Korean restaurants, with their stinky kimchee have taken foothold in Cincinnati, a city made up of largely Germanic immigrant families. That’s because Germans have long enjoyed stinky things. Take the resurgence of makers non-pasteurized, fermented craft sauerkraut. If you’ve ever been in the fermenting room at the basement of the Pickled Pig in Walnut Hills, you know what good sauerkraut stinks like. It’s the smell of healthy bacteria that will nestle snugly in your gut and help ward of cancer and disease. There are two other companies that make non-pasteurized naturally fermented krauts – our local Fab Ferments, and Cleveland Kraut.
Then there’s the proliferation of smelly Limburger cheese sandwiches at church festivals, Oktoberfests and other local fests. Many amp them up with smelly raw onions. Germania, whose Oktoberfest is coming up in August, calls their Limburger Cheese sandwich appropriately “The Big Stinky.” It’s a heaping pile of Limburger Cheese and red onions on rye. You’ll also find Limburger cheese sandwiches at Donauschwaben’s and Zinzinnati Oktoberfest, and many others around town. It’s Cincinnati’s durian fruit – which smells funky, but tastes delicious.
Germanic Cincinnatians have been enjoying our smelly foods for over 150 years. An interesting account in the regimental history of the Civil War local Ohio 9th German Regiment details confederate guerillas who stole their provisions cart in August of 1862 as they travelled between Corinth and Tuscumbia, Alabama prior to the Battle of Perryville. The southern mauraders took everything, but left the smelly Limburger cheese. It’s maybe a statement like the famous line in the Godfather, “take the hardtack, leave the Limburger cheese.” Luckily the ninth were able to restock their supply of Limburger cheese after Perryville, and always had access to smelly fermented kraut.
Back in the 1890s, importing European Limburger cheese was problematic – it often spoiled in transport, without commercial refrigeration. But in 1891, a Swiss immigrant named Emil Frey, working for the Monroe Cheese Company in New York, invented a domestic, and milder version of Limburger cheese, or what the Germanic immigrants in the Hudson Valley called Bismark Schlosskase. Frey’s father had been a dairy farmer and cheese maker in Switzerland.
It used a slightly different bacterial culture for smear ripening than Limburger, which made it easily spreadable, with the same dirty gym socks smell. It is a cow’s milk cheese, with an edible pale yellow-orange tan crust, and a semisoft, pale interior distinct aroma that can turn unpleasantly ammonia-like if aged incorrectly. Think of Liederkranz as the Germanic version of Philly Cream Cheese, only smellier.
Liederkranz offered a domestic, creamy pungent cheese that scratched the itch for Limburger and other smelly Germanic cheeses. Germanic immigrants were delighted. Adolph Tode, the owner of the Monroe Cheese company and a New York deli, test marketed the new cheese with his friends at the New York Liederkranz, or German singing society, and they literally sang its praises. And, so as the legend goes, the company decided to name the cheese after the society.
Liederkranz cheese was on the menu of many Cincinnati restaurants from the 1920s until it came out of fashion by the end of the 1950s.
Ludlow Kentucky Veterans sponsored their annual Ludlow Limburger Festival at the end of July, which featured their Limburger sandwich.
My suggestion for the next big German-Cincinnatian festival food is Limburger-Goetta Kasespaetzle or Limburger mac n cheese.
In two weeks, Rhinegeist Brewery is doing a pop-up for Piroshky Piroshky, a meat pie company out of Seattle, Washington. It’s a second infiltration of Volga German food – or more accurately – Germans from former Russian Empire – into our local Germanic foodway in the last several years. We had a similar invasion from the Czech-Tex Bohemian immigrants from Texas a few years ago when UDF trialed their savory sausage filled breakfast kolache called the koblaznick. Both are filled sweet yeast dough, similar to what we would call a Danish. It was good but it didn’t last. UDF decided to make its own donuts and pastries at a factory in Blue Ash (of which I had a hand in), so all their secondary vendors, including Busken were sacked. My favorite coffee shop in Madisonville, Mad Llama, made a savory sausage kolache that was excellent a few years ago, but they lost their baker during the pandemic and no longer make them.
The Piroshky meat pie that Rhinegeist is promoting in this pop-up is the great grandfather of a Volga German meat pie or hot pocket called the Bierock that’s popular in the Great Plains states of Colorado, North and South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, although it takes different forms and different names in each state. It comes to us as another immigrant group of Germanic speaking peoples generally called Germans from Russia, or more accurately Volga Germans. There were other groups of Germans who migrated to other areas of the former Russian Empire other than the Volga River region and at different times.
Beginning in 1763. Catherine the Great recruited Germanic people to move to the area around the Volga River in what is now Ukraine. Catherine II, a former German princess of the principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, was Empress of Russia. The Czarina found herself in possession of large tracts of virgin land along the lower course of the Volga River in Russia. Catherine was determined to turn this region into productive, agricultural land as well as to populate the area as a protective barrier against the nomadic Asiatic tribes who inhabited the region. Unfortunately these Volga Germans would be used again as a human shield by the Nazi regime as they were forcibly resettled along the German border as a buffer with Russia.
