Unpacking Hillbilly Cuisine

Hot Dog Sushi.

Over the weekend I went to a Trailer Park Murder Mystery party.     I guess you might consider it one of the most unPC themed parties,  if we weren’t all sort of poking fun at ourselves.    Everyone was assigned a character that had not really made good decisions and was a murder suspect.   Mullets, dye-jobs, leapord print, NASCAR wear and T- Shirts with offensive sayings like “Save a Horse, Ride a Cousin,” were abound.       We all were encouraged to bring appropriate Trailer Park food or the more PC term – Mobile Home Gourmet.

And, although the folks we were emulating are considered by many as country, backwoods, and unrefined, the funny thing is that the food many consider low-brow is actually the comfort food we all like and grew up eating.    It seems we all have a bit of trailer park, hillbilly, redneck, hayseed, hick, bumpkin, or yokel in us.

There have been many comedians like Jeff Foxworthy who have capitalized on the hillbilly and redneck ethos.      They’re now called Blue Collar Comedians.  

There’s even a famous Trailer Park Cookbook written in 1982 by Ernest Matthew MIckler that includes over 200 recipes from West Virginia to Key West.   There are recipes for possum, squirrel, and turtle – meats you won’t find in your local Kroger meat counter.

The cheap snack foods of the past, things our grandparents ate, like pickled eggs, pickled pigs feet, and headcheese, are all part of that culinary history.    The cheap convenience foods of my youth – jarred tamales, canned Vienna sausages, SPAM, and braunschweiger spread – all could be considered part of this low-brow hillbilly food.

Meanwhile, at the Murder Mystery party, there was the obligatory jello salad with entombed mini-marshmallows.  But who doesn’t like a good ambrosia salad or my fave, the orange cream sickle jello salad from my 1970s youth.   There was a plethora of moonpies, Little Debbie and hostess snack cakes.    There was a tator tot casserole, a variety of dips including pimento cheese, a Buttig beef encrusted cheeseball, chicken wings, baked beans, pigs-in-a-blanket, and bacon wrapped smokies.     There was of course Cincinnati’s contribution to low brow foods – Hanky Panky.     You will see Hanky Panky as an appetizer at legacy West Side Steakhouse, Maury’s Tiny Cove.   I wouldn’t turn my nose up to any of these delicacies.

It’s interesting to note that our beloved Cincinnati Goetta in Germany is called “arme leute essen,” or poor people’s food.   Gruetzwurst or grain sausage, the family to which Goetta belongs, is certainly the last thing made at the time of slaughter to extend and use every part of the pig.     

One of the interesting “trailer park desserts” at the party was one I’d never heard of was called Velveeta Fudge.   Yes, that’s right, it was a brownie fudge that contained Velveeta cheese.

Necessity is the mother of invention and using cheaper versions of fats was one of the things home cooks of limited means during the Depression and War Years came up with.     Other items like the Vinegar Pie and Red Eye Gravy, were also a part of this limited ingredients frugality.

Velveeta is not really a cheese, but a pasteurized cheese product, brought to the American market in 1918.     It was named because it had a velvety, consistent texture when melted.   It became the standard for macaroni, grilled cheese, and other melty American cheese dips.     It even became one of the primary ingredients in Cincinnati Hanky Panks.   But around the Depression, some innovative and frugal home cook decided it would be good as the fat in fudge, perhaps when Crisco or lard rendered from cooked meats was at a scarcity.     I heard from tasters at the party that the flavor was good but it had a weird-ish texture.

Another cheap fat that was integrated into American baking during the same period was mayonnaise.   Adding a small amount of mayo to a cake became a hack for more expensive fats. This mayo trick works especially well with chocolate cakes, which can easily become dense. The extra oil adds tenderness to the cake crumb and the vinegar found in mayonnaise actually works to enhance the flavor. The acidity offsets the sweetness and makes the chocolate sing.

So if we unpack what is associated with Hillbilly Cuisine, we see both innovation and comfort. These are the things growing American families used to stretch a budget, while also making something memorable and delicious.

Kohlrabi:  The Underappreciated Root Veg

The Purple Vienna variety of kohlrabi

The Germans have a love of their root veggies – from turnips, parsnips, carrots, to the weird black salsify, or scharzwurzel as they call it.  The bauern and landwirts – or farmers – knew the nutritious value of root veggies, and some of them became associated as poor people’s food or “arme leute essen.” The most common German used root veggie, of course is the potato.    Every region of Germany seems to have their own way to make the potato into a pancake, dumpling or noodle.    Spaetzle is my favorite incarnation of the potato.

But one German favorite root veggie that is virtually unknown in the U.S. is Kohlrabi.     It falls into the same brassica family as cabbage, broccholi and cauliflower, all of which are low calorie, healthy and even blood sugar-reducing.   It’s actually a straight mutation of the cabbage. Even the greens can be used and cooked, similar to collard greens, although they take longer to cook to tender.    As an advantage to growing, it is extremely draught tolerant.

Kohl rabi translates from the German into cabbage turnip. Rabi or turnip was also  a slang term used in northern Mecklenburg, Germany, in the mid 19th century for pocketwatch, because the round face resembled the root veg.   Supposedly the North German immigrant manager of the Northside C H & D Passenger depot, Friedrich Dankert, used to call his pocketwatch his turnip.

And, according to Germany’s Federal Center for Food (BZfE), kohlrabi is  consumed more in Germany than anywhere else in the world.   53.1% of Germans bought kohlrabi in 2020. An increase of 2% compared to 2019 and 3% compared to 2018.  It comes as no surprise that Germany is the world’s largest kohlrabi producer: The sweet, crunchy, low-calorie and nutrient-rich cabbage turnip has been cultivated in Germany since the 16th century. 

Kohlrabi appeared in German herb and botany books in the 1500s.   It probably accompanied German immigrants to the US, where its presence was noted in 1806.    But then it never took off as a popular root veg in this countyr.

In Germany, kohlrabi is grown on an area of around 1800 hectares. The largest cultivation areas are in North Rhine-Westphalia (543 ha), Rhineland-Palatinate (380 ha) and Lower Saxony (248 ha).  

I found the spiralized version of it a few years ago at Fresh Market, which I have since turned into my jam, making it into shoestring fries and hash browns.    It has a tender sweet flavor that’s not rooty like other root veg.     It takes well to all sorts of spices, which I’ve experimented with.

