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.