They were allowed to keep their German culture, language, traditions and churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Catholics, Moravians and Mennonites.) What was even more enticing to the anti-war Mennonites was that they wouldn’t have to fight in the Russian army (and by leaving Germany, their army either). They were given free land and tax breaks to own their own land, allowed to have their own self government in their segregated communities. All looked bright… for a while.
They lived and thrived on their new land, and adapted the local meat filled Russian Piroshky into the Bierock or the Runza, depending on what area in Germany the immigrants had come. They filled it with the Holy Trinity – ground beef, chopped onions and cabbage. Bierocks spread throughout Southeastern Europe as a popular choice for working families. It was a portable convenience food that could be carried to the field for a cheap filling mid day gnosh. And thus the German hot pocket was born.
The Piroshky is another name for the Eastern European Pierogi, with which many of us are familiar. It is a filled pasta dough, and not a filled yeast bread dough. It resembles the Italian ravioli, the Swabian German mahltashen or the Asian dumpling. Babuschka’s Pierogi’s at Findlay Market offer a Cincinnati Chili pierogi amongst other traditional types.
The bierock represents a fascinating immigrant food that is a result of two local food fusions – from the piroshky, and into American cuisine; and two immigrations – from Germany to Russia, and Russia to America. It also suffered with its people through numerous waves of persecution, as ethnic Germans in Russia, and later as both ethnic Germans and ethnic Russians in America. From a sociological aspect it’s journey could be compared to that of another filled pastry, the Jewish knish, which also survived across its immigration to America and suffered persecution in Europe and America with its caretakers, the Jewish people.
Many of these Volga German pioneer farming families settled in either Kansas or Nebraska beginning in the 1870s to work the sugar beet fields, at which point this forerunner of the Hot Pocket met a fork in the road. But it also spread to nearby Colorado and north to the Dakotas, creating four distinct forms of this Germanic Hot Pocket.
Because of the requirements of the U.S. Homestead Act of 1862, the German-Russians who took up homesteads in the United States were required to live on their 160-acre farms. They could not live in villages or colonies as they had in Russia. Many Volga Germans settled in cities in the Midwest United States, while the Black Sea Germans acquired land and homesteaded in Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. Others settled in western Canada by purchase and homesteading. The Volga Germans became closely associated with the sugar beet industry in Colorado and western Nebraska, while most Black Sea Germans became wheat growers in the Dakotas and in Canada; some later became orchard and grape growers in California. Today descendants of those early Germans from Russia are now living in Colorado, California, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington, as well as Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in western Canada. Some also emigrated from Russia to South America.
The Kansas crowd kept preparing bierocks as they had for years, the round form, passing down the recipe and cementing its place in Kansas’ history. It looks like a hamburger bun, filled with the Holy Trinity of ground beef, cabbage and onions.
In Nebraska, however, the bierock morphed into something called a runza. Runzas have the same ingredients but are usually rectangular and can include extra ingredients like cheese. The name “Runza” is a nod to the Low German word runsa, referring to a bun or the round shape of a soft belly. This use of low German is an indication that they were Volga German migrants from northern Hesse. In 1949, Sally Brening Everet and her brother Alex Brening opened a food stand in Lincoln, Nebraska, selling runzas. Her family had come to Nebraska from the village of Kutter in Russia. Her son built a second location in 1966, and now there are over 80 locations, similar to our chili parlors. Most are in Nebraksa, but a handful are in Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado. They sell a variety of runzas, including swiss cheese and mushroom and BLT, all to cater to the tastes of a younger crowd that don’t want just the Holy Trinity stuffed traditional ones.
In Colorado, it’s known as the Krautburger, as in Schwartz’s Krautburger kitchen, a fast food restaurant serving the pockets since 1988 in Greely and Evans Colorado. That’s more of an Americanized name than anything to give it a recognizable character. It’s the same thing the Kiradjieffs of Empress chili did to the Greek meat sauce they called Chili con carne in the 1920s, which later became known as Cincinnaty-style chili.
Finally, the fourth form of the Germanic hot pocket in North and South Dakota is called Fleischkuehle or Chebureki. Fleischkuekle means little meat pie in allemanic German and is typically a deep-fried version like a turnover, not a baked version like a beiroch or runza. This fourth version was adapted from the Crimean Tatar cheburek from Turkish peoples of the Black Sea area of Ukraine. Germans who migrated into this Black Sea area came mainly from southwestern and southern German provinces of Württemberg, Baden, the Palatinate, Alsace, Rhine-Hesse and the area of Bavarian Swabia next to Württemberg, who had also migrated to the area of North European area around what is now Danzig, Poland, and were originally Mennonite by religion. It’s common at main street diners, especially in Mercer County North Dakota and at fraternal organizations around the state.
