Palaver from Persimmon Crossingwith Warren Faulk
Old Fashioned FoodsThe term soul food had not been coined yet. Fifty years ago these things and practices were as common in small town markets as pork chops are today. It would not have occurred to my family to turn up their noses at any item discussed except maybe the chitlins and then only because they really do stink when deep fat fried.
I grew up in a small grocery store in Alabama. One of my favorite places to be when I was three was sitting in sawdust under a meat block while the butcher plied his trade. From that vantage point I saw hundreds of steaks and chickens dropped, picked up, rinsed off and sold. Lots of our customers liked aged beef. We usually had one or two hindquarters of beef left cooling for up to 60 days before being broken down. The breaking process always began with a thorough scrubbing of the whole piece with a wet slurry of baking soda followed by rinsing with lemon juice. This to remove the mold.
Steaks cut from beef handled this way were dark and tender, regardless of the quality of the animal when butchered.
Lots of the other things we sold "fresh" have pretty much disappeared from the markets of today or at best have been relegated to the back corner of the frozen food display. Probably my all time favorite meat is "sweetbreads", otherwise known as the thymus glands from cattle. You can't find them. They are oyster like and fried in batter are unbeatable. Calf and pork brains were big items. Brains and scrambled eggs were a hit at many a breakfast table. Liver has prevailed over all other organ meat, but kidney is better. I never liked tripe much so it doesn't bother me to find it under last year's turkeys in the frozen meat department. Beef heart is great and the best slicing roast in a cow is the tongue. You'll have to take my word for it.
Most of these things are probably in dogfood these days or maybe that last "what was it sandwich?" was part pig's ear. All of the chicken feet from one poultry slaughter house are shipped to China. Mama would have made chicken soup out of them. Chitterlings are great if you are nowhere near the cooking. These are pig's intestines, thoroughly washed of course.
Without doubt the government would close us down today if we added "White 'tater" to the hamburger to keep it looking fresh or ground up spleens in it to make it look more lean. But hey, we were the good guys. Our competitor down the street was using embalming fluid and selling black market beef. And we always thawed and drained the hams from one of our suppliers. They often injected water into the hams and then froze them to push the weights up. We drained the water and then ran the price up a bit to compensate.
One of my least favorite memories is of the time I added pine oil to the mop water when cleaning out our fresh meat cooler, thereby tainting several hundred pounds of beef and pork with the "fresh scent of pine." Daddy didn't believe he could have raised a boy that dumb ... but we sold every bit of that meat. And the floor was really clean.
The frequent mention of genetically modified foods got me thinking back along these lines. We didn't publicize any of our questionable practices back then. It would not have been good for business. Makes you wonder where the motives of those who object to a simple label lie. So the government can't prove conclusively that an item is or is not potentially harmful. What'$ to stop the companies from putting the labels on anyway as a public service?
-- Warren Faulk
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