I have to teach Offal – it’s on the syllabus, and I face these lessons with dismay. How can I persuade a class of teenage boys and girls that liver, kidney and hearts are delicious, nutritious foods that they must learn to cook for their exams?
I don’t like offal any more than they do. Every Wednesday as a child, we had an evening meal of leathery liver and bacon. The later my father and I arrived home, the longer the liver had simmered to old cardboard and the bits that stuck outside the gravy were curled and crisp. Only the creamy mashed potato rescued the meal from being scooped into my handkerchief, so I could throw it in the garden later. Some friends took me for an East End meal of tripe and onions and I’d gagged at the white lumpy mess.
Liver and offal are excellent sources of iron – an essential mineral for girls in their teens and offal is such a cheap, nutritious food and I must teach my class how to cook it.
The butcher delivers 25 lamb’s hearts. To complete the recipe I’ve got in Paxo parsley and thyme stuffing, onions, Oxo cubes and flour. Oxo is supposed to give a meal man appeal and any encouragement to eat this dish is essential.
They perch on stools around a small, pink lamb’s heart which sits forlornly on its wooden chopping board. There’s groans of ‘I ain’t eating that’ as they push for a place on the stools at the back.
Bert speaks for the group.
‘What’s that miss? Looks like something I feed me ferrets.’
‘I’d give it to me dogs!’ chirps Ray.
Cackles of laughter from the rest of the stools.
I hold up a copy of O level Cookery with its red cover, the colour of blood.
‘Listen to what it says – ‘Offal used to be despised and was very cheap, but because of its increased use and realisation of its high food value it is now popular and more expensive.’
See, more people are eating offal so we’re going to cook Stuffed Heart and learn a bit of biology on the way.’
Groans and vomiting noises, as I peel off stiff fatty bits and remove the tubes, then give the heart a squeeze. A large clot of blood oozes out the top. I give a gleeful hooray.
‘Look at this strong heart muscle that pushes blood around the lamb.’
‘Oh my god. I feel sick. You ain’t normal.’
It’s disgusted Liz, who is revving up the rest of the girls.
‘Miss, one week we learn about vegetarians not eating meat, and next we’re chopping up lamb’s bits and saying they’re good for us. I want to make cakes not cook meals.’
I fill the heart pouches with Paxo stuffing. It still looks like a heart.
‘Now fry some onions then roast it in a little stock. It’ll taste delicious.’
It is their turn to cook but they’re stuck to their stools.
‘Please get started – the sooner we begin the quicker it’s done. Let’s share the tasks – girls can cook the onions and boys can do the hearts.’
Beefy boys relish the heart dissection and stuffing Paxo into the cavities and the room warms the nourishing smells of fried onion, parsley stuffing and gravy.
My ovens fill with tiny pieces of roasting heart.
‘We’ll come back after school and fetch it miss.’
They pack and hurry to more sensible lessons.
Sylvia helps me sweep up bits of fat, heart tubes and onion skins and makes a cup of tea.
We line up their stuffed heart dishes for collection.
Ray pops his head through the door.
‘Sorry miss – we won’t eat it. Why don’t you sell it to one of the teachers?’
This is the last stuffed hearts lesson I’ll ever teach. The recipe for this delicious dish is for all to use. We’ll have to use liver for the awful offal lesson instead.
Today, hearts are a major ingredient in modern dog food, so my students are right – if you don’t like them, they end up as the dog’s dinner.