THERE IS A test I use to separate self-styled gourmets from gourmands. (Gourmets, in their contemporary form, nibble at watercress sandwiches and subscribe to the magazine of the same name. They know a lot about food, but really don't enjoy eating it. Gourmands know a lot, too, but would rather eat than talk. They are not; however, gluttons except in the eyes of the gourmets.) You can't tell one from the other by appearance, or even by the sized of the portions on their plates.

The dividing line is gelatinous foods.

Just mention pig's feet, veal shank, head cheese or tripe to a self-styled gourmet. The response is cautious and perhaps a bit condescending. Whatever they say, you quickly realize they don't want any and further talk of the dish might make them run to hide behind the nearest nest of puff pastry.

In "Beard on Food," James Beard wrote, "Andouillettes are tripe sausages, which you either like or don't like. I happen to think they are a great delicacy, but I have friends who are violently opposed to them on the grounds that this is too intimate a part of the pig to eat."

It's not just geography that offends. Offal can have a tell-tale smell, faint but inescapable. Even more important, from my observations, is the texture of these gelatin-rich foods. Soft and sticky, they seem to expand rather than contract in the mouth and just won't go away without prolonged chewing. Tapioca turns off some people just as surely as tripe will.

That's too bad, because the extremities and innards of various animals tend to be very nutritious and, in times when the economy isn't standing on its head, usually cost less than prime cuts.Offal isn't awful and tripe isn't inferior stuff" or "trash."

I know nothing I write or cook is going to persuade nonbelievers. This is a sermon to the committed and the curious, inspired by a convocation of tripe-fanciers brought to may attention by Belle Rhodes, a woman with extremely well educated tastebuds who teaches cooking in Oakland, Calif. She and others, including restaurateurs Cecelia Chaing and Narsai David, gathered last spring for a party in honor of Jacques Pepin. There wasn't a single main course at the meal; instead there were 10 different preparations of tripe.

For our purposes, tripe can come from any or all of the four stomach linings of a grass-eating animal such as a cow or sleep. In France it is peasant food. "In humble homes," according to a rhapsodic account in Larousse Gastronmique "to smell its robust savour means a delight and a feast to come." But it became fashionable in medieval Italy and again in France late centrury. So much so that Escoffier, the codifier of classic cusine, warned against serving tripe "in a silver utensil -- a method quite as unreasonable as that of serving chaud-froid in an earthenware dish." He also was worried that people were using calves' feet instead of those of the ox because the former caused the gravy to become too thick.

What gave tripe its cachet in Paris was the clever innovation of a chef named Benoit, who simmered it with cider and apple brandy. tripes a la mode de Caen remains a favorite to this day, as does the rich gras-double a la Lyonnaise . In America, tripe peaked early as a culinary favorite. During the Revolutionary War, legend has it, a Pennsylvania cook fashioned tripe into a spicy soup called "pepper pot" and saved Washington's army from starvation. When the war was done, everyone stopped eating tripe except Philadelphians, which is why, detractors insist, that city languished so badly for so long as a gastronomic center.

Even tripe fanciers acknowledge that, in the words of Larousse, "it cannot be denied that the preparation is long and lavorious, and that a large quantity must be made in order to achieve the greatest succulence." They also know that tripe is difficult to digest and is off limits to those with gout. But they really don't care. In any number of preparations, it is a rich, wonderfully satisfying food that lingers in the memory long after digestion is done.

In this country complete, or four-stomach, tripe is not sold in retail stores. Honeycomb beef tripe (from the second stomach) is the type most readily available. It can be found pickled or fully cooked in cans. Sometimes frozen tripe is sold as well. Another style is the slippery-textured flat or "plain" tripe from the first stomach or "paunch."

If you can find fresh tripe, the form desired for the recipes that follow, it will have already gone through the tedious process of being soaked in brine, washed and blanched or boiled. It is ready to cook, although some recipes may call for a preliminary step of parboiling the tripe in salted water. Julia Child recommends blanching fresh tripe three times without salt before using it in any recipe. To do so, cover the tripe by several inches with cold water. Bring the water slowly to a boil and let it simmer for five minutes. Do this again, and once more for luck.

The uninitiated might want to sample tripe at a local restaurant before going further. Several french restaurants, including Bistro Francais, Le Bagatelle, Chez Camille and La Chaumiere, serve them from time to time, as do some Spanish places and the Szechuwan at 615 Eye St. NW. Then try tripes a la mode de Caen as it is cooked at the restaurant Pharamond in Paris (as recorded by James Beard and Alexander Watt in their book, "Paris Cuisine," or one of the styles favored by Mrs. Rhodes and her friends.

Serve any of these preparations in flat soup bowls in the company of French bread and a wine of some character but not too much breeding. TRIPES A LA MODE DE CAEN (10 servings) 5 pounds tripe, cut in 2-inch squares 2 pounds large onions, sliced 2calves' feet, split in half 1 pound beef suet, cut in small pieces 2 teasponns salt 1 teaspoon pepper Bouquet garni (2 leeks, thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 onion stuck with 2 cloves, tied in cheesecloth) 1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy) 1 cup cider 2 cups flour

Place a layer of sliced onions in the bottom of a large stewing pan. (Use a Dutch oven or a cesserole of enameled cast iron.) On top of this place a layer of tripe. On this place the calves' feet and half the beef suet. Another layer of onions, one of tripe, then the bouquet garni and on the a layer of tripe. Finally, cover the top the the rest of the beef suet.

