Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Day Buying Eggs (And Admiring the Pickled Gizzards) to Get Ready for Tonight's Event with Nickolas Butler and "Shotgun Lovesongs."

Tonight is our event with Nickolas Butler for Shotgun Lovesongs, the Wisconsin-set novel about four guys who grew apart after high school, brought back together by, as Janet Maslin writes in daily New York Times review, the magnetic force of friendship. There's a lot of love out there for Butler. The book was the #1 pick for the Indie Next List, and he's doing a national tour, plus several events in the Chicago area, at Book Stall in Winnetka, Andersons in Naperville, plus City Lit in the Logan Square neighborhood.

He's already done a few events, including his launch in Eau Claire, but tonight, being the official on-sale date for Shotgun Lovesongs, he's here at Boswell. New authors have a tough time of it on tour, without the family, friends, and colleagues to pad an event out. Even when you hand-sell a LOT of copies to folks, it doesn't guarantee a presence at the event.

So we were trying to brainstorm of something special to do, and we started pondering the foods in Butler's novel we could serve. A lot of the story's food revolves around a small-town Wisconsin bar, and one important plot point involves a jar of pickled eggs. Who would eat pickled eggs, the characters wonder? Who would miss them? And that starts a plot when a couple of them decide to steal the eggs.

Who would eat them indeed? I for one am a bit scared of the thought, but I would do it for the sake of a book I loved. If Shotgun Lovesongs demands that I eat a pickled egg, I will do it. So I started talked to customers about where to buy pickled eggs. Sendiks? Outpost? A little internet search turned up something one hundred times better. One of the main sources for pickled eggs in Wisconsin is Bay View Packing Company on 19th and St. Paul, and they had a company store.

How could I resist this opportunity, not only to support Shotgun Lovesongs, but to write about a business that many folks aren't aware of, even if they wind up eating at the very popular Sobelman's next door.

The business started in 1923, by brothers William, Walter, and Bruno Leibner. Bruno's son came on in 1948, who took over the company in 1955 and ran the company until 1975, retiring in 1984. Bryon's son Reinhard started full-time and is the current owner. Now Eric Leibner, the fifth generation of the family, is working at the company too.

I talked to Teresa, Reinhard's sister, who works in the front office. In addition to eggs, the company pickles sausage, pork hocks (their most popular product), turkey gizzards  and herring. The herring would have been my dad's favorite. Had I know about this when my dad was alive, we would have been regulars. Heck, we used to drive to Port Washington to get Smith Brothers caviar!

While at one time, it seemed like the tavern trade dominated, now their business is more heavily in groceries. When queried about whether there were any taverns in the area that still carried their products, we had to call out Reinhard, who quickly noted the famous Wolski's on Pulaski (on Milwaukee's East Side) and the Corner Tap, on 83rd and Lisbon in Wauwatosa. Most of the business, however, is up north. A pickled pork hock is just what you need after a day of ice fishing, I guess.

One product that was discontinued from the lineup about five years ago was pickled pigs feet. It's not that there wasn't demand, but almost that there was too much. The rise of meat exporting has led to a large increase in demand for pigs feet abroad, driving the cost up here. The problem was that the Bay View Brand consumer still thought of the item as a cheap snack item, and would not pay the higher price. Similar demand has driven up the gizzard, but so far, they are able to keep the gizzards coming. Here's a picture with Byron and the pigs feet.

One last piece of advice from Reinhard and Teresa. Reinhard reminds folks to not refrigerate their pork hocks. It makes them tougher and have a tendency to congeal. Just keep them below the brine at room temperature. Oh, and Teresa is currently reading Mrs. Lincoln's Rival, by Jennifer Chiaverini. She's enjoying it a lot.

The Bay View Packing Company store is open 7 am to 4 pm on weekdays. It's conveniently located near Potawotomi casino, BBC Lighting, the Brass Light Gallery (Milwaukee's lighting district?) and the already-mentioned Sobelman's. They carry several other lines in the store; I brought back bleu cheese stuffed olives for one of my fellow booksellers.

So yes, I brought two jars of pickled eggs for tonight's event, classic and hot. This is your big opportunity to try them, Tuesday, March 11, 7 pm. It will give you a taste* for Shotgun Lovesongs.

*More of a taste for Shotgun Lovesongs on Janet Maslin's New York Times review.

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