Back to the Germans from Russia. Since the 11th century, German craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and others left their homeland to seek a better future for themselves in other parts of Europe. They emigrated because of poor economic, social, and political conditions, because of political and religious persecution, and because of scarcity of land. Sometimes they were called in by foreign rulers like Catherine the Great to help develop their own lands and were given enticements and privileges; sometimes they were resettled by their own rulers.
The Germans from Russia were one large group of emigrants who had settled in East Central and Eastern Europe. Very roughly speaking, two of these groups who came to America later were the following:
Texas-Czech immigrants came in the 17th century to parts of Hungary and other parts of the Balkans, and in Bohemia and Moravia – they brought the sweet kolache and savory koblaznick to America
Volga Germans immigrants came in the 18th century to the Banat, Galicia, the Bukovina, and the Black Sea region – they brought the Bieroch, Runza, Krautburger, and Flieschkueckle to America
The reason these Volga Germans of Ukraine and the Bohemian/Moravians came to America and brought their hot pocket is for the same reason that Ukraine is fighting its war now – Russian Imperialism. A century after the first Germans had settled in the Volga region, Russia passed legislation that revoked many of the privileges promised to them by Catherine the Great. Russia became decidedly anti-German. In 1871, Czar Alexander II revoked the preferential rights and privileges given to the colonist settlers by the manifestos of Catherine II and Alexander I.
Russia first made changes to the German local government. Then in 1874, a new military law decreed that all male Russian subjects, when they reached the age of 20, were eligible to serve in the military for 6 years. For the German colonists, this law represented a breach of faith.
The Volga German men also had to join in the military and fought in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. Many of these men died in the war. In the 1880s Russia began a subtle attack on German schools and other German institutions.
When Russia was reducing the privileges granted to the Germans, several nations in the Americas were attempting to attract settlers by offering inducements reminiscent of those of Catherine the Great.
Soon after the military service bill became law, both Protestant and Catholic Volga Germans gathered and chose delegations to journey across the Atlantic to examine settlement conditions in the United States. Volga Germans started arriving in the USA in the mid 1870s. Early destinations were in the heartland of the country around Kansas and later spread west to Washington, Oregon and California and East to Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The major concentration of Volga Germans in the American Prairie states of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas forms what I call the Runza Rectangle. By now you know how I like to use geometry to describe areas of regional foods.
This rise in Russian imperialism that sent these Volga Germans and Czech Germans to America is being repeated today by Putin’s imperialistic invasion of Ukraine – the same region they left. Fortunately for America, and the world, these immigrants brought their culture to us and gave us a beloved regional immigrant-fusion food.
Unfortunately for the Volga Germans, once in America, they faced two more rounds of discrimination. Racist backlash against them exhibited the phenomenon of situational Xenophobia that is so prevalent in American conservatism. They faced the brunt of anti-German sentiment at the beginning of World War I and then anti-Russian communist sentiment during the 1950s. Anti-German sentiments spurred attacks on Volga Germans during the first half of the twentieth century. Where they had once been viewed as “not-German-enough,” suddenly the Volga Germans found themselves equated with all Germans, despite their history in Russia. The ambiguities of their ethnic origin–were they German? Russian? Something else?–would also cause some Volga Germans to face backlash during the 1950s. No longer equated with the Kaiser or Nazi Germany, some were labeled communists because of their ties to Russia.
Variations in the dough are those that use cream instead of water to make a denser dough. And,
the standard condiment to use with bierocks or runzas is ketchup and mustard. Nowadays, outside Runza’s and a few diners and small chains, these hot pockets are mostly relegated to holidays or the occasional church potluck, but bierocks were once a daily staple . Most bierock-makers stick to the family recipe, in part to honor tradition as nostalgia is a sublime seasoning, but also because making bierocks involves some time and a measure of exactitude, as most bread recipes do.
There’s a great facebook group called Germans From Russia Food and Culture, which has numerous posts discussing bierochs, runzas, and fleischkuechle.
If you think you have the best potato salad, you have two weeks to get your potatoes boiled and mixed. Southwest Ohio’s Premier German Potato Salad Competition Comes to the Germanfest Picnic Saturday, August 13, at 1 PM at the Dayton Liederkranz Turner Hall just east of the Oregon District in the Historic St. Ann’s Hill District. You must provide one to one and a half pounds of German Potato Salad with the full recipe between 11 AM and 11:30 AM on Saturday at the Liederkranz Clubhouse Great Hall at 1400 East Fifth Street. Entries will be judged on originality, ease of preparation appearance, consistency and taste. Interestingly enough there are no guidelines or judging on what makes it “German.” Overall score ties will be settled by the highest in the originality category and judges opinions are final.
DLT is one of the last remaining active Turner societies in Ohio and America. They were founded as a Turner society, in 1853 and were in the same league or Turnbezirk, as Cincinnati’s, founded in 1848 – the first Turner Society in America, an organization fostering physical fitness and open minds. For many years, Charles Olt, was President of the Dayton Turners and the Olt Brewery in Dayton, which made traditional German beers, so there was always good German beer in the Turnhall. They’ve morphed from a purely Turner organization, to a Liederkranz or Singing Society in 1890, to now, mostly an eating and drinking organization, hosting Germanic food fests. They also host a pretty fantastic German Genealogy Group that will also be on hand at the Germanfest picnic to help you find your Germanic Vorfahren.
