Salami and Eggs and Abe

My Father

My Father

Today would have been my father’s 94th birthday. Abe died in 1998, and I think of him every year on his birthday … just as my mother thought of HER father every day on his. I miss him, but I enjoy remembering his wise, funny spirit.

I have learned a few things in the past year about my father. As most of you know, my book about my mother is coming out in June (look here for a preview!). The book deals mostly with her last year, but I couldn’t write about the end of her life without meandering a bit through the rest of that life. My research and writing about her inevitably led to my father.

Here are three of the things I have learned recently about Abe Weisblat.

1. Abe actually considered becoming a farmer.

My father’s family came to this country from Poland when he was a little under two years old. At some point in college, he became interested in agricultural economics—in large part, I think, because he saw that field as a way of helping poor agrarian people in the United States and abroad move into parity with their urban, often richer, neighbors.

He was never interested in actually GROWING things—or so I thought! In one of my mother’s scrapbooks, however, I came across an article about him in the November 1943 newsletter of the Hillel Foundation of the University of Wisconsin (where my father went to graduate school). It says:

At present Abe is a graduate student in [agricultural economics]. He hopes to own a 120 acre farm and teach at the University someday. Added to all this is an interest in sports, a lust for square dancing, and a hobby of collecting first editions.

I have a feeling that the desire to farm (along with the love of square dancing) disappeared sometime within the next year as my father did a little work on a farm near the university. Here he is with his friend Ervin Long in a radish patch. My understanding is that my father managed to grow exactly one radish and never tried growing anything ever again.

ABE with Erven Long 1944 web

Abe (left) and Ervin rest after their labors.

Still, it’s fun to know that he actually considered farming.

2. Another fact I have learned is that my father wrote letters home from a trip he took in the winter of 1946-1947 to Occupied Japan. (I had known about the trip but not about the letters.) He was then working for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. He and a few other social scientists were borrowed by the Army to conduct a survey of American forces in Japan to determine what new dress uniforms the troops would like to wear.

The topic was so bizarre that many of his friends thought he was actually spying, that the uniform survey was a cover. He always maintained that the survey was genuine, however. And he was emphatically NOT the spying type.

His analysis of the plight of the residents of the cities he visited–which included Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya–is heartbreaking. He went on this mission at the coldest time of the year, and his heart went out to people trying to stay warm in a country that was still pretty much bombed out. He was highly critical of the U.S. military personnel he met, who frequently took advantage of the Japanese.

I’m hoping to write an article about these letters soon; they are insightful and touching.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nogoya in February 1947.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nagoya in February 1947.

3. My last big revelation about my father isn’t a revelation at all, but a reminder. He was deeply thoughtful and very smart. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to my mother in 1953 (they were briefly separated during a trip to Europe) after visiting the cathedral in Toledo, Spain.

The Cathedral dominates all—for there is none comparable to it in Europe. The wealth of South America and Spain is in that church. It’s hard to describe—iron grill works that have to be seen to be believed, treasures that defy description, a gold replica of the church, one of the loveliest Madonnas encrusted with jewels, the jewel of the El Greco collection. At least 24 of his greatest works—illuminated manuscripts—one magnificent altar after another. Its structure is elaborate Gothic and simply goes on and on.

But I must say that it left me with a completely different feeling from Chartres. At Chartres I felt I understood why people came to worship God. Here all I felt was the power of the Catholic church—its ability to command an edifice that combines all the wealth of many centuries. It’s proud of its church and rightly so—but to worship in it would leave me in awe and fear—it’s so grand—so bewildering—so mystical. Chartres was warm—it felt like you were where God would be kind and listen and be with you. At Toledo he would simply look down.

I love the way in which his prose moves from a description of architecture and decoration in a church to what the architecture and decoration say about hierarchy and theology.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

I could go on and on, but I know I have to stick a recipe in here. So here is one of Abe’s standbys.

He was emphatically NOT a cook. As I wrote in my last post about him, when he was alone his favorite evening meal was a martini accompanied by pickled herring on matzo. He enjoyed this repast because he could get by with washing only a glass, a small plate, and a fork. And he believed that putting several olives in his martini gave the meal balance.

One of his other favorite meals was salami and eggs. This particular recipe does involve a small amount of chopping and a small amount of cooking. Nevertheless, it calls for only two ingredients. And the chopping and cooking take five minutes tops. My father could eat salami and eggs for breakfast, lunch, or supper.

Luckily, my dear friends Peter and Ken sent me a special treat for Christmas from Zabar’s. (They know that one of the things I miss most about the New York area is kosher food!) The New York Sandwich Kit included pastrami, corned beef, deli mustard, rye bread, and kosher salami—all in a cute little Zabar’s insulated tote.

My family and I polished off the other meats and the bread almost immediately, but we knew that the salami would last for a while in the refrigerator so I have only recently opened it. I’m enjoying hugely … as I am enjoying remembering my father.

cuttingweb

Salami and Eggs

Ingredients:

2 slices (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick) kosher salami
2 eggs
(You may add a little pepper if you like—but you don’t really need to. And there’s enough sodium in the salami to preserve your guts for weeks so don’t worry about salt!)

Instructions:

Cut the salami slices into 5 or 6 pieces, and cut some of those pieces in half.

