Children don’t want to taste their food. For most children, meat, potatoes, and vegetables are just delivery vessels for condiments and salt. When I was a little boy, my preferred preparation of steak was well done; if I saw pink, I refused to touch it. Today my parents might take this as a sign I could be president one day, but back then it disappointed my dad that his children insisted he ruin the meat he and my mom had purchased for dinner. Cooking meat to death (when it’s already dead) creates something tough and borderline inedible, so of course we had to dip it in copious amounts of condiments. Aside from ketchup, our usual condiment of choice was Heinz 57.
Are you familiar with Heinz 57? When I started thinking about writing this article I realized that I have never been to a house apart from ours that had it. I tried to find sales figures online and couldn’t locate them. Therefore I’ve come to the conclusion that Jimmy Buffett bought one bottle in the 70s as a reference point for the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” lyric, my parents bought it until 1998 or so, and not one bottle had been sold since until I picked one up to use on crock pot chicken last month.
I think that the reason Heinz 57 is still around despite all purchases in the past 40 years coming exclusively from the Bilancini family is because it was introduced in 1911 and what are you going to do, not offer it? The original name for Heinz 57 was Heinz Beefsteak Sauce, an outstanding name, the kind of name that moves product. I’m an avid reader of NYC history, and one of my favorite things related to NYC politics and food was the practice of holding Beefsteak banquets. Tammany Hall would get a bunch of men together, ply them with steak, and send everybody out to commit voter fraud, if I understand correctly. Beefsteak is a wonderful term, and if Heinz 57 is still around, we should still be calling steak Beefsteak. Or maybe not, because in 1940 Heinz dropped the “Beefsteak” and went with Heinz 57.
I asked my mom for this article and because there was a gaping void in my soul where the answers should live why she always bought Heinz 57 and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. She responded essentially that she likes steak sauce, and she preferred Heinz over A1 because Heinz is sweeter. It’s true. Unlike most steak sauces that are heavy on the vinegar and molasses, Heinz counts among its ingredients raisins, apples, and turmeric. Heinz marketed the steak sauce by selling the sweetness, calling it “ketchup with a kick.”
This worked out great for my sisters and me, who while drowning potato products in ketchup could do the same to our chicken or beef with Heinz 57. It’s still a very good sauce. When I used it recently as sort of a barbecue sauce for crock pot pulled chicken, it complemented the poultry without overpowering it. It’s one of those things that was so familiar and omnipresent for so long in my life, then for the past 20 years just wasn’t. It’s a strange thing to think about. Now I eat steak medium rare with no sauce, won’t use ketchup at all except occasionally on cheese steak, and in general I am a sophisticated man of the world. A real bon vivant.
I may have said goodbye to Heinz 57, but one thing that never left my table was Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Mom’s answer when I asked about the Lawry’s was simple: my grandmother always bought it. Although Lawry’s has its origins in Los Angeles at Lawry’s Prime Rib, it makes perfect sense to me that Slovak women from the Rust Belt would embrace it. Lawry’s is very paprika forward, and paprika is an essential component of Eastern European cooking. People in northern Ohio were predisposed to enjoy the flavor, and in the 1950s when my grandmother would have been buying it there were only a handful of salt options to choose from. Whatever the reason, I’ve loved Lawry’s since childhood and still use it on potatoes whenever I eat them.
Even though I am devoted to Lawry’s, much like with Heinz 57, I rarely if ever saw it outside of my home. It appears to have no presence on the East Coast, and my Massachusetts born wife was wholly unfamiliar with it before I started buying it for use at home. Since it’s basically just for me, and I essentially only break it out for potatoes, a bottle of it “lasts” until I realize it’s been moved to two apartments and the label has long since soaked through with cooking oil splashed from the stove. I’ve been with my wife for 11 years and approximately 4 bottles of Lawry’s Salt. Like Heinz 57, Lawry’s is great. I feel like for many it’s a relic of an earlier time, but on a butter soaked baked potato there’s nothing better. If you don’t believe me, take Tiffany Haddish’s word for it! She’s apparently the spokesperson now.
What are some lesser known condiments you grew up with? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
I’m sure that you absolutely must have Lawry’s Seasoned Salt this moment, so luckily there’s an Amazon link below you can click on to pick some up! You don’t even have to leave your couch.