Trader Joe’s has packages of them already spiralized during their springtime season, but not all year long.     I’ve seen them in full form at the Hyde Park Farmer’s Market too, and I usually buy everything on hand.

Its great roasted in large chunks, made into a creamy, buttery mash, and would probably make some fantastic chips, flavored with Grippo’s BBQ seasoning.   I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure they’d be good in a meat or veg curry or even into a kohlrabi samosa.    Basically anywhere you used a potato the kohlrabi can replace it with nearly half the calories, carbs, and a whole lot of flavor and nutrients.

Brotzeit – Cheers to the Open Faced Snack Sandwich

A brotzeit platter of ingredients used to top butterbrot or German open-faced sandwiches.

While I’m a fan of guac, I prefer it with chips and spicy salsa.     Avacado toast has nothing on other open faced sandwiches of Europe.   They’ve been around centuries before Avacado toast became the food of hipster Millenials.  

Even my Dad’s versions of the open faced snack sandwich surpasses AT.     He taught us the brilliance of braunschweiger spread on white bread with salt and pepper or mayonaiise.    And the limburger cheese and thinly sliced onions on dark salted rye was another favorite.    This was our version of Cincinnati Brotzeit – the german term – literally translated as Bread Time – to mean a snack break with open faces bread sandwiches.

I even created my own brotzeit appy while my mom was making goetta in the crockpot.   I’d dip a ritz cracker or chunk of bread in the warming goetta before mom poured it into the bread pans to get and slice.    

Starting in Germany – there are many versions of the open faced sandwich.    To me, there’s nothing better than the German cold breakfast spread with all sorts of breads, brotchens with thin sliced regional cold cuts, cheeses, homemade jams, and veg like onions, cucumbers and pickles.  

But there are other favorites too for Brotzeit.    There’s a whole world of smearkase or spreadable cheeses.   Then there’s pickled herring dip on Oldenburg Brown bread, a holiday favorite of my Dad’s generation.    There’s spreadable teewurst (a milder version of Italian spreadable Nduja), there’s beetroot syrup with quark cheese, there’s kippers (smoked fish filets) and scrambled eggs, and a whole host of other regional versions.

A kaleidescope of Danish smorenbrod.

The Danish have a culture of open faced sandwiches called Smorenbrod.     It’s a thin slice of thin dark rye bread, lightly buttered and topped with a multitude of Danish ingredients.   The toppings include cheeses like Havarti, Danablu or Esrom, pickled herring, liver pate, eggs and asparagus, smoked salmon – the list goes on.     The smorenbrod culture is said to have started with field workers of the middle age for a convenient lunch.      Then in the 1800s it became popular with factory workers.

Just across the channel in the Netherlands is a popular family of open faces sandwiches called uitsmijter.   This delicacy is one of the most popular lunch dishes.  It consists of a couple of slices of toast covered in meant and/or cheese and topped with fried eggs.    But the Dutch are honest and say that utismitjer actually comes from the German states of Saxony and the city of Berlin – where the sandwich is called ‘Strammer max’ .   Like the open faced sandwiches of Germany, the Dutch version comes in a variety of toppings including cream cheese, pesto, hummus and peanut butter.  

Dutch uitsmijter

The Dutch also have an entirely separate sweet open faced sandwich for breakfast that’s more like an open faced pop tart.   This is what they call Hagelslag.   It consists of bread buttered or with a sweet spread like Nutella or spekulas with a variety of types of sprinkles from fruity to chocolate.     Hagelslag means hailstorm in Dutch and is a tradition over 100 years old.   The Dutch licorice company VENCO created hagelslag sprinkles in 1919.


Moving to the Mediterranean you have the brilliant little open faced appetizers which the Venetians call chiccetti.  They consist of toppings of shaved hams and squiggly sea creatures or tapenades and tomato sauces on crostini and bruschetta.   

And these are just a few of the cultures who have open faced sammies.  Take that Avacado toast !  You’re not so innovative

Wales and the UK Have a Family of Goetta Cousins in their Full Breakfast

The weirdest goetta cousin in the world, Welsh lavabread.

Most of us have relegated breakfast to an on-the-go convenience meal to be eaten in the car on our commute or at our desk at work.   But it should be the fuel to keep us alert and energized throughout the day.   Each country in the United Kingdom has their own version of what’s known as the Full Breakfast, or the Full Monty as it became known after World War II.   British Army General Bernard Montgomery, nickname “Monty” was said to have started every day with a full English breakfast during the campaign in North Africa.   The nickname stuck for the breakfast and the full frontal presentation.

A Full English breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, baked mushrooms, white or black pudding , a grilled tomato, and baked beans, brought over from America by the Heinz Company.   White pudding is goetta’s grain sausage cousin without blood, and black pudding contains pork blood.    This size of breakfast was meant to fuel working class folks in factories, mines, and docks during their long strenuous days in Victorian and Edwardian times.    Today, few of us are active enough to eat such a large breakfast every day.

Wales’ version of the full breakfast is probably the most unique of all those in the UK.   Theirs is more coastal, integrating the weirdest goetta cousin called Lavabread.   This may be the only member of the goetta family tree that includes seafood.   This unique culinary invention is made from boiled local edible seaweed that’s rolled in oats, fried and served with cockles (like small sea snails) and bacon.   When boiled down into the thick paste, lavabread has an umami flavor of oysters and olives, due to its high iodine content.   It is said that the foraging of local seaweed came out of necessity during the food shortage of the Nordic occupation of Wales.    But the Welsh peasants really liked the incredibly nutrient rich seaweed and it became their salty brown condiment to add umami to dishes.   Lavabread was historically the common breakfast for miners in the South Wales Coalfields.   Today chefs use the lavabread paste to season dishes like pot pies and pasties.

The Welsh also have a midday snack that could be called a cousin of goetta.  They are little meatballs called faggots.   The meatball is made of minced pork meat and organs, like the liver, onions, breadcrumbs and herbs like sage and thyme.

The regions of Cornwall and Devon have something they add to their Full breakfast, another goetta cousin called Hogs pudding or groats pudding.  It is made of pork meat and fat, beef suet, and filled with bread, oatmeal, or pearl barley.  

Scotland of course has the well-known goetta cousin – haggis – made of oats, onions, and sheep parts, which tastes remarkably like goetta.  I have had the ‘honour’ to experience a Full Scottish Breakfast, including haggis on a business trip to Glasgow many years ago.   

