Readings — From the February 1999 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
From the February 4, 1998, episode of TV Dinners, a cooking show that airs on Channel 4 in England. This segment was filmed at the home of Fred and Mary Clears in Hull, Yorkshire. The show is hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
hugh fearnley-whittingstall: There are few occasions more worthy of celebration than the start of a new life. And when the baby is a first, eagerly awaited grandchild, some families may want to do a bit more than just pop the cork on a few bottles. Nineteen-year-old Rosie and her partner, Lee, have brought their newborn son to visit his grandparents. To celebrate his birth, they’ve invited family and friends to a welcome-to-the-world party.
mary: Indie Mo is my first grandchild, so the food has to be perfect. It has to be food that we most probably won’t eat again until a very big celebration.
voice-over: Mary’s best friend, Sue, is a fellow social worker and a keen cook. Mary has asked her to take charge of all the cooking for Indie Mo’s party. Sue’s devotion to her friends will be expressed in the twenty-odd dishes she is planning for the party, but she is also rising to the challenge of a completely new ingredient.
rosie: The placenta is going to be cooked and made into a placenta pâté — I’m not quite sure what the recipe is for that.
sue: The real scary bit is the placenta, because I’ve never even actually seen one. I’ve seen photographs, but I’ve never actually seen one live, I’ve never had my hands on one. I don’t know what they look like, what they feel like, what the smell is — I’ve got no conception of it at all, so that is going to be the real nail-biter.
voice-over: Immediately after Indie Mo’s birth two months ago, Mary brought the placenta back home to store in the freezer.
mary: [Laying the umbilical cord in a large serving dish] There’s Indie Mo’s cord . . . fresh. A very beautiful thing. [Opens a plastic bowl with the placenta and placental blood] Have a look in here. This is Rosie’s placenta. Waste not, want not. Have a smell. Isn’t it lovely? Lovely and fresh?
fearnley-whittingstall: It smells completely clean.
mary: What do you think, Rosie?
mary: Yes, gory. It would have been good if we’d eaten it straightaway. That was our plan. Had things gone the way we wanted, Rosie was going to eat it straight after — we were going to have a little fry-up. Dad was looking forward to it.
fearnley-whittingstall: That’s what the tradition is based on, isn’t it? The health of the mother, putting some goodness back into her after birth?
mary: Yes. Many, many women in many cultures do it.
rosie: It’s a scary thought — I’m going to eat something that’s from me. I don’t know. It just seems surreal.
fearnley-whittingstall: How do you feel about it being shared, about other people eating it?
rosie: [Poking absently at the placenta in the plastic bowl] Well, it’s a lovely idea if they want to.
voice-over: The challenge in working with a new ingredient is guessing how it will behave when cooked. After the excess blood has been rinsed from the placenta, Sue suggests slicing it up to check out the texture.
fearnley-whittingstall: [Watching as Sue cuts the placenta into strips] Look at that in the middle. It’s quite meaty, isn’t it?
sue: Almost purple. Really rich looking.
fearnley-whittingstall: The outside is spongy, but the inside—
sue: The inside is quite solid.
fearnley-whittingstall: Quite dense.
voice-over: The onions and garlic come out of the pan, and the placenta is fried quickly in butter and oil.
sue: It seems to be staying fairly tender. It’s not contracting a lot.
voice-over: Sue’s next inspiration is a baptism by fire: using a dash of cognac.
[Sue pours the cognac over the frying placenta, which then bursts into flames]
fearnley-whittingstall: Whoa! That is elemental, isn’t it?
sue: It’s earth and air and wind and fire.
fearnley-whittingstall: Do you think we should get Mary and Rosie in here for a little taste?
sue: I think their opinion is absolutely vital at this stage.
fearnley-whittingstall: I’ll go and get them.
sue: [Cutting the cooked placenta into bite-sized pieces] Oh, it’s so tender. The knife’s just gliding through it.
mary: [Entering kitchen] Look at that! Beautiful. Let’s taste it. [Takes a bite] Go for it, Rosie.
rosie: [Chews] It’s not bad.
fearnley-whittingstall: Mary, what do you think?
mary: Lovely . . . You can taste the garlic. [Chewing] Texture’s nice. Not too strong. Not gamy.
fearnley-whittingstall: Quite mild, is it?
mary: Mild, lovely smell.
rosie: Not as chewy as liver. It’s nice.
mary: Thumbs up!
voice-over: Next Sue blends half the placenta with a little butter, the onions and garlic, and chopped parsley and sage.
fearnley-whittingstall: [Watching Sue use a spatula to remove the placenta from the blender] That could sit up on some toast really nicely.
sue: Yes. Yes, it could.
voice-over: After Sue adds a few twists of black pepper, a pinch of salt, and the juice of half a lime, the smooth base is combined with the rest of the placenta, which has been coarsely chopped for added texture. The pâté will be served on some of grandfather Fred’s homemade focaccia bread. Olive oil is drizzled on the bread and left to soak in while Sue and Mary lay out the rest of the buffet, including a creamy apricot-and-mango mousse.
mary: [Carrying the mousse, which has been shaped with a Bundt mold, to the buffet table] It’s got a bit of the old cervix look about it, doesn’t it?
sue: Absolutely, dear. I thought it was very appropriate.
voice-over: Also on the menu are roasted meat loaf and a salad, but the first dish to be served to the assembled guests is the placenta pâté.
guests: Cheers to Indie Mo!
mary: Here’s some of our genetic gene pool! Dive in!
[Laughter from the guests]
mary: There you go. Anybody else? Come on, Lee. Girlies? Julie?
fearnley-whittingstall: [To guest] Did you try the placenta pâté?
first guest: No, I didn’t.
fearnley-whittingstall: No? Why not?
first guest: It’s just the thought of it, to be honest. Just couldn’t handle the thought of it.
second guest: Initially, when Mary said that we were going to be eating placenta, I thought, Yech. But then when I thought about it I said, Okay, as long as it’s cooked in onions and gravy like a casserole. Then she said it was going to be a pâté and I thought, Brilliant. Brilliant. Really.
third guest: How many pieces did you have, Audrey?
audrey: I had two and a half.
third guest: I had five.
fourth guest: Everybody’s bragging about how many pieces they had. It’s great!
third guest: Did you ask how many Lee had?
fourth guest: How many?
third guest: He had about fourteen!
voice-over: Lee’s even trying to convert a vegetarian.
lee: [To the vegetarian] It’s not meat.
vegetarian: It’s human.
lee: It’s not come out of an animal at all.
vegetarian: [Hesitates, takes a bite, chews] It’s quite nice.
lee: Nice, isn’t it?