3.0 Looking Backward Again

Yesterday’s little wander through Levenson’s Market prompted comment from people who generously shared their memories.  In turn the comments prompted more memories of my own.

Who remembers:

Mincemeat. Twenty-gallon wooden kegs of this showed up around Christmas time.  Mincemeat is a dark brown, lumpy, mushy, mud with a look that invites scatological comparisons.  Mincemeat is mostly apples and raisins but includes figs and cherries, oranges and lemons.  If you are a Brit or a Yankee you add suet or hamburger.  Add to that three or four pie spices and a shot of brandy, pour it into a pie crust and the rest is up to the oven.  I am not sure if the brandy is added to the mincemeat during preparation or directly to the baker.  As foodies go, I am on the lowest end of the adventure scale.  I had my first look at mincemeat in that barrel over a half-century ago and am still working up the courage to have my first bite of a finished pie.

Dill Pickles.  Pickles were ever intended to be packed in a jar.  At Levenson’s they arrived in 20-gallon wooden kegs left over from mincemeat season. The barrels were kept in the refrigerated meat locker which preserved their satisfying crunch.  If someone wanted a pickle, we tear off a piece of butcher paper to wrap it in and go into the ‘fridge where we’d dunk for one with tongs. Unless you’ve had a pickle directly from a barrel,  or a spear garnished with a pastrami sandwich in a New York deli, you have yet to have an authentic dill pickle experience.

Sauerkraut.  Fermented, shredded cabbage, came in those barrels you are getting well-acquainted with.  You bought a pint or quart and got it in the same sort of paper buckets that you buy Chinese takeout today.   Uncooked sauerkraut is crunchy and a nice shack.  Cooked sauerkraut was developed to gas the British in the trenches of World War I.

Too bad if you have not experienced any of the above in its museum-grade authenticity.  And if you have, you know that precious little has come down to us today in a form that is anything but the palest of shadows of what once was.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, my memories pre-date packaged lunchmeat.  Bologna, salami, liverwurst, and Canadian Bacon came in ten-pound sausage-shaped tubes of plastic film, Taylor Ham came in a canvas tube, Swiss cheese and American cheese came in loaves.   Ham, known as boiled ham, from Poland or Denmark came in a can packed with gelatin.  Dried beef was a hard, solid and shaped like a deflated basketball.  When someone wanted lunchmeat, we sliced it on the spot.  We cut it as thin or thick as requested.  Then came Oscar Mayer and one size fit all and they hid the flavor somewhere we’ve never found.

The most popular lunchmeat was Pop’s Ham.   Pop would save the 4-5 ounce butt ends of all the lunch meats and grind them up adding a little beef and pork as needed to fill several loaf pans.  After adding a slurry of brown sugar, dry mustard, and vinegar, he would bake it.  When it cooled, it made great sandwich meat.  Some of his customers ordered the whole loaf and asked to pick it up at 5 pm right out of the oven.

That is enough for today.  I’m hungry.

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11 Responses to 3.0 Looking Backward Again

  1. Michael says:

    Jesus Al, you forgot the biggest treat of all. Spam.

  2. M. Kaplan says:

    Your dad was the only man I’ve ever seen who looked dapper wearing an apron. He always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye.

  3. Alan stowell says:

    Damn Al!! How about the “salt fish” “Pescao salao” on your one tonner racing around Puerto Rico?
    Wasn’t that on your Pearson one tonner?

  4. The food and eating experience was different before McDonalds swept in and nuked what food and life was all about.

  5. john miller says:

    For my father, not for us kids, there was Lebanon boloney/bologna. We got the plain old stuff which I refuse to eat today!

  6. Colleen Rae says:

    Sounds like you Al, and your friends (above) got all the tasty food. I got spam, the kind out of a can that you slice, also covered with some gooey substance, and served with eggs, potatoes, canned veggies, and bread. I was a WWII kid…Span was plentiful.
    The only one of the first foods you mentioned that I experienced was dill pickles out of a barrel. They were terrific!
    As a kid and even today I don’t like or eat sauerkraut or mincemeat. Yuk! My grandmother made mincemeat pies and sometimes I was forced to eat a piece so as not to hurt her feelings. I alway fed it serepticiously to the dog.

  7. Colleen Rae says:

    There once was a different kind of Spam…also undesirable, just as is all the useless cra- that comes into our junk box. I could do a 500 word essay on Spam.

  8. Dave L says:

    I have always enjoyed minced meat pie but now am begining to doubt. What do you say about pumpkin – nutmeg and cream of course, and another on the December buffet? I won’t be advancing a fruit cake addiction for you to destroy; but will try the meatloaf. Sounds beyond the the ordinary boundries, and in the neighborhood of Epecurian delight.

    • allevenson says:

      David, you must understand there is no real recipe for Pop’s Ham and it was probably never the same twice. My memory is that it was mostly the butts of lunch meat and only a little pork and beef if necessary. I think the glaze, the sugar, mustard, vinegar mix had a lot to do with the flavor. But you do have me thinking about to duplicate Pop’s Ham. Perhaps some other member of my family will weigh in with a little more info.

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