I've been feeling really guilty lately about my inexperience with "weird" meats. Said experience overall has to be divided into two categories: pre-vegetarian and post--with a twelve year hiatus in between. Before I became a vegetarian at the age of eleven, I was a very adventurous eater as far as kids go. My parents never let me order off of the kids menu at restaurants, and I pretty much had to eat whatever my mom plunked down in front of me when we ate at home. Now, my mother has always been a good cook--but she didn't really become a gourmand until I left for college (dammit). So meals at the house were of your basic supermarket check-out line cooking magazine variety--inventive and better than anything my friends ate, but generally not too out there.
Anyway, so the first "weird" meat I can remember coming into contact with was tongue, albeit very flighting contact. My mother tried to hide the tongue underneath a burger roll, and claimed, when questioned, that it was meatloaf. Now, the most frightening thing about this was that the piece of meat sitting on my burger bun actually LOOKED like a tongue--complete with visible taste buds and a crease down the middle--so there was really no question about what it was, despite my mother's protestations. Of course, we refused to eat the tongue sandwiches and ordered pizza.
The second, shall we say, incident came when a neighbor shoot a moose. Now, growing up in the tundra, I have always had a soft spot for these gentle, stupid beasts. They seem more to me like something you might adopt as a backyard pet than something you would want to eat. Well in any event, there was dead moose to be had--and lots of it, so my family ended up with a share of three moose steaks. I think mom broiled them (it's the catch all cooking method for my people). Unfortunately for me, but luckily for the moose population, they taste like shoe. And not even nice shoes with soft Italian leather--no, moose tastes like barn boot. I don't think we'll be seeing moose steak for two at Les Halles anytime soon. I just can't blame my mother's cooking for this one...not even a butter, truffle, bacon sauce could have saved that meal.
Which brings me to the other side of the tofu fence. Since renouncing vegetarianism, I've eaten pates of all kinds (yum), kidney for breakfast in honor of Bloomsday (yuck), elk (yum), alligator (meh), and, last night, I gave tongue another shot. You see, there I was about a week ago out for dinner with some friends at a Mexican place in the West-ish Village called Cabrito, and there on the menu was my old muscle-y nemesis--this time in the guise of a taco not a burger bun. It seemed like the perfect moment for tongue and me to reunite, the taco was small, there were lots of other ingredients covering the tongue up, and I had been drinking so my inhibitions were lowered. Dear reader, I didn't order. And much to my foodie embarrassment, two of my friends were brave enough to order it! I had failed as an "adventurous" eater! The reviews? Friend 1: "It's good." Friend 2: "I wish I hadn't ordered tongue."
A week goes by and my guilt only increases, despite the lackluster reviews of my friends. How serendipitous that the special at my neighborhood bar last night was a tongue Reuben. Now, Rubens are my favorite sandwich, so here again I was faced with a perfect situation for possible enjoyment of tongue. I ordered it after some reassurance from the bartender that the sauerkraut cut the richness of the meat. So, how was it? It was rich and kind of greasy and I sort of wished there was more sauerkraut. I also wished I hadn't ordered tongue. Is that totally the tongue's fault? I don't think so. Might it have something to do with the faulty nature of a tongue Reuben? Probably. Will I ever order tongue again? Not if there's elk pate to be had.
My whole adventure with this pie started while in a farmers' market: ever since maybe mid-October I kept seeing boxes of Concord grapes on the tables. I never knew grapes were local produce! OK, well, I knew they were growing them for wine purposes in the Northeast, but I didn't know our hostile climate could support the same ones that go in Smucker's Grape Jelly! I had really thought that Concord grapes were a made up thing. This discovery was exciting, but since I don't really have any great love for jelly I wasn't really interested in making that with them. And anyway, jelly is too easy.
So what to do? I asked Google and apparently you can make pie with them! Or, you can if you're crazy and don't have anything to do all weekend. For guidance, I turned to the expert on difficult ingredients and recipes that take forever: Martha Stewart. Bear in mind, this recipe only had three steps....and it took me three days. Martha is exacting in her baking and has no time whatsoever for short cuts, busy lives, or excuses such as homework, going outside or a death in the family. You are making pie. Too fucking bad.
So on the first day I made the crust, which then had to be refridged over night. This would have been pretty straight forward except that my food processor was too small to make two pie crusts in at once....whoops. After about 20 minutes of cheerleading and burning smells, I gave up and used my hands.
The next day I had to deskin three quarts of grapes which, even with roommate assistance took FOREVER. Then I boiled the grapes to separate the seeds out (every grape had, like, 3 seeds in it.) Then I mushed the grapes through a strainer into the bowl with the skins/onto the counter. Then, get this, Martha told me to THROW OUT THE GRAPES leaving only the skins and the grape juice I had just spent two hours making. Then the skin/juice mixture went into the fridge for two hours.
While that was coagulating or whatever it was doing in there I took out the pie crusts, and this is where the chilling overnight came in handy. I rolled out the two crusts in five seconds! One of the crusts was for pie....topper...things....which were supposed to be made using grape leaf cookie cutters (who has those?) but I liked the stars even better....and besides, I already had those.
Ok there they are. Anyway, fast forward....let's get to the good part! So I baked the pie....but remember: this is only day two. Even though the house was filled with tempting pie smells, my roommates couldn't eat it yet because it was still super wobbly and weird. Admittedly, I was a little concerned because the pie was supposed to "jiggle," but my pie was sloshing.
But when I woke up it was fine! More congealing had taken place! Delicious! I stuck the stars on and we were good to go! Finally! Pie! Exclamation points! I was still a little wary about the texture, since the entire pie was basically grape skins. Fortunately for my reputation it was just fine, AND it made everyone's mouth purple like we had been drinking Carlo Rossi. Here is my three day Concord grape election day pie in blue and pie crust color.....
And on the last day I saw that it was good. And I ate it.