Tuesday, August 8, 2017

BALONEY





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BACK even before my Mother and Daddy first married, she worked in a tiny small-town grocery store---Aunt Lou’s, in fact, with all the goods anybody could need save for ready-made clothes and shoes.    Aunt Lou had the only “market” in town---her store was the only one to “cut meat” for sale, and Mother learned early to break down those sides of beef and pork and cut them into steaks and roasts and ribs.     

Mother also made a small-pond name for herself at the County Fair over in another neighboring county where one of her girlfriends lived.   There were all sorts of penny-games and contests and prize pumpkins and pigs and pickles and pies. One of the contests was held by the local family who did all the meat-butchering for the area for many miles around.   You’d raise your pig or steer, take it to their farm, and they’d deliver your Winter supply of meat in neat, slick-paper packages, with the bacon and hams kept to be smoked to your order and a date projected for you to come pick them up.

As well as being prominent in church and township, they were also a local landmark, with huge cut-outs of pigs and cows and sheep attached to the top of an enormous board-fence which surrounded most of the cattle-lot.   You could give directions to your house:   Turn left at Nolan’s, and again at the Pentecostal.   Everybody knew them by name and reputation for such fine meat.

They also made your sausage---Winter or Summer style, gut-stuffed and smoked firm and lasting, or loose-pack delivered in whatever clean pan or tub you handed them when they took custody of your ill-fated pig.   And there were links---hundreds of the little pink twists---WAY before Jimmy Dean, we were all enjoying “baby-links” in our part of the country.     Even our city cousins up in Memphis had no such delicacies in their big markets, like Montesi and Seessels, and loved the little sticks of sausage when they visited us.




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Nolan’s also  advertised by product---like a Viking-hall edition of the bite-sized  store-samples today---great heaps of their Brats and Franks were cooked atop mounds and mounds of fried onions and peppers at every fair, carnival, barn-raisin’ and Camp Meetin’ for counties around---you could smell that marvelous aroma from WAY down the road, and followed your nose to the irresistible.    Literal “word of mouth” brought them a booming business in all sorts of endeavors.


Other sausages were made by their old family recipes---Bratwurst and Knockwurst and my favorite---those tee-ninecy little two-inch pink poppin’-weenies all strung together like long beads with a knot between.   Those things were the tastiest of their wares, to me, with their tight little skins giving a decided POP when you bit them, and the most delicately tender insides, fragrant with garlic and I’ve-never- figured-what-else.   Opening that big Revere–Ware skillet lid and seeing a pan of Mammaw’s homemade kraut with a big spiral of those small pearly weenies simmering atop was a Happy-Meal to our family.    I’ll bet kids today don’t feel as pleased to see their favorite pizza drive up to the door.



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But Nolan’s had a distinct product which was their biggest seller:  Baloney.  Everybody knew Nolan’s Baloney, and I don’t know HOW they made enough pounds of the stuff for all the demand.  Aunt Lou sold tons of it in her store---every single slice cut by hand---why, the town didn’t hardly “get electric” until 1940 or so.    And Mother could handle those big butcher knives as well as anybody.   She’d reach one of the long, keen blades from their side-slot, sometimes give it a little gingerly test with her thumb, slide that big knife delicately through rind and flesh, and cut you off twelve sandwich-sized slices as neat as you please---every one exactly the same thickness, one side to the other. 

And she could CUT A POUND of Baloney.  Slices or one piece---no matter, and she didn't need to keep flopping another bit onto the scale-platform.  When she laid down her knife and did that squint-squat to look at the numbers---they balanced. Every time.

She’d not had much kitchen training, save for killing and cleaning a chicken nearly every Sunday morning of her life, shelling mountains of beans and peas, and snapping all the snap beans. Her cooking mostly ran to being allowed to measure wets and drys, or stir a pot or two, besides washing up each and every dish by hand, but my Mammaw just could NOT countenance letting her loose with any kind of knife, “because of her bein' left-handed, and all.”  She just didn’t do it right, or even LOOK right doing it, according to Mammaw, and that was that.

