Lifrapylsa and Odolkia – Treasured Grandma Foods?

The “quite tasty” lifrapylsa. Pouches are cut and sewn from the animal’s stomach and, among other things, filled with a mixture of suet, rolled oats, and finely-minced liver.

“A mixed bag” is how Ann describes the results from her request for favorite grandma recipes from friends and family of BigLittleMeals.  She goes so far as to assert that “just because grandma made it didn’t necessarily make it good or healthy or even edible.”  However, she did find some – to use her word – “treasured” grandma recipes to include in her blog. In today’s Andy’s Corner I’ll tell you about some recipes that she didn’t find to be so “treasured.”

I’ll start by admitting that my own family background puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage to discuss grandma recipes, treasured or not.  When my mother was just a year old her mother died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Parenthetically, and quite sobering given our current pandemic, my former college roommate Chuck reminded me that both of his paternal grandparents died during the flu epidemic of 1918 (he did, however, submit a touching tribute to his family’s culinary background and his Auntie Esther’s recipe for Tamale Loaf which you can find here).

I never knew either of my Belgian paternal grandparents. We have no record of my grandfather, who supposedly died in WWI. Although my grandmother brought my father and his siblings to the U.S in 1919, she returned to Belgium long before I came into the world. The only food-related tidbit that I know about her is from an oft-repeated family story about her during the German occupation of Belgium in WWI.  When she tried to get into a soup line for a second time to get additional food for her family she was confronted by a German soldier who told her she was only allowed one ration.  She allegedly bonked him on the head with her soup bucket, which was pretty gutsy given that she was less than 5 foot tall.  As the story goes, she got her second ration.

This tattered photo is one of very few that we have that includes my paternal grandmother (second from the left). We think it was taken sometime in the 1920’s before she returned to Belgium and when my dad (on the left) was a teen. Also in the photo are my Basque Uncle Charlie and my Aunt Emily (my dad’s sister) along with my then toddler cousin Lucy.

It’s not surprising that in the U.S. the odds of having grand parents from another country are pretty high. This is reflected in a number of the food memories shared with us.  For example, one of my cycling friends (another Chuck) told me about his Sicilian grandmother who called him her “king” and cooked special meals for him when she visited. He claims that she never followed a recipe and consequently left only delicious memories of her cooking behind.   The passion with which Chuck describes her homemade bread, with its bits of fried pig skin, convinced me that it would have qualified for “treasured” status.

Ann mentioned a food memory from “Mr. Squarepants,” who was born in Iceland and claims to have some pretty fierce Viking blood surging through his veins. He reminisced about his Icelandic grandma’s Lifrapylsa, consisting mainly of suet and oatmeal and beef liver. Ann made it pretty clear that she did not consider this to be among those grandma recipes she deemed to be “treasured’ (or even tasty). I’m guessing that her rather strong anti-liver bias was fogging her otherwise clear-headed judgment of what’s appropriate for the “treasured” side of the food ledger. 

The two types of slátur; blood sausage (left) and lifrapylsa (right).

Like Ann, I’m not a liver fan, but the description of lifrapylsa brought to mind deep-seated childhood food memories of my own. So I thought I would discuss this Icelandic dish in more detail and let you judge whether or not it deserves “treasured” recognition amongst grandma recipes.

Here are some comments from the email Mr. Squarepants sent regarding this dish.

Subject: Lifrapyisa – the Icelandic equivalent of possum and grits?

My grandma used to make this stuff when I was a little kid. I couldn’t remember what was in it, other than liver, but I emailed my 94-year-old aunt, and she found this recipe in an “old church cookbook.” (editor’s note: recipe available upon request).

I remember grandma used a hand-grinder on the liver. Mixed in the other ingredients. Stuffed it into some kind of casing. The casing itself was not edible, and was discarded after cooking. It was boiled in a big pot.  The way she served it was sliced up and pan-fried and served with brown sugar sprinkled on top. It was quite tasty.

Lifrapyisa is one of the traditional foods enjoyed during Thorrablot, a sacrificial midwinter festival offered to the gods in pagan Iceland of the past and still celebrated. According to this source Mr. Squarepants sent me:

On this occasion, locals come together to eat, drink and be merry… the menu consists of unusual culinary delicacies, known as traditional Icelandic food. These will include rotten shark’s meat (hákarl), boiled sheep’s head, (svið) and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach (blóðmör)! This is traditionally washed down with some Brennivin – also known as Black Death – a potent schnapps made from potato and caraway.

Some of my own childhood food memories were triggered while digging around the web for information about lifrapyisa. I found on Wikipedia that lifrapyisa is one of two kinds of slátur (literally meaning slaughter) which was originally made from the innards of sheep. The second kind of slátur is the blóðmör (or blood sausage) traditionally served during the Thorrablot frestival. It was this reference to blood sausage that took me back to my childhood.

Odolkia muck.

The blood sausage I am familiar with was made by my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Emily (who are pictured in the earlier photo with my dad and his mother). Charlie was French Basque and immigrated to the U.S. in about 1900. His amazing life story will be the subject of an upcoming Andy’s Corner, but for now suffice it to say that as a little kid I always looked forward when my dad would take me to visit Uncle Charlie’s farm with its menagerie of pigs, cows, sheep, mules, and assorted chickens and ducks.

It was the homemade blood sausage (“Odolkia” as it is known in the Basque world) that I remember most. I can’t explain why, but it was an extra special treat whenever there was a fresh batch – and I say this even after I had the occasion to see with my own eyes how it was made from start (live pig) to finish (on my plate). I will spare you the graphic details other than mentioning the vivid image I still have of my Aunt Emily mucking around up to her elbows in a tub of bloody stuff. (If you would like learn more about the culinary side of blood sausage I recommend David Lebovitz’s 2014 Bodin Noir).

This looks just like the “treasured” Odolkia (blood sausage) from my Uncle Charlie’s farm.

While the thought of eating something like chopped up liver or blood in the casing of a sheep’s stomach may seem repulsive or somewhat barbaric to our modern sensitivities, there’s a more positive way think about this. I came across an editorial in the South China Morning Post (amazing what we can uncover on line these days!) that I found to be very appropriate in this regard. I will close with a few lines from that editorial:

It is true some people find ingredients such as blood, hearts and brains disgusting – but it’s not just that they won’t eat them, but they judge those who do. I’m not talking about strict vegetarians who, for various reasons, avoid all types of meat and seafood. At least they are consistent about it – they avoid not just innards, but all parts of an animal…

It’s popular to talk about sustainability and zero-waste living. But if you’re a meat eater and have stopped drinking bottled water, seek out non-GMO products and are attempting to “eat local” then, unless for religious reasons, you should at least try to commit to zero waste on the animals that die for your dinner.

As an Icelander would say, “Njóttu máltíðarinnar!” (“Bon appétit!)

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love it Andy, really brings back wonderful memories of Uncle Charlie And Aunt Emily and I loved the blood sausage too. Don’t know if you know but I lived with them while mom was in the hospital for several months waiting for you to be born. I got to eat a lot of good food then and then you got born & I had to go home my little brother. Guess you were worth it after all. Hugs, big sis

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      I don’t recall that part of our family history, but I guess I was pretty young at the time. Do you recall what kind of cheese they used to make? All I remember was that it was almost white (not yellow like the cheese we had at home) and was really good.

      Like

  2. WILLIAM W FALK says:

    Reminds me of our days at LSU with the cheer of “Hot boudin, cold couscous. Come on Tigers, push, push, push!” Ah yes, the good old days!

    Like

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