Add the salt, pepper, Calvados and cider, and enough water to cover. Cover the pan and hermetically seal it with a stiff paste made of flour and water. Place it in a slow oven (250 to 275 degrees) and let it cook gently for 12 hours.

When you remove it from the oven, scrape off the paste, uncover, skim off the excess fat and remove the bouquet garni. Remove the calves' feet and pick the flesh from the bones. Return the meat to the casserole. Serve the tripe boiling hot with boiled potatoes.

Note: If you do not have a stewing pan of sufficient size, you may halve the amount of tripe BELLE RHODES' PORTO TRIPE (6 generous servings) 11/2 pounds honeycomb tripe 1 veak shank Salt 1 cup small white dry beans (Great Northern or navy) 2 chicken leg-and-thigh portions or 1 whole breast 1/2 pound linguica, chourico, or other smoked pork garlic sausage 1/4pound well-smoked ham 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced 1 small onion, thinly sliced 2 medium-sized onions, chopped About 4 teaspoons ground cumin Freshly ground black pepper 3 tablespoons lard 1 bay leaf 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 4 cups cooked white rice

Wash tripe thoroughly in cold water; cut into 11/2-inch squares. Place in kettle with veal shank, 1 teaspoon salt, and cold water to cover. Cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 3 hours or until tender; drain.

Remove meat from veal shank in small pieces. Rinse beans; combine in a kettle with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, and allow to stand for 1 hour. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Heat beans again to boiling, then simmer until tender, about 1 hour; drain. Combine in a kettle the chicken, linguica, and ham. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add carrots and sliced onion, and simmer for 15 minutes more until meats and vegetables are tender; drain, saving broth. f

Remove the chicken meat from bones in above 2-inch pieces; cut linguica into thin crosswise slices; cut ham into small pieces. Meantime, in a large kettle or casserole, saute the chopped onions, sprinkled with about 3 teaspoons of the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, in lard until tender. Add tripe, veal, bean, chicken, sausage, ham, carrots, onions, bay parsley, and about 2 cups of the reserved meat broth. Cok over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until heated through and blended. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Add more broth as necessary to make of stew consistency. Serve with rice.

I omit the rice and serve with sweet butter and fresh French bread. CECILIA CHIANG'S TRIPE LA MANDARIN (6 servings) 2 pounds honeycomb tripe, trimmed of all fat 1/4 cup cottonseed oil 2cloves garlic, sliced 1teaspoon fresh ginger root, peeled, finely chopped 3 tablespoons dry sherry 1/2 to 1 tablespoons chili pepper, chopped 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 bundle Chinese parsley 4 scallions, white part only, finely shredded lengthwise

The cooking is done in a wok; with the quick stirring and mixing action used in wok cooking, the "final" cooking time here is 5 or 6 minutes only.

Bring the tripe to the boil in enough salted water to cover it by 3 or 4 inches. Skim off all the scum and simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until tender. Remove the tripe, drain, and slice in pieces 2 inches long by 1/4 inch wide.

Put the oil in the wok and heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and ginger, stir quickly, and add the tripe pieces and the chili. Stir again, add the sherry, stir, add the salt, and stir again well. Then add the scallion, stir, add the parsley, stir briefly but well and serve immediately. the tripe may be served with steamed rice if you wish. NARRSAIDAVID'S ASSYRIAN TRIPE 3 pounds beef tripe 4 pigs' feet 2 pounds veal shanks 2 to 3 veal knuckle bones 2 whole heads garlic, peeled into individual cloves

Cover all ingredients with water and bring to a boil. Lower fire to a slow simmer and skim frequently until clear. The veal shank should get tender first. As soon as the tripe and veal shank are tender, remove to a bowl and set aside to cool. Continue simmering the pigs' feet and knuckle bones until meat falls off the bones. Cooking time will vary from 2 to 3 hours. Remove from liquid and cool.

Carefully remove all meat from bones. Cut veal and tripe into bite-size pieces. Return all meat to pot and salt to taste. Serve steaming hot with dry bread.

Optional garnish: Pureed salted raw garlic in the center of each bowl. ELIZABETH THOMAS' TRIPES A LA FERMIERE 2 pounds tripe 1 sliced carrot 1 sliced onion 2 bouquets garnis of parsley stalks, bay leaf and thyme salt Peppercorns 3 ounces butter 1 large onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, mashed with salt 3 tablespoons flour 3 cups rich brown beef stock 1/4 to 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced or quartered if small

Put enough cold water in a pan to cover the tripe, sliced carrot, onion, 1 bouquet garni, salt and peppercorns. Bring just to the boil and skim if necessary. Simmer, three-quarters covered, for 31/2 hours.

Brown the diced carrot and chopped onion in 2 ounces of the butter. Add the garlic and flour and saute. Blend in the stock. Allow ot simmer while you drain and cut the tripe into 1-inch squares. Add the tripe to the vegetables and sauce. In this bury the second bouquet garni and cook, covered, at 250 degrees for about 2 hours. Taste the sauce and, if necessry to concentrate the flavor the thicken further, strain and reduce the sauce and then pour back over the tripe and vegetables. Saute the mushrooms in the remaining butter and add to the pan shortly before serving.