Bologna was a processed food my mother outlawed and we never had it in the house. School kids I grew up with had thick bologna slices slapped on margarine laced store-bought white bread for their lunch. I had strawberry jam, cheese, peanut butter, and sometimes a fried egg on home-made buttered bread.
The popular luncheon meat, which I have always known to be pronounced as “baloney,” was named after the city of Bologna in northern Italy.
Apparently Italians will pull up their noses at North American’s bologna. Their version of bologna, known as Italian mortadella, has visible cubes of pork fat and is seasoned with pistachios or red pepper.
I recall the jam from the 1950s. It came in big square jars and it was very good, unlike the jam we have today that skimps on the real thing. We ate lots of jam in those days.
When I was in the third grade, school chums raved about a new sandwich spread simply called Sandwich Spread. It was made up of pickles and mayonnaise and was a whitish grey. Mother had nothing good to say about it as she thought it was much too processed and she wouldn’t buy it.
Some kids brought along raw milk in a glass jar. Lunch kits (yes, steel lunch kits) were kept on the top rack of the clothes closet for coats. Imagine kids today taking along a glass jar of lukewarm raw milk to school. School authorities would call in the Children’s Aid.
Margarine was a bad word with my parents. We never had it in our house. It didn’t matter how expensive butter was. That’s what we used and it was never skimped. And we certainly were not rich folks. We drank milk that was boiled first.
I recall my parents speaking critically of one of their immigrant friends from church for having margarine on the table and also a little container of butter. The butter was only for their son who was working and paying room and board. The son said he wanted butter. So the parents used margarine and the son had butter. It was scandalous to my parents.
I’ll have a hot dog at outdoor events and I do enjoy an occasional bologna sandwich with mustard. Maybe once or twice a year I will buy a package of All Beef Bologna. I will read the label to make sure it doesn’t have “mechanically separated” chicken in it. Some brands have mostly “mechanically separated” chicken and pork, with a little bit of beef added in.
According to the USDA, “Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.”
By USDA definition (called a “standard of identity”), bologna is a cooked and/or smoked sausage, grouped in with hot dogs, frankfurters, wieners, and the like. This standard of identity specifies bologna be a semisolid product made from one or more kinds of “raw skeletal muscle” from livestock like cattle or pigs.
Uh, what’s raw skeletal meat? Skeletal muscles are those muscles attached to the skeleton, and those muscles may come from cattle, swine, sheep, chicken or goat.
Another important distinction: Bologna, like other cooked sausages, must be comminuted, or reduced to tiny particles. In sausage-making terms, that’s done using a bowl chopper or emulsion mill that turns meat into “batter.” That semisolid is pressed into casings to form bologna or hot dogs; later, that casing is removed.
This smooth, emulsified texture is primarily what makes North American bologna different from Italian mortadella.
So what is in the All Beef Bologna I bought the other day before starting this article? The label on it says: Beef, water, wheat flour, modified ingredients, salt, spice, potassium, lactate, sodium phosphate, sugar, sodium erythorbate, sodium diacetate, garlic powder, sodium nitrate, smoke.
And that from a top bologna product with no mechanically separated chicken in it. It’s probably best not knowing what’s in salty processed luncheon meats. Mother was probably ahead of her time for not feeding us processed foods, especially bologna and margarine on white store bread.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and newspaper columnist.