Silence of the Chipped Chopped Hams

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Midwest of the 60s and 70s: Where mystery "loaf" meats had a fighting chance to survive.

Submitted: July 21, 2018

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Submitted: July 21, 2018

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Silence of the Chipped Chopped Hams: Legendary Foods Every Stowbilly Remembers

Growing up in Stow meant developing a taste for cheap cold cuts, especially those containing the word “loaf.” Grocery stores like Acme Click and Reinker's had deli departments with the usual selections of ham, roast beef and turkey, but it rarely stopped there. Those meats lived on the right side of the sliced meat tracks, but were usually too expensive for our school lunch bags or Dad's lunchbox. The working class cold cuts lived on the poorly lit side of the deli case. Their names were Dutch loaf, ham loaf, pickle loaf and the dreaded olive loaf. Many of us still remember going to school with little brown bags filled with a Dutch loaf sandwich on white bread, a postage stamp sized bag of corn chips and an apple. My mother would occasionally spread a thin layer of margarine across the bread before applying the mayonnaise, apparently in an effort to keep the bread from becoming soggy. It really only converted an already questionable sandwich into a not-quite-butter flavored questionable sandwich.

The loaf meats became a staple in many Stowbilly households, but the capo de capo of inexpensive lunch meats had to be a processed ham loaf chipped off the slicer as thinly as possible. This was, of course, chipped chopped ham (or chip chop, if you lived at my house). Chipped chopped ham was noticeably less expensive than its more accomplished honey or smoked ham brethren. This amalgamation, formed and pressed from different ham sources, was then placed on a special slicer capable of making exceptionally thin cuts while the loaf was slammed repeatedly against the blade. The result was a remarkably flavorful cold cut which was more art than science. A huge mound of chipped chopped ham from Isaly's or Click would only set the family back a dollar or so, and it was awesome when pan fried with barbecue sauce or ketchup. Fresh white bread was the only logical choice for a sandwich accompaniment in our household.

For the younger Stowbilly on the move, interested in looking cool at any cost, a toothpick was an essential tool, and the flavor of the day was cinnamon; the hotter, the better. Several drugstores sold an array of flavored oils, from spearmint to citrus to cotton candy. By far the most popular flavor among those in the know was cinnamon. The thing to do was buy a box of wooden toothpicks and a bottle of cinnamon oil, then soak a supply of toothpicks in the cinnamon oil bottle for at least 24 hours -- longer if you were in sadomasochism or self-immolation. These hot toothpicks could be brought to school legally, since they were clearly not chewing or bubble gum. Chewing on an especially pickled cinnamon toothpick became a rite of passage for some of us.

The other cinnamon-based product many of us carried to school were miniature jawbreakers known as Atomic Fireballs. As with the chipped chopped ham, Isaly's became a popular source for these individually wrapped balls of fire. A kid could buy a substantial amount of Atomic Fireballs for a quarter at Isaly's, then resell them at a profit during regular school hours. They became a form of sugar-laden currency, and any 6th grade boy packing some serious Atomic Fireball heat became the man other men wanted to be, and all the women wanted to be with. No, seriously. I mean it.

Pizza was another hot commodity in Stow, and there were some legendary rivalries between suppliers. Altieri's had the hometown advantage, since just about everyone in town knew anyone who had ever owned the place. Parasson's had the field advantage, since it was situated on the same street as the original high school. Bella Vista had it for authenticity, since very few people outside of Italy itself could have possibly been as Italian as the brothers who operated it. My personal favorite, however, was Angelina's, which had no tactical advantage whatsoever. It was situated in a wedge between two streets, and patrons had to climb several concrete steps to even reach the front door. Angelina's pizza oven ran so hot that it routinely burned the toppings to a pleasant crisp. This was a plus in my book.

Parasson's was a memorable dining venue all by itself. Early in its history, the building was used as an inn and also a restaurant that introduced the idea of an all-inclusive smorgasbord to our humble little burg (for non-Midwesterners, an all-inclusive smorgasbord is another term for an all-you-can eat buffet). When it became an Italian restaurant, the owners took advantage of the floor plan and converted each room into themed dining areas: English Tudor, Italian, garden greenhouse and so on. Regulars would know to ask the hostess for a specific room, but those outside the loop would usually end up in the glass-enclosed greenhouse room in the middle of August. Nothing on the menu was better than the dark rumor that passed from generation to generation, however. The claim was that the building also served as a funeral home before it became a family-friendly Italian restaurant. The word on the street was that several former restaurant employees had been dispatched to the basement for supplies and discovered: A) A secret room used for embalming bodies. B)The remains of an oven used for cremations. or C) An elevator used to transport caskets to the viewing rooms above.