Former DLT Chefs, mother and son team, Jacob and Andrea Hellickson hosted the most fantastic German brunches at the Liederkranz Hall pre- COVID, with all varieties of wursts, kuchen, brotchen, fleisch, and three types of homemade sauerkraut. You even received a complimentary end-of-meal schnapps shot provided by Chef Jakob. Current chefs carry on their sauerbraten, stuffed cabbage, and schnitzel dinners throughout the year. As a fan of a good pun, I loved their facebook ad headline “Wiener, Wiener, Schnitzel Dinner.” Brilliant.
My perfect potato salad, German or otherwise, is made from skin-on red skinned potatoes, is buttermilk tangy, creamy, spicy mustardy ( a little horseradish kick, not hot sauce kick), a bit of dill pickle and fresh dill, maybe a small amount of curry, some crunch given by small chopped celery, and fresh chopped chives. Chopped bacon is also a welcome ingredient, but not a requirement. That may not be the canned vinegary, tangy German potato salad we all grew up on. But what really IS German potato salad?
Well, that’s super-subjective, depending on where in Germany your family came, or when they came over. Is German potato salad vinegary, or mayo-creamy? My relatives in Baden make a potato salad that tops roasted potatoes with the local bibeleskase (think of a creamy, runny, buttermilky ranch dip made with quark cheese). They call it Brägele.
Then there’s the more vinegary Swabische Kartoffelsalat – Swabian Potato Salad – which consists of boiled and sliced potatoes, chopped onions, beef broth, white vinegar, oil, mild German mustard, sugar, and black pepper.
My favorite Cincinnati West Side meat market, Langen Meats in White Oak, makes the best (and maybe the only) smoked, pressure cooked potato salad. When I was doing goetta research for my book on the topic, Joe Langen, the owner, showed me his special equipment that pressure cooks and simultaneously smokes the potatoes he used to make the delicious salad. It’s not something currently available on the market, so this smoky salad is truly a rare treat, available weekly.
So if you’re interested in what makes German potato salad “German”, or just who makes the best potato salad in Southwest Ohio, be sure not to miss the tastings and announcement of winners on Saturday, August 13.
Recipes will be shared in a future Dayton Liederkranz Turner Newsletter and may also be included in future revisions of Dayton Liederkranz Turners cookbook. So, no leaving out an ingredient to safeguard your best recipe! Contestants will be photographed and may be asked to participate in a video interview. Any photos or videos may be used in future postings, emails, etc by Dayton Liederkranz Turner.
Email Culinary@DaytonGermanClub.org or call / text 937-985-4853 NO LATER THAN SATURDAY, AUGUST 6 if you would like to participate in the contest.
Winner will receive a Dayton Liederkanz Turner Gift Card and bragging rights!
In Cincinnati we have a knack for naming things something that they’re actually not. We call battered pan fried cubes of pork “City Chicken.” We call pork shoulder a Cottage “Ham.” And some would say that its incorrect for us to call a Greek meat sauce, ‘chili.” But that’s a raging debate. And, older Cincinnata-ans (see what I did there) call a green pepper a mango.
Well there’s another legacy dish served that follows this name-it-something-it’s-not process. It’s what’s been called Jack Salmon for over a century in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky restaurants. Technically, a “jack” is a male salmon that returns to spawn one year sooner than other adult salmon and therefore is smaller in size. Realistically, jack salmon aren’t salmon at all, but most often refer to the Midwestern name given to the Pacific whiting, a saltwater fish also known as hake. Whiting is a mild whitefish that’s similar to cod in taste, but with a smaller flake.
Jack Salmon also used to refer to walleye. A 1982 Cincinnati Magazine article about Captain Al’s Trolley Tavern on River Road near Addyston, which served ‘jack salmon,’ said it could be pike or pickerel too. But Captain Al’s ‘jack salmon’ was actually a Great Lakes sauger – actually a real young salmon, or so they claimed.
Jack Salmon was served all around Cincinnati 50 years ago – places like Lake Nina, the Greyhound Tavern, The Century Inn, and Meiner’s Café in St. Bernard. You know, we are a Catholic town, so pre-Vatican II in 1962, every Friday in Cincinnati was Fish Friday.
In 1996, the historic Crow’s Nest in West Price Hill was awarded the Best Fish Sandwich in Cincinnati – an admirable win, considering it was up against the Frisch’s and McDonald’s sandwiches, along with a host of local church fish frys. They were getting the fish for their sandwich from a supplier from Norway, but it wasn’t specified what fish it was. The supplier flew into Cincinnati to see what was up, when their sales went from 200 to 1400 sandwiches during Lent. But the Crow’s Nest in the early 1960s when it was owned by Maureen Clark Bonfield, also served deep fried, tail-in ‘jack salmon’ too, which along with their turtle soup and Buffalo hot chicken paddles (the flat non-drum part of the wing) were go-to dishes.