There’s another Scottish goetta cousin called Fruit Pudding which includes beef suet, sultanas, raisins, currents and spices like cinnamon.  It’s very similar to the north German grain sausage/gruetzwurst Mopkenbrot, which includes apples and raisins mixed with bacon, pigs blood, pig parts (head, skin, etc) and rye or wheat flour.   It’s also similar to the recipe of the Dutch blood grain sausage called Balkenbrij, from the area of Gelderland, which includes raisins, buckwheat or oatmeal, and a spice blend called rommelkruid, consisting of licorice, sugar, anise, cinnamon, clove, white pepper, mace, ginger powder and sandalwood.

In the Stornoway region in the Western Islands of Scotland, there is yet another goetta cousin, a blood sausage called Stornoway Black Pudding or Gurty Pudding, similar to haggis, but using pork parts instead of sheep’s.  It contains boiled offal including lungs and spleen, mixed with fat and groats boiled in the liquor that cooked the pig parts.   Its seasoned and put in casings and then boiled or pan fried.

Even though our goetta is of northwestern Germanic origin, in the lines of the UK Full Breakfast, it can be considered part of the Full Cincinnati Breakfast.  In my family, this Full Cincinnati Breakfast consisted of sunny side (‘dippy’) eggs, salt rising/rye/cinnamon bread toasted, goetta, bacon, and maybe an orange slice.

The Marshmallow Peep and Its Sordid History In Cincinnati

An unnamed candy industry study mentioned on 19 News this morning claims that America’s favorite Easter candy is the marshmallow peep, followed by the jelly bean and the Cadbury cream egg – whose sales in the US went up 200% last year.    The Cadbury Cream egg used to be my favorite Easter basket candy as a kid.  The National Confectioners’ association for 2022 reports a different story at least by category, not by specific product, which may explain the difference.    Their 2022 Easter Candy Report says 44% of people buy Chocolate bunnies and chocolate Easter eggs, 20% buy Jelly beans (the top flavors being the red ones – strawberry and cherry), 18% buy candy coated eggs (malted milk eggs, hummingbird eggs, etc.), 15% buy marshmallow products (which is where the Peep would fall into), and 4% buy other – which are things like Bunny candy corn and gummy products.

Easter is the second largest sales volume holiday for candy, following Halloween.  Estimates for U.S. Easter Candy Spending in 2022 are 5-7% above 2021’s $4 BILLION, due to the longer lead up to the holiday and consumer enthusiasm for extending seasonal celebrations.    It is reported that 91% of Americans will give Easter chocolate to someone.   Another interesting statistic is that 78% of people start eating their chocolate Easter bunny at the ears, rather than the tail or the paws.  

The point of this is that the inspiration for the marshmallow peep, still one of America’s fave Easter candies, after nearly 80 years, came from Cincinnati’s Victorian era prowess in marshmallow and buttercream candy making.   This prowess was held by nearly half a dozen large wholesale candy manufacturers who made Cincinnati their home, making us at one time third in candy production in the U.S.  

Today there are two camps about how to eat a peep – some like them fresh, while others like them to get a bit stale and crunch.   I’m from the stale and crunchy camp.    Some like to microwave-melt them, and some, like Schneider’s Candy in Bellevue, Kentucky, and Sweet Tooth in Newport, Kentucky, half-dip them in chocolate.

Roscoe Rodda, inventor of the marshmallow Peep from the Dowie publication, Leaves of Grass.

And, the man behind the marshmallow peep was Roscoe Rodda, an interesting man who spent thirty years in Cincinnati’s Candy industry and was heavily involved in a progressive-era religious cult.    While I applaud Rodda for creating the marshmallow peep, I actually blame his litigious and shady antics for the demise of the wholesale candy industry in Cincinnati.      He was born in Michigan and worked first for a Detroit Candy firm, Gray Toynton and Fox.  In 1891 he moved to Cincinnati to expand a religious cult based in Zion City, Illinois, just north of Chicago, by the name of Church of Divine Healing or the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church of Zion.   The head of the church was Dr. John Alexander Dowie, who styled himself as an incarnation of the Biblical prophet Elijah, with healing powers.    Dowie’s Church of Zion had, at its height 20,000 followers, and a publication, Leaves of Healing, that was distributed in America, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.  Because of Dowie’s emphasis on faith healing and restorationism the church is considered a forerunner of Pentecostalism.    The problem was, Dowie and his successors, owned all the assets of the church and Zion City and ran sort of a socialist community where everyone forfeited there personal assets to the church worked in church-owned businesses, and the leaders like Dowie, funneled money out of church assets for themselves, to the detriment of members.

Rodda claimed that Dowie healed his blind daughter and his own tuberculosis at a prayer meeting in Chicago in 1897, and later that Dowie cured his young son, Emmons, who had been hit and injured by a Cincinnati streetcar

In 1902 Dowie was part of executive team of the Peter Echert Candy Company, which specialized in making marshmallow products.    One of their products, Jimcrax, were molded marshmallow images of the most popular comics at the time, the Katzenjammer kids, and one of the first examples of the first co-marketed licensed cartoon candy promotions.    In May of 1902, Rodda moved to Zion City, Illinois to operate the Zion Candy Company a socialist enterprise of the Church of Zion.   In September of 1902, Echert became part of the National Candy Company, which is probably what motivated Rodda to move to Zion.     His stint with the Zion Candy Company lasted only two years and the company was shut down in 1904 due to insolvency.   In 1905 Cincinnati candy firm Reinhart and Newton reincorporated in Columbus, with Rosco Rodda on the board.   Then in 1907 he partnered with Robert Putman, inventor of the opera cream, to make fine candies that they sold to high end department stores like the Fair.

A candy tin showing the Zion Candy factory, which Rodda ran from 1902-1904 in Zion City, Illinois.

Meanwhile, back at the cult, Dr. Dowie’s claims became more and more crazy and he suffered a stroke in 1905.   In 1906, Zion elders were concerned with Dowie’s ability to lead the congregation and his lofty plans. They recalled Wilbur Glenn Voliva from Australia, ousted Dowie by letter to Mexico, and instilled Voliva as the new leader of Zion, making him owner of all of Zion’s assets. The assets of the Cincinnati Zion community were transferred immediately to Voliva as well.  Voliva had originally been a preacher of the Disciples of Christ in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, before hearing of Dowie and converting to his cult in 1899. Dowie sent Voliva to be the leader of the Cincinnati community for 8 months from 1900 to 1901. During that time he increased the flock there from 100 to 400 congregants, many of whom were recruited from workers at Putman’s candy factory. While in Cincinnati, in 1900, Voliva’s son, Paul died after four days of intense suffering of spinal meningitis, without the care of physicians. The Cincinnati coroner investigated the incident and Voliva thought he was put through the ringer for the affair. Voliva had his son buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, and then was sent to Australia to help grow the Zion congregation there.

