At Samhain We Eat the Nasty Bits

A raw turkey heart rests in the palm of my hand

A raw turkey heart rests in the palm of my hand

This morning, I finally took the liver and heart – from the turkey I roasted a few weeks ago – out of the fridge. I gave them a wash, and fried them up in butter (lots of butter) with soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.

I put a slice of each on a tiny plate – technically I think it’s for putting spent teabags on, but here we are – and put the plate on my altar. Blew kisses to my People.

On Samhain we eat the Nasty Bits.

Or at least I’m trying this out, this year, and rather like the idea of keeping it up as a tradition. The heart, tongue, and one kidney of our long-ago pig (half-pig, from a local farmer who does humanely raised livestock) are finally being put to use. Being slow-cooked overnight and turned into a stew – with garden herbs and CSA veggies and cranberries and a wedge of baked squash to serve it in – for after Ritual tomorrow.

I’ve been eating turkey giblets since I was a kid. Which is one reason to be enjoying them on Samhain. I learned to cook them, to love the smell of fried liver with garlic, from my Dad, who died more than twenty years ago, when I was barely out of my teens. When I had a Chinese grocer up the street from me, I used to buy trays of chicken hearts to fry up just like this.

Our pig’s liver became fancy Liver Mousse, and when I don’t have that I use chicken livers.

I’ve been eating beef heart for years, and using it in stews and even a steak and kidney pie or two, and gods know I eat a lot of sausages.

So I’m no stranger to offal. At least not the tamer bits that you can routinely find at the grocery store.

But I’ve been squeamish about the tongue (too much like kissing? Too much like eating a piece of my own mouth?) and the heart of this pig – the heart, in particular, because it’s literally so similar to my own that the valves are interchangeable – since they arrived in my freezer order. And that was many years ago.

What foods make you squeamish? Make you stare your own mortal embodiment in the face?

I make a beet salad – a way to use up a few dark red beets, when I don’t have to worry about them staining everything else red – that I call “bowl of jewels” when I’m in mixed company, but that my wife has informed me makes her think of chunks of raw meat.

Which: Yes, actually, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I make pumpkin cupcakes and baked apples. We have a giant, discounted box of mini chocolate bars sitting in the bottom of our pantry like most of our neighbours. But it’s increasingly important to me to make Samhain not just about sugar and spice, when it comes to food.

To be able to say “Take, this, eat this. This tongue that once tasted, as you taste it now”. To say “This heart that once beat, as your beats now”. And, okay, sure, I have no idea how to make kidney function sound profound, but you get the idea. This person, who was alive, who was killed – even if not by you, maybe especially if not by you – is keeping you alive right now. Life to death to life.

And, yeah, you can do fun things with it. Like “Whoever gets the bay leaf in their stew gets Bonus Prosperity in the coming year”. You can snap a year’s collection of wishbones and make some magic. Read the future in the guts and seeds of your jack-o-lantern or the patterns you see in kidney fat and tongue tendon.

But at the roots of this is a veil thinned by a lot of death happening at once. Every neighbourhood / village / extended-family-household slaughtering some of the herd to make sure everyone else – the humans, and the rest of the herd – have enough food to make it through the winter.

I don’t want to forget that.

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