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Voices Spring-Summer 2004:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the Foodways column, “The Only Sandwich with Its Own Festival” by Lynn Case Ekfelt here.
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Volume 30
Spring-Summer
2004
Voices

The Only Sandwich with Its Own Festival by Lynn Case Ekfelt

Foodways "The only sandwich with its own festival." All right, probably that line is a bit of hyperbole. Surely with the proliferation of food-related events, there must be another one somewhere devoted to food inside bread. And anyway, at Binghamton’s annual Spiedie Fest the spiedies have to share pride of place with fabulous hot air balloons. Still, between its concession booths and its cook-off tent, the festival offers the best opportunity for the uninitiated to learn the delights of Broome County’s specialty.

Photo of a spiedie sandwich

Most sandwiches are defined by their contents—peanut butter and jelly, BLT, tunafish—but spiedies can be made from just about anything except maybe ice cream. The categories in the festival cook-off bear evidence of that fact: lamb, pork, poultry, beef, venison, even vegetarian. However various the spiedies’ ingredients, though, the method of preparing them is always the same. In fact, although spiedie is pronounced "speedy," the name does not refer to fast food but comes from the Italian spiedo (plural spiedi), or its diminutive spiedino (plural spiedini), "skewer." To make a spiedie, you cube the meat of your choice, marinate it for anywhere between twenty-four hours and a week, stick it on a skewer, grill it just long enough but not so long that it dries out, wrap it in a slice of very fresh Italian bread, pull out the skewer, and eat. No, you may not add onions, green peppers, or cherry tomatoes to the skewer. That turns it into a shish kebab—also delicious, but not what we’re talking about here. As one of the cook-off judges said about the entry of a competitor who had done something similarly iconoclastic, "I could go down to Wegmans and buy that already on a skewer. It looks pretty, but it’s not a spiedie."

The spiedie came to the United States in 1929 with Augustine Iacovelli, who emigrated from Italy to work at the shoe factory in Endicott. Ten years later he quit that job and opened Augie’s restaurant, where he featured working-class food from his native Abruzzi. His spiedies caught on so well among the local railroad workers and shoemakers that for years every little corner grocery had a spiedie stand on the street in front of it. According to Becky Mercuri in Sandwiches That You Will Like (Pittsburgh: WQED Multimedia, 2002, p. 55), spiedies in those days were made only with lamb and were probably not marinated but simply basted with a sauce. Augie’s is closed now, but the Lupo family, among others, has stepped in to fill the demand. Steve Lupo took a quick break from grilling lamb in his family’s tent restaurant to tell me that his family has been in the spiedie business since 1954. Over the years they have watched customers’ preferences change from lamb to beef to chicken, now by far the most popular spiedie.

The Lupo family sells ready-to-grill spiedies, as well as marinades, over the Internet—mainly to homesick IBM employees transferred away from their favorite local spiedie emporium. Still, unlike Buffalo’s chicken wings, Binghamton’s spiedies have yet to become popular outside Broome County. Steve Lupo said ruefully that there had been several attempts to open spiedie restaurants outside the area, but none had prospered. At one time Rob Salamida had a spiedie stand at the New York State Fair, but he now stays home in Johnson City and concentrates on selling his State Fair Spiedie Sauce over the Internet.

Next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the Spiedie Fest, and a cookbook with all twenty years of winning recipes will be available. Maybe once those books make their way around the country, Broome County’s spiedies will finally find the fame enjoyed by other regional specialties.


 


...although spiedie is pronounced “speedy,” the name does not refer to fast food but comes from the Italian spiedo (plural spiedi), or its diminutive spiedino (plural spiedini), “skewer.”



Chicken Spiedies

Source: Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 pound cubed chicken

Blend all ingredients except chicken in blender. Pour over the chicken. Marinate at least 48 hours. String chicken cubes on a skewer and grill until done. Note: do not overcook or the meat will become dry.



This column appeared in Voices Vol. 30, Spring-Summer 2004. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.


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