Grocer vs. Vinedresser – Street Naming Rights Between Cincinnati’s Kroger and Brandstetter Families

An 1869 image of what is believed to be Isadore Brandstetter, a Germanic immigrant vinedresser to Nicholas Longworth.

All Cincinnatians have heard of Barney Kroger, the son of German immigrants who founded the national grocery chain of the same name.   But has anyone ever heard of Isadore Brandstetter?     Probably not.   But we should.  He was an important figure in the Cincinnati Wine Industry during the Catawba Craze of the 1840s through the 1860s.    He was one of the many of Germanic immigrants – men and women – who were the face behind the grapes that made our internationally known Longworth Sparkling Catawba Wine.   It was this wine that made poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dub our city the Queen City of the West.     Brandstetter was an immigrant from the Kingdom of Baden Wuertemburg in today’s southwestern corner of Germany, from a wine town called Renchen.     It is Germany’s wine country, and at the time, known for the world’s best wine – namely its Hock white wines that Queen Victoria had recently tramp-stamped as her faves.  

Longworth’s Sparkling Catawba, which inspired poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to dub us Queen City of the West.

Isadore worked on Nicholas Longworth’s Baldface hill Vineyards in what is now Mt Lookout and Columbia Tusculum .     His plot was called the Salem plot, after an obscure hybrid grape from the grape breeder Edward Staniford Rogers of Salem, Massacheusetts, that Longworth had tested and deemed not suitable for winemaking.    Not only did Isador work in the vineyards, tending the finicky Catawba grapes, he and about eight other families, many of whom also worked for Longworth started St. Stephen’s Catholic Church on Eastern Avenue.   They were tired of the bumpy, hilly trek to St. Francis de Sales Church in Walnut Hills every Sunday.   So, in 1869 after getting permission from Archbishop Purcell, they bought land from their employer Old Nick Longworth on Eastern Avenue at the foot of their vineyards to start a parish that from the very beginning has been a lay directed parish, very similar to those in Germany.       After Longworth’s death, he was offered by the estate a very rare and good 99 year lease-to-buy deal on the plot of land and vineyard he’d improved.       He had a two story frame house that he probably built – Longworth was not known for providing houses for his tenants.     And he would have split the profits of the grapes he grew on the vineyard he planted there.    Isadore was one of the few tenants who bought their former land from the Longworth estate.

Edward Staniford Rogers, a grape hybridist in Salem, Massacheusetts, who sent vine cuttings to Longworth to test

In 1917  Kroger Avenue, the street that runs from Delta Avenue up the hill to Tweed in Mt Lookout was still named Beechmont, until today’s Beechmont Levy was constructed and named.     Originally that street was to be named Brandstetter Avenue, after the Brandstetter’s who’d owned the farm now for nearly half a century.    But when Henry Kroger, Barney’s son bought the land next to the Brandstetter farm on todays Earl’s Court Way, he was more widely known to the City Hall street namers, and he got the naming rights for the hilly street.    And then the family of Isadore Brandstetter sank into historical obscurity.

Isadore’s original frame home was torn down and a new four square built by his son, Joseph, who took over the farm before his father’s death, and operated a construction and wood ash business.    Isadore moved to get away from the large gaggle of children his son had, and moved in with another son, John, who lived on Delta Avenue above his grocery next door to the Lincoln School.  

Joseph Brandstetters house moved from Longworth’s former vineyards to 555 Stanley Avenue
The housemoving company that moved the Brandstetter home and many other large buildings on Cincinnati’s East Side.
The original St Stephen Catholic Church, Columbia-Tusculum, and the rectory moved by the Witschger Company.

In 1920, Joseph Brandstetter sold the former vineyard property, but not his house.   He had M. R. Witschger – House Movers – moved it a hilly mile away onto 555 Stanley Avenue, also on the site of another plot on the former Longworth Vineyards, where it stands today.     Witschger’s offices were on MIssouri Avenue, the site of the former Missouri plot in the Baldface Hill vineyards, named after another grape Longworth tested. Apparently house moving was a common thing back then and Witschger was one of the local go-tos.  They also moved the large three story rectory next to St. Stephen’s off site as well.     It would have been a sight to see a three story house rolled along the streets and set on its new foundation.

Isadore is buried at the Calvary Catholic Cemetery on Duck Creek Road in Evanston with other Longworth vineyardists.

Hot Pockets and Their Ties to Creepy Tommyknockers

In Cornwall, when you’re eating your lunch pasty deep in the copper mines, it’s tradition to throw off the excess pastry used to pinch closed the filling as an offering to the Tommyknockers, the invisible sprites who inhabit the mines.    That’s unless you want to risk a cave-in or an ‘accidental’ fall into a mine shaft or want to find the next good ore lode.   It’s the same tradition in Devon, across the Tamar River from Cornwall, eating YOUR lunch pasty deep in the tin mines.     But if you’re eating a Cornish pasty the excess pastry comes from the crimped side of the D-Shaped pasty, while if it’s a Devon pasty, the excess comes from its top crimp.   You’d think the shapes would be the other way around – you know “D” for Devon –  but it’s just one of the weird rivalries from the two areas in Western England.     It’s a bit like the difference between Dixie Chili from Kentucky, and Skyline Chili across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

Both area’s pasties are filled with whatever your wife or mother had in her larder at the time – parsnips, carrots, onions, potatoes, maybe a bit of salt pork or smoked bacon if you’re lucky.  There’s a joke that anything could be used to fill a Cornish pastry and as a result the Devil never came there for fear he’d be made into such a filling.   And if it’s near Christmas and the females of your house were particularly industrious, you might wash your pasty down with a shot of house-made Sloe Gin, made from the berries of the many hedgerows separating farm grazing plots.

