Liver and Onions–A Forgotten Traditional Meal

Sunday Dinner
Creative Commons License photo credit: di_the_huntress

What Happened to my Liver?  Liver Memories.

By Sylvia P. Onusic, PhD

I remember when I was a child our family sat down to liver at least once a week, usually fried with onions. It was a tradition.  My parents recognized, like their parents before them, that liver was a great buy and worth every penny.   We children didn’t really like the taste of liver, but we ate it because our parents lovingly prepared it and seemed to enjoy it.  Besides it was non-negotiable.

I was recently dining in a restaurant with a group of people and was quite surprised to see liver on the menu. George, an older man in the group, spotted the entrée and was delighted. He said, with a large grin, “Yes, indeed, I am having the liver.” He was happy.  The anticipation of liver in his tummy made him grin. Liver was a comfort food.  Not so long ago restaurant menus almost always had a liver and onions entrée as the “Special of the Day.” These days it is rare to see such an offering.  We have lost our liver memory.

Happiness and liver can possibly be chalked up to native wisdom and intuition: the wisdom that we will be giving our bodies a very fine meal and the intuition that  our bodies will feel very good after eating it.   Somehow through the sea of high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, MSG, other flavor enhancers, and new diet advice, we have lost our way to this wisdom and intuition.

I remember that my dad, a child of Slovenian immigrants, and a wonderful cook, relished organ meats, especially liver and bone marrow. He would sit down to table with his liver and be very happy to have the opportunity to enjoy his favorite food. And after preparing a beef soup, he would gently scoop the beef bones from the soup, then carefully remove the marrow to use in dumplings, but could never resist savoring a sampling along the way.  He used the boiled beef for a salad made with kidney beans and onions.  And the bones were later cooked into a rich bone broth. Yes, my dad truly loved his organ meats.

People of my dad’s generation loved their liver and looked forward to it.  But their wisdom told them to eat it once a week and probably not more.

The liver is the body’s wonder factory. It processes and detoxifies poisons, chemicals and reduces them to water soluble substances which can be excreted from the body and performs many biochemical processes necessary to our survival.

But a liver, any liver, in order to do its work properly, needs a healthy body, fed nutritious and nutrient dense food. Cows and other animals fed soy beans, corn, feathers, brewery wastes, candy factory wastes and other garbage, with a heaping helping of antibiotics and chemicals, are not going to have a healthy liver.  In fact, 85% or more of all the antibiotics used in the US are administered to animals. The liver performs many functions, among them detoxing  and preparing for excretion chemicals and medications.

Today I was fortunate to be able to purchase grass fed beef liver. I prepared it with onions, but added some garlic, fresh rosemary, cider vinegar and apple juice.  My son, Evon, decided he would eat it as ‘it was all we had for dinner.  I was surprised because, despite my diligent efforts, he likes to dine at Subway and McDonalds and is very finicky about organ meats.

Liver a most “sacred food,” contains many hard to find vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA, it is an outstanding source of  vitamins  B 12,  A, B6, other B vitamins, and choline; and the minerals iron, zinc, selenium. When wild carnivorous animals make a kill, they always eat the organ meats first, not the muscle meats.  Liver contains a considerable amount of cholesterol and this may be why the “sacred food” was put on the not-wanted list by the Diet Dictocrats, as Sally Fallon Morrell, President of the Weston A Price Foundation, calls those self proclaimed authorities on foods who are usually related to the cause of selling a pharmaceutical, such as statins.  But we know, biochemically speaking, that cholesterol is necessary for proper brain development and function, the production of bile, sex hormones, vitamin D and many other body processes.  The body needs cholesterol and traditional wisdom and intuition provided for the consumption of liver once a week.

The best way to introduce liver to our family members, as the Weston A Price Foundation recommends, is to start feeding them liver when they are infants and young children.  Infants are well equipped to digest breast milk, which contains protein and fat, and will be able to digest liver as well.


Terry Moist, Grassfed Meat Farmer

We are fortunate to have more and more grass farmers tending animals humanely and bringing the sacred liver to farmers markets.  Grass fed liver is very tasty and worth showcasing as the main entrée on American tables at least once a week. Fortunately we have many ways to prepare liver and introduce it to our families as a new taste treat, in pates, meat loaves, and sausages.  It is time to find our way back to the natural wisdom of eating nutrition-packed liver.

Terry Moist is the farmer in the photo;  his farm is Clan Stewart Farm located in Huntingdon, PA.  his web site is He raises his animals on pasture.

The photo was taken at the Farmers Market in Boalsburg, PA, near State College, the home of Penn State University, which is held each Tuesday throughout the year.

Many good liver recipes can be found in the cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon with Mary Enig.

Sylvia P. Onusic, Ph.D

Sylvia P. Onusic, Ph.D

Sylvia P. Onusic holds a BS in foods and nutrition, and a PhD in Health Education and Wellness, and has completed studies to qualify for RD (Registered Dietitian). She was a home economics teacher for many years.  Her concentration is in holistic nutrition with a focus on the evolution of food and the human body in relation to food allergies and disease.  Sylvia is the mother of two teenage sons, one on whom has celiac disease. She has several food allergies as well.

This post is part of the Fight Back Fridays blog carnival. Food activism begins on your dinner plate! See more stories of how you can revive your health with food on Food Renegade blog.

To find grassfed meat, see the Hartke is Resources page.


  1. We had liver once a month growing up, but my mom cooked it until it shriveled up and died. You couldn’t chew that stuff. Even the smell of it cooking would send me to friends’ houses asking for a dinner invite.

    We’re having liver this week. I’ve never cooked it for the family, but as I study food, I realize we’re missing out on a nutritional powerhouse. I hope I can cook it properly and not kill it! And I hope at least one of us likes it enough that I can make it again.
    .-= Local Nourishment´s last blog ..Dear Stanley, I’d like you to meet Weston A. Price =-.

