 09, 2008

A fig for some liver.

May 9 ...

Yesterday’s post stimulated a little email feedback on the topic of liver – and the tone was not enthusiastic. Offal-phobes seem more inclined to voice their phobias than liver-philes do their philes (?). I am not sure why this is, but am pretty sure that even liver-haters will enjoy the story of why liver in Italian is called fegato.

Fegato comes from the Latin word ficatum, meaning figs – and an entire culinary story is encased in that one word. For at least two and a half thousand years humans have fattened geese on figs specifically for the purpose of enjoying their fat livers (foies gras if you like). So, the figs became livers lingistically as well as biologically. Nice, isnt it?

Liver is one of the few foods that has a place at each end of the luxury spectrum. It is usually cheap offal, not rationed even in wartime (which I don’t understand as each beast has only one liver but four limbs, so surely should be more scarce?) – and it is also, in the form of goose or duck foie gras, one of the most indulgent. Liver is also highly nutritious, with a long history of medicinal use – raw even, for anaemia, and in the form of cod-liver oil for just about anything, if you grew up in post-war England.

Here is an ancient Roman recipe from Apicius to tempt you.

In Ficato Ĺ’nogarum.
Fig-fed pork liver (that is, liver crammed with figs) is prepared in a wine sauce with pepper, thyme, lovage, broth, a little wine and oil.

And a not-so ancient, less tempting idea for those haddock livers you have lurking in the depths of your freezer. At least it sounds marginally more appetising way to get your fish oil than off a spoon.

Scotch Dumplings.
Make a paste with some oatmeal and butter, form it into a dumpling, and place a haddock’s liver in the middle, well seasoned with pepper and salt; it should be boiled in a cloth.
[The Cook’s Own Book … Lee and Leslie, 1840]

Monday’s Story ….

The Magazine of Taste.

Quotation for the Day …

The best thing about liver is how virtuous it makes you feel after you've eaten some.
Bruce Jay Friedman.

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