Opinion: Tender recollections of meat

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By Ward Degler

One of the tools my mother had in the kitchen drawer with her ladles and serving spoons was a heavy metal mallet. It was a meat tenderizer, and although I haven’t seen one in years, it was indispensable during the rationing days of World War II.

Just about everything was rationed in those days, and meat – except for scrawny chickens, which seemed to be in good supply – was seldom available at the grocery store more than one day a week.

Usually, there was a long line in front of the meat counter, and when you got to the front you couldn’t request anything; the butcher told you what was available. And how many red points (meat rationing stamps) you still had in your ration book would determine how much of it you could buy.

Mom usually got steaks and sometimes a roast. The steaks were usually labeled “Bottom Round,” but Mom said they were suspect. She opined that every time beef was available at the store, another horse vanished from one of the neighboring farms.

Dad always doubted there was a connection and concluded the meat just came from a very old cow that had been chased to exhaustion and beaten to death with a stick.

Whatever their origin, they were always tough, and Mom would lay them out on the kitchen counter and go to work with the tenderizer mallet. She would hammer until the meat was flat and filled with holes, then she fried it at such high heat they curled into cylinders. Dad used to stuff his with mashed potatoes and eat them with his fingers the way we eat tacos today.

Sometimes we had mutton, which was so strong with old age that Mom had to cook it with the kitchen windows open. Dad believed it was more likely meat from an aging goat. I love leg of lamb, but it is a far cry from yesteryear’s mutton.

To supplement our meat supply, Dad hunted. Deer, squirrel, snowshoe rabbit and grouse were easy prey in the Wisconsin Northwoods, and the meat was welcome and delicious. Mom said it all tasted like chicken. And she never had to use her meat hammer on anything Dad brought home from the field.

I think of these things sometimes when I peer into today’s meat counter and consider the nearly endless variety of chops, steaks, roasts and filets. And not one of them needs to be beaten before eaten.

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