Memories of a (Beef) Tongue

It’s funny how things rarely play out as they do in your head. Last week, I did my best to weave parts of the eulogy I gave at my Bubbie’s (Yiddish for Grandmother) funeral into a post. As I was writing, I thought to myself as I teared up at Starbucks, “This is heavy for me, but I don’t know what others will make of it?” But I decided to just write for myself and let the rest take care of itself.

Simply put, I was touched by all the wonderful comments, so thank you. It was great to see my Bubbie and her love of family resonated with those who are or have been blessed with a similar relationship. But even more importantly, I felt it a privilege to share that moment with others who were not as fortunate to have known their grandparents.

My Bubbie was not a fan of having her picture taken, so sadly there are not a ton of pictures of us together. She gave in somewhat in her later years (I think just to humor us), so although I have a ton of memories, they are not always affiliated with pictures. On the bright side, a memory lasts forever.

I was thinking of some good times we shared and one of my fondest memories is when I was about 5 years old living in Montreal. She was a wonderful cook and when a Bubbie gives you food, you eat, it’s a rule, even if it’s not your Bubbie! So she gave me a piece of meat and told me it was chicken, so of course I believed her. As I took a bite, my mother came into the kitchen and asked if I liked the beef tongue I was eating. Needless to say, at 5 years old, I only knew of the tongue in my own mouth, not the eating of someone else’s so it quickly went back on to the plate. My Bubbie had a good laugh about it and said I had liked it just fine when I thought it was chicken.

To this day, I have yet to try beef tongue again and I don’t really have an inclination to do so. But at any mention of it, I smile and think of an adorable little 4’11” Bubbie who was happiest in her kitchen surrounded by family and having fun with her grandson.

Ironically enough, this memory about beef tongue actually ties in with a contest currently being sponsored by Eat, Write, Retreat, a  food blogging conference in May 2011. Eat, Write, Retreat has partnered up with the folks at Canadian Beef to generously sponsor five (5) randomly selected Canadian food bloggers to attend the conference in Washington if they share a story or recipe of Canadian Beef.

It’s not very often a story about beef tongue can be applied to a chance to attend a food blog conference.



Filed under Beef, Bubbie, Tongue

18 responses to “Memories of a (Beef) Tongue

  1. I think it was all bubbie’s jobs to traumatize their grandkids with beef tongue! My grandmother once took some leftover tongue home from the club (i.e. wrapped it in a napkin and put in her purse). A few hours later I went to get something from her purse and found it in there!

    Hope that your entry is a winner – and that you get to DC in May!

  2. Amy

    When I was a kid, around the age of 6, I reaaallly wanted to try horseradish sauce (not necessarily to accompany the Gefilte fish in which it was intended for. No just the horseradish.) My mom kept warning how spicy/strong it was, but I wouldn’t hear it. I pestered and pestered…and PESTERED. Finally my mom just gave me a big ‘ol glop of it. Holy moly. I don’t think I ate it again until post college. I love it now, but can’t eat it without thinking of that story.

    Does my story win me a trip to Hawaii? Ha. Good luck, Ethan!

  3. My dad used to buy tongue when I was a kid; it was always so weird to open the fridge and see an enormous tongue on the shelf. I always refused to eat it, but my brother told me that it recently made an appearance in a tomato sauce in their house. I may have been eating it my whole life and never known. I’m now off to read your Bubbie post!
    Good luck with the contest!

  4. annie

    Dear Ethan,
    You have missed out on one of the most delicious culinary experiences – beef tongue! This used to be my very favourite meat when I was growing up. The preparation was intense – the beef tongue would arrive in waxed butcher paper tied with string. The tongue pinkish and prickly would be revealed very slowly as the wrapping was taken off. If you ran your hand across the tongue the front was smooth and became bumpier as you moved your hand to the end of it where it had been attached to the animal. The tongue was put into the sink washed and then scraped carefully with a very sharp paring knife, any excess fat was removed. Only then was it placed into a a large soup pot and covered with cold water which was brought to a boil – this was repeated several times. At the final cooking stage the tongue was covered with cold water, onions,carrots, celery, salt and pepper.
    There were probably some herbs involved but I don’t remember which ones. This was all brought again to a boil and then a simmer for 2-3 hours till it reached the tender stage. The tongue was then carefully removed from the pot and all the skin was peeled off with a sharp knife. Only then was it ready to be sliced… it was served hot and/or cold but my favourite was cold tongue… my mouth and tongue still salivate when I think of it. One thing I know for sure … I would never prepare this personally… too much work and I would be the only one eating it. Ethan darling give it a try sometime – you have to keep up with the Thaler tradition [ except for your mother who’s a vegetarian] Annie

  5. I grew up in Morocco so I’ve had my share of tongue dishes. I still cook it on occasion. It’s actually delicious when made right.

  6. Zoe

    Once when I was little (too little to remember), my dad made stuffed deer heart and gave me a piece to try. Apparently I just gobbled it up and kept asking for more! He’s a game hunter, so I grew up eating deer and moose without thinking twice about it, but I’m pretty sure if I’d known I was eating heart, I wouldn’t have touched it! Your story reminded me of that (I think it’s the offal theme, lol), so I thought I would share. Thanks for another wonderful Bubbie post, Ethan! 🙂

  7. When I was a 2nd year apprentice chef at school, we were learning about offal. The teacher absolutely refused to allow any of us to leave the class unless we tried some of the giant, Im telling you, this tongue was HUGE. Ill never forget the texture, blehhhhhhhh…. 🙂
    Best of luck with that comp. Nothing like a dish with heartfelt memories attached to seal the deal. 🙂

  8. your stories about your grandma remind me so much of mine 🙂

  9. Haha, so funny! My Nan never tricked us that I can remember, but she sure did make some weird crap that we had better eat – or ELSE! Stuff like pear salad.. half a canned whole pear on a lettuce leaf, with a scoop of mayonnaise in the middle of it. Bizarreness, Nan. Bizarreness.

  10. thebeefladyheather

    great story! Thanks so much for submitting your post:) My Polish Baba has the same rule – eat it! You must always be hungry, if you’re not – clearly you’re lying;) and you don’t like to your Baba:)
    Heather Travis, Canadian Beef

  11. Great one! My parents made me try tongue when I was young. They actually serve it at a Jewish style deli here in Birmingham, AL of all places

  12. nope. nilch. zip. not gonna. i will not. hell will freeze first . . .

    i remember my mother bringing home a tongue once . . . didn’t know until i lifted the lid on the pot on the stove. needless-to-say, the lid came crashing down onto the floor and i ran from the kitchen like my hair was on fire. and there was absolutely no way i was (or will) ever going to eat tongue . . . but another great Bubbie story!

  13. Roberta

    I clearly remember my response when my dad told me to try Beef Tongue “Dad I am not eating something that can taste me back” to bad it didn’t work and I had to try it. First and last time.

  14. I’ve had tongue once… once in my life. And probably won’t have it again. My grandmother (“nanny” is what we call her) goes bonkers over it and I tried it many years ago covered in pasta sauce and twirled up in linguine. Didn’t care for it.

    But… it’s a memory… whether it’s bad or good.

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