Monday, January 16, 2012

Roots: The Pork Connection

No, silly; not that kind of pork!  Much as we’re dismayed by the widespread distribution of ‘pork’ all over our civic landscape, including right here in innocent little Brunswick, that’s not our focus tonight.

We’re talking about the pork that stores in some parts of the country specialize in.  Like this one:

Maybe you recognize it, maybe you don’t.  Your chances are much better if you’re from New Jersey, like this correspondent is.

We grew up in a place called Secaucus, in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyline.  Secaucus has a history rich in pork.

Before the 1950s, Secaucus was home to a number of pig farms,rendering plants, and junk yards, which gave the town a reputation for being one of the most odorous in the New York metropolitan area. In 1963, debris from the demolition of Pennsylvania Station was dumped in the Secaucus Meadowlands.

New Jersey Monthly magazine ranked Secaucus as its 11th best place to live in its 2008 rankings of the "Best Places To Live" in New Jersey.

Growing up, the sounds and smells of the Armour and Swift slaughter houses were prominent aspects of life.  As was plinking for rats on the pig farms.  The pig farms were here, just miles from Manhattan, for a very good reason: garbage from the hotels and restaurants and stores in New York were rich in discarded food products, which became ‘swill’ as it was dumped into the pig pens.

It all made perfect sense in the 50’s and 60’s of our youth.  ‘Waste Management’ was a big industry in the area, and truckloads of valuable ‘byproducts’ could be hauled from Manhattan to the farms of Secaucus in a matter of minutes.  Silverware and other table service items mixed in with the consumables were an added bonus for the farmers.

Secaucus had substantial notoriety in those days, largely because of its unique drive-through ‘aroma therapy.’ Perhaps it’s most notorious claim to fame was a colorful local personality who decided to run for President:

Henry B. Krajewski (July 15, 1912 – November 8, 1966) was an American politician who ran for the United States Presidency in 1952 (for the Poor Man's Party) and in 1956 (for the American Third Party). He was also an American Third Party candidate for the United States Senate from New Jersey in 1954. He also ran for New Jersey Governor three times, in 1953 (Jersey Veterans Bonus), 1957 (American Third Party), and 1961 (Veterans Bonus Now).

In 1952, he owned and ran a 4,000-pig farm in Secaucus, New Jersey. With printing-press operator Frank Jenkins as his running mate, his platform included a one-year tax moratorium for every taxpayer with an annual income below $6,000, and one free pint of milk a day in school for every child. He won 4,203 votes.

Krajewski ran a tavern in his side of town, and we can remember being in it at least once, probably for birch beer and a sandwich.  His picture, in which he was holding a baby pig, ran in Time Magazine, with his slogan ‘politicians are jokers.’

Fast forward to the present.  Our daughter now lives in New Jersey, just a short drive from where we were born and raised.  If you must know, Secaucus has no more pig farms, and has prospered as a commuter community for those who work in New York City.  The Meadowlands Sports Complex is not within the city limits, but is a major factor in the overall economics of the area.

Color us delighted when our daughter gave us “Food Lovers Guide to New Jersey” for Christmas.  In it, we found two pork stores in her vicinity.  One Italian themed, the other German themed.  And both unbelievable.

On the same trip, we spent an afternoon in Manhattan, and visited Zabars Deli and the Fairway Market on the upper west side.  If you’re not a ‘foodie,’ no big deal.  If you are, we’re talking heaven, especially compared to Maine.

We were going to regale you with descriptions of the sights and smells of these places, but what’s the use?  Instead, we’ll tell you that the NYC stores don’t need our help.  if you make it to Manhattan, ask anyone where they are, and they’ll tell you.  And prepare yourself for sensory overload.

In New Jersey, the Italian themed place is A&S Pork Store, in West Paterson.  Make sure to practice your fuggedaboutit shtick before you go there; it’s that kind of place.

The German themed place is The Swiss Pork Store in Fair Lawn, and since that is our heritage, it was our favorite.  The welcome and the selection are world class.  And there’s a great old fashioned bakery two doors down.

Here are some shots from the Swiss Pork Store:



On a closing note, New Jersey Pork Stores are known for adapting to the needs of their customers.  You can see the proof in this candid shot, in which local fans show their support for their local meat processor.


Pork?  Waste Management?  Good neighbors looking out for your interests and your safety?  And Jersey Boys.

What’s not to like?

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