But Mother could cut meat to the ounce, as she proved several times at the Fair and a barn-raisin or corn-shuckin' or two.   The usual prize was a whole stick of that good Nolan's baloney, and she never failed to bring home the prize.

We had it in sandwiches, in ground-up sandwich spreads, sorta pinked around the edges into little pinwheel-shapes and fried for breakfast or with a good thick slice of hoop cheese laid on to melt, and slid onto the platter with six or so mates to set down for a quick supper with jacket potatoes and dill pickles.   (Come to think of it, we had PICKLED BALONEY, as well, all cut into cubes and marinated in a good strong brine for a couple of days in the fridge).  It was a beer-lover's hors d'oeuvre, let me tell you.   A bowl of that brought out to the pit where a group were tendin' an all-night pig-roast---oh, my, Porky Nirvana.  And if you forgot the forks, you'd hear an immediate chorus of snicks as half a dozen pocket-knives were opened to begin joogin' in that bowl.

 Mother just had a Know-How.   That hefty knife, which she’d washed and scalded and sharpened herself nearly every day for ten years, seemed a bit too big as she drew it from the side-scabbard on the butcher-block.   She’d squint down the blade with the eagle eye of a watchmaker, checking its angle and edge, then set that big five-pound cylinder of baloney on the board.    A little nudge to the angle, a press to ensure a solid seating, and then she’d lay the knife gently along one of the imaginary lines her eye had sectioned the big cylinder into.    A sure lift of the shoulder, the gentle descent as that scarred old knife cut through the perfect spot like slicing pie.



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Every time.   And she could cut that pound into equal-six, or equal-eight, depending on how many around your table that day, with each so fairly divided that there was never a squabble amongst ‘em.      There’s a Musical Gift, and a Literary Bent, as well as a Leaning-Toward-Law or Medicine or Military, and they all garner their praise and enhance their owners.   But a natural born talent, now, like whittlin’ out a swan, or charming an owl, or even cutting baloney---that’s a Purentee GIFT.


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6 comments:

donna baker said...

No baloney Rachel. I've tasted it, but I know what's in it. Everything but the oink.

G Dazeez said...

We love our bologna here in the Ozarks. I can remember having it sliced fresh at our small town grocery store. We love it fried, or served sandwich style or on crackers with cheese. This is a great story and brought back a lot of memories for me. Thank you for sharing!

Kathy said...

This was a great story. Joe loves baloney.

GSL said...

Nothin' small pond about your mother's daughter Darling Rachel. Her maestro knife work and Mawmaw's kitchen wizardry is perhaps only exceeded by your pen.
All the sustenance I'd ever need is packed in your painterly prose on prized pumpkins, pigs, pickles, and pies.

Bravo!

**my greatest culinary endeavor is a fried baloney & cheese sammich; a spatchula's highest calling is when wielded by GSL's southpaw at the precise moment to flip sizzling Oscar Meyer thick-cut, dropping cheese slice, drop butter lathered bread, another fliperoo, and over again and BINGO...margin of error less than 3/100s of second with no casualties to date

BeachGypsy said...

Oh I loved this post my friend! and what I grew up eating and loving---kids today won't touch alot of it!! ha ha LOL---vienna sausages (we called them "vy-eenies") with crackers and pickles. Made a great outside picnic lunch. And peanut butter and pickle sandwiches on the old fashioned soft white Wonder bread. SPAM!!---ha ha not computer related but real honest to goodness SPAM, fried up in a hot skillet and on Wonder bread with a little mustard, oh my, I LOVED IT. And yes!!---the baloney! We had it fried and on (you guessed it, lol) Wonder bread!!! And of course Daddies carried it to work in their lunch pails. We loved Pickle Loaf sandwiches with Duke's mayonnaise as well, you ever had pickle loaf?? My Daddy carried salami too!

Gayla said...

We used to have the meat butchered and then bring it all home in galvanized wash pans to wrap and freeze. Luckily I was deemed too young to do a good job! By the time I grew up, the meat locker wrapped it! Yay!