September 19, 2017
One in a popular series of posts by Tom Nealon, author of Food Fights and Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste (British Library Publishing, October 2016; Overlook Press, March 2017). STUFFED is inspired by Nealon’s collection of rare cookbooks, which he sells — among other things — via Pazzo Books.
STUFFED SERIES: THE MAGAZINE OF TASTE | AUGURIES AND PIGNOSTICATIONS | THE CATSUP WAR | CAVEAT CONDIMENTOR | CURRIE CONDIMENTO | POTATO CHIPS AND DEMOCRACY | PIE SHAPES | WHEY AND WHEY NOT | PINK LEMONADE | EUREKA! MICROWAVES | CULINARY ILLUSIONS | AD SALSA PER ASPERA | THE WAR ON MOLE | ALMONDS: NO JOY | GARNISHED | REVUE DES MENUS | REVUE DES MENUS (DEUX) | WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE | THE THICKENING | TRUMPED | CHILES EN MOVIMIENTO | THE GREAT EATER OF KENT | GETTING MEDIEVAL WITH CHEF WATSON | KETCHUP & DIJON | TRY THE SCROD | MOCK VENISON | THE ROMANCE OF BUTCHERY | …and more to come.
Butcher shops, like pickle shops, mayonnaise merchants (though that one in Brooklyn is on hiatus), butter, and, of course, haberdasheries, are undergoing something of a renaissance. Not too long ago vegan butcher (can you imagine them calling it a butcher 10 years ago?) raised over 60k on Kickstarter and the virtual butcher Butcher Box raised over 200k to mail people grass-fed don’t call me Omaha steaks. “Sustainable” butchery has made some butchers the new celebrity chefs, and things like tripe, ox-tail, and even sweetbreads have become popular in a way that hasn’t been seen in almost a century (to the detriment of the pocketbooks of the people who have been eating them all along). It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? I swear a second ago everyone was worried about cattle denuding the world, fat, and mad cows, and now, suddenly, we’re crazy about butchers. But after reflecting on it, I don’t think it’s the abrupt change of mind that it seems like, more like adding to the list. We want sustainability, a future for our planet, but we also want some pork belly, a porterhouse, and a clean conscience. I get it — it’s a weird world to try to brave even without feeling conflicted about your sandwich choices. And really, I shouldn’t be absenting myself from this, because I want these things too. So maybe a virtual butcher, butchering virtuously? Mixing them up, a butcher that looks like an Apple Store can’t be too far off — and food hall butchers at places like Mario Batali’s Eataly are most of the way there already. Apple Store + chalk boards, someone must have a name for that design scheme.
Anyway, this butcher shop catalog from 1900 passed before my eyes the other day and these are some of the thoughts I had while bathed in its warm, if murderous, glow.
In this post-Sub Zero world, I could see this refrigerator style making a comeback.
I would like to call your attention to the lard spade.
What’s great is how similar this is to the famous 16th-century illustration of kitchen implements that included the first fork ever depicted.
What I hadn’t been thinking of until I got to this part of the catalog, was how big a deal — and how front and center — lard was for so long. A sizable percentage of your time as a butcher would have been spent dealing with and monetizing all of that meat fat.
Though I’m not sure what size your operation would have had to be to require boilers of this scale for rendering fat. When I lived in Albuquerque (one of the last places that still embraces lard in all its glory), I worked near (though not, thankfully, too near) a rendering plant called “Your Local Used Cow Dealer.”
These are the last of the circle of lard life which began, rather innocuously, with the lard spade pictured above among the cleavers, forks, knives and whatnot.
The Preservaline building is still around — though their trademark for the boar’s head expired in 1996 — and sits in an industrial section of Greenpoint in Brooklyn. Next door, the New Warsaw Bakery recently sold for $8.7 million to make way for condos, so it might not be there for long.
MORE POSTS BY TOM NEALON: Salsa Mahonesa and the Seven Years War, Golden Apples, Crimson Stew, Diagram of Condiments vs. Sauces, etc., and his De Condimentis series (Fish Sauce | Hot Sauce | Vinegar | Drunken Vinegar | Balsamic Vinegar | Food History | Barbecue Sauce | Butter | Mustard | Sour Cream | Maple Syrup | Salad Dressing | Gravy) — are among the most popular we’ve ever published here at HiLobrow.