I just picked up a cute book today called Yoko about a girl from Japan whose mom packs her favorite lunch—raw fish tucked into rice. Her classmates are quick to condemn. “Ick! It’s green! It’s seaweed!” But then her teacher has an international food day and Yoko finds a friend willing to try this food called sushi. This friend even hopes the two of them can open a restaurant someday! The story ends happily and all is well.
Things did not turn out quite as lovely for me when I brought an unusual lunch to school back in eighth grade and was then naive enough to tell those at my lunch table what I was eating. Nobody wanted to open a restaurant with me. In fact, you could say my classmates were udderly amazed, and then they udderly could not let it go. I apologize for the puns, but I wanted you to get an idea of what I went through for the rest of that school year.
I can’t say udder sandwiches were something I commonly ate for lunch. We ate beef tongue quite a bit more. I remember my Dutch grandmother (Oma) would get out a huge pot (because cow tongues, as you can imagine, are rather large) bring the meat to a boil, and then simmer it for several hours. I don’t remember thinking, Ewww, tongue! But then I didn’t say Ewww brains! either when we had that delicacy. It’s all in what you’re used to.
I’m wondering now where my mom and grandmother even found beef tongue or beef udder or brains here in America, or . . . calf kidneys. I almost forgot about them. I’ve never noticed any of those meats in the Smith’s or Dan’s meat departments. But then, I’ve never asked. Maybe I should. Maybe I should do some investigating, pick up one of these meats and surprise my family when they come for our next Sunday dinner.
I have run across liverwurst here, a lunch meat staple at our house when I was growing up. That, along with just plain liver (thinly sliced), were very common sandwich meats for us. When it’s not boiled to the point that it tastes like leather, liver’s not bad. I give it a six. But liverwurst is at least an eight or nine. I still pick that up once in a while. It’s gooood. Pickled herring, another staple (also known as roll mop) I give a ten! And yes, it’s raw.
I talked to my mother just tonight to help me remember what we would put on our bread besides unusual meats from unusual animals or parts of animals. She said that the Dutch put just about anything edible on their bread. The bread is not slathered with mayo, but buttter. Here are some things we remember:
sliced fruits such as apples, pears, bananas, and strawberries
cheeses such as gouda, jonge vette, belegen, komijme (some of which could curl your toes)
thick kind of apple syrup (appel stroop)
regular thick syrups (stroop)
chocolate sprinkles (hagel slag)
candy sprinkles (muisjes)
windmill cookies (Yup, we put cookies on our bread and butter)
just plain sugar
These and other Dutch “sandwiches” were open-faced, but when she packed my lunch my mother would cover my sandwich with an extra slice of bread. In other words, if I hadn’t told my classmates what I was eating that day in eighth grade they never would have known. How naive I was.
Maybe it was my painful experience that school year that caused me to abandon the Dutch sandwich fare for more typical American lunches. I continued eating these “normal” lunches throughout high school and college and later ended up raising my children on plain old (bland) cheese sandwiches, or peanut butter or tuna or baloney sandwiches just like every other American mom. On special days we’d pick up hamburgers. Considering all the animal parts found in hamburger and baloney, I’m just realizing it’s highly possible we’ve been having beef tongue and udder and brains and kidneys on our sandwiches without realizing it. In fact, I could have pointed that out to those school lunch table “friends” in junior high that their baloney probably contained udder and worse. It would have made a great comeback. Wish I’d thought of it.
As you know, sushi has become very popular since the children’s book Yoko (that I referred to at the beginning of this post) came out in 1998. Udder sandwiches, not so much.