I love the Crow’s Nest because it’s been a West Side icon since 1895 when Irish immigrants Mike and Mary Crow opened it. It’s said that they still haunt the third floor. It’s the second oldest continually operating bar to Arnold’s in Downtown and was the last stop on the western bound Cincinnati streetcar. There used to be a sign in the bar that said, “If you think it’s dead in here, look across the street.” Across the street is St. Joseph’s Cemetery. My great grandfather Jacob Schoesser rests within eye shot of the entrance of the Crow. His post-burial lunch was probably held at the Crow, maybe with some fake ‘jack salmon’ on the table.
When we think of Detroit food the Coney Dog comes to mind. It has the same lineage as our Cincinnati Chili Cheese Coneys. The chili is a bit different – thicker – but from the same Greek immigrant wave that brought us the Kiradjieffs and Empress Chili 100 years ago.
But there’s another sandwich in Detroit that doesn’t get as much PR as the Detroit Coney, and it’s a remnant of the African-American Community northwest of downtown.
It’s called the Boogaloo sandwich, and has been described as an amped up Sloppy Joe, Manwich, or Loose meat sandwich. It was created sometime in the late 1960s by Jean Johnson, who with her husband, Barney, owned Brothers Open Pit Bar-B-Que at two locations – Fullerton at Roselawn, and Curtis at Wyoming. You could almost call it a food of the Civil Rights Movement. Later, the Curtis location was moved to a larger restaurant around the corner.
The story is that an unnamed student of local Mumford High School said that the sandwich was so good it made you want to dance the Boogaloo.
Wyoming and Curtis had once been one of the main shopping and restaurant areas of Detroit’s Jewish community. It was just northwest of the Catholic Polish and Eastern European neighborhood of Hamtramck. The Eastern Ashkenazi Jews who came in the same wave of immigration settled outside the Catholic neighborhood. When Brother’s first opened , there were still a few Jewish businesses on those blocks, and folks could still grab some tref-y ribs from the non-kosher Brothers BBQ to go with an armload of fresh rye bread, corned beef and kosher salami.
The Boogaloo sandwich was made with flattop grilled ground pork with Jean’s famous “sauce of the islands”, mustard, diced onions, green peppers, and melted American cheese served on a grilled French roll. Jean’s is a tangy, herby, slightly sweet tomato-based sauce with a little kick and perhaps a Jamaican element. The internet has offered several versions of the Sauce of the Islands, but no one knows the exact recipe. The Johnsons had a son named Clifton, who also worked at the restaurant after school, and folks have tried to track him down to get insight into the secret Sauce of the Islands.
The sandwich, with its sauce, became such a neighborhood favorite that other local restaurants offered their own versions. Akbar’s on Livernois used to serve a similar sandwich that was just as good many say.
There’s a first hand review in the New York Times of BBQ restaurants from Sunday, July 3, 1988 that mentions the Brothers Boogaloo sandwich:
Brothers Bar-B-Que, Detroit, Mich. 581 East Jefferson Avenue; 313-963-7298 COMMENTS AND HOURS: Just across the street from the gleaming Renaissance Center, Brothers has an atmosphere that is strictly Down Home. Pork ribs are the specialty, slathered in Jean Johnson’s sweet, spicy Sauce of the Islands. Another favorite is the Boogaloo sandwich – French bread filled with ground pork, cheese, onions, green peppers and sauce. Open 11:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 A.M. to 11 P.M. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday. Second location [[not sampled): 18091 Wyoming Street.
When Brothers closed in the mid 1990s, the Boogaloo sandwich closed with it. That was until 2007 Chef Greg Beard opened his restaurant Soul “N” the Wall in the former Brothers Bar-B-Que spot on Curtis and Wyoming.
Originally Chef Greg did not offer the sandwich, but was urged by former Brothers customers to bring it back to the neighborhood. He researched the sandwich and the sauce and came up with an iteration that cult lovers of the original – now in their 60s – said was pretty darn close. He won’t reveal the sauce recipe but he says molasses and garlic are key ingredients.
Chef Greg’s Boogaloo is known as the Boogaloo Wonderland Sandwich. Beard added the latter part as an homage to his good friend Allee Willis, who also went to Mumford High School in the neighborhood and co-wrote Earth, Wind, And Fire’s hit “Boogie Wonderland.” Perhaps Willis’ best known cut is the Friends theme song, “I’ll Be There For You.”
Greg’s version of this iconic sandwich is made with pork, like the Brother’s original, but he also makes it in steak, veggie, and chicken to accommodate different tastes. He’s even willing to add habanero or jalapeno peppers to offer a spicier version.
As for the sauce Chef Greg sees it as a grocery shelf staple, used for dipping mozzarella sticks, as a pizza sauce, or even a base for chili. He has brought back a significant regional food that holds the history of his Northwest Detroit neighborhood.
