My parents both love all things culinary, and, fortunately for my sister and I growing up, they were excellent cooks. I recall coming home from school most days and finding my dad, a teacher, planning dinner, as my mom worked later at her travel agency. I’d always say hi and ask, “what’s for dinner?” My father’s answer was always the same. “Shit on a shingle,” he would say with a smile. Every day I’d roll my eyes. He was always horsing around that way. (I remember learning to drive and asking if there was anyone coming before I pulled out onto the road. He’d say, “The coast is clear except for that giant mac truck!”)
My sister and I weren’t really very picky eaters. I think that’s because we were always expected to eat everything. My parents never tailor-made meals for us. Some of my friends’ parents made them special, kid- friendly meals, but not my parents. I don’t even think it would have occurred to them to make special meals for kids. My parents cooked meals that were often rich with flavor, strongly influenced by my father’s “Frenchie” roots. Bon Appetite magazines battled the Travel and Leisure issues for coffee table space in our house.
I had an aversion to potatoes, so I was allowed to “skip” those. (I hate them still to this day!) Aside from that, I would eat anything. My mother tested the limits of that “everything” with some of her concoctions. A favorite family lunch, for example, was a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich! (It is actually so much better than it sounds!) As a kid, she always had cottage cheese on the table and would put a dollop on our plates. My dad refused it, but my sister and I ate it as though it were a normal side dish. I tried cottage cheese a few years ago when I attempted an internet-crazy military diet, and cannot believe that I used to eat it. Maybe it’s a texture thing, but I could not stomach it as an adult.
In any case, we never actually HAD “shit on a shingle”- at least not until one night I’ll never forget.
Dad was cooking and there was smoke all over the kitchen. “What are you cooking, Dad?” I asked.
“A French dish,” he said, trying to manage the meat he was cooking in the pan.
I looked over. “That looks kind of gross,” I said.
“It is delicious! You are going to eat it and like it. My Tante made it when I was a kid. It is called ‘boudin noir’. [He pronounced it boo-deyn] Some people call it blood sausage,” he added, turning over the red and black sausages in the pan.
Blood sausage. He never should have added that moniker! I could not believe that my father wanted us to eat something called BLOOD SAUSAGE. I later learned that these long, curly sausages are filled with blood from any number of mammals and mixed with some sort of “filler”. It was pure torture to serve this for dinner. I knew that I didn’t want to get this boudin anywhere NEAR my palate. My little sister sauntered in, she was probably four or five at the time, and said, “Eeew! I am NOT eating that. It looks like poop!” She was never afraid of speaking her mind.
As we sat down to dinner that night, my sister and I dreaded the boudin. My father put an enormous plate of those blood sausages on the table. They were nearly all black- the blood red charred on the outside- so they truly did look like turds. Dad served everyone a blood sausage, even though my sister sat with her arms folded, shaking her head. “You try this!” he demanded of both of us.
I ate everything else on my plate, and decided to play the “I’m full” card.
“You are going to try that boudin.” My father said, matter-of-factly.
I looked at my mother. She shrugged, took another fork-full of her blood sausage, buried it with cottage cheese, and looked at me with an artificial smile before popping it in her mouth.
I tried to think of a way to get out of eating it. Dad had finally done what he had promised all these years, I thought. He had served the “shit on a shingle”. Begrudgingly, I cut a tiny piece of the blackened blood sausage and stabbed it with my fork. I examined it all the way to my lips, my eyes crossing as it got close. The smell wafted into my nostrils and I knew I was going to hate it. I put it in my mouth, chewed once, and swallowed it. It was just as disgusting as I imagined, and my taste buds were so aggravated that my eyes watered! I knew that I couldn’t eat any more. Dad said he was happy that I tried it, and that I didn’t have to eat any more.
I was ten when I tried that boudin noir. Nearly forty years later, I still haven’t forgotten that night and those vile blood sausages. I no longer feel any sort of antipathy for the boudin, however. I have actually laughed about that evening with my dad over the years. I believe that the experience of having to try that food set the course for a lifetime of trying new foods, even those that sound less than savory. I had, after all, tried something new and lived.
Over the course of my life, I’ve tried other things that I may never have tried if the blood sausages hadn’t emboldened me. I tried escargot and hated it. I tried cilantro and it tasted like soap. I tried Brie cheese and fell in love. I tried things that I can’t even name when I was in China! I tried brussels sprouts and still call them gross little skunk cabbages. But I’m proud to try these new things.
I guess I have boudin to thank.