Sweetbreads Are Not Necessarily Pastries, or Why You’re More Than What You Eat

My father was raised with the exotic principle that you ate what was put in front of you–especially when at someone’s house–regardless of your personal feelings about what was on your plate. Over the years, this has served him well, and I can still hear him saying, “Oh good–my favorite!” and eating without complaining.

My parents were still quite new to the Clarks Fork Valley, settling in and getting the vet practice going, when the Frakers called up to schedule some cattle work. It was to be an all-day affair of Bangs vaccinating a good number of calves, and as is customary on ranches and farms, the Mrs. of any particular ranching operation will be in the kitchen a few days before the big event. She’ll be cooking any number of things to have a big meal available, and Mrs. Fraker was not one to be outdone. A couple of days before Dad came their place, however, Mrs. Fraker called to talk to mum. She had one specific question to ask: “Does Ray like sweetbreads?”

“Oh yes, he just loves sweetbreads!” replied mum. And Dad really does. In fact, Dad’s sweet tooth is legendary. Brownies left unattended at the clinic have a strange way of disappearing, as do cookies and anything portable. However, now might be a good time to mention that sweetbreads are not, in fact, sweet breads. Sweet breads could be anything from Danishes to donuts to eclairs to pastries, while sweetbreadsare the edible glands of an animal, such as the thymus or pancreas.

I’ll wait for a moment that linguistic mistake to sink in. I can almost hear you all trying to swallow around that rather big, rather sudden lump in your throat.

To Dad’s eternal credit, he ate the sweetbreads, and while they were perhaps not his exact favorite, he did appreciate them. When Dad returned home that night to thank her for introducing to edible yet untried portions of cattle, they both had a good laugh. In all fairness to her, she really did think she was sending him to a pastry extravaganza. In all fairness to him, he didn’t bring leftovers home for her to sample.

Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways. Civility. Breaking bread with others. Working together towards the common goal. Hard work being done and being done well. Dad has told this story this story time and again over the years, but we laugh right along with him. But believe you me, when someone mentions “sweetbreads” to me or to my brother, we make darn certain we know which version they’re talking about!

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The Doc Randalls Enjoying a Spot of Lunch

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