This installation of Voliva by the elders caused a split in the church.   Rodda supported Voliva, while his Cincy business partner Putman supported Dowie.    Rodda, as a result of this disagreement left Putman and incorporated his own business in Cincy in May 1907 as the Roscoe E. Rodda Candy Company, which he swiftly moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1908 to be near another famous candy maker Milton Hershey.   Dowie died in 1907 and Voliva took over the Zion cult.   But Rodda would not leave his meddling in the Cincinnati Candy industry.

After Rodda left, Putman continued on with his business, making enough money to build a mansion in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, on Mt. Pleasant Lane for his two spinster sisters. But his family was not done with their Zion connection. In August, 1911, his wife, Margaret Ward Putman, decided she wanted to help get Zion out of bankruptcy and take over the Church from Voliva. Several newspapers blazoned the headline “Woman to Burnish Zion: Mrs. Robert Putman of Cincinnati Opens Coffers that Dowiesm May Shine – Installed as a Priestess. The new figure who is expected to assume a position of leadership is Mrs. Robert Putman, a wealthy Cincinnati society woman, who has become so imbued with the teachings of Zionism that she is sad to have renounced a high social position and a host of friends to take up work as a leader of Zionists at Zion City.” She was going to use her money to return Zion to its Dowie Days of glory. She was also noted as the founder of the Cincinnati Zionist congregation. But Voliva was not going to let a woman take over his empire.  Mrs. Putman rented a house in Zion and moved there to set up shop, but was unsuccessful in overthrowing Voliva. She died in 1922 in Zion, and her husband passed there too in 1928, but both were carted back to be buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Because they lost their only child early, Robert Putman’s nephew Thomas Lykins took over their candy business in Cincinnati, continuing the tradition of making the famous opera creams. By this time, Papas, Bissingers, and a host of other Cincinnati candy companies had pirated the recipe (and purchased a Ball Cream Beater) and were making opera creams. The Putman brand is now owned by the Papas company, which still makes the Putman branded opera creams. Papas, unfortunately, falsely takes credit for its invention –another stolen opera cream story!!

Voliva, like Dowie, amassed a large personal fortune, which alienated his followers, especially during the Depression.   After a diagnosis of cancer in 1942, Voliva tearfully admitted to his followers he had misappropriated funds from the church for his personal wealth.

It seems Rodda might have learned about financial corruption from his former religious leader Voliva.   In 1915, Rodda bought controlling interest in the Headley Chocolate Company, and was sued in 1916 by its former owner for $50,000 for shady stock valuation.  At the time, Rodda co-owned the American Caramel Company in Lancaster, and ran both companies.  Also in 1916, Rodda was sued by his former American Caramel co-owner Daniel Lafean for fraud, collusion, and breach of contract, a suit that lasted nearly a decade before Rodda was made to pay out Daniel Lafean. 

Then in 1920, Rodda plunged back into the Cincy candy industry, forming a conglomerate between his Headely Chocolate Company, American Caramel, the Lancaster Caramel Company (which had been sold to American Caramel in 1900 by Milton Hershey) and Cincinnati’s Reinhart and Newton, and Dolly Varden Companies.    A case with a wealthy stock owner of Reinhart and Newton from Walnut Hills, Berta Ruehl Selbert, against Rodda for manipulation of stocks and valuation, paying himself excessive salaries and dissipation of assets.   The case was settled in 1926, but Rodda is responsible for the demise of Cincinnati candy wholesalers Reinhart and Newton, and Dolly Varden, both of which were significant candy producers.   Dolly Varden is credited for the commercial release of the cherry cordial chocolate candy in America.

Rodda Company wholesale catalogues from the 1920s show a lot of Easter candy, including chocolate covered marshmallows, but nothing that looked like marshmallow peeps.     This is probably because at the time non-coated marshmallow products wouldn’t keep very long and would have only been sold locally, not on the wholesale level.

Original pre 1950s hand piped PEEPs with wings.
Original hand piped Peeps production at Rodda Candy Factory.

Originally the marshmallow peeps were hand piped in pastry bags by eighty women.   They would spoon small batches of freshly whipped marshmallow, which included raw egg whites, into the pastry bags and hand squirt the little chics through the small steel tip.     Then they were left out to air dry into a mushy, yet firm type of meringue.   This was before the more recent regulations with using raw eggs and concerns with salmonella poisoning.   These early Peeps also had little hand piped wings that they no longer have today.

Rodda died in 1941 and his company was sold to Russian Immigrant, Samuel Born, in 1953, who is responsible for the invention of chocolate sprinkles, or “jimmies”, and the chocolate coating on ice cream bars, and a 1914 machine that inserted sticks into lollipops.      Born is also responsible for snipping off the wings of the marshmallow chics as he automated their production.    Just Born continues to make marshmallow peeps, as well as Mike and Ike’s and Hot Tamales.     Similar to our local Kahn’s Wienermobile, Just Born has a Peepsmobile – a bright yellow VW bug with a giant Peep on top.

Several years ago I visited the Shiloh House and Zion City Historical Museum where Dowie lived to explore Rodda’s connection.   It’s the last remnant of the Zion religious cult.   I scoured through the archives with the executive director and we found a photo of the candy operation at the time Rodda was overseeing it.    It shows a man operating a horizontal candy mixer called a ball cream beater, which is specifically used to make the fillings for opera creams.     It’s pretty clear that Rodda used his knowledge of opera creams from Cincinnati with Robert Putman to make the Dove Brand Cream Chocolates he made at the Zion Candy Company from 1902-1904.

An image of the Zion Candy Company showing a ball cream beater, making Dove Brand cream chocolates, i.e. Opera Cream knockoffs.

While the marshmallow Peep is a symbol of American candy ingenuity and pop culture, it’s also a symbol of the demise of what once was a very large and powerful Cincinnati Candy industry.

