Pig's ears give me something to chew on

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The Independent Online
When you meet vegetarians, you are supposed to find out what kind of vegetarian they are - whether they are vegans, whether they eat fish occasionally, if they abhor cheese and milk, and so on. When vegetarians come to supper, you are supposed to cater for their particular tastes, which you have established in advance.

But if you are a carnivore (as I am) you soon realise that vegetarians do not generally cater for your strange tastes when you go to eat at their place, and nor do they ever bother to establish what kind of a carnivore you are. They probably do not even realise that there are different grades of carnivore as there are different ranks of vegetarian. Oh, but there are, there are. It is very unusual to meet a carnivore who will eat everything that an animal can provide. For instance, I know carnivores who will tuck into steak tartare but who will not eat offal such as liver and kidney. I like liver and kidney but I draw the line somewhere between steak tartare and sushi. Precisely where I draw this line am not sure, or at least I was not sure until yesterday when I found myself in a queue in a butcher's shop behind a woman who was buying pig's ears. Nothing else. Just a pair of pig's ears. I then knew that I had met someone who was prepared to go further down the line than I was. Most internal offal I can handle. External offal has me looking the other way. Pig's trotters, duck's feet, Bath chaps - no thanks.

The trouble is that these delicacies are often thought to be exotic specialities of a kind that should appeal to the adventurous and well-travelled, and nobody likes to be thought unadventurous and badly travelled. Usually they are extremely ethnic in origin, being part of something like Chinese regional cooking or black American soul food. But surely the reason that peasant cooking offers such well-cooked extremities is that peasants often have nothing else to eat and have to make do with interesting ways of cooking these animal scraps. People, I hope, only eat pig's trotters because pork chops are unavailable or beyond their pocket. I would hate to think that people actually prefer pig's trotters to pork chops, or would plump for andouillettes when they can get properly made sausages.

Which is why I was rather perturbed to see a young woman buying a pair of pig's ears yesterday, in Mr Bartlett's shop in Green Street, Bath. You can get anything you like there, from rabbit and pigeon to haggis and wild boar, as well as the more normal things, so it is a little worrying to see people opt for pig's ears.

I have been adventurous in my own day, let me stress. I have eaten alligator in Louisiana, and delicious it was. I have eaten roast guinea pig in Peru, and very interesting it was. I have even eaten deep-fried haggis in Edinburgh and you don't get much more high-risk than when you adopt the dangerous Scottish way of eating. I once ate sea slug in a Chinese restaurant in Richmond, which I shall never do again, as I cannot imagine anything worse than sea slug.

Unless it is tripe. Despite the advocacy of Bill Tidy's "Fosdyke Saga", I have never seen the least attraction in tripe, which has all the visual appeal of left-over floorcloths. The only time I ever dared to eat it was when I was staying in Normandy years ago, and reckoned that if the French couldn't cook it properly nobody could, and now was the time to take my courage in both hands. So I opted for "Tripes a la mode de Caen" as dish of the day. I did not enjoy it. Never again.

"Can I freeze these?" the young woman buying the pig's ears asked the butcher.

It was even worse than I thought. She wanted to keep them for a special occasion. How special could a special occasion get, that she was going to bring pig's ears out of the freezer? And what would she do with them once she had got them out? How did you cook and eat pig's ears?

"Excuse me," I said bravely, "but I have never seen anyone buying pig's ears before. What are you going to do to them?"

Her startled look melted into slight embarrassment.

"Well," she said, "I'm going to photograph them."

I couldn't let her stop there.

"May I ask why you are going to photograph them?"

"I have been asked to do a book cover design, for a new edition of Orwell's Animal Farm, and I wanted to try something a bit different. So I thought, why not pig's ears..."

"So you're not going to eat them?"

"Eat them? What a horrible idea!"

Maybe she was a vegetarian after all.