Friday, December 13, 2013

Chipped ham and square jumbo

I picked up two Pittsburgh area deli meat favorites on my November trip to Ambridge: Isaly's chipped ham and square jumbo.

Islay's chipped ham sign
I was delighted to find that even though the Isaly's stores closed years ago, the locally famous Isaly's chipped ham is still being made and is even sold beyond the Pittsburgh - Youngstown, Ohio, areas.

So I had to buy some. Of course I got it chipped! If you've moved away from the Pittsburgh area, you know that almost no one except another person who once lived in an area with an Isaly's knows what "chipped" ham is or how to properly "chip" it. The closest you can come at most delis is to ask for "ham shaved so thin it starts falling apart."

Isaly's ad,
chipped ham nostalgia
Pittsburgh Press,
November 27, 1977
A half pound of Isaly's chipped ham

  But alas, the deli no longer gently puts your Isaly's chipped ham in a cardboard boat before carefully wrapping it in white butcher paper.

"Jumbo" is another bit of Pittsburgese not in the deli vocabulary elsewhere. Once when I was a kid, my family and I visited Washington, D.C., and my mom went to a deli to buy jumbo to make sandwiches. "Jumbo?" the puzzled deli worker asked. Mom had no idea that outside of the Pittsburgh area, she needed to ask for "baloney" or "bologna."

While my family bought the large round--yes, the jumbo jumbo--rather than the square jumbo, I had to buy some of the square variety out of nostalgia for Western Pennsylvania. I've never seen it in Baltimore area delis.

Square jumbo always made sense to me. After all, the white bread we ate as kids was also square, not round.

Square jumbo
Square "bologna" sign

But as you can see, the deli sold it as "square bologna." Bologna?! Whoa! Fancy!

I'm sure that in the '50s and '60s, our parents and grandparents would have been shocked to see the current prices on lunch meat.

Isaly's deli ad
showing 1950 prices
Pittsburgh Press,
March 2, 1950

I don't remember "Chocolate Bubble Brick" ice cream, but it sounds wonderful! "A middle layer of chocolate syrup and toasted pecans in whipped cream, between two layers of rich vanilla ice cream."

I can't say if this current version of Isaly's chipped ham tastes the same as the Isaly's chipped ham my mom bought when I was a kid. The most that I can remember is that the ham from the '50s and '60s was delicious, and the current version of the ham was tasty, although it's much greasier than the zero percent fat ham I typically buy at the deli. Hmmm, according to the Isaly's website's nutritional information, 60 percent of the Islay's chipped ham's calories comes from fat. No wonder it tastes so good--and feels the way it does.

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