Prohibition and Civil War Morphine Addiction Created Coca-Cola From a French Wine-Cocaine Tonic

Pemberton’s French Wine Coca- the grandfather of Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola, which could be called our national and international drink, is a result of prohibition and the Civil War.   It was in 1886, that a Confederate, slave-owning, morphine-addicted veteran pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, named John Stith Pemberton formulated the non-alcoholic tonic, named Coca-Cola.    Pemberton had suffered a saber wound to the chest in the April 1865 Battle of Columbus in Georgia and became addicted to morphine as a result.    Morphine addiction was kind of the opioid crisis of post-Civil War America.   Pemberton began experimenting in 1866 with making painkillers that were opium-free alternatives to morphine.  Eventually he began experimenting with coca and coca wines, created a recipe he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.   The tonic was sold and advertised in Atlanta to Civil War veterans suffering drug addiction, depression, and alcoholism, and to “ladies and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration.”     It also contained, like Vin Mariani, it’s French product inspiration, damiana, a bush that grows wild in South America, and also creates a neurological high. 

John Stith Pemberton, the formulator of Coca-Cola
The statue of Pemberton mixing Coca-Cola in his brass kettle at the Coca-Cola Experience in Atlanta, Georgia – with no mention of his French Wine Coca.

1886 was a fortuitous year for lovers of Coca-Cola.  It was that year that both Atlanta and Fulton County Georgia passed local prohibition ordinances -decades before our national Prohibition – motivating Pemberton to reformulate his French Wine Coca.  He mixed the syrup in a large brass kettle in his backyard.    It passed the no-alcohol test, but still contained a large amount of cocaine, extracted from the coca leaf, and a huge amount of caffeine from the kola nut.   Pemberton took his concoction to Jacob’s Pharmacy nearby for tasting. There it was mixed with carbonated water as a soda. It was to be sold as a “brain tonic” and offered as an ideal ‘temperance’ drink.

At that time, the most popular flavors for soda fountain drinks in America were lemon, orange, vanilla, pineapple, strawberry, cherry and chocolate.   So this new ‘cola’ flavor, with a mix of herbs, spices, and fruit flavors was unique to the American soda fountain.   Of course, thousands of copycat sodas came on the  market, reaping the popularity of this truly American flavor.

Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, came up with the name Coca-Cola, and also developed the Spencerian script style that remains the company’s logo. At first, interest in the tonic was relatively low. Though Pemberton had attracted investors and devoted some time to promoting the drink, he seemingly saw no real potential in the formula. When Atlanta repealed its Prohibition laws in 1887, he resumed his focus on his original wine coca drink. In 1888 – only two years after its invention – Pemberton sold his rights to Coca-Cola for the sum of $1,750. He died later that year on August 16, poor, sick, addicted to morphine and a victim of stomach cancer.   He was laid to rest in his native Columbus, Georgia, at Linwood Cemetery.   The cottage of Pemberton and his wife in Columbus is an historic register private residence.  His son Charley continued to attempt to sell an alternative to his father’s formula, but only six years later, Charley died, an opium user himself.

John  Pemberton had introduced his version of Vin Mariania in 1885, only a year before he came up with Coca-Cola.   It was very similar to the French product, including Peruvian coca leaf extract (i.e. cocaine), red wine and damiana, a bush that grows wild in South America, which also creates a buzz.   He differentiated it only by the inclusion of the African kola nut, the source of the beverage’s caffeine.    It was the original energy drink – containing loads of caffeine and 8 ½ milligrams of cocaine per ounce – the equivalent of snorting about a half line of the powdered stuff.      The French version, which had been imported to America had only 6 milligrams of cocaine per ounce, so its content had to be bumped up to offer the same buzz Pemberton and others’ versions did.

Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani, the creator of Vin Mariani- the great grandfather of Coca-Cola.

Vin Mariani was created in Paris in 1863 by a Corisican chemist named Angelo Mariana.  It was renowned as a treatment for influenza, impotence, anemia, and other neurological ailments.   And like Coca-Cola later would become (I’d love to have their marketing budget), Mariani was a brilliant marketeer. 

Mariani marketed Vin Mariani for a number of ailments, touting its ability to increase energy, appetite and mood. It was promoted as a performance enhancer for creatives and athletes alike, and was endorsed by many notable people of its time. Mariani solicited testimonials from a broad range of European celebrities, including royalty, politicians, artists, actors, singers, dancers and writers, and reprinted them in newspapers and magazines as advertisements. He claimed to have collected over four thousand such endorsements.

Among the notable product ambassadors for Vin Mariani were Pope Leo XIII who allowed his creepily smiling image in advertisements, and another saintly pope, Pope Saint Pius X.  Pope Leo appeared on a poster endorsing the wine and awarded a Vatican honor to Mariani for creating the cocaine-laden tonic.  He is alleged to have carried a flask of the stuff in his cassock.   My how times have changed – or maybe not – Papal drug endorsements.  Even Jules Meline, the teetotaling French prime minister, drank the wine despite being otherwise anti-alcohol.

Mariani even solicited American notables to help market it to the American public. Thomas Edison claimed it helped him stay awake longer. Ulysses S. Grant drank Vin Mariani while writing his memoirs towards the end of his life.  Actress Sarah Bernhardt was another American brand ambassador.

Other notables who endorsed Vin Mariani include Emile Zola, Henri Rochefort, and the playwright Victorien Sardou.  Sardou is notable for having a dish called Eggs Sardou named after him by Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans when he was travelling through there in the late 1800s.   It’s sort of a keto eggs benedict.   It consists of poached eggs served over artichoke bottoms crossed with anchovy fillets and topped with hollandaise sauce and garnish of shaved truffles or chopped ham.   It’s still served today at Antoine’s and other restaurants in New Orleans.

Eggs Sardou, as served at its birthplace, Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Coca-Cola would contain cocaine until 1904, when Coke switched to “a cocaine-free coca leaf extract,” which it uses to this day.    The case that caused Coca-Cola to remove cocaine, would be one of the big motivators to the formation of the Food and  Drug Administration.

I just went through the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, where they really play down the whole cocaine thing, and don’t even mention Pemberton’s French Wine Coca that was its grandfather.  Recently a picker from Texas bought a bottle of original Pemberton wine tonic for $4 at a flea market and sold it at auction for over $5000.

Dueling Croissants in Cincinnati

A tantalizing cross section of Sebastian’s Strawberry and cream filled croissant.