When the Cornish and Devon immigrants came to work the mines in the United States, like the copper mines of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; or the lead mines in Mineral Point, Wisconsin; or Butte, Montana’s copper mines; or even the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania, they brought their portable lunch food with them.    Pennsylvania also had an influx of Italian immigrants who worked the coal mines and brought with them their Pepperoni roll, a version of the pasty – a pepperoni baked into a soft white Italian bread.     Steven King popularized the Cornish folklore of the Tommyknockers with his novel of the same name in 1987.   The series Ghost Hunters on the Travel Channel recently did an investigation of the Phoenix Gold Mine in Colorado Springs purportedly plagued by Tommyknockers.

America saw the potential of these portable foods and invented the Hot Pocket, which is sort of a mashup of the Cornish/Devon pasty and the Italian pepperoni roll.  Iranian-Jewish immigrant Brothers Paul and David Merage of Chef America, Inc. developed a pastry pocket that would stay crispy, like a pasty, when microwaved.    It was introduced in 1980 as the Tastywich, and then renamed the Hot Pocket in 1983.   Since then it has become a $2 billion dollar category, with 50 different flavors of Hot Pockets in breakfast, lunch and even dinner varieties.    They’ve even brought Germanic flavors into the mix with their pretzel dough hot pockets – I think a Goetta filled hot pocket is in order. 

David and Paul Merage, Iranian Jewish immigrant brothers who invented the Hot Pocket.

Whether you’re like me, who prefers the traditional pepperoni hot pocket, or you’re the more adventurous sriracha steak lover, the next time you microwave a frozen Hot Pocket at UDF, make sure you save some crust for the Tommyknockers, lest you fall into a mine shaft or have a pile of rocks fall on your head.

In Food Green is Good Unless its Fast Green #3

Ok all ye leprechauns who drank green beer or ate a green spaghetti’d threeway yesterday.   I hope your supplier used a natural dye, and not Fast Green # 3, which is used in a lot of commercial drinks, candy,  cotton candy, ice cream, sherbert, sorbet, jellies, fruit filled desserts, confections, dry bakery mixes, jellos, sauces and even fish.   If you had canned peas with your corned beef, you definitely had Green # 3.

The bad thing is that Green # 3 is a known tumorigenic, which means it creates cancerous tumors, particularly in the bladder.   And, despite this knowledge, it’s one of the seven approved FDA food coloring agents.  I know, I know I’m sounding like a Karen.  I know there are a lot of urban myths about food coloring – like that the yellow dye, tartrazine, in Mt. Dew significantly lowered male sperm count.    That has not been confirmed by studies and should not be used as a prophylactic    But these are known and tested toxicologies with Green #3.   It’s also an irritant to the digestive and respiratory systems.    But with the luck of the Irish, green food is not very popular or appetizing, so it tends to be the least used of the seven approved FDA dyes.   And there are more natural options for dying something green.

But that’s unless you’re a kid and you love the popular sour flavors and eat a lot of green candy.  That’s because one of the most common uses is in candy and energy drinks.   And the green color is super popular in sour and tropical flavored candy.    So if your kid likes green apple Jolly Ranchers or sour green anything or energy drinks – you may want to limit or reduce their use.

Why is it we need dayglo-dyed green or dayglo colored anything for it to be considered ok?   None of the food dyes exist as a normal in nature anyway.     What is it about our American psychology that makes us think a piece of produce has to be the perfect shape and color.    I love it when I see people pinching and smelling the produce at the grocery to see if something is good enough to bring home.   Unless it’s organic, there have been so many chemicals sprayed, pumped, and so much hybridizing done to the flesh  that there is no color change at the shelf, you’re not eating a natural fruit or vegetable.   They’re designed not to ripen.  

Thankfully, there are smart companies like Imperfect Foods who are selling off spec produce (and growing like mad) – i.e. weird shaped, off color, or anything that doesn’t meet the specs of the retail grocer buyer or product manager.   Those can be specs that have nothing to do with the taste or quality or even healthiness of the food, but some prettiness factor a well-dressed, office-residing geek drummed up.

The pawpaw is a green fruit that is a perfect example of how nature is supposed to work.    The Pawpaw was never commercialized, hybridized or treated.    As a result, you’ll never see it in a Kroger because it has a short shelf life and is just not profitable.    There is a very specific season they are available in the fall, and only a short maybe two week window where they can be eaten, before they start to turn bad.   This is how we were meant to eat – by the seasons, and with natural ingredients.

