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.
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.