I was just in Amsterdam for several days at the beginning of June. It’s one of my favorite cities in Europe. I actually call it my Paris – because it’s a beautiful romantic city with great art and architecture and has such a great street food scene. Although I’m not a huge fan of the pickled herring you find almost everywhere on the street, there are many other delicacies that make up for that sort of Viking-esque barbaric street food. I always get the post trip blues having experienced all this great food and then coming back home and not having access to it. So, when I saw Poffertjes in the frozen section of my local Trader Joe’s I was blissful.
The history of the Poffertjes is supposed to come out of crappy tasting communion hosts used at the Catholic mass. I mean communion wafers still do taste horrible, but they’re not meant to taste great. In fact, there’s Canon (Church) Law that defines hosts to be made of just flour and water. If we’re gonna go all cannibal and eat our Lord and Saviour, shouldn’t we imagine he/she would taste like the most decadent, heavenly, delicious pastry you’ve ever had (like a Sebastian’s Ube Croissant)? Well, the Catholic Dutch did, specifically those of the highly Catholic provinces of Brabant and Limburg. These are also the provinces where goetta’s cousin balkenbrij was born. And, this is the area where Van Gogh painted what is considered his masterpiece – The Potato Eaters. Dutch communion wafers tasted so bad, the lay parishioners experimented with pancake batter type recipes and eventually when they found something so tasty and delicious, it didn’t fall within the canon law parameters of communion hosts. But these poffertjes found their way into the street food scene in the Netherlands, and even spread to neighboring Belgium to compete with their two types of Belgian waffles.
Poffertjes are easier to eat than Belgian waffles. They are smaller, bite sized – no cutting knife required – and can be eaten with a toothpick. Typically you get a plate of about 20 or so. They can even take the same toppings as the Belgian waffles. The simplest topping is powdered sugar, but like the American funnel cake, they can take a variety of sauces and fruit toppings. Sour cherry sauce, strawberries, fresh berries and cream are common toppings, as are drizzles of caramel and chocolate sauce. Some even top with maple syrup and then sprinkle with the other fun Dutch treat, sprinkles they call Hagelslag, that Dutch children put on top of buttered toast for breakfast. There’s even a savory version of the poffertjes that includes a filling of Gouda cheese.
There’s a theatre involving the making of poffertjes that must be seen to get the whole experience and there are numerous YouTube videos to watch. There are specialty griddles that have dimples the exact size to fill with the batter. A vendor uses a funnel with a release button to fill each dimple individually onto a hot griddle. By the time they’re done filling, its about time to flip each one over, which he does one by one with a small toothpick. The speed with which they turn the little puffy pancakes over is astounding and fun to watch. But even with the fastest, the ones flipped at the end of the griddle will be a bit browner than the first ones flipped.
There are several companies that make a poffertjes insert that sits in the standard sized cast iron pan so that they can be made at home. This would be a fun treat to bring to Cincinnati for our various Oktoberfests and Germanic themed festivals. Kids love watching their poffertjes being made in front of them. And, not being deep fried like our standard American funnel cake, they’re a bit more heart conscious of a treat. Look out Taste of Belgium!
My cousins are travelling across America in their camper this summer. They have been posting some phenomenal pics of sunsets in national parks, at hot springs, on lakes and with beautiful mountain ranges behind them. This week they were in Montana. So I asked them if they had tried the huckleberry pie at the Park Café at Glacier National Park. I was too late for my food reco, and they had already moved on.
But it made me think – this is berry season – raspberries, blackberries, chokecherries and a host of other regional berries. The Buck Moon of last week signified this to our Native Americans across the country. So, I thought, there must be other national Parks who feature regional berry pies at their cafes in or near the parks. And I came up with the following list.
The Mile High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie in Shenendoah National Park in Virginia is probably the most instagramed of all of the National Park Berry Pies. It’s a cousin to our Mecklenburg Mocha Mile High Pie, only with berries. The pie is a heaping pile of fresh blackberry ice cream on top of a graham cracker crust, with a meringue top and blackberry compote. It’s been a tradition for a long time and is a homage to the thickets of wild blackberries that cover the mountains every June and July. It’s served at two places inside the park – Skyland at mile 41 and at Big Meadows Lodge at mile 51. It’s enough for a whole family, and if you don’t get there early during peak summer season, prepare to wait in line.
The there are two pies in Glacier National Park in Montana that I mentioned to my cousin. The huckleberry is native to the Dakotas, so that pie is the feature. The huckleberry itself is a state symbol. You’ll find fruit stands and all sorts of products made with it in peak season. It’s a taste described as having the tartness of a raspberry and the sweetness of a blueberry. The best version of the pie is at the Park Café, right outside the entrance to Glacier National Park, on Blackfoot Native American land. It’s different from other similar pies in the state because it does not mix the huckleberries with blueberries. And there’s a challenge with making huckleberry pies, that the inventors, Kathryn Hiestand and her brother Rob Heistand know – the higher the elevation, the sweeter the complex sugars in the berry taste, so they don’t add too much sugar, and also add sea salt to the pie. After its invention in 1981 Park Café’s huckleberry pie quickly developed a cult following, including First Lady Laura Bush. The second berry pie they serve at the Park Café is loved by the park rangers and called the Grizz Bear-y Pie. It’s a mix of huckleberries, marionberries, and blueberries.