I was recently so excited to see Spargel, the white asparagus at my Whole Foods.   But when I brought them home, I realized they were not the tender, luscious spargel I was used to.  They were tough, thick and flavorless.    That will teach me to expect farmers market quality from commercial retail grocers.

I look forward to the opening of our local farmer’s markets and getting some real greens not dyed by FD&C #3.

FROG Jam – The Southern Appalachian Condiment Croaking for a Biscuit

I was introduced to another Kentucky product this Saturday at Farmstand Market – FROG Jam. When I saw the jars on the shelf, I thought, OK, clearly this is not jelly made of frog parts, but it’s gotta have a great story.     Upon closer examination of the ingredients, I saw figs, raspberries, orange peel and ginger.   But still, there was nothing about the name frog and how it became attached to what sounded like a delicious jelly.   This product was made by Spring Valley Farms in Caneville, Kentucky. Duh, well, if I were a crossword puzzler, or played any of the NPR word games, I would have pieced together that F.R.O.G is just the first letter of each of the ingredients of this rich jam.    And, It’s a jam to croak about – sorry, had to!

There’s even another sibling of this jam, again from the Appalachian South, that belongs to what seems to be an anacronym category of jams (funny named jams with the first letter of each ingredient).     The sibling is T.O.E Jam, which is NOT made of the fungus that grows between our toes, but of tangerines, oranges, and elderberries.      There’s even a maybe lesser known Christmas jelly, perhaps related to TOE Jam called SOC jelly, made with strawberries, orange peel and cranberry, that is recommended as a replacement for cranberry sauce.

There seems to be no good origin stories on the web, but these jams were clearly made by someone with a good sense of humor.   And, they’ve been around a bit because there are numerous companies making these jams.   They seem to have migrated north into Amish country, as a company called Amish Wedding Products makes them, along with a full line of other Amish jellies and relishes.      But I doubt the Amish – not known for their sense of humor – had anything to do with their origin.

One description of these jams relates that in the rural Appalachian regions of the south, women threw whatever fruits they had together to make a jam to top their biscuits.      This resulted in all sorts of combinations that seem a bit weird.   That makes sense, but I can’t imagine that tangerines or oranges were a plentiful thing in these isolated communities.  

One known thing is that both of these jams are just croakin’ to top a  good flaky, buttery Southern biscuit.    Or in my low carb, sugar and gluten free world, they make a fab topping on MY new biscuit – the Trader Joe’s cauliflower round.    With fig, the FROG jam would pair great with any Italian cheese, like a salty tangy Tuscan pecorino, or even spread over a block of Philadelphia cream cheese for cracker dipping.     They’d  certainly be good nestled in the center of a  linzer torte cookie, or a shortbread thumbprint cookie.    I might even try it in a barbecue sauce or mixed with a hot chili sauce for an eggroll or Asian dumpling dipper.

Henry Bain, The African-American Who Invented the Famous Louisville Steak Sauce

Louisville is known for its unique food inventions like the Hot Brown, the Modjeska caramel covered marshmallow, or the green Benedictine spread found at most Derby Day parties.   But a visit to the amazing Farmstand Restaurant & Market this Saturday in Union, Kentucky, reminded me of another – Henry Bain Sauce.    It’s a brown steak sauce I had seen at the Churchill Downs gift shop two years ago that intrigued me.    So, seeing it on the shelves again reminded me to buy a jar and delve into its story.

The sauce itself was an exclusive recipe only available until about 6 or so years ago to members of an exclusive all male white social club in Louisville called the Pendennis Club.    It had been created by their head waiter of 40 years named Henry T. Bains.    Not much is published about Henry Bains. Even the club has no picture or image of the man who made this sauce and their club famous.    Then I thought, all male white club in the South – ah – Bains must have been African-American if he was a waiter in such a club.    And he was – well mulatto, according to the 1910 census.    He was loved by club members for his impeccable manners, his knowledge of wines, and his well-roundedness – which means he catered to the whims of these elite group of white men he served.   But what’s cool is that Bains’ life exhibits the tribulations of Louisville’s first post-slavery middle class generation. Like being a porter on a Pullman train, being a maitre’d at a high end social club gave former male slaves and newly enfranchised black men a decent living, if still having to cater to whims of whites.

Henry T. Bains, from a 1909 Louisville Courier ad.

Bain was born in 1863 either in Ohio or Kentucky, depending on the source.    But he moved to Louisville and in 1881, started working for the newly formed Pendennis Club, where sources say he started as an elevator porter.   He worked up to becoming the prestigious head waiter.    He married mulatto socialite Daisy Welch of New Albany, Indiana, just across the river, and moved there with her.   They had no children, but were part of the rising black middle class.   In 1909, with over twenty years of good wages saved, Bains and several other African-American men, opened Mills City Cotton Mills, the first all African-American owned business in New Albany.     That same year his portrait was published in the Louisville Courier Journal with a tag honoring his 25th anniversary with the Pendennis club that had occurred several years earlier.  When he died (of complications due to diabetes) his death certificate listed his parents as unknown, indicating they were either dead before he married, or that Daisy, his wife had never met them.     As he was born during the Civil War, and possibly in Kentucky, and that he was listed as mulatto, he may have been the product of an assault by a slave owner and had run away from that past when he moved to Louisville.   That story is now lost to time.

