This should not be the golden age of weird pickled impulse food.
The Cult of Nutrition approves of neither the produ~ction nor distribution of such semi-edible items as brine-suspended Polish sausages, hard-boiled eggs, pigs' feet and pigs' ankles (these are better known as "pork hocks").
Yet business is good down at Max Jungbauer's garage, Arizona's only backyard sausage-, egg-, hock- and foot-pickling plant. Just as it's been good for the last forty years. Last year, Mike and Rosalie Walsh and their small staff turned out approximately 35 miles of pickled sausage, approximately five inches at a time. "It gets into big numbers," says Mike, husband of Rosalie and son-in-law of the late Max himself. "Often when we're working, we wonder who is eating all these pieces of pickled sausage."
And what about the pigs' feet, Mike and Rosalie? Who eats that stuff? Mike: "They're an acquired taste."
Rosalie: "That's a euphemism for most people wouldn't even think of puttin' 'em in their mouth." These two apparently have been waiting around for someone to ask them these ery questions.
Rosalie: "The pork hocks are more appealing."
Mike: "When you look at a pig's foot, there's just nothing much to chew on."
Rosalie: "We're always amazed at the kind of people who have acquired a taste for pigs' feet and pork hocks. It's often the most genteel, refined people." Mike: "People ask how it tastes, and I have to say, `Great,' because we sell so many."
THE NERVE CENTER of Max's Food Processing is the enclosed back porch of a small home in the very heart of downtown Phoenix. This is the office where Mike and Rosalie have set up a couple of desks, some filing cabinets and a desktop computer. An Arizona state map is tacked to one wall, opposite the window air conditioner. This is also the home in which Rosalie was raised. Her brother still lives in the front of the house, along with another long-time boarder. There is a clothesline along the side of the house, a hose and a sprinkler in the front yard.
The entire production facility--Pickled Sausage Central--is located in what was the Jungbauer family garage. Key work areas include the pickling room, the storage room and a large walk-in refrigerator. The company's primary pickled products are processed on a rotating schedule. Some days it's sausage, some days it's eggs. A health inspector visits every workday the staff is handling meat. The pickling room is painted white. The floor is gray and the ceiling is low. A large metallic table dominates the center of the room. Flat gray tubs rest along one wall. It is here that the pickling occurs. Unlike the old days, all of the sausage and meat products are bought, precooked, from other suppliers. The eggs come from the local Hickman's egg farm.
The Walshes won't say too much about the actual pickling process itself, other than to explain that the ingredients that are used to "cure" the products are different from the liquid in which the links, hocks and hooves will later sit. The ingredients and methods used with such great success in Max Jungbauer's reconditioned garage are--and will remain--a trade secret. We do know that once the sausages are cured and packed in gallon and half-gallon jars, they are suspended in a mysterious medium of vinegar, five or six red chiles, some pepper, a bay leaf and garlic. Rosalie does not comfortably part with this vague recipe. Mike concludes the nuts-and-bolts discussion by saying that none of Max's products contains anything funny. "In the sausage, there's n~o cereal, no additives, no artificial coloring," he says, explaining th~at most pickled meat products will turn a bit gray (from their rosy pink hue when fresh) after a few months in the jar, and that~ some out-of-state competitors have been known to add coloring to their stuff to make it appear fresh even if it's not. "After three or four months, our sausages go pale, but not stale," Mike says. "It's a built-in expiration date."
Rarely do Max's sausages sit around long enough to get gray, Mike says. But it's also apparently rare for a store or bar to completely sell out every jar, regardless of the product's coloration. "If you see one or two of anything left in a jar, they won't sell," Mike says. "Even if they were made yesterday."
MAX JUNGBAUER emigrated from Munich, Germany, in 1922 and went to work for the Tovrea meat-packing company in Phoenix. Sausage-making became his specialty. By 1948 he had saved enough money to open a place of his own. Max and his wife, Irene, opened a small cafe in downtown Phoenix (on the block on which the Valley Bank Center now stands), and later moved to East Madison, near the produce houses just north of the Southern Pacific rail yards. The produce workers provided a solid lunch crowd, as well as a steady supply of thirsty beer drinkers. "In the cafe we served complete dinners, breakfasts and lunches," recalls Irene, now age 83. "Coffee was a nickel, and a complete dinner of roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, salad and dessert was a quarter."