North Dakota is famous in July for its chokecherry pie, which is the state fruit. You can get it outside the Kellys Slough National Wildlife refuge in Grand Forks, at the Farmer’s Market, which makes delicious mini chokecherry pies. It’s a tart, juicy red berry with a mildly sweet cherry taste.
Berry pies are a specialty at Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurants in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. They’re famous for their blueberry or boysenberry pies, but the locals love the Sour Cream Raisin Pie, not officially a berry pie. The boysenberry is described as a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry.
In Southwest Harbor in Mount Desert Island Maine, near Arcadia National Park, the famous pie is the Triple Berry Pie from Island Bound Treats. It contains a delicious mix of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Near Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park is a restaurant chain called Shari’s in Medford, that features local Oregon marionberry pie. You can also find it at Becky’s Restaurant in Union Creek Resort or at the Cannon Beach Farmer’s Market. Marionberries look just like a blackberry, but are firmer and a mix of tartness and sweetness of a blackberry.
Although not a U.S. National Park pie, but a North American Park pie, the Saskatoon Berry Pie near Calgary. The berry is native to Alaska, Western Canada, and Northwestern and North Central United States. It’s a deep purple color with a mildly sweet flavor of blueberries and blackberries, fragrant, with a lingering flavor of almond. The best place to get Saskatoon Berry Pie is at the Berry Barn overlooking the South Saskatchewon River
So what is Ohio’s best National Park Pie? It’s at the Conservancy at Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Dinner in the Valley. Chef Larkin Rogers, who is the catering chef for the Conservancy, makes seasonal pies on shortcrust and sour cream crusts. She makes blueberry, mincemeat, apple and pumpkin pies and does an annual pie crust demo at the Conservancy in November.
West Side Brewing is one of the most prolific beer collaborators with local non-profits. They’re a 15-barrel brew house with 15-20 beers on tap, and make about 60 different beers annually. The brewhouse and tap room are in the burgeoning Westwood Business District, which also has a great foodie scene popping up around it.
Thankfully, in Cincinnati, it’s hard to say what brewery in our microbrew scene does the most non-profit collaborations per year. Rhinegeist does Charitable Tuesdays where they donate a portion of sales to a charity who gets the floor to tell imbibers about their org. West Side has for several years collaborated with one of my fave local Germanic organizations, the Krampuslauf, who appears at Bockfest and several Christmas events like Germania’s Christkindlmarkt. Krampus Candy and Krampus Coal Baltic Porter were two of the beer collaborations West Side Brewing did, which donated a portion of sales to the Cincinnati Boys and Girls Club. They’ve collaborated several years with Cincinnati Pride for a beer that donates sales to charity.
This month’s new collab is called West Side Braille Ale and is the second beer can in America that will have raised Braille on the outside. This is the second year of the Braille Ale collab. The first year was a German style sour gose ale with flavors of coriander and raspberry, but the pandemic prevented a release party. The salty tartness of a gose beer goes well with any type of grilled meat or veg. It’s a special collaboration with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI). This year’s style is a Tangerine Juicy IPA and the release party is August 11 from 5-7 PM at West Side Brewing.
CABVI’s mission is to empower people who are blind and visually impaired to live independent lives. They offer services like screen readers and magnifiers, a Radio Reading Service, and employment opportunities in its “Industries Program.” They are a private non-profit, so they get little government funding, aside from the occasional grant. They do an annual Dining in the Dark fundraising evening, which is where West Side sales rep Ben Metz met the VP of Development at CABVI, Aaron Bley, starting this wonderful partnership.
The words in braille that were on the first can were “CABVI,” “West Side Brewing” and “Braille Ale Raspberry Gose.” This year the words “Braille Ale Juicy IPA” will replace last year’s style. West Side Brewing will donate $1 to CABVI for every six-pack sold. My friend Sue G. has worked for the CABVI for over twenty five years and is their printed braille editor and reviewed the braille on the prototype can. West Side Brewery could have just collaborated with the CABVI without adding braille, which was a challenge in itself, but they did a “yes, and” collab. There are no commercial can printers in the U.S. who print braille on any beer or food and beverage cans for that matter.
West Side Brewing had to work with a company in the Netherlands to print the braille on the cans – which is both technically difficult and expensive. West Side hopes to include braille on all their cans, and offer a full braille menu. They also plan to work with other breweries to implement braille on their cans. Ben Metz, West Side’s sales rep, says braille should be on Budweiser and Miller cans, and be an industry standard. With more adopters of braille on cans, the cost of printing will go down, and it will be more accessible to smaller breweries.
This and last year’s cans will be collectible as the first American beer cans with braille. This past weekend a Bruckmann Brewery cone top can sold for over $2100 at auction. Maybe in 50 years West Side’s Braille Ale can will fund someone’s monthly grocery bill, which with current inflation may be $2100 by then.