The sauce he invented was popular at the club and its recipe indicates a high level of food sophistication.    Although many sleuthed recipes were published in local cookbooks, the real recipe was only revealed a few years ago by the club and now it’s bottled and available around Louisville.   Before that the recipe and the sauce was only available to members of the club.     It consists of ketchup, worchestershire, pureed pickled walnuts, a chili sauce, and something called Major  Grey’s Chutney.   Major Grey’s is a general English type of chutney made by many brands that consists of mangos, raisins, citrus, onions, sugar, and warm spices.   Supposedly the (probably apocryphal) Major or his cook invented the sauce while stationed with the British forces in India and brought it back to England.    Some of the early sleuthed recipes use Mrs.  Ball’s Chutney, another English product which is an apricot and peach, rather than mango chutney.  

While Bains originally intended it as a topping on beef dishes and on game brought in by club members, the club’s website now also recommend it as a barbecue sauce for shrimp and in a Pendennis Meatloaf.     It also makes its appearance at Louisville Derby Day parties poured over a block of cream cheese as a cracker dip.

A recent play of Bain’s life was written and performed for the New Albany Bicentennial a few years ago, which for the first time revealed details of his life and the African-American community of New Albany, which was known, like Cincinnati, and Ripley, Ohio, as being hotbeds of the Underground Railroad. 

Bains sauce remains one of the few African-American food creations we can tie directly to its inventor.

The Sticky Lunar New Year’s Cake that Wards off Nian, the Chinese Krampus

As I walked into Francis International Market in Northside yesterday, I heard a flurry of Vietnamese being spoken as people were gathering stuff to make their Lunar New Year meals.     An older couple in front of me had five slabs of pork belly and a huge array of other things I couldn’t distinguish.   I was way out of my league.  Francis Market is a hidden gem in an old Italianate row house on the hill ascending Colerain Avenue.  If you’re looking for produce or foodstuffs from China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, or Africa, you’re in heaven.   I asked a lady at the counter if they had mung cakes for New Year and she pointed me to a stack, that she said she had just made.     They were square, wrapped in a banana leaf and had a red Chinese New Year greeting card in the center.    A man said to me in English – “not moon cake, Mung cake,” which sounded almost the same to me.   I told him thanks for distinguishing for me.  Moon cake was for another celebration later in the year.    This would be the first time I would taste one of these sticky rice cakes made across Asia in various ways, with various meanings, to celebrate the Lunar New Year.  

A Vietnamese Bahn Chung sticky rice cake from Francis International Market in Northside.
The above Bahn Chung unwrapped

February is one of those months that has ample food celebrations.   It’s also sort of the dead of winter, and unless you’re into sking, skating, sledding, or snow-man-making, there’s not a whole let else to do. There’s Groundhog Day at the very beginning, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Bockfest, President’s Day, and finally Lunar New Year.    Score – what a lineup of holidays to eat over!   There are all sorts of cakes associated to celebrate.    There are groundhog cookies, like the super-sweet ones made by Bonbonnerie; paczkis, berliners, and Fastnacht donuts to celebrate Mardi Gras.    There are cherry thing-a-lings from Batesville’s Schmidt’s bakery to celebrate President’s Day.   There are Bavarian and Swabian pretzels to go with a bock beer for Bockfest.    And, finally there are all sorts of sweet rice treats – maybe not cakes in our Western frame of mind – that are symbolically eaten for Lunar New Year across Asia. This new year is the Year of the Ox, by the Chinese lunar Zodiac, which thankfully means there will be no major disasters and that hard work will pay off.

This year, I decided to explore one class of these cakes, bean filled sticky rice cakes.    In China they’re called Nian Gao – meaning tall, or expensive new year.   They’re meant to symbolize progress, advancement, and growth – all things I want to happen this year.     In ancient legend, the Nian was a dragon-like beast who would either come out of the sea or from the mountains to terrorize and eat people and livestock around the Lunar New Year.   This is a very similar story of the Germanic Krampus and Perchten – evil spirits who come to terrorize the Alpen people around the Solar New Year.   People would pack up and hide in the caves and mountains when Nian came to their villages.   But one year an old man stayed, put up red shades, wore a red robe, and lit bamboo, which sparked and crackled and made loud noises, which scared off the evil beast.    These became the traditions of wearing and decorating houses in red during the New Year.    A tradition of putting these sweet rice cakes out and giving them to family and friends also caught on in China.

