Liver and Onions

Photo by Jan Koetsier on

When I was young my mother sometimes cooked cow liver with onions for our dinner. She considered it to be a kind of delicacy that was also good for preventing anemia. I viewed it as the grossest thing that ever came into our house. Just smelling it made me want to gag and the mere thought of ingesting it turned my stomach. It was one of the few times that I became a recalcitrant and whiny child, unwilling to accept the bounty of what Mama chose to prepare for our family meal. 

My brothers never balked at eating the vile innards of a cow but I was adamant that it would never pass my lips. My mom was just as insistent that I was free to leave my portion of the main course for others to share but she was not willing to prepare something different for me. She would point to the accompanying vegetables that might soothe my hunger but I was still not satisfied because I was literally unable to be in the same room with the offending liver without feeling quite ill. Mama’s solution to that problem was to announce that I was free to go outside until the rest of the family had finished dinner if I so chose and I always took her up on that offer. 

I’d stand in the yard gagging at the thought of my mother and brothers actually ingesting the foul protein. I felt like a valiant crusader for standing my ground and refusing to be part of the disgusting ritual of dining on liver and onions. Luckily my mother only chose to serve such a meal once in a blue moon so I was able to reserve my histrionics for a full blown rebellion on the occasions when she brought such a meal into our home. I suppose that we both thought we had won since neither of us were ever willing to back down. Luckily I have never been particularly in need of a regular round of meals so going to bed without dinner was a very small sacrifice for me but I never let my mother know how little in mattered to me. Instead I acted as though I was being unfairly tortured by her lack of understanding of my stance. 

My mother was of course a widow with three children to feed and an impossibly small income with which to purchase food. She had to be quite creative when it came to planning meals, never wasting a single ingredient for any reason. She did not have the luxury of catering to our dining whims and so her strictly enforced rule was that we either ate what she offered or passed on that particular meal. She never made us eat something we did not like but she taught us to begin with small portions, perhaps just enough to taste something to determine if we wanted more. While she never made us clean our plates her face demonstrated her concern if we were wasteful of the food that we had. It was painful for her to throw something in the trash. 

I cannot think of anything else that she prepared for us that I was unwilling to eat other than liver and onions. She was a wonderfully inventive cook who made even the most humble ingredients seems to be a gourmet treat. She had a knack for combining spices and common items in a way that was unique and tasty. I think she thought of liver and onions as a splurge and it hurt her feelings that I made such a show of disgust when she placed it on the menu. 

I suppose that I might have been a little more reserved and polite in my commentary. I should have just explained that I did not care to eat on the evenings when liver and onions were on the table and then taken a walk around the neighborhood until the disturbing food had been consumed and the kitchen cleaned of its odor. Instead I became a drama queen to emphasize my disgust with the whole thing. It was as though I wanted to destroy the moment for everyone and become the center of attention with my antics. 

Over time I learned how to curb shows of dislike with food. I am far more polite when I do not want to consume a particular type of food. I fill my plate with things that I prefer and use the trick of taking a small spoon of the offending item so that when it is left on the plate it appears that I simply ran out of appetite. Sometimes I do not even partake in a charade but simply choose only what I like to eat. In today’s world filled with so many vegetarians and vegans I can get by with only fruit and vegetables without drawing attention to my dislikes of things like lamb, eels, raw fish, tripe and such. 

Because of my own childhood experience I find myself feeling quite comfortable with anyone who admits that they do no wish to eat something that I have prepared. I understand that each of us have differing likes and dislikes when it comes to food. Nobody should ever have to ingest something that makes them queasy or that they feel is not good for them. It makes preparing a meal for a crowd more complex because these days there are so many different kinds of diets to accommodate. I have to take carbs, meat, allergens and general preferences into account and even then I sometimes find someone who can’t find anything satisfactory in the buffet that I have offered. 

We’ve learned a great deal about food and healthy diets since the days when my mother was so proud of her liver and onion delicacy. More and more people would no doubt be joining me in the yard if they were to encounter such a thing on a menu. Still I feel conflicted over how I behaved. On the one hand it felt good to stand my ground but on the other hand it now seems rather childish of me to have behaved so abominably. I now realize that it was really my mother who understood what to do. I imagine that she and my brothers had a rather enjoyable dinner sharing the extra portion of liver and being free from my pouting and dirty looks. Because of her wisdom it worked out well for everyone and I got the privilege of deciding for myself what I was willing to eat. She outsmarted me just as she always did.


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