Last night we saw, with clear weather, the largest moon of 2022 – the Super Moon. The July Moon is generally called the Buck Moon. This year July’s moon is the closest the moon will be to Earth. Local astrologist at the Observatory in Hyde Park, Dean Regas says, “Super-est Moon of the year tonight. Look for it rising in the southeast after sunset. Big on the horizon around 9pm (221,000 miles away), but closest to Earth around 1:30am (under 220,000 miles).”
The full moon was super important to the Native Americans. Each month’s full moon had a name, a purpose or indicator- usually of what food was ripe for the eating – and in many cases even a ritualized dance to go with it.
July’s signals mid summer and hot weather months. And in the Midwest, southwest and northwest it indicates several foods that are in season. For us in the Midwest, plains and northeast it signifies the ripeness of berries – blackberries, raspberries, and chokecherries. For those in more southern and warmer climates it indicates that the early corn is ripe and ready to be harvested – ours in the Midwest was only “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” so we’ve still got a way to go on our corn. Finally, in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon, Washington and Alaska it’s salmon season.
The Algonquins called their July moon ‘matterflawaw kesos’ and to them it signified that squash, one of the Native American ‘three sisters’, was ripe. Our local Shawnee Indians called the July moon ‘miini klishthwa’ and to them is signified time to go out and forage the ripe blackberries of Ohio. For the Chippewa and Ojibwe it signified ripening of raspberries. The Cherokee of the Carolinas knew it meant corn was ripening. For the Araho and Lakota it meant the chokecherries were ripe. For Pacific Northwest Indians, like the Haida of Alaska or the Tlingit, it signified salmon season and so it was time to get your fishing poles up to snuff and catch some fresh salmon.
So if you were to make an entire meal inspired by Native American July moon indicators it might be salmon encroute (although I doubt the Indians had access to good layered puff pastry), with a cheesy squash casserole, ending with a beautiful red berry pie. And make sure you also do a little dance around the campfire in moccasins and loincloth.
If you hurry down to Colonel D’s spice counter at Findlay Market you may get some of the last few ounces of a Georgian spice blend I ordered called Khumeli Suneli. I picked mine up on Saturday when I was giving my brother, his wife and my nephew a food tour of Findlay. I heard about this funny sounding spice blend from my college friend Mark who says it the secret to the best chicken soup you’ll ever have.
Even though Colonel D is my go to spice counter, they don’t always have everything on premise. However, like in this case, they will order and make a blend if you ask them to. That’s pretty spectacular in my opinion – I know of no other spice company that will do that. That way, you don’t have to spend three times the amount on all the spices needed to mix into the blend.
Although the rhyminess of it makes it sound like a newly created brand, Khumeli Suneli, translating into ‘dried spices’, is an ancient herby Georgian spice blend that’s been around for thousands of years. And like the Baharat is the basis for dishes of Mediterranean origin, like moussaka and Cincinnati Chili, Khumeli Suneli is the basis of nearly everything in Georgian cooking.
It’s a fragrant green herby blend that typically contains Georgian blue fenugreek, basil, parsley, dill, celery seed coriander seed, mint, bay leaves, summer savory, and marigold. Summer savory is an ancient spice used in the West before black pepper from the East was discovered and widely traded. It’s described as a cross between mint and thyme with a piney, mild peppery flavor. I’ve never used flower petals in cooking before, so the marigold is an interesting new bitter flavor to experiment with.
Flower petals were once used a lot in candy and gum flavor – particularly carnations – which probably made Delhi’s J.C.Witterstaeter, the US Carnation King very happy.
Since Georgian cuisine uses a lot of walnut, it’s supposed to be the best pairing with them as in a Georgian dish called badrjjani nigzvit (eggplants rolled with walnut paste), or another, pkhali, (spinach, walnut and pomegranate molasses puree). Every Georgian family has its own ratio of spices and maybe adds another herb or spice or two to their mix. It’s been called the Georgian garam masala or curry, or even the Georgian ras al hanut.
Historically, Georgia was right in the center of the spice trading routes from China to the Mediterranean, so their cuisine is a fusion of East and West. Today in Georgia, the blend is used in sauces , meat and even vegetarian dishes as an all purpose spice.
It’s particularly good in soups and stews and fish, chicken or lamb, especially when made into a marinade with garlic, olive oil and pomegranate molasses. My application was in chicken soup which bumped it up to a huge level. To me the blend kind of has a similar flavor to what we in America call poultry spice, with a little bit of bitter and some other interesting flavor. Poultry seasoning is typically high in herby thyme and sage, and small amounts of ginger, black pepper and nutmeg.
The blend is also recommended in deviled eggs and I think it would probably also be good in chicken salad, egg salad, or on roasted potatoes or any roasted root veggies for that matter. It would also be good in my mom’s Thanksgiving giblet dressing, mushroom dishes, and with oysters Rockefeller.
Khumeli Suneli is my new summer experiment and I hope to integrate it into many dishes.