Meat and potatoes
December 1, 2010
Meals of my childhood did not vary: beef and potatoes, lamb and potatoes, pork and potatoes and chicken and potatoes. In the winter, these meals were accompanied by canned vegetables; in the summer, fresh vegetables. Fridays were Catholic fish nights, tuna casserole or trout. Every once in a while Mom made macaroni. Childhood was meat-and-potatoes time.
Before it was affordable and fashionable to have a home freezer, many Aspenites rented a frozen food locker at Beck and Bishop groceries in the Wheeler Opera House building. There they stashed a whole or half a beef, a lamb, and sometimes rabbits and chickens, all butchered and wrapped in butcher’s paper. After hunting season, they would pack in venison that was skinned by Bob Zick.
If you did not have a locker or wanted something else, Albert Bishop, Reinhard Elder or Ray Aiken, the store’s butchers, provided meats prepared to your request. There were no shrink-wrapped, questionably aged or dyed meat in those days. Your butcher knew you by name, knew your preferences and could often tell you what you wanted before it came out of your own mouth. Shoppers started with the meat, complemented with whatever else they spotted in the grocery aisles. Hamburger, about 100 pounds a day, was ground daily in the store. Chickens were cut into parts as you waited.
Locally grown, fresh, and organically produced foods are the pride of present-day grocers. Shoppers in 1950s Aspen took all that for granted. Potatoes were grown locally. Milk was bottled in Aspen. There were no kiwis from New Zealand, shrimp from Thailand or mushrooms from China.
For tourists, restaurants did not offer great variety, either. The bill of fare featured prime rib, steak and pork chops. Travelers from Chicago or New York were ecstatic over the beef quality. Restaurants nowadays tout range-fed beef, but when it was served in Aspen long ago, owners didn’t think to advertise the source because it was the only source.
Range-fed Colorado beef, fed on high country grasses with a touch of natural sage, is a treat. Today’s Idaho potatoes are a brand, but Roaring Fork potatoes have no competitors. Seasonally, add Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford cantaloupes, and locally grown radishes, carrots, beans and lettuce and you have a feast.
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Last night I prepared a bean dish with mole sauce. The night before I cooked clams from Vietnam. Tonight it will be pasta with chipotle sauce. The variety of choices in my supermarket is endless and I have long since abandoned my childhood conditioning that a meal is not a meal unless it includes meat and potatoes.
If I develop a hankering for a range-fed Colorado steak with a Roaring Fork baked potato, I have to pay a premium. To think I used to complain to my mother, “why can’t we have macaroni tonight?”