It appears that there are two top pastry chefs dueling for the best croissant in Cincinnati.  Based on the long lines of fans each Saturday and Sunday at their respective brick-and-mortars,  they are chef Randy  Sebastian of Sebastian’s and Chef Elaine Townsend of Café Mochiko.  

co owners of Sebastians

Co-owners of Mochicko

Café Mochiko bills themselves as an Asian American restaurant serving coffee, pastries, and Japanese Yoshoku café fare.   Elaine Townsend and Erik Bentz, owners,  ran a series of ramen and pastry pop-ups for two years, before opening their East Walnut Hills restaurant.   The two met in Napa California, fell in love and then went to Chicago, where Bentz learned Japanese Yoshuku fare at Momotaro.   While they’re also cult-followed and stalked for their ramen and noodle bowls (including a Cincinnati Chili Ramen) – it’s the croissants people, like me, stand in line up to an hour for.   I braved a 45 minute line, holding a trip to the bathroom to not lose my place.     

Mochicko has a standard ube halaya croissant – filled with purple yam jam and sweet yam cream.    I haven’t had that yet, but I tried their special hazelnut cream filled croissant, which was literally out of this world.  The cream was light as a feather, smooth, not too sweet, and accentuated with perfectly toasted hazelnut halves.  I’m a fan of the savory croissant, so I’ve also tried their kimchi and egg and cheese croissant, which is also absolutely amazing.

Mochiko’s egg cheese and kimchi croissant.
Mochiko’s hazlenut croissant and thai tea snickerdoodles.

Sebastian’s, co-owned since early 2020 by pastry chef couple Laura Kate Adelmann and Randy Sebastian, specializes in viennoiserie which are buttery, laminated (that means multiple layers of pastry/butter, like sweet and savory croissants, danishes and other morning pastries.   The couple met at the Horseshoe Casino’s food service before moving to Las Vegas and killing it at a variety of restaurants there, like Caesar’s and Nobu-Las Vegas.      Randy was also the pastry chef at Cincy’s Boca Restaurant.

It’s funny that the croissant, something we associate with France, even the city of Paris, is actually part of a category – viennoiserie – named after the city of Vienna, Austria, where the laminated pastry, a la strudel is said to have originated (after they stole the concept from the Ottoman Turks).       Other love-children include France’s kouign amann (basically a croissant with a crunchier, sugar crusted outer shell), Germany’s franzbrotchen, and NYC’s cronut.

It’s also funny that both Sebastian’s and Mochiko’s croissant flavors are somewhat Asian inspired – seen by Townsend’s Korean inspired kimchee croissant.

They’ve been doing a pre-order popup pickup at Dutch’s Larder on Erie Avenue in Hyde Park East on the weekends that snakes several blocks down Erie.     I have hungrily and jealously passed the line on the way to my weekend events schedules.    But I’ve seen the food-porn photography on facebook that shows a cross section of their strawberry filled croissant, their blueberry croissant, and their chocolate orange filled. 

In addition to croissants, both have other amazing pastry creations unique to Cincinnati.    Sebastian has what they call the cruffin, a mashup of a muffin and croissant.   Randy spent time in California at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse learning the delicious delicacy from its inspirational young creator, Aaron Caddel.    Caddel was in his mid twenties, an engineering student studying Arabic with goals of joining the CIA, and fighting a cancer diagnosis, when he invented the now cult-loved cruffin.

Mochiko also makes savory filled bao buns, which are delicate steamed rice flour buns, a corn cake bibingka, a soft milk bread called shokupan, melonpan, a small light bun covered in a thin cookie layer, and a thai tea snickerdoodle.

The 45 minute line for croissants I waited in at Mochicko.
The line at Dutch’s Larder for Sebastian’s croissants in freezing weather.

Line sizes and James Beard Awards may separate each of these croissant artists, but I’m just glad that each are within walking or short driving distance from my house.      I look forward to seeing where both take these amazing pastry shops that we are super-lucky to have in the Queen City.

Thursdays with Johnny and the Origins of Cincinnati Chili Pizza

A slice of Cincinnati Chili Pizza, now a staple in the Cincinnati pizza scene.

Johnny Kiradjieff is the youngest son of Ivan Kiradjieff, one of the three Kiradjieff brothers – including Argiro and Athanas (Tom) – who founded Empress Chili, Cincinnati Chili’s first chili parlor.   He owns what I call the ‘money shot’ origin photo of his father inside the first Empress Chili parlor in the Empress Burlesque Theatre in 1922.   

Johnny K was one of the many chili royalty that I interviewed for my book The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili in 2012.   His sparkling personality and knowledge of the Cincinnati Food Scene and Chili origins make him the most interesting person to spend a couple of hours reminiscing with. We’ve kept in touch over the ten years since then.  I have made it to his list of recipients of his original Kiradjieff family chili when he makes a homemade batch.  It’s the recipe for the original Empress – the same one his father would mix the spices for at his home by hand so that workers wouldn’t know the exact ratio of spices used in the chili.   Johnny also makes a mean New York Style cheesecake, which many say is the best they’ve ever had.

Empress Chili royalty, Johnny Kiradjieff, son of founder Ivan Kiradjieff.

For the upcoming 100th Year anniversary of the founding of Cincinnati Chili at the Empress Chili Parlor, I have been meeting with Johnny for coffee and lunch to interview him on his family’s amazing chili story.     He has great photos of his father and family in the Turkish army, fighting in the Balkan wars – the reason that they all migrated to America.   Johnny grew up working at the 5th Street Empress location alongside his father and a cast of Macedonian immigrant characters.   That location was across from what was then the Greyhound Bus Station and Peri’s pancakes, on the land which now houses the Chiquita Building.      He helped with rolling silverware and refilling straw dispensers.     Johnny is a gem of Cincinnati chili history and I’m grateful to call him friend.   

Johnny still attends the Cincinnati Opera that his father and mother took he and his brothers, Edward and Connie to, at the Cincinnati Zoo when they were growing up.    His brother Connie would become a prominent violinist with the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra, and Connie’s son, Chris Kiradjieff plays the trumpet for the CSO today.    They’re a very musical family.

Johnny Kiradjieff as a young boy with his family dressed up and ready to go to the Cincinnati Summer Opera at the zoo.

One of the questions I asked Johnny was what he thinks his father would say to all the things Cincinnati chili has been put in – chili pizza, chili over macaroni, chili in pierogis, over tater tots and French fries – even goetta.    Johnny’s reply was similar to Oprah’s reply to tobasco sauce – “I put that shit on everything!”     In fact, Johnny says, he was the inventor of Cincinnati chili pizza.    He’s had a long career in the food business, but it was at the Twin Trolley Restaurant on Queen City Avenue and Beekman Street that Johnny says he invented Cincinnati Chili Pizza, using his family’s recipe.    The Twin Trolley was managed by Tony Bassano, who runs Ferrari’s Little Italy in Madeira.   It’s appropriate that a son of the founder of the institution would be the one to invent the Cincinnati Chili Pizza.

