It’s Literary Week here at Roots and Grubs, which means instead of writing original content, I’m going to post lengthy excerpts from great food-related novels. It’s a good deal for me, because I get to kick back and drink piÃ±a coladas, and it’s a good deal for you because you get to read talented writers.
Literary Week is also known as Blatant Copyright Violation Week.
After Monday’s post about freshly ground meat, Laurie informed me that there’s advice to the same effect in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I have to admit I’ve never read. She found me the passage in question, and it’s awesome.
Neeley came home and he and Francie were sent out for the weekend meat. This was an important ritual and called for detailed instructions by Mama.
“Get a five-cent soup bone off of Hassler’s. But don’t get the chopped meat there. Go to Werner’s for that. Get round steak chopped, ten cents’ worth, and don’t let him give it to you off the plate. Take an onion with you, too.”
Francie and her brother stood at the counter a long time before the butcher noticed them.
“What’s yours?” he asked finally.
Francie started the negotiations. “Ten cents’ worth of round steak.”
“Lady was just in. Bought a quarter’s worth of round steak ground. Only I ground too much and here’s the rest on the plate. Just ten cents’ worth. Honestly. I only just ground it.”
This was the pitfall Francie had been told to watch against. Don’t buy it off the plate no matter what the butcher says.
“No. My mother said ten cents’ worth of round steak.”
Furiously the butcher hacked off a bit of meat and slammed it down on the paper after weighing it. He was just about to wrap it up when Francie said in a trembling voice,
“Oh, I forgot. My mother wants it ground.”
“God-damn it to hell!” he hacked up the meat and shoved it into the chopper. Tricked again, he thought bitterly. The meat came out in fresh red spirals. He gathered it up in his hand and was just about to slam it down on the paper when….
“And mama said to chop up this onion in it.” Timidly, she pushed the peeled onion that she had brought from home across the counter. Neeley stood by and said nothing. His function was to come along for moral support.
“Jesus!” the butcher said explosively. But he went to work with two cleavers chopping the onion up into the meat. Francie watched, loving the drumbeat rhythm of the cleavers. Again the butcher gathered up the meat, slammed it down on the paper and glared at Francie. She gulped. The last order would be the hardest of all. The butcher had an idea of what was coming .He stood there trembling inwardly. Francie said all on one breath,
“Son-of-a-bitchin’ bastard,” whispered the butcher bitterly. He slashed off a piece of white fat, let it fall to the floor in revenge, picked it up and slammed it on the mound of meat. He wrapped it furiously, snatched the dime, and as he turned it over to the boss for ringing up, he cursed the destiny that made him a butcher.
I totally don’t understand why the butcher is so grumpy, but I can assure you, when you ask your butcher to grind up a chuck roast, he will not say “son-of-a-bitchin’ bastard” unless you are really, really lucky.
Coming up: selections from Timothy Taylor and Daniel Pinkwater.