When I was little, we lived right around the corner from a small grocery store called Jack’s Pak-It, owned by the Fertittas, a close-knit Italian family completely to blame for my lifelong obsession with grocery stores. In the early 1970’s, I was allowed free reign to run around the corner to the store, shop to my heart’s delight, and “charge it.” Whoever paid the bills at my dad’s office regularly underwrote my 1970’s & 80’s cooking experiments and the necessary ingredients for steak Diane, crepes, lemon chicken, pasta salad, and oatmeal cookies with Reese’s pieces. Bear’s Mush, smoked almonds, fruit leather, Dippity-do hair gunk, Lick-M-Aids, popsicles, creme fraiche, tri-color spiral pasta, baking chocolate, Tiger Beat magazine–Jack’s Pak-It was where I got all the supplies I needed for living.
“Jack’s” was a place you could shop for a Fresca barefooted in your swimsuit. It felt like home. Mamie always asked about my grandmother when she rang me up. Her son David ran the store, and could be found behind the butcher counter in the back, looking crisp, snappy, and undeniably professional in a starched shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a long, pristine, white apron. I loved the butcher counter–behind the glass-fronted case were true experts with knives and string and scales and rolls of white paper torn off with an insouciant, skillful rip. “What are you cooking?” they’d ask, “how many are you serving?” “do you want it fat or lean?” I could stand on my tiptoes and watch them skillfully trim and tie a roast, french the bones, truss a bird, cube our stew meat into just the right size pieces. All the while, I couldn’t wait to grow up, to be able to take my pocketbook into the corner butcher shop and have the butcher tell me just what cut I should buy for a tender, juicy roast.
Only . . . I grew up and there weren’t any butcher shops anymore. I remember once asking the “butcher” at the local chain supermarket to grind some lamb for me, and you would have thought I was asking him to cluck like a chicken. What happened to the grocers and butchers who were experts about food? Who made choices about what was ripe, what their community wanted, could tell you how to cook a rabbit or a leg of lamb? The Fertittas had the answers–they stood behind everything they sold, butchered their own meats, and were in their store every single day, connecting with their customers. Most importantly, they lived their lives surrounded by and immersed in food (did I say Italian?).
When I grew up, I decided grocers could save the world, and I knew who my role models would be. Last week, we bought a whole pig and butchered it with Tink, our all-around rock of a delivery man, warehouse manager, inspirational force. He’s worked as a hunting guide, and enlightens us daily with his dreams for starting his own mobile-processing shop. He’s the reason we can build a plan for raising our own animals one day, and starting our own in-house butcher shop now. We watched Tink’s strong, capable hands carving our pig into roasts, grinding sausage, and cutting thick juicy chops. We could see the rich marbling in the meat, the layer of flavorful fat that would make chops and roasts juicy. What would our customers like best? Braising cuts, ground, chops for grilling? We knew this animal was humanely raised, well-cared for and treated with respect and dignity–a quality butcher continues that same level of care and respect for the meat that will reach your table and feed your family. The Fertittas would agree.
2 pounds ground pork
1/2 c. fresh white breadcrumbs
1/3 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
1 onion, minced
salt & pepper
2 c. white wine
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
chopped Italian parsley
Soak raisins in a little warm water to cover. Set aside. Place pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, and pine nuts in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Saute onion in olive oil until very soft. Add to pork mixture. Drain raisins, reserving soaking liquid. Add raisins to pork mixture. Combine pork mixture well and form into golfball-sized meatballs. Heat more olive oil in large heavy skillet or braising pan and brown meatballs in batches. When they are all browned, deglaze skillet with white wine, scraping up all the browned, crispy bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add vinegars and raisin-soaking liquid to wine and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar if needed to balance the flavors. Reduce by about one third, then return meatballs to pan, cove and cook for about 10-15 minutes until meatballs are cooked throughout. Stir in parsley and serve alone as an appetizer, or with sauteed greens and pasta for an main course.