It was also here that Johnny says he was probably also the first to put Cincinnati Chili on top of macaroni and cheese, decades before Gold Star Chili decided to add it to their menu.    They were getting macaroni and cheese from Eberle Foods, a distributor at the time for their Friday meatless menu.   However, when Johnny added Cincinnati chili to the top, it became so popular, even with the truck drivers who delivered it, that they broke the Friday Catholic meat fast.

Johnny is very proud of his father’s contribution to Cincinnati cultural history.     He says its amazing that one family created what is now over a $300 million dollar industry that has reached national and international cultural status.     He also finds it amazing that it’s still being eaten the same way as it was originally 100 years ago.

Louis Cornuelle:    Vineyardist and Builder of Madisonville and Cincinnati’s East Side

The Ives Grape, the only grape first cultivated in Cincinnati, which Louis Cornuelle grew on the site of Mad Llama coffeehouse in Madisonville.

One small, obscure Cincinnati park called Cornuelle Playground in Madisonville is all that is left to memorialize one of the most important pioneers of Madisonville and indeed the east side – Monsieur Louis Cornuelle.    Kenwood Road was first named Cornuelle Road, as it was on his land – vineyard and orchards – that he developed into the residential part of Madisonville.     In 1874 a publication described Cornuelle, then 53:

“Perhaps one of the most enterprising citizens, and the one who has most largely contributed to the growing prosperity of Madison(ville), is our unassuming friend, Louis Cornuelle.  Mr Cornuelle is a native of France, who has been long enough in this country to be identified by its institutions, and to adapt himself to the circumstances around him.  His business is that of builder and a manufacturer of bricks, besides which he deals extensively in land and building property.”

Unbeknownst to most of us, nearly all the brick buildings in Madisonville and Oakley built before 1900 were built by Louis Cornuelle and his five sons, including St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Madisonville.    In the 1874 publication Suburban Homes for Businessmen on the Marietta railroad it was said of Cornuelle,

“Mr Cornuelle has had more or less to do in the erection of not less than seventy five homes in the village and besides several contracts at Oakley and elsewhere, and is now constructing half a dozen more in his addition.” 

The Map of Madisonville and Louis Cornuelle’s subdivision’
The Mad Llama Coffeehouse in Madisonville, the former site of Louis Cornuelle’s Ives Vineyard.
St. Anthony Catholic Church, Madisonville, built by Cornuelle and Sons.

Yonne, France, is a particular part of the Burgundy Winemaking region of France, known for its many wonderful white wines, like the Cremant de Bourgoyne, a vibrant, aromatic sparkling wine made in the Champagne method – similar to the Sparkling Catawba made by Nicholas Longworth.    In a small farming village of Gigny in Yonne, the two brothers Didier Louis and Jacques Victor, were born in 1821 and 1817 respectively to a landowner named Jean Cornuelle and his wife Jeanne Marie.    The area was also known for its iron and limestone mines.

There is also an interesting biscuit native to France that bears the family name.  It’s an isosceles triangular shaped shortbread cookie with a hole in the center called the Cornuelle from Villebois-Lavalette in Charente. They are traditionally eaten 15 days before and 15 days after Palm Sunday and the days leading up to Easter.  It’s sprinkled with pink and white candied anise seeds on each of the corners of the triangle, and the central hole is so they can be carried on a stick of wood during the Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday.   The shape is meant to symbolize the Holy Trinity – father son and holy spirit.    Supposedly they were part of a pagan spring fertility rite from the Middle Ages that was adapted into the Easter celebration by the Catholic Church as they tried to evangelize pagan Europe.   The shape is said to evoke the female anatomy.   It’s a type of pagan-to-Christian adaptive cultural reuse.    Today many make them into a dessert by sandwiching two together with whipped or mousseline cream, or making another version out of shoe pastry that is then filled with strawberries and cream.

The cornuelle biscuit of France, bearing the same name as the family of Louis Cornuelle of Madisonville.

The two Cornuelle brothers decided to emigrate to America, settling in Cincinnati by the late 1840s, first on Nine Mile Creek in Clermont County, and then moving to Madisonville.     Older brother Victor died early in 1872 after marrying, but not having any children.   Louis bought land on Madison Road on the site of what is now Mad Llama Coffee near the railroad tracks.    He planted Ives and Catawba vineyards, as well as fruit orchards, and built a brickyard on Chandler Street, the same that now houses the super-awesome Bee’s Barbecue, and one block north of the Cincinnati Park that bears his name.     Here he employed recently freed slaves in both his brickyard, vineyards, and orchards.  

The African Americans  built their own community, one of Cincinnati’s first freedman communities.   It was in west Madisonville, on what is now the site of Gorilla Glue’s original headquarters on Red Bank Road and was called Dunbar and Corsica Hollow.    There is now no trace of the community, not even and Ohio Historical sign, as it was completely razed for the construction of the modern Red Bank Highway.     What’s cool is that Cornuelle’s vineyards might be the only Ohio vineyards to have been worked by free slaves.     He would have been familiar with the making of sparkling wines from the Cremant de Bourgogne in his native Yonne and might have made both sparkling Catawba and Ives, both grown in the east side.   He, his wife and his sons and daughters would have worked alongside the freedmen in the vineyards and was probably the most integrated of Cincinnati businesses.

He met and married Carolina Stanger in 1849 in Cincinnati, an immigrant from Baden-Wuertemburg, Germany.   They had five sons and three daughters.    All five sons were bricklayers and founded their own construction firms after their father’s death in 1893.     Although his oldest son and grandson became Methodist ministers, it doesn’t look like the Cornuelles were Catholic or even practiced a denomination.   They were members of the Madisonville Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a sectarian social group founded on Friendship, Charity, and Trust, founded to build better social communities through charity and volunteerism.

The first Christian Church in Madisonville was the Methodist Church, formed in 1801, the year before Ohio became a state.    As early as 1811 it was documented that there was a community twenty houses of former slaves living in Madisonville.   So from its early beginnings, it was a community that held more tolerance for diversity than any other community in Cincinnati.     There was also a community importance put on education and numerous literary, social and musical organizations were established in Madisonville, indicating the community demand for cultural activities.