The other food-related rivalry that many Stowbillies experienced first-hand involved ice cream and ice cream novelties. Isaly's built its reputation on the quality of its hard-packed ice cream, which would be dipped out of a coffin freezer and pressed into a sugar cone or one of those styrofoamesque cones with an internal support structure Frank Lloyd Wright would have admired. For those who preferred their ice cream with some chew and moral heft, Isaly's was clearly the way to go. Isaly's ran a small short-order diner in the back area, and milkshakes or sundaes made from one of 20-plus flavors were very popular.

Close to Isaly's was another ice cream joint that was so nice they named it at least twice. When I was very young, during the early 70s, the place was called PDQ, short for Pretty Darn Quick. I wouldn't know; I just sat in the car. I remember there was an eggnog-flavored powdered milk additive also called PDQ, so I would order an eggnog milkshake from PDQ. PDQ changed hands and became Stow Cone. Stow Cone kept up many of the traditions established by PDQ, and was especially popular after school sporting events. The back of the parking lot also happened to be the top of an impressive natural gorge, however, so making that left turn out of the drive-through lane was always a good decision.

Although not technically within the city limits, for many of us, the final word on all things ice cream was found at a frozen custard stand called Stoddard's. Stoddard's did not serve that simple peasant dish known as ice cream. No, it served frozen custard -- the dairy product our mothers warned us about. Frozen custard had a much higher percentage of butterfat than regular ice cream, and the machines' agitators turned twice as slowly, which meant far less air in the final product. Quite fairly, frozen custard stands have been described as the places where God gets His ice cream. Stoddard's was definitely one of our local houses of worship. A single scoop of Stoddard's frozen custard cost 25 cents at one point, but woe unto the child who had to stop short for traffic and watch his beloved custard fall off the cone and onto the ground.

Because frozen custard was a labor-intensive process and they only owned three machines, Stoddard's only produced three flavors at a time: Vanilla, Chocolate and the Flavor of the Day. The vanilla was awesome, the chocolate was powerfully good, but the flavor of the day was always a crap shoot. Some days it would be something amazingly good, like banana or strawberry or blueberry, while other days it would be something not so tempting, like pineapple or butterscotch or mint chocolate chip. A small sign near the roadside announced the flavor of the day, and I would adjust my stride according to the selection. If it was blueberry, dead sprint. If it was pineapple, slow crawl. If it was mint chocolate chip, my least favorite at the time, tactical retreat. Stoddard's was a ritual for those of us who attended the Apostolic Pentecostal church 200 yards away, as well as for those who happened to live in a house 210 yards away.

There were a lot of other foodstuffs from that time many of us Stowbillies still crave to this day. Lawson's was a convenience store chain with locations spaced out about every hundred yards or so. One of its most popular products was a French onion dip so good that people simply dropped every extraneous word to describe it. It was simply Lawson's Chip Dip. Nothing tasted better on a wavy potato chip or a Doritos tortilla chip (or for that matter, cardboard), than Lawson's Chip Dip. When Lawson's franchises began to disappear from the landscape, the new convenience store chains made every effort to keep that same French Onion dip stocked on their shelves.

My mother used to make a comfort food she called tuna macaroni salad, and one ingredient became so popular that it was often used in place of the term “salad dressing” in church cookbooks. Cooks did not add two cups of salad dressing to anything; they added Spin Blend. Spin Blend was a zippy little number with a distinctive green lid and attitude to burn. The official list of ingredients only mentioned lemon juice and vinegar, but we all knew in our Stowbilly hearts that here there be horseradish. Spin Blend turned an ordinary cold pasta salad into an explosion of Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired madness. Spin Blend could even turn a Dutch loaf or chipped chopped ham sandwich into one of the best sandwiches any kid ever put in his lunch bag, even with that obscene swath of greasy margarine standing between the meat and the aptly-named Wonder bread.

There are many other favorite Stowbilly foods and beverages that did not get mentioned in this essay, but trust me they will get their day in the sun in future issues. I'm thinking about Wacky Packs, Sto-nut donuts, JoJo potato wedges, burgers at the Flagpole, and whatever pickled thing was in that jar on the counter at Eddie's. No journey would be complete without trips to the Red Barn, Rax, Around the Clock and Osman's Pies, either. Stay tuned. There's a lot more nostalgia where this came from.


© Copyright 2018 Michael Pollick. All rights reserved.