In the days of slaughterhouses, my grandfather, like so many other African-Americans, would make the trek to Chicago for free food. Pig feet, intestines, maws, brains, ham hocks, and other bits of offal that were not commonly sold in stores; this trash was treasure. With many others, he would patiently wait for what was discarded. My grandmother would be overjoyed at this priceless bounty and couldn’t understand why this perfectly good food was being thrown out.
Offal is an example of how ignored food became marketable. After seeing enough people stop by with plastic buckets to collect these pork products, producers began selling them in stores. What was once ignored became recognized as food and became another source of profit. Now pre-cleaned chitterlings are sold frozen in vacuum sealed plastic -a far cry from its previous treatment.
Historically speaking, these ‘humbles’ or lowly bits were peasant food. “Humble pie” was actually a meat pie made of these kinds of parts. My grandparents were probably surprised to find their ‘humbles’ for sale in stores, let alone elevated to haute cuisine. Offal became trendy, driving prices to match increased demand. Parts like pig’s cheeks that were largely ignored, except for butchers and chefs in the know, are gaining speed.
The sustainable and whole animal trends have expanded this and it has spread to plant parts as well. I have also come across new ‘humbles,’ albeit plant-based, that you might be seeing more of soon. These food items lie low on the culinary radar but patiently wait for greater appreciation.
· Sweet Potato Vines
This is the part you see while the orange tuber grows underground. Generally the leaves are discarded, or worked back into the soil. A few CSA’s are starting to put them in their boxes. They can be eaten raw or cooked. I’ve even seen a recipe for them sautéed with thinly slivered onions in olive oil and butter.
· Broccoli Leaves
That’s right, those leaves surrounding the flowerets I like so much are edible. High in vitamin A and C (about 90% and 40% respectively), they can also be eaten raw or cooked- even blended in smoothies like kale. The giant size leaves are excellent stewed.
Kelp can be found blanched and frozen, demonstrating that there is more to seaweed than a dried sheet of nori to wrap sushi in. According to Gastropodcast’s “Kale of the Sea,” the growing seaweed market is beginning to branch out beyond Asian consumers. This could be interesting.
Komala Hayes is from Gary, IN and resides in Chicago where she obtaining a Master’s degree in Sociological Theory, Culture and Food. For Komala, the perfect meal can be had in many places, and inspiration fuels discovery, experimentation, and learning. She draws culinary inspiration from her mom, Julia Child, PBS and libraries -as they all take you to different worlds. She is currently working on a short science fiction story based on the concept of imaginary time.