Pop the salami pieces into a small, nonstick frying pan over medium heat. (In the olden days my father didn’t use a nonstick pan, but believe it or not kosher salami isn’t quite as fatty is it used to be, so the nonstick pan helps.) Toss them around until they brown.

Whisk the eggs together, pour them over the salami pieces, and quickly toss and cook.

Depending on hunger and time of day (and what if anything else is being served), this serves 1 to 2. I ate most of a recipe for lunch yesterday, with a little left over for my dog.

I leave you with one more dear quotation from Abe. This was on the back of a postcard he sent to my brother and me  when we were very little, after his first visit to the Parthenon.

There is a lovely story that God’s hand touches those who have seen the Taj Mahal and Parthenon. NOW I know why—and someday he will touch both of you.

eggsweb

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12 Responses to “Salami and Eggs and Abe”

  1. Peter says:

    Sometime in the mid-1990s when we were away from Hawley and living in Washington, DC, I had to retrieve Ken after a conference he was attending at the Mayflower Hotel. It was Saturday evening and the rain had been coming down hard all day. It was a cold, miserable day. When Ken emerged from the hotel’s lobby and came toward the car he had another fellow with him. By his appearance he looked like a student. He was indeed a graduate student to whom Ken had offered a ride back to wherever the fellow was staying. As we drove north on Connecticut Avenue I struggled to find some common ground on which to engage this graduate student in conversation. I asked him why he was attending the conference, and what he was studying. He said he was in graduate studies in agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin. As an architect I sensed no common ground whatsoever until I remembered Abe Weisblat. “Oh, a neighbor of ours in Hawley studied at Wisconsin in agricultural economics!” I replied. I continued, “His name is Abe weisblat and I gather he’s regarded as the father of the Green revolution or whatever it was that introduced modern rice cultivation.” The fellow’s head turned abruptly toward me as I gazed forward to see through the drenched windshield and the dark, “You know Abe Weisblat?” I said that I did. “He’s my hero! Wow! You know Abe Weisblat!” I said that we knew his wife and son and daughter as well. “Tell him Aaron says hello and that he’s my hero!” That young graduate student was as giddy and star struck as if I’d told him my neighbor was Babe Ruth or George Washington. Happy birthday, Abe!

  2. Cara says:

    This is so lovely, Tinky! You make me love your father…

  3. Alice says:

    Lovely! I read it all through with love and tears and memories of a wonderful man.

    And maybe I’ll try some thick-sliced Avery’s salami — it ain’t kosher — but the photo looks GOOD!

  4. I loved your posting. And can’t wait to see your book too! :-)

  5. Judy says:

    I love Peter’s story, and, of course, Tinky’s stories about Abe. My mom always referred to him as “sweet.” I remember him well, and Tinky I think I never told you that I had a dream that he died the night before his death. I see him in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, glass in hand, thoughtful conversation, crackers and cheese. Happy Birthday from next door, Abe.

  6. Erin says:

    Your dad always made my day when there was a gathering at your house. He always took the time to talk to me, even though I was just a kid. He would laugh and joke… and tell me all sorts of stories of the Farm and my history. I loved it.

  7. ceejay says:

    Salami and eggs was one my father’s favourites as well, and he made that for our breakfast every Sunday after church. After he passed away in 1987 my 2 brothers and I would go to mother’s place on Father’s day and have that meal.
    My mother never really enjoyed that particular combination, but once a year she would partake. I have not made it for years, but reading your story has made my taste buds yearn for a huge plate. Will have to make a trip to the deli when downtown later today.
    When first married, my mother, who was a nurse,did a lot of private duty nursing where she would have to be away from home for several days at a time caring for someone in their home. Dad, like your father, would make his meals very simply using a plate knife and fork, and his teacup. When finished he would wash them up and place them upside down on the table waiting for his next meal. The only cooking utensil he ever used was a cast iron frying pan which I now use.
    Thanks for the memories.

  8. David says:

    Was really touched by your article about your father. I still remember him well, more than anything else as someone who loved a good story and relished telling it with a twinkle in his eye and a cigar in his hand as you said, he was very smart. It’s funny that he and my Uncle Harry never really learned to cook while in my generation, all the males are very much at home in the kitchen. Living alone, I too am drawn to dishes that involve a minimum of dishes but this usually involves grilling or microwaving and never salami and eggs. I’m much more partial to a good omelette with smoked salmon. I too miss Zabar’s.

    Thanks again for sharing a little more about your remarkable father.

  9. Janice Sorensen says:

    What a way to warm up a cold, snowy and cloudy sick-day for me. Just love seeing this snapshot of such a wonderful human and being reminded that during all the wars there were men (mostly, of course) who were thoughtful and questioning the actions of those less enlightened ones around them. Beautiful, Tinky; thank you.

  10. Janice Sorensen says:

    And, recently arisen in my life is a LOVE of chorizo and eggs as introduced to me on a semi-regular (thank God or I would be as big as a house; it is so good!) basis, by my housemate, Philippe. A must try variation.

  11. Grad says:

    What a lovely story! And Peter’s recollection blew me away! Wish I’d have known Abe; he sounds like quite a guy. I’m not sure they make them like that anymore, but it’s a pity if “they” don’t. That generation was really so very special. Got to try this recipe. Love salami, love eggs! Can’t go wrong.

  12. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thank you all for indulging me; I had such fun writing this!

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