In Vietnam, their version of this sweet rice cake is called Bahn Chung.  They are made of a square of sweet sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf filled with mung bean paste and pork.   It is super sticky, mildly earthy flavored and a huge carb load – great if you’re a sumo wrestler wanting to bulk up for the Spring championships, or about to run a marathon.     The story behind this Vietnamese cake is less violent than the Chinese one.   According to Vietnamese legend, Emperor Hung Vuong VI, had many sons.   One year he decided to abdicate his throne to the son who brought him the most unusual food.   All his sons went back to their houses and prepared elegant dishes.   But his youngest son, Tiet-Lieu, who was a simple farmer went home and saw that his rice was ready for harvest, made a simple sticky rice cake filled with bean paste and pork.       The Emperor said Tiet-Lieu’s cake was the purest and most meaningful food because it was the basic food stuff of the people and he gave him the throne.     Today, these Bahn Chung cakes are placed at each home’s altar of ancestors during the Lunar New Year, which I love.    So, if you want to be king (or queen) for the year, you might wanna eat a piece of this sticky cake, and then walk 10,000 steps or run a marathon.

Account Me Puppet –Two Local Museums With Food Hocking Puppets

The Larry Smith Puppet Collection at the Broadcasting Museum at the Voice of America Museum.

Puppets have been trying to sell us food products in advertisements since the dawn of television.  Does anyone remember the Little Caesar Puppet Band from the 1990s singing “Pizza, Pizza” to the tune of Mooly Mooly, or when Miss Piggy tried to sell us Pizza Hut Pizza or the Cheetos Cheetah furry puppet who tried to sell us Cheetos Checkers?  What about the time when the Muppets’ Swedish Chef got a job as a Subway Sandwich artist? 

Jim Henson powered two manic puppets named Wilkins and Wontkins in the earliest puppet-mercials on TV.    From 1957 to 1961, in a rushed 8 second segment, the two puppets tried to sell Wilkins Instant Coffee, a brand out of Washington D.C.     The commercials starred a cheery Wilkins, who sounded a lot like Kermit the Frog, and liked the coffee, and a grumpy Wontkins who hated it.     Wilkins would do serious harm to Wontkins for not drinking the coffee – sort of in an Itchy and Scratchy way.    He was shot at, dropped from a hot air balloon and an airplane, steamrolled, and hit over the head with a never ending array of blunt  implements.  These puppet-mercials were so successful, the puppets went on to hock 14 other brands like Krami Dairy, Faygo Soft Drinks, and Community Coffee.

Jim Henson’s 1950s Wilkins Coffee Puppets Wilkins (green) and Wontkins (red).

My favorite puppet commercial of all time is a recent one made by Johnsonville Brat entitled “Jeff and his Forest Friends.”    It features a hunter, Jeff, explaining Johnsonville Breakfast sausage to a racoon, squirrel, porcupine, turkey and wolf.     The laughing turkey gets me EVERY time.

Johnsonville’s “Jeff and His Forest Friends” Puppet-mercial.

Two local Greater Cincinnati museums house sets of these food hocking puppets – the Broadcasting Museum in Mason, on the site of the Voice of America Museum houses the Larry Smith Puppets.   And the Vent Haven Museum of Ventriloquism in Ft. Wright Kentucky, houses at least four sets of food hocking ventriloquist dummies.

The Vent Haven Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to ventriloquism and one of the areas’s best kept secrets.   Its collection includes over 900 ventriloquist dummies as well as photographs, posters, letters and books related to the art.    It is  the collection of  William Shakespeare Berger on whose property the museum sits.  Their oldest ventriloquist dummy entertained Union troops during the Civil War and their newest is from the recent winner of America’s Got Talent.

Charlie McCarthy Coke ad (left), the Charlie McCarthy dummy at Vent Haven (center) and another Coke ad at Vent Haven (right)

The oldest food hocking dummy they have is Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist dummy of Edger Bergen.     The Edgar Bergman show was a ventriloquist radio show debuted in 1937 on the Chase and Sanborn Hour.    In 1949 the show, now called the Charlie McCarthy Show, adopted Coca-Cola as their sponsor and Bergen and McCarthy promoted it on the radio and in print ads until 1952.    The first ever Coca-Cola radio commercial was heard during the Charlie McCarthy Show.   

The instructional record that taught me as a first grader how to become a ventriloquist

As a young ventriloquist in gradeschool, I used the Lessons in Ventroliquism record of Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and his other dummy, Mortimer Snerd, to learn how to project my voice without moving my lips with my own dummy from Sears.   My Dad took me to the Vent Haven Ventriloquist Convention held at the Old Drawbridge Inn in Kentucky, that would attract professional ventriloquists from all over the world. It was my version of Comic-con. My dummy and I  may have promoted Mama’s Cookies to Sr. Carlene’s Third Grade class at St. Barts.

The Farfel the Dog and Danny O’Day dummies at Vent Haven (right).

Vent Haven has the two dummies who promoted Nestle Quik starting in 1955 on the Jackie Gleason Show with the ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson – Farfel the Dog and Danny O’Day.   Farfel would always bring the ads home, answering his companion’s “N-E-S-T-L-E-S/Nestlé’s makes the very best” with a drawn out “Chawwwc’-lit.”   The Nestle ads concluded in 1965, but Farfel was not forgotten. In 1992 Farfel made a comeback promoting Nestle candy for the holiday season. In the commercial he sings the classic Nestle theme, joined by five dog puppets who we can assume are his never-before-seen family, all wearing similar ugly Christmas sweaters.

