Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 6, 2009

Liver Is Not What Food Is

Ok – fair warning.  The easily nauseated may want to skip this one.  Today, to be frank, I’m writing about throwing up.  Not exactly polite conversation, but it illustrates what it took to win a fight with my Mom.

Lexington.  Concord. Antietam. Shiloh.  Gettysburg.  Little Big Horn.  The Somme. Corregidor.  Hiroshima.  All words that bring to mind struggle, iron will, and overwhelming force.

And all pale when considered next to the Great Liver War, fought between approximately 1965 – 1969.  I think the year was ’69, and I was a six-year-old with a problem: Mom loved liver.  And not just a few little chicken livers, or some liverwurst, or even Braunschweiger sausage.  No, Mom loved great, big, bloody, iron red slabs of pig liver. 

And she couldn’t understand why it took her two and a half hours to get a single helping of the stuff down me.  It was a battle we fought every ten days or so. And by 69, the Liver Wars had been going since I’d been introduced to solid food.  But tonight, it was going to end.  I’d tried everything else.  Begging, pleading, crying, even running and hiding.  Nothing worked. (And that last one got me a wham on my pants.)

Neither Mom nor I knew it, but tonight, I was going nuclear. 

(My local Critic tells me that I’m being overly dramatic.  Trust me, I was there, and the iron will it took for the Yankee forces at Gettysburg to stand in the face of thirty thousand howling Rebel troops while worthy, was nothing compared to what it took to take liver off of the menu at 29 Woodbine road in 1969.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. )

I could tell that it was coming at about five-thirty or so in the evening, when that unmistakable scent started wafting through the house.  I never knew how mom cooked the liver, because you couldn’t have gotten me in the kitchen at the point of  gun.  A large gun.  The odor of that stuff was like rusty nails boiled in bile.  Probably because it was a blood organ full of bile! 

Ye gods and little fishes, my gorge rises just thinking about it.  Dad got home about 6:15.  At this point I had been dreading the coming doom for almost an hour.  And remember, for a little kid, one hour of dreading the coming doom is the same as two million – jillion years for an adult.  The whole house smelled of it, and there was no place to hide.

And so the battle began.  I tried every thing.   I’d try bracketing bites of that nasty stuff with bites of the sides.  But a six-year-old isn’t good at proportions, and inevitably, I’d end up running out of sides way before the liver was gone.  And I also didn’t have the disciple to ration out my sides.  They tasted far better than the liver, and I was never able to resist firing them down, delaying the inevitable arrival of the vile organ meat.  I tried washing the stuff down with my tea.  (I’m a southerner – all meals have iced tea.)  I’d end the bite with the tea going down and the toxic stuff sitting on my tongue.   It had the texture of a grainy rubber eraser strung together will rotting rubber bands and the taste simply cannot be described. *shudder* I’d sit there, hour after hour, trying to breath through my mouth and fighting the heaving in my stomach.  Eventually, two hours after the ordeal began, I’d have my “plate cleaned.”

But not this time.

For our metaphor, please picture a submarine, with a battle-hardened commander under fire, and trying to deal with a milquetoast civilian advisor, and you’ll have some idea what autonomic systems had to do to get past the good kid trying to eat what was put in front of him.

I sat down at table between my parents.  My sister was still a baby in those days, and was only being battered by the stench.  I looked down at the tough, red-grey mass, took a bite, choked, and, with every ounce of my courage said, “Mommy, please don’t make me eat that.  It makes me throw up.”

As dining critiques go, let’s just say that it didn’t go over so hot.  The phrase “don’t you dare talk to your mother like that” was express with great rapidity and high volume.  Assorted other guilt-laden concepts such as “hard work,” “hot stove,” and yes, it’s a cliche, but I actually got the “starving children in Africa” smack as well.  So I picked up my fork again, raised the stuff to my lips, and . . .

Somewhere deep inside, the battle-hardened commander had had enough.

“Batten down all external hatches.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.  No air would move through my mouth or nose.

“Lock down all lose gear and prepare for heavy weather.”

My fork dropped and clattered on the plate as both of my hands shot out and grabbed the edge of the table.  I couldn’t move a muscle.  My eyes bugged out as I clamped my teeth together and desperately tried to calm my stomach.  But I wasn’t in charge any more.


I threw up.  Occasionally, I’ve told this story, and people thought I meant that I spit out the liver.  No, I mean I threw up everything I’d eaten so far.  Then I threw up my lunch.  Then I threw up my breakfast.  Then I brought up my shoes, my socks, and I think my toenails went by.  It felt like Hank Aaron was beating the inside of my stomach with a baseball bat. Over and over again.

Mom was appalled.  She’d actually made her child physically ill.  I’d made such an impression that from that day, until the day I left home to go to college out of state, liver was never served at our table again.  When Mom got her  monthly liver jones, we went to Morrison’s Cafeteria, where she got liver and onions, and I got fried chicken.  And I got to sit on the other end of the table from her, as far away as possible.

And that was how I won the final battle of the Great Liver War of ’69. 