  2. We are big liver fans and can appreciate the overcooked nastiness aspect of liver mentioned by Local Nourishment. This is our favorite recipe for
    flash fried liver and onions.

    You guys might also find this graph on Omega 3 in grass fed beef liver interesting.


  3. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Be sure and leave the liver pink on the inside, that is the secret to tasty liver. Well done is a yuck.

    This was my mom’s recipe:
    Fry up a package of bacon, remove from pan. Fry a sliced onion or two in the bacon grease, add chicken livers that have first been dredged in flour with salt and pepper added. Fry until brown and crispy on the outside, still pink on the inside. Remove liver and onions from pan. Add slices of fried pineapple to the pan and fry both sides until browned. Serve fried pineapple with the liver and onions and squeeze fresh lemon juice on top of the liver.

    My brother added ketchup but I ate this just plain and loved it!

  4. I admit I am afraid of liver – i don’t know what it is supposed to look like done, or even taste like. I am hoping to try some soon.

  5. Heres our favorite chicken livers:
    Saute 1 stick butter with 3-4 small onions sliced. salt and pepper until onions are soft. Move onions to side and add one container chicken livers (1 lb) trimmed and lightly floured. (Saute 8 oz mushrooms in some butter and add a little later). Brown livers on each side slightly. Add 1 1/2 cup white wine. and mushrooms. Simmer 30 minutes. Serve over wild or brown rice. love it !

    We ate beef liver and tongue when I grew up on the Iowa farm. You had to eat the whole cow. My mom sliced tongue for sandwiches. We kids tried to avoid those. In the nearby city, in the Bohemian neighborhoods, you could buy head cheese, made from many parts.

  6. We are in Australia.

    Liver from lamb is called ‘lamb’s fry’ and is the most popular here. A common dish from truck stops is a Lamb’s Fry and Bacon roll. My father, originally from England, used to prepare it in a tomato type sauce… a bit like a casserole. I still love it, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

  7. Mmmm… liver! We have it once a week, too, usually lambs liver cooked with onions and sometimes bacon, too, occasionally pork liver and when I can get it, ox liver casseroled with a rich gravy.

    You’re right about starting kids young – preferably before they go to school and other kids tell them “yuck, liver”! I didn’t have that problem as I home schooled my daughter, who loves liver and as she’s now living a student existence at university, often buys liver – much to the disgust of a vegan flatmate. Last year in halls she made stuffed lambs hearts and enjoyed them greatly.

    I have a method to introduce the reluctant organ meat eater to heart. Take slices of ox heart and soak overnight in milk. Remove from the milk and pat dry, then gently fry in coconut oil. Done that way it tastes just like duck breast!
    .-= Jean´s last blog ..Wise Traditions UK 2010 =-.

  8. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Wow, Jean and Deb, I love hearing from an international perspective on traditional organ meats. We have so much to learn from you, from abroad.

  9. I absolutely adore chicken livers! I love them fried and in pate and dirty rice. you have inspired me to go buy some chicken livers. I must admit I am hesitant about trying beef liver. I’ve had it raw and it tastes fine, but I know cooking changes the flavor a lot. I may try to find some frozen clafs liver and see if I can’t work my way up to beef.
    .-= Zeke´s last blog ..Eat Natto Now! =-.

  10. I finally found a liver dish that will pass muster at my house. Cow liver got a “no way.” Chicken liver got a “I’ll eat it but I won’t like it.” But veal liver got a “I almost want to say it tastes good.” I’m happy with that. I’ve bought it every week since then. We are fortunate to have access to pastured veal from a heritage breed. Thank you, farmers!!!
    .-= Melissa @Cellulite Investigation´s last blog ..Lymph Drainage Therapy as a Cellulite Treatment: Interview with Dr. Bruno Chikly (Part V) =-.

  11. Would you be able to expand upon why you don’t think it’s a good idea to have liver more than once a week. If its such a nutritional powerhouse I don’t see why people shouldn’t be encouraged to eat it more often.

  12. Kimberly,

    I tried your Mom’s liver recipe. I substituted sliced organic apples for the pineapple, as we had no pineapple. It was delicious! I recommend it to all.

    I created a rather unusual liver and onions recipe that I did for U.S. Wellness. It actually is a liverloaf, but sauteed onions are crucial to the dish. Here is the link to the recipe for liverloaf.
    .-= Stanley Fishman´s last blog ..Health Benefits of Grassfed Meat =-.

  13. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Andy–I once heard about someone who ate so much liver (daily) that he turned blue. It is very high in copper, and I guess you can overdose when you over-do!

  14. I loved tongue tacos growing up. I also loved tricking my friends into eating them when they visited.

    Slow cook tongue with a bit of water all day. Chop into small pieces. Serve on fresh corn tortillas with cilantro leaves, onion, fresh salsa and limes for juice.

  15. Where can you find a source of good livers? They sell some in tubs at the grocery store near me, but those are probably conventionally raised chickens so their livers have tons of bad stuff in them.. we only give them to the dog!
    .-= Meagan´s last blog ..Thai Coconut Fish Sticks with Soup =-.

  16. Kimberly Hartke says:

    Meagan, try localharvest or eatwild they are both on my sidebar under Helpful Websites. Then try to locate someone raising chickens on pasture. More on that subject on this blog tomorrow, June 3, 2010!!

  17. This is for chicken livers but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for any.
    It’s a tweek on Rumaki.

    Cut large livers in half if needed.
    Wrap in a half slice of bacon secured with a toothpick.
    Cook on the grill while constantly brushing with a mixture of 3 parts Worcestershire sauce to 1 part soy sauce.


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