Friday, June 6, 2008

Wandering in the Big Gray Zone

A few days back, the New York Times posted an article on their website about "Recipe Deal Breakers" - the things that cooks might read in a recipe that would cause them to skip it. This got me thinking in general about the foods people will and won't eat, and about how that affects medieval cooking geeks like myself.

See, here's the crux of the matter: there's no point in my making 30 pounds of blood sausage to serve to 100 people at a feast if only 3 people are even going to try it. On the other hand, the tastes of the people are not uniform. Instead of a nice, clear line that I could walk right up to and threaten to cross from time to time, I find myself standing in the middle of a vast, gray plain that isn't steadily shaded, but instead is mottled with varying degrees of will and won't. So here's what I've noticed so far about the food preferences of the people.

In general, people like meat (e.g. beef, pork, chicken). There are some vegetarians, but they're enough used to living in an omnivore world that most of them will be very happy with the slightest accommodation. Offering sauces to go with the meats is good, but it's best to serve the sauce on the side since a substantial number of the carnivores want their meat plain.

Some meats are considered a little unusual or exotic, but are generally acceptable (e.g. duck, venison, quail, rabbit). These can be served, but the serving size can be notably smaller than for the "normal meats"

There are meats that are considered strange enough that if you put them on the table, people will look at you funny (e.g. squirrel, hedgehog). If you know someone who likes these then make a special dish just for them, but don't bother making huge quantities.

Then there are the parts of the animals that are (in the US) often thrown away (e.g. brains, entrails, organs, feet, snouts, ears, tongues, genitals). Getting 1% of the people to eat any of these is nearly impossible. Even the most commonly eaten organ meat, liver, would generally fare badly here (a pity too, 'cause I've got a nice recipe for chopped liver).

Maybe it's different in other parts of the US, but here in the Midwest fish can be difficult. Something like salmon will go over OK, but just about anything else isn't worth it. The "weird" fish (e.g. eel) are even harder to get them to eat, and if you leave the head and tail on then you might as well forget it.

Frogs? No, not really. No.

What is it with trying to get Americans to eat vegetables? It seems that about half of the population is offended if anything green gets anywhere near their plate. They'll accept a salad as long as it has enough meat and cheese added to it. Starchy vegetables will be eaten if smothered in cheese (e.g. turnips) or glazed with honey (e.g. carrots), but offer them cooked spinach or beets and they'll act like you'd just insulted their mother.

I did have one surprise once on this. I'd made a turnip soup for one feast, scaling it back a little because I figured not everyone would like it, and we ran out. That was a rare exception though.

This is an odd one. People will generally eat fruit prepared in just about any way, but they rarely will ask for it. Stewed apples or pears, fruit sauces, baked fruit, all are good. Maybe they don't know what to do with fruit (other than eat it raw) and therefore they just don't think about it.

Other Foods
Mushrooms are iffy. Some people will devour them, others will run screaming.

The same goes for spicy or sour foods.

Eggs and egg-based dishes go over pretty well. You can even serve pies made from eggs and herbs or whatever - just don't call it quiche or a small number of men will suddenly decide not to eat it.

Starchy foods like bread or pasta are almost as widely accepted as the "normal" meats. The no-carb diet fad put a bit of a crimp in this, but it seems to have died down.

Meat jelly? I really don't think they'll eat much of it ... but I'm going to try anyway. Sometimes you've got to break the rules.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Preach it to the choir.
Of course at pot-luck feasts you can push the envelope a lot.
Hence I have managed to sneak in liver (pate anyone), sweetbreads (I put the Italian name on it), tongue (MKCC) and testicles (lambs fries).