The large three story IOOF Laurel Lodge # 191 brick building on Whetsel near the corner of Madison Road, is still standing and was probably built by the sons of Louis Cornuelle in 1913.    The first building on Madison Avenue, which preceded that Whetsel building was probably built by Louis Cornuelle, with help from his sons.

Louis was even an inventor, patenting an early toilet in 1884.

The Cornuelle Toilet, Patented by Madisonville’s Louis Cornuelle.

Cornuelle built quite a real estate empire, amassing 130 acres of plots bounded by Madison, Carmargo, and Whetsel, most of which he built homes on and then sold .  He died in 1892, after amassing a fortune and developing modern Madisonville as a Cincinnati commuter suburb, which could be done first on the Marietta Railroad, and then by streetcar at the turn of the 19th century.   He and his family are buried on the highest point in the Madisonville Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery on Roe Avenue.    The plot has a beautiful monument of an angel holding a trumpet and bible on an elaborately carved pedestal.

Four generations of Cornuelle’s family were in the building trades.    Louis’s oldest son, Victor, who as a young man worked with his father as a bricklayer, went to divinity school at Ohio Wesleyan College in 1877 and became the minister of the Madisonville Methodist Church, then moving to Indiana, where he was an itinerant preacher.  His son Ralph Cornuelle was ordained by the Cincinnati Presbytery in 1918.    Another of Victor’s sons, Richard C. Cornuelle, became a prominent journalist, political activist, charity worker, author and one of the first modern American libertarians.   In his 1965 book, Reclaiming the American Dream, Richard argued that volunteer associations could solve societal problems better than heavy handed government bureaucracy.

His grandson Fred Cornuelle along with his father Theodore founded  the Red Bank Gravel Company, which gave Fred the capital to be the first to invest in David Frisch’s Big Boy concept.   With Fred’s investment, Frisch was able to build his Mainliner restaurant in Norwood.    Theodore Cornuelle was an inventor like his father, getting patents for a gravel separator and washer (1910), and two patents for molds to make concrete blocks (1917).

Another grandson, Herbert Cornuelle, was president of United Fruit Company in 1963, preceding Carl Lindner, Sr., who moved what would become Chiquita to Cincinnati and allow him to fund our Reds and many other charitable organizations.

Still another grandson, Carl Cornuelle, was a building contractor, building such homes as that of Dr. H. H. Schulte on Madison and Drake, which is no longer standing.     He also followed his grandfather’s footsteps by purchasing in 1949, the old orchards of William J. Flagg (the son-in-law of Nicholas Longworth I), through his heir, nephew Ernest Flagg, in Buena Vista, Ohio, and rebranding them the Normandy Orchards.    He sold the property and equipment in 1960.

While there’s no known image of Louis Cornuelle, there is one of his oldest son Victor in his later years.   I think it would be cool to have a statue of Monsieur Cornuelle in front of the Metz Community House on Madison Road.    He would be holding in one hand a basket with grapes, apples, and peaches, and in the other a masons mortar shovel and of course he would be standing on a brick pedestal.

The beautiful angel-topped Cornuelle family monument in Madisonvilles International Order of Oddfellows Cemetery on Roe Avenue.

In the UK a Pickle is Actually a Chutney:  Britain’s Fave Sandwich Condiment, the Branston Pickle

I thought I knew everything about English condiments, until this weekend.   I have tasted what I thought was a full spectrum   – from the deep brown HP sauce to the polarizing Marmite to piccalilli and the ubiquitous malt vinegar.    But over the weekend, I was introduced to a popular sandwich spread from the UK I’d never heard of called Branston Pickle.   I have been exploring international condiments for the last several years, but this was a new one.    It’s from the Suffolk region, where my maternal grandfather’s Yeoman ancestors hail, so I had to try it.   With its 23 interesting ingredients, it’s popular on cold cut sandwiches and with cheese on charcuterie boards.   Think of the pairing of a savory fig jam on brie and crackers.

The interesting thing is that it’s only available at the Corryville Kroger store near the University of Cincinnati, in a small European foods section in International Aisle 16.     I am guessing a visiting professor or grad student from the UK requested that it be carried and it’s been on the shelves since.   When I picked my jar up, there were three on the top shelf.

In the UK, whenever a recipe suggests pickle or sweet pickle, they are referring to the Branston Pickle.     It is actually not really a pickle in the American sense, but more of a chutney, probably with a large influence from India, as with the piccalilli condiment and English curries.     It is made by several other manufacturers in England, like Heinz, and generally referred to as the Ploughman’s Pickle, because it was typically part of the traditional ploughman’s lunch of bread, cheese, cold cuts, and fruit.

Food terminology In the UK is a bit of a bizarro world for us Americans.   They call potato chips crisps.   A cookie is a biscuit, a pudding is a cake, a chip is a French Fry, jelly is actually jello, jam is what we call jelly, black treacle is molasses, and a pickle is actually a chutney.   They also use French words for their vegetables – cilantro is coriander, a courgette is zucchini, aubergine is eggplant, marrow is squash, and rocket is arugula.  

The relish is turning 100 this year (along with our own Cincinnati Chili).   It was first made in Branston, UK, in 1922 by the firm Crosse and Blackwell.   The recipe had been made locally in homes for many years and was purchased in 1921 from a local woman named Mrs. Caroline Graham, who lived at Branston Lodge and made it with her daughters Evelyn and Ermuntrude.   Mrs. Graham was a biological researcher, and this knowledge helped her find the perfect blend and ratio of its 23 ‘secret’ ingredients.

It includes a variety of vegetables – among them carrots, cauliflower, gherkins (pickles), marrows (squash), courgette (zucchini) onion, rutabaga and tomatoes.  It also contains some sweet fruits – apples and dates.   In addition to the preservatives of vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and sugar it contains, cloves, coriander, mustard seed, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne.   Malt vinegar is the acid of choice and finds its way into many other UK condiments.   It seems like the British palate is accepting of sour and bitter paired together, at least more so than the American palate.    To me the biggest flavor is the malted, brown sugary flavor, as if the HP sauce were made into a chunky chutney. It seems like it would make a great barbecue sauce for pork.

Today Branston’s relishes are available in four different flavors – the original pickle (in large chunks, small chucks, or smooth), Hot Chilli & Jalapeno (notice the UK double ‘l’ in chili), Sweet Caramelized Onion, Orchard Fruit Chutney, and Tomato & Red Pepper.