Lamb Chop and Shari hocking hot dogs at Vent Haven.

The museum also has an original Lamb Chop puppet, powered by ventriloquist Shari Lewis, who promoted, Playtime Frank’s Hot Dogs, a competitive brand to Kahn’s in the 1970s.

There’s also a Freshie character used by several ventriloquists including Glenn Haywood for the Holsum Bread Company.

The Broadcasting Museum at Voice of America Park in Mason, Ohio, is lucky to have the entire collection of Larry Smith Puppets.    Larry Smith was a puppeteer from Dayton, Ohio, who got his start in 1957 on the Uncle Al Show and puppeted and produced children’s shows until retiring in 2000.   IN the 1960s he moved to WXIX to produce the Larry Smith’s Cartoon Club, featuring a host of puppets headlined by Hattie the Witch and Snarfie the Dog, who all hocked some great food products in commercials.

In the last 1970s the puppet team marketed for Little Debbie Snack Cakes in commercials.  Hattie the Witch and Snarfie the Dog, promoted the Swiss Roll;  Rootie the Rooster and Teaser the Mouse promoted my fave –  the Oatmeal Cream Pie and;  Miss Abigail Chicken and Mr Wizard  promoted the vanilla snack cakes; Big Red the Rock Eater and Nasty Old Thing promoted Nutty Bars;  and  Mean Old Cat and Spooky the Ghost promoted Jelly Cream Rolls and Banana Twin Cake.    Mean Old Cat said he liked Apple Delights in the commercial even though the box in front of him was the Banana Twin Cake.    

Smith created a bear puppet called Merry Beary in 1986 that promoted some Kenwood Mall food court vendors like Blue Chip Cookies and Skolnik’s Bagel Bakery.    Smith also created a pirate puppet that along with Hattie and Snarfie, promoted the crispy secret crunch of Long John Silver’s Restaurants in College Hill and Elmwood Place.    Two muppet looking puppets promoted Kern’s Bread in a series of commercials where the dopy sounding puppet was the victim of an exploding cigar, an exploding camera, and a pie in the face.    Hattie, Snarfie, Teaser the Mouse, and the Duck promoted Buster Browns Steakhouse  with Larry Smith’s cameo.   Finally, Larry Smith also appeared in a commercial for Old Fashioned Candy out of Newport, Kentucky, operating the Candy Man puppet.

Puppets continue to market food to adults and kids alike, and several marketing media firms around the country like Puppets on Fire in Alabama, specialize in creating puppet commercials.  

The Ohio Potato Chip Named after my Grandma’s Votes-Forward 1920s Hairdo

Ballreich’s Marcelled Potato Chips and my Grandmother in her marcelled hairdo.

My favorite era is the 1920s.  I love the music, the art, the architecture, the style, the philosophy. I think I may have owned a nightclub in Berlin in the 1920s in a former life.   It was also a good era for one of my fave snack foods – the potato chip – particularly in Ohio.   Grippos, Husmans and Ballreichs were all created in near succession in the first part of the 1920s.

2021 was a good and bad year for local potato chips.    Our 100 year old local brand Husman was retired by new owner Utz, a Pennsylvania brand now invading our snack shelves at a rapid rate.  But there’s also good news for another Ohio chip company, Ballreich’s who’s celebrating their 100th anniversary into 2021 with three new flavors, and going strong, also expanding nationally outside of Ohio.    Their signature wavy, zig-zag chip was named after a popular 1920s hairdo my maternal grandmother wore into the 1930s. – the Marcel.     Local Tom and Chee chain also invented the Grippos BBQ Grilled Cheese, which looks amazing.

Long before there were Lays “Ruffles with Ridges”, there were Ballreich’s Marcelled potato chips – the term applied to chips right here in Ohio – Tiffin, to be exact.    Ballreich’s Potato Chips aren’t just rippled, they’re “marcelled”.   Incidentally, Frito Lay has one of the largest potato chip factories in Ohio.  The term was borrowed from the new short wavy hairdo for the liberated, empowered, now vote-worthy American woman of the 1920s.    Dancer and performer Josephine Baker was a famous wearer of the style.    Even some super-fashionable men marcelled their hair – the early Metrosexuals. 

The Downton Abby ladies with marcelled hair (left), the inventor of the hairdo (center) and a fashionable man sporting it.

The Marcell hairstyle was invented by a French immigrant hairdresser, Marcel Grateau (1852–1936) in the 1870s.  The inventor and stylist emigrated to the United States and changed his name to François Marcel Woelfflé, sometimes reported as François Marcel. He was granted U.S. patents for implements for performing the technique; the first, U.S. patent 806386, entitled “Curling-Iron”, was published in 1905, and the second, entitled “Hair-Waving Iron”, for an electric version, under the name François Marcel, was published in 1918.  The hairstyle became popular for women with new bobbed short haircuts. Women with long hair could also wear it if they tied their hair back at the neckline and pinned it in the back with a fashionable dragonfly or butterfly pin.  One of my favorite pictures of my maternal grandmother is her formal 1930s portrait in her marcelled hairstyle.  I think it’s one of the most elegant and beautiful women’s hairstyles.  It had a brief resurgence recently with movie stars like Kate Hudson and Charlize Theron on the red carpet.   Even the ladies of Downton Abbey marcelled their hair when the series roared into the 1920s.

