Before I was old enough to understand that it’s kinda gross, I fell in love with chopped liver. Now don’t sneer or point fingers. Keep in mind, the Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by fresh delicious fish and the year-round mild climate lends itself to growing fields of bountiful crops yet the locals love SPAM. I guess out there on those isolated islands nobody bothered to tell everyone the stuff was nasty, so they all grew up loving it. The only difference is the Island I grew up on was inside a goofy Queens New York Jewish household which, believe me, sometimes felt as disconnected from the rest of the world as Niihau.
I have fond memories of being a very little boy helping my Mother make chopped liver. Back then ‘liver’ was just a funny sounding word not associated in my head with awful offal organ meat. It was just stuff Mom made on special occasions. She followed her family recipe, first catching the chicken with her bare hands and a rock outside our prehistoric cave… OK, she’s not that old but it is a good way to test out if she still is reading this every week.
Actually, for months Mom would freeze the livers from any chickens she cooked, then when there was enough she would boil them all in a big pot with onions and stuff for hours. To schmaltz or not to schmaltz is a Shakespearean question for the ages; if I was too young to realize liver was a brown smelly slimy organ, I sure as hell knew nothing about cooking with animal fat.
Our old metal hand crank meat grinder (OK, maybe we are kinda stone-aged, this was pre food processors) did not attach properly to our groovy fabulous fifties metal edged Formica topped kitchen counters. Mom was resourceful though, so she would lay out an array of towels all around the area to catch any flying liver splatter and attached it to the edge of her dresser. She dragged the slightly cooled pot of cooked down liver glop and a gazillion hard boiled eggs across the house to her bedroom turned meat processing plant.
Here is where I got to help. I got to shove the stuff into the top of the grinder and turn the big crank handle. Like it was some twisted Eastern European Yiddish version of a Play-Doh Fun Factory, I had a blast shoving oniony liver blobs and eggs into the top while turning the big crank and watching the dozen or so tan streams of grinded goo shoot out into a faded aqua knock-off Pyrex glass bowl. It was like I was a part of a discolored version of Blue Man Group.
So alright, I did not have a lot a toys… or friends… or hobbies. This was fun for me back in the pre-game console, pre-cell phone, pre-computer era. What can I tell you, I’m easily amused and grinding chopped liver was a wacky diversion. Besides, is hand grinding meat really any worse than playing with the lame toys of my era like jacks, Spirograph and Punch-Mes (dopey weighted four feet tall plastic inflatable balloon like things with a picture of a popular cartoon character on them that when you punched would flop backwards then pop back in place… I had one with Magilla Gorilla on it and like every other kid was bored with it after the second punch).
I’m not sure I liked chopped liver originally because I had fun helping to make it, but no matter the reason, I got hooked on it early. As I grew up, Mom made it less and less frequently. Long after I moved away and started traveling for work, she would still occasionally make for me when I visited. Mom never had to bribe any of us kids with food to get us to come but you have to appreciate a nice perk. Especially since chopped liver is hard to find in a lot of the small corners of the country where I traveled. Sure, every time I visited New York I could get a passable version at almost any grocery store deli counter but in Terre Haute Indiana, Pearland Texas or Ft Oglethorpe Georgia not only does it not exist, it might be dangerous just to ask for it.
Then one time I popped into town and Mom excitedly served me her new healthy faux chopped liver made mostly from nuts. Oh it’s a delightful nut spread if you are desiring a nut spread but her ‘not liver’ chopped liver is… well…not chopped liver. But beggars can’t be picky.
Now I am not saying I want to become the poster child for gout by eating chopped liver every day, but along with its snooty sibling foie gras and its slumming second cousin liverwurst, I do like it as a treat every now and then. And sometimes, when I least expect it and the recipe mix is just right, I can picture myself standing on the towels in my folks old bedroom, turning the big crank and watching the tan strands of yummy goo glop spew into the bowl. Damn, nostalgia can make some odd stuff beautiful.