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TWO MEATBALLS & MASHED POTATOES, twenty-five cents


meatballs

Lunchtime did not loom large in my imagination during my youth Justifiable perhaps given the likelihood of all too familiar contents in my paper bag or lunch pail. I don’t recall seeing a single cafeteria, serving what I imagined to be delicious lunches. In the small two room schoolhouse in New London, Connecticut, I am sure there was none; there was barely room for the four grades of children crammed into its old walls. Give the economics of the Depression era I would not have been allowed to eat in a cafeteria anyway.

Life and lunchtime changed when we moved to Alameda, California in my junior year however. In our own small enclave surrounding the high school, there was a bakery, a coffee shop, a music store which allowed you to listen to records before buying, a few small shops, a movie theater and J.C. Penney, where I began working to earn money to spend at these stores.

And among these stores, a mere block and a half from the school, was the Alameda Delicatessen, advertising two meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all for twenty-five cents! This was the era when gasoline was less than a dollar, but twenty-five cents was still a bargain. My feet wore a path to the deli each day at noon, and in spite of ridicule from classmates, I ate there daily for the remaining two years of high school.

Sixty years later, at a class reunion, a much admired former classmate, who had been a professional baseball player and then scout, confessed that he too had gone to the Deli every day of his high school life, and had eaten meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy and paid twenty-five cents. He too knew a bargain when he saw it.

The large Swedish company IKEA, sells plates of meatballs and gravy to hundreds of people daily. They even sell bags of meatballs you can keep in your freezer for people longing for a meatball fix at home. Costco sells huge bags of meatballs as do a lot of other stores. If people didn’t love meatballs no one would go to the trouble. A local food editor last week did a whole column rating the quality of the meatballs sold at various stores in the area. Whole Foods got the best rating, and it went downhill from there, with some poor company rating no stars. And speaking of Stars, which is the offering at your last cocktail party which got the most action? The large cauldron of meatballs in spicy sauce, right?

Countries around the world have their own version of the meatball. In my husband’s Danish family they are called frikadellar, and are served with mashed potatoes and gravy.

But I have to say, none of these meatballs can hold a candle to those twenty-five cent meatballs at the old Deli which has long ago closed its doors. They are still the best meatballs I ever ate.

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14 comments on “TWO MEATBALLS & MASHED POTATOES, twenty-five cents

  1. Now you’ve got me going. Meatballs and mash. Ikea knows their markets. I used to put a bit of chilli in with the rwa mince and tasted them pre-cooked. An easy oats extender my mum used as well in order to make them go further, not a silly thing to do seeing there were six of us not including parents. Great tale and I can see you sitting there eating the meatballs and mash…all for 25 cents as dessert.

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  2. I use oats as an extender too. With the Danish frikadellar you have to beat in electric mixer adding soda water! I’m still amazed that they could sell them for only 25 cents. That’s a lot of lunch for only that much even then. I even put meatballs in some of my soups.

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  3. There’s been a lot of inflation over the years, but it’s still amazing that they could sell the meatballs for 25 cents.

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  4. When I took a look at that photo, I thought, “Swedish meatballs.” They surely do look like it. I have my grandmother’s recipe and haven’t made them for a year or so. Suddenly, I have the urge. For her Swedish meatballs, you begin by sauteing lots and lots of sliced onion. Then, the meatballs, and the cream gravy. The meatballs go in the dish, the gravy, then the buttery onions. Delicious!

    And in the world of midwestern church suppers, there always was a time or two when they’d make homemade noodles and chicken, and serve that over mashed potatoes. You can eat a lot of that kind of stuff when you’re raking leaves, cutting wood, riding bikes and so on.

    Your twenty-five cent meal reminded me of actually getting to the New York City automats before they ended. What fun, to put a quarter in, turn the dial, and open the little window to pull out the food. I miss those!

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    • Comfort food! Nothing like it. I don’t think church suppers are like the old Midwest ones for some reason. Or what they used to call :”funeral food”.

      I remember an automat in S.F. years ago, but can’t remember which one. There was Mannings, and Compton’s, and they had the little doors which opened and let you take out something. Very cool.

      One of the losses today is the dinner hour which had everyone sitting down at table together. There are so many activities today; sports and hobbies which take kids away from the table at that time. Certain jobs, tech mostly which keep both parents
      away till late at night. My neighbor sometimes does not get home until 9 or 10 at night. It’s a different world and an adjustment.

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  5. Unable to put my oar in here, Katy. Although Chic did make a mean spaghetti with meatballs, all those years ago …

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  6. I think we’re going to have to have meatballs for dinner… (Actually, thanks for that – I hadn’t worked out what we were having anyway.) 25 cents! What a great bargain to find.

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  7. Yes, I think we should have some sort of national ‘meatball’ celebration. I can sense a lost hunkering after meatballs. A going back to what was once wholesome and good, uniting us in common aims and aspirations. Sadly, we have lost our way, flailing about lost and forlorn and need to regain our common dignity and self respect.
    Bring back the 25c meatballs and mash.

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  8. The photo set my mouth a-drooling, Kayti. We often have meatballs, mash and onion gravy here. A very nourishing school lunch for you.

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  9. Perhaps I can contribute my longevity to meatballs! I till love them.

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