In 1920, Fred and Ethel Ballreich started to fry potato chips for their friends and neighbors in their dirt floor garage, using a copper kettle heated with wood scraps,  at 186 Ohio Avenue in Tiffin. Their chips were so delicious, everyone craved more. They started by producing four pounds of chips daily from their garage, but the demand became so high that the pair finally decided to start their official business with Fred’s brother, an engineer, who designed equipment that could produce 450 pounds of chips a day. Today, three generations later, the Ballreich’s Snack Food Company produces 2,000 pounds of chips an hour!

Ballreich’s marcelled chips

In addition to regular, BBQ, flat (unmarcelled) and no salt they make – Sweet Thai Chili, Ghost Pepper Jack, Salt & Vinegar, Honey Butter, Sour Cream and Onion, Sweet Mesquite BBQ, Smoked Cheddar and Onion  – they also make flavored popcorn, tortilla chips, cheese curls, cinnamon apple puffs, corn puffs, pretzels, and pork rinds.

For food pairings, the company recommends smashing regular Ballreich’s into a PB & J or on a burger or crushing them over a hot casserole.    I’m sorry Utz, but if I go anywhere outside of Grippo’s it will be Ballreich’s for this spud fan.     And as we roar into the 2020’s maybe its time for a resurgence of Marcelled hair.   Don’t be surprised if you see me at my first public event with marcelled man-hair.

In the Summer of ’59 A Madisonville Dairy Bar Took on Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake

The Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake

I am one who loves a good food fight.   I relished in the Frisch’s-Busken Pumpkin Pie Wars of the early 2010s.   I loved the Pizza Wars and the Burger Wars of the 80s.   I’m fascinated by the current national fast food chicken sandwich war under way, which Gold Star Chili recently entered.    These wars have been going on since fast food really took off in the 1950s.   And for a marketeer like myself these wars offer case studies on how to articulate your business’ value prop to a laser thin edge.

One short lived food war raged in the Summer of 1959 against the then burger powerhouse of Frisch’s.  By 1959 there were many knockoffs of the Big Boy in Cincinnati.      Everyone was trying to ride the burger coattails of our most successful startup chain.   There was Bailer’s Big Momma, the Grossburger, the Big K from Klawitters in Delhi, the Country Boy from Country Kitchen, the Big Tucker from Tucker’s in OTR, the Big Sandy from Sandy’s, the Big Carter, the Big Tom from Bluejay’s, the Jumbo Burger from Parkmour, The Big Barney from Red Barn, the King Burger from Neff Jenkins in Norwood, and many more.

Bailer’s Big Momma had already even released its Poor Papa, a fish sandwich to gain some of the Friday Catholic meat-abstaining market from Frisch’s who was advertising the crap out of their popular fish log sandwich that summer.  It would be another two years before Rob Gruen, a small franchisee in Monfort Heights for a new burger joint called McDonald’s would successfully release the Filet-O-Fish to take on Frisch’s.

In 1959 Frisch’s added a new gun and a new logo to its burger arsenal, the Brawny Lad, a steakburger.      A new Big Boy donned in Scottish kilt and bobby hat marketed this new burger.    Man, they were taking on the Cincinnati meat and fish markets by storm.      But no one thought to attack them from a different angle – a non-burger angle.

A 1959 Frisch’s Ad for their Fish Sandwich and the New Brawny Lad steakburger

March in a small dairy bar in Madisonville called Kern’s.    They were a small dairy bar on Madisonville in the heart of the business district on Madison Road that offered ice cream sundaes, sandwiches and shakes.     In 1959 Madisonville was planning to celebrate its Sesquicentennial, with a large parade whose route was not far from the dairy bar.     Even though there were two popular drive in Frisch’s near them – one a few miles away on Madison next to the Madison Bowl (now demolished used to be BBQ Review), and of course the OG Mainliner on Wooster, also only miles away – they had an idea as to how they could keep the kids, families and teenagers in Madisonville away from Frisch’s.

They built a Trojan horse they called the Devil’s Delight.   They would not attack from the burger angle, but a sneakier way – through their super-popular ice cream sundae!!   It was a “Come for the Devil’s sundae, stay for the burgers and sandwiches” approach.    You know you want to.  The Devil’s Delight was described as “a special dream of a square of devil’s food cake, a generous portion of vanilla ice cream, Kern’s delicious chocolate sauce, and a mountain (yes a mountain) of whipped cream, topped off with a maraschino cherry.    All in a take home plastic cup.    It was brilliant.    The picture in their ad indeed showed a huge towering whip-topped mountain of fudge that was both taller and more delicious looking than the Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake.    Oh my God, my mouth is watering.  They offered an evil, nearly half off discount – reducing it from 49 cents to 29 cents – also half off of Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake price then.    The deal lasted 5 days from June 24 to June 29, during the Sesquicentennial celebration.

