My final Charcutepalooza post, on the topic of showing off, takes the form of two family stories.
Once upon a time in 13th century Europe, lived Devorguilla of Galloway. Devorguilla was a woman of substance (i.e. wealthy land owner) whose parents arranged her marriage to John de Baliol.
Read more of the Baliol family history on Tom Baillieul’s website if you wish – it’s pretty fascinating stuff! Tom, Alex’s father, also painted and graciously allowed me to use the Devorguilla/John de Baliol crest on the right.
When John died in 1269, Devorguilla embalmed his heart and enshrined in a decorative ivory box to accompany her everywhere. Legend has it that Devorguilla had this heart seated at the opposite head of her dinner table and donated John’s portion of the meal to the hungry.
History shows that Devorguilla likely coined the term ‘sweetheart’ through her dedication to John even after his death. In 1290, she was buried with John’s heart at a Cistercian monastery she founded with the name ‘Sweetheart Abbey’.
Consumption of the Sweet Heart
703 years after the death of Devorguilla, her descendant Alex Baillieul was born. Alex grew to be an adventurous traveler and cook proud of his Balliol heritage.
Alex’s wife Rachel embarked on a year long charcuterie project in 2011, the culmination of which was to be a dish or meal that showed off four styles of meat curing. At the same time as the final Charcutepalooza project assignment, Rachel and Alex intended to attend a CMH Dinner Club with the theme ‘show your roots’.
Rachel could think of no ‘roots’ story better than that of Devorguilla. She knew that she and Alex had to create an edible sweet heart.
Noticing very little fat (or inedible bits), the curing plan became clear: the heart would be cooked slowly in goose and bacon fat. A recipe on From Belly to Bacon confirmed that confit is an appropriate technique for this unusual cut of meat.
When tender, 12 hours after cooking, Alex cooled the heart in the fat. To serve it, he sliced the muscle into thin pieces and seared them in a hot pan. Rachel prepared a rosemary honey drizzle to garnish the sweet heart.
Rachel and Alex ultimately were unable to attend the CMH dinner club. Instead they served sweet heart, fermented Spanish-style chorizo, duck prosciutto, squirrel rilletes, homemade cornichons, and sour cherry preserves on a charcuterie platter for Thanksgiving with extended family, retelling the story of Devorguilla.
Adventurous diners were surprised at the luxurious heart. It was beefy and rich with melt-in-your-mouth texture. Lil declared it “better than hamburger”. Devorguilla’s namesake, the big hound Devie, heartily approved of the dish, complaining only that she did not get more pieces as treats.
Sweet heart, a dish honoring an ancient relative with the ancient art of charcuterie, was the perfect ending to a year of cured meat.
I, Rachel, entered the Charcutepalooza challenge with a fair amount of meat curing experience. Any fears of raw meat, botulism, icky meat casings, and expensive investments had already been overcome at the beginning of 2011. Instead, I took on Charcutepalooza as a lens through which to explore food writing and expose more people to the dark secrets of the meat hanging in my basement.
I attempted to record each challenge in a unique way – I told fiction, humor and non-fiction stories, shared new and interpreted recipes, showed off charcuterie in pictures and video, and opined on marriage, meat sourcing, squirrel and vegetarianism. Some of these posts were quite a stretch for my skills and patience but I advanced to spread the love of cured meat.
There is a fabulous trip to France awaiting one of the Charcutepalooza participants. I do not envy Cathy and Kim who must judge the entries. Fortunately, I feel like a winner already because this challenge has strengthened my confidence as a writer and home cook. It even convinced my family that heart is a sweeeeeeet meat.
Sweet Heart (Beef Heart Confit with Rosemary Honey)
Makes: 50+ appetizer servings
Time: 12 hours cooking, 48 hours infusion for honey
1/2 cup local lightly-flavored honey
1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 beef heart (4-5 pounds of meat)
2-3 quarts of goose, pork, or duck lard (we used a mix of all three)
1. Fold rosemary stalk to fit into the bottom of a half pint jar.
2. Cover rosemary with honey. Put a lid on the jar and set aside at room temperature for 2 or more days, until infusion reaches your desired taste.
3. Salt beef heavily inside and outside of the heart cavity. Chop into large pieces as necessary to fit in an oven-safe pan or pot.
4. Liquefy lard by heating it on the stove top.
5. Pour fat over the heart until all parts of the meat are covered.
6. Place in a 200 degree oven for 12 hours until meat is tender.
7. Cool the heart while submerged in fat. Under refrigeration, the heart keeps indefinitely.
8. For service, remove heart from fat by reheating on the stove top and straining off the fat when it is liquefied. (Fat may be reserved for future use.)
9. Slice the heart into pieces 1/8 inch thick.
10. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Quickly sear heart slices and place on a bed of arugula or other lettuce on a platter. Drizzle with rosemary honey.