“My bologna has a first name; it’s O-s-c-a-r. My bologna has a second name; it’s M-a-y-e-r. Oh I love to eat it every day, and if you ask me why I’ll say, ‘cause Oscar Mayer has a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.” Ah, this little jingle brings back wonderful memories to my middle-aged mind, reflections upon a subject profound to any Tennessean: bologna. As Tennesseans, especially as Appalachians, we ought to know a thing or two about this delicate subject. After all, many of us have been weaned on “Tennessee Steak” for decades.
Bologna seems to come in all shapes and sizes. The variety at the supermarket is substantial, even in this day and age of high-tech frozen foods and filet mignon. There is thick-sliced and thin-sliced bologna, bologna in a can, bologna in a roll, spiced bologna, and even “German bologna” after all, if the Poles can have their sausage, why can’t the Germans have their bologna?
Bologna can be served in many ways. I love bologna sandwiches made with my dad’s garden-fresh onions and tomatoes on terribly unwholesome but very tasty white bread (chips and beer as side dishes, of course). And there’s no need to tell any Tennessean about the sumptuous, tongue-against-the-cheek-slapping taste of fried bologna served up with eggs and biscuits. Is there a scientist out there who can really tell us why fried bologna ranks on par with fried bacon or ham? Just check out any breakfast bar that serves fried bologna. Invariably, the bologna tray is down to the last few slices. My father told me that, during the Depression years, he and his siblings, if given the rare choice, always preferred fried bologna to fried ham. Even in contemporary Jacksboro, a renowned centre point of bologna connoisseurs and research, signs leading us Hee-Haw style to Woody’s Store announce: “Fried Bologna and French Fries, $2.99.” But we’re cheap compared to the more sophisticated Northerners: Bologna sandwiches at the Cincinnati Reds ballpark run merely $7, while a thick-sliced bologna sandwich will set you back $9.50 at Citi Field in New York, home of the Mets.
Now before I trudge on here it’s important to clarify, for the sake of all Hillbillies and advocates of the much-maligned but still wonderful-to-the-ears southern language, that bologna is not baloney. This will come as a shock to millions living below the Mason-Dixon Line (and, I dare say, a fair number living above it) and my best friend’s 8 year-old boy who, anxious to trump his dad, corrects papa by reminding his know-it-all father that “it’s baloney, dad, not bologna.” He just smiles and gives his boy a “baloney sam-itch”
In “proper” English, baloney means an exaggerated tale or the downright refusal to believe the same: “What a load of baloney” is a common expression; “oh, baloney sausage” another. In German, the word for bologna is Lyoner, although no one would exclaim “Ach, Lyoner!” (Oh, baloney!). But they might say “Das ist mir Wurst,” which means “that’s just a bunch of sausage” (or, “I don’t care”). The second-largest city in France is named “Lyon.” It is little wonder that the sausage-eating Germans took aim at the bologna-loving French twice in the 20th century. In Italy, one of that nation’s oldest and most famous cities is named, well, Bologna. And bologna is even accepted in highbrow circles. Did you know that the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world? That makes sense, because bologna is brain food! The famous English poet, Lord Byron, once said that “bologna is celebrated for producing popes, painters, and sausage.” Um—well, perhaps he was talking about the city of Bologna and not the “filler” and “hoof” that comprise the bologna that we eat today. But then again, have you never felt just a wee bit smarter after a bologna sandwich?
In more recent years, a kind of bologna culture has intensified its grip on us. Kids who watched (or watch today) Pippi Longstocking, s Swedish production, will recall her famous bologna sandwiches. The comedian Weird Al Yankovic, in the early 1980s, had a big hit with “My Bologna,” a parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona.” Bologna is even praised by Bubba in Forrest Gump!
Now, I wouldn’t be much of a bologna lover unless I left you with my favourite bologna recipe: “bologna salad.”
1 pound of bologna sliced into thin strips approximately finger long
½ pound of thinly-sliced Swiss cheese of the same length
1 medium onion
5 to 6 medium pickles
Dressing: 2 tbls. of vegetable oil, 2 tbls. white vinegar, 1 teaspoon of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a teaspoon of chopped chive.
Pour the well-shaken dressing atop the heap of bologna and cheese, mix well and refrigerate a few hours before consuming with a cold beer and big piece of brown bread.