Kern’s Dairy Bar in 1959
Kern’s, now King’s Dairy Bar 2021

I don’t have the sales receipts, but I can only imagine how successful this promo was for Kern’s and how it continued the popularity of a new rival to the Hot Fudge Cake.  I couldn’t find any ads showing a price reaction from the local Frisch’s but I imagine they felt it too.     

Today Frisch’s has a seasonal Peppermint Hot Fudge Cake, and a Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel instead of hot fudge.   And I also give them kudos in their recent addition of a Mini Hot Fudge cake coming in at 300 calories, half of the 600 in the regular Hot Fudge Cake.

The early 50s architectural gem of Kern’s Dairy Bar amazingly still stands on Madison Avenue.   Its last incarnation was as King’s Ice Cream stand, but it hasn’t operated in the last several years.    But the structure still stands as a testament to how the little David can stand up to the Big Goliath with a little ingenuity.   Hmmm the Big Goliath sounds like a good name for a double decker!!

Perry’s Pioneer Pea Hull Beer of Madisonville

Bad Tom Smith Brewery in the 1927 Fifth Third Bank Building on the northeast corner of Madison and Whetsel in historic Madisonville.

Today, the prominent corner of Madisonville at Madison Road and Whetsel hosts only one historic building.  It’s a former bank of the art deco era, now housing the Bad Tom Smith Brewery.       Thankfully Madisonville is getting the financial support it has long needed and the other two corners are getting multi million dollar investment in housing and business.   That has sadly meant the demolition of a majority of its historic buildings along Madison road. It’s very appropriate the historic building on the corner now houses a brewery, given its pioneer ties to brewing and distilling.

The first structure on the northeast corner of the intersection was a log structure built in 1809, which opened as William Perry’s Tavern, a road stop during the early pioneer days of Cincinnati’s East Side.    Perry was from Kentucky and served to weary travelers, potash rum, corn whiskey and something called green pea hull beer.    Early accounts of the pea hull beer were that it could “really knock your eye out.”   Something tells me so would the potash rum and corn whiskey.    It sounds a lot like Bad Tom Smith’s mantra #badassinaglass.    It was all home made, and Perry was said to be his own best customer.    He lived in Madisonville for many years,  even holding several Columbia township offices, as many tavern owners did at the time.    But the prevalence and quality of alcohol in Kentucky called him back and he eventually left Madisonville for his old Kentucky home.

Shortly after his departure in 1830 a new structure, a two story frame tavern and hotel, was erected called the Goggin House at the prominent intersection.   It became the area stagecoach stop.    In the 1880s, that was replaced by a new structure for Maphet’s Grocery, owned by Timothy and Lon Maphet. It served as Frank Ferris Cafe for a bit, which served bonded whiskey, and it then housed Bainum’s Drug Store in the 1910s.    That was then then replaced by the brick structure that housed the Fifth Third Bank in 1927.    The bank vacated in 1982 and the building has not been consistently utilized until it was recently renovated for the Bad Tom Smith Brewery.

The northeast corner of Madison and Whetsel in about the 1890s as the Frank Ferris Cafe.

Lucky for us home brewers and weird food afficionados a basic recipe for Perry’s Pea Hull Beer survives and was printed during the 1959 Sesquicentennial Celebration of Madisonville in the Eastern Hills Journal.    It goes something like this:

“Pour six gallons of water on a bushel of green pea shells and boil the whole until the shells are insipid to the taste.  Pour off the water, which will be very sweet into a clean tub or keg and add a pint of yeast and two ounces of ground ginger.   Fermentation will soon take place and the beer will be fit for use.   Beer prepared in this manner is very clear, has an amber color, is pungent to the taste and has a fine head when poured into a tumbler.   One bushel of pea shells makes several dozen bottles of beer.   If not put in a cool place and corks secured by wire the bottles would burst with a loud explosion.   This beer so distilled (it was actually not distilled but fermented.   Chalk that up to lack of chemistry knowledge in one room schooling) made a spirit (again not a spirit, but a beer, but this was before taxably different categories of spirit , beer and wine) of the taste and color of whiskey, Perry’s account related.  He added, “In trying this any reader is on his own.”    Well that’s not an encouraging statement from the author!

This Madisonville concoction wouldn’t meet the regulations of the Germanic Reinheitsgebot purity laws, and probably wouldn’t appeal to the Germanic immigrants of the area, but beggars can’t be choosers I guess.    And Madisonville, having a plethora of mills placed strategically on the nearby Little Miami River, was more of corn whiskey country than beer country, like downtown Cincinnati was.   In fact, the area of Madisonville along Wooster Pike where the Frisch’s Mainliner is, was called Whiskey Hollow.

I am a homebrewer and although curious how a pea hull based beer with ginger would taste, I’m not sure I want to invest in an entire bushel.   I may just have to scale the recipe down a bit.    But I’d be happy to taste a pea hull beer made by Bad Tom or even at the National Exemplar.