There’s a coda to the story, though.  Twenty five years later, my friend Roz was throwing a party.  Now, when she sets her mind to it, Roz is as good a chef as any Cordon Bleu trained knife jockey.  If anybody could make liver into food, it would be Roz.  She’d bought the best goose liver in the city.  She’d blended a dozen or so spices and hand made a pâté de foie gras. 

So I thought, “Hey, it’s been a quarter-century.”  Perhaps my palate has matured enough to appreciate this delicacy.  So I took some of Roz’s hand-made pâté, and I put it on a stone ground water cracker.  And I ate it.

I did not have the least impulse to bring up my shoes.  But I did say, “Yep, that’s what I remember.” 

Perhaps in another 25 years, I’ll be able to not only stomach, but appreciate the stuff.


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  1. you crack me up. I hated liver too as a child. I like it now, but only under VERY specific conditions. Mostly my own cooking.

    and no. I will never ask you to try it. right now you like my cooking. I don’t want to tarnish that.

  2. I feel your pain. My grandmother was one of those liver wierdos. She loved the stuff and could never understand why the rest of us didn’t. My only saving grace was my mother hates the stuff even more than I do so I could usually count on her to forge an escape route from the dreaded substance. Usually, but not always. That stuff still makes me shudder just thinking about it. Blech!

  3. I will admit that I’ve considered working up a taste for pate de foi gras just to piss off animal rights activists, but it’s not enough motivation.

  4. I like liver. But then I suspect my mother knew how to cook it and yours did not. In fact, I’ll eat just about anything without complaint. That’s a result of being raised by depression-era parents who, likewise, insisted that I “clean my plate”. To this day, it takes an act of sheer willpower to order a plate of food in a restaurant and not finish it all because there’s way more there than I should eat.

    There were one or two things my mom cooked that I didn’t like. I can’t even remember what they were. But one night, I knew one of them was on the menu. So before going to the table I slipped a postage stamp into my pocket.

    When I got the inevitable “there are children starving in China”, I got out the stamp, licked it, and mashed it into the food with the retort “Well then why don’t you mail it to them?”

    Oh boy. My father was 6’3″ tall with size 13 feet and hands to match. When he spanked you (rare actually), you definitely knew you’d been spanked. I got spanked and I guess I deserved it for smarting off. I was also in trouble for wasting a stamp because “those cost money”.

    But my mother never served that dish again.


    So I won even though I lost.

    • I dunno. Mom was not a “great cook,” but about everything she made was edible. And she and my Dad never had problems with whatever liver dish there way. I tell ya what though, you can eat my share of any liver dish you see.

      I did have a similar experience, although I just shot my mouth off. Something about being “unaware of a shortage of slimy, undercooked broccoli ANYWHERE in the world. I don’t remember much after that.”

  5. WOW, my husband went threw something similar with green beans, to this day no one in his family mentions them to him, I cook enough for me, and leave it well alone ……….especially after seeinghim turn quite green at the thought of eating them!

  6. I’ve never seen anybody react that way to green beans. Although I hear that you can’t cook broccoli in the house over at Duren’s if Zig is home.

    • Green beans, no. But I convinced my mother that asparagus and I were never going to be friends by gagging every time I tried to put a fork full in my month. This was when I was ~9 or 10, so 1966 or so. Funny thing is, these days, I actually like asparagus. The difference? Mom thought asparagus out of a can was a good thing… I actually like fresh asparagus steamed or roasted…

  7. That was very amusing! Master William, you are a very skilled bard. No one can bring memories of childhood so clearly to the forefront of the mind as well as you can. I am awed and inspired. I am also laughing hard enough to cry from your tales as well. You Rock!!!

    • I’m glad you liked it. As the first Mother’s Day without Mom looms, more and more of these childhood memories are stirring up.

  8. Preach it, honey. Preach it. Liver is so far beyond vile …..

    and my mom loved the stuff too. 😛

    gag a maggot on a gut-wagon!

    • Heh – oddly, in the next couple of years when Mom tried to introduce me to oyster stew and I say, “That makes me want to throw up,” I just got canned chili on Oyster Stew night. It became a family tradition. On Christmas Eve we’d go to church, and then come home and Mom would serve Oyster Stew to Shea, Dad, and her, and I would get a can of chili. I’ve revived the tradition in my own family. But I don’t know how to make oyster stew, so I end up feeding the wife chili, too.

      • And in the last ~30 years Suzie refuses to fix liver, or let me fix it when she is at home…

  9. That would be because Liver is Not What Food Is. But I repeat myself.

  10. Absolutely wonderful!!

    My wife hates liver (and any derivative) with a passion that can only be appreciated from afar.

    I hate onions and of course this means that everyone is always trying to feed them to me.

    My mother has also gone so far as to put them into a blender then mix them into my food. Devious woman. (Maybe that’s what they do. Have children and then become devious.)

    Once again, wonderful story.

    • My pleasure. Liver is more uncommon that onions, so I don’t have people constantly trying to find ways to feed them to me.

  11. […] Cafeteria menu, including their legendary Liver and Onions.  Of course, everyone here knows that liver is not what food is, so there will be no review of that here.   A cheese man from way back, I opted for the Crudite and […]

  12. […] Liver is Not What Food Is […]

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