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Thursday, 14 November 2013

Splinogardoumo - spleen sausage (Σπληνογάρδουμο)

I recently saw a photo of a dish that I have not enjoyed in a long time... not for at least 15 years. It made me realise that I would no longer be able to savour this dish in our times. Even if I wanted to make it, I cannot. And yet, I used to help my mother make this dish, from a very young age, throughout my teens. The way the world has changed since those times does not allow this to take place for most of us.

Splinogardoumo, before it's cooked

The spleen of a lamb or goat is sliced into one long strip (which sometimes breaks, but you try hard not to let this happen), which is then stuffed into the large intestine of the animal. I used to help my mother to do this: I held the spleen from one side and she held it from the other. Then she used a knife to cut it at one point. As she sliced downwards, she'd pull the strip away from the rest of the spleen which I was holding onto, so it could be cut into one big long strip.

The spleen, cut into one strip, and the twig on the right, waiting to be used to stuff the intestine. It is seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano. 

Then, the spleen is stuffed into the large intestine (the colon), using a special technique. The thin intestines could not be used as they were too flimsy to be stuffed (they were turned into something else). You need to use a twig chopped from a tree, which I also remember my mother used. My cousin explains the technique in detail:
First you take the intestine and you hold it open under the tap and let water, a lot of water, run throught it so it gets very clean. This is important because there may still be some droppings in it, as it always keep some due to the fact that is the last part of intestine, and we need that exact part of the intestine to use for making spinogardoumo. Once it's clean with the water, then you hold the one end in your left hand, and with the right hand you take the twig and the spleen together and you press it onto the end of the intestine you are holding. You press it hard and with your left hand you start bringing the intestine down. Once it's all brought down, you will realise it's already inside out. Then your splinogardoumo is ready to be cooked. It needs a lot of skill to do this so the intestine does not break.
The combination of the spleen and intestine produced the splinogardoumo - spleen sausage. This was added to a red or white stew (depending on whether you used tomato or lemon), together with the small intestines, but it could also be roasted.

Stewed splinogardoumo

When I came to Crete, this dish was still available on restaurant menus, and I remember having it a couple of times when we went out. But it has since disappeared, being available only when made to order, or perhaps to the special diner who specifically orders (and pays well for) it. The Greek relationship with intestines is now limited mainly to home-cooks and people who raise animals for their own eating. You can't even buy spleen at a butcher, possibly due to EC regulations which demand that it be disposed of hygienically and not eaten to avoid the risk of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), despite the fact that Greeks have been using these parts of the animal as human food since ancient times. Even when I have been lucky enough to get my hands on an animal's innards, the spleen and large intestine were not passed onto me, for these very reasons.

Food politics play a major influence in what and how we eat. As I explained, I can't really make this dish because the ingredients are not readily accessible to me. Even through the photos, I can still taste the splinogardoumo that my mother used to make. She cooked it in a similar way to my cousin's as we are descended from the same family and region. The photos in this post were taken only just recently, by my cousin, who made the splinogardoumo with her father. Spleen sausage is also made in other parts of Greece, but in a different way, and it is more often called splinadero (σπληνάντερο).

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