Our Unique Cincinnati Easter Candy

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Schneider’s personalized opera cream eggs, made at their candy store in Bellevue, Kentucky.

As folks in the candy biz know, Easter is the largest sales holiday of the year.   To many people’s surprise it tops even Christmas and  Halloween.     Chocolate bunnies and eggs of all sorts, jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and other confections fill Easter baskets.   And, to hop up above the rest, our Cincinnati Candy companies have come up with some great new unique Easter candies.

 

Vintage chocolate molds from Doscher’s.

Of course the Cincinnati candy most associated with Easter is our opera cream, invented by the Maysville, Kentucky-turned Fort Thomas native, Robert Hiner Putman in 1900.    It became so popular by 1920 that every candy company in Cincinnati had their own opera cream, and today that is still the case.    Papas Opera Cream eggs are probably the most visible in the retail market, but my favorites are those made by the Schneider family, either at Schneider’s in Bellevue, or their other family operation, Sweet Tooth in Newport, Kentucky.    Today the unicorn of Easter opera creams are the white chocolate opera cream crosses made by Papas, at their factory in the hillside Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, Kentucky, catering to the young First Communicants.

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New this year from Fawn Candy company of Cheviot and Rookwood is what they call Bunny Trail Munch.    It is a calliope of  popped caramel corn, drizzled in white chocolate and topped with Pectin Jelly Beans, Bunny Candy Corn, Sixlets and Chocolate Covered Gummi Bears.    It’s an explosion of color and looks like an explosion of flavor too.    Fawn has a variety of sugar free chocolate options too.    No one has come up with a sugar free jelly bean to my knowledge, which would be great for those of us watching our glycemic levels.

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Fawn’s new Bunny Trail Munch

The cutest chocolate bunnies in the world are the Zombie Bunnies made by Chocolates Latour in Northside.    Who can imagine a cute hoppy, floppy-eared Easter bunny, dripping in blood munching into your head to eat out your brains?    Well owner Shalini Latour can.   I mean it makes sense, the whole idea behind Easter – violent death by crucifixion and then rising from the dead – relates.

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Latour’s army of Zombie Bunnies.

Maverick Chocolates is the only game in town that makes a Bean-to-Bunny chocolate Easter bunny.   That means the ethically sourced (non African child slave labor harvested like all of the big retail chocolatiers) beans are roasted and the cacao processed into a lovely high %  cacao chocolate.    They’ve also got a unique lemon white chocolate bunny that sounds amazing.

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There are the bird nests made by Graeter’s, (yes they make candy too, not just ice cream) and in a variety of forms by home bakers, that are chocolate covered coconut, filled with jelly beans or hummingbird eggs.      To me, the butterscotch topped Chinese noodle version of the bird’s nest, made by many home bakers could be marketed as the Crown of Thorns and take on a whole new category.    But maybe that’s too macabre for the children.

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Graeter’s birds nest in center – Chinese noodle version to the left, and marshmallow cereal version with malted milk eggs to the right.

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And of course, we can’t forget the handmade chocolates of Aglamesis made on site above their ice cream parlor in Oakley.    They call themselves your “One Hop Stop” to build an Easter basket.     Aglamesis are also the last remnant in Cincinnati of what was once a market of hundreds of Greeks from Sparta who owned retail candy stores all over Greater Cincinnati.  It’s these families that started our tradition of having a chocolate peppermint patty after eating a Cincinnati chili threeway.   Stop into Aglamesis and get a chocolate mint and taste what the original would have tasted like before all the chili parlors bought Andes mints or Peppermint Patties, which are not made in Cincinnati.

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Many don’t know that Roscoe Rodda, the man who invented the marshmallow Peep, one of Easter’s most iconic candies, was a candy maker in Cincinnati for Reinhart & Newton, Peter Echert Company, and even a partner with Opera Cream inventor Robert Putman.    He probably learned the art of shaped marshmallow candies that spawed the Peep at Peter Echert’s company.  And, the original Peep had wings, but when it was automated by the company that bought Rodda out, the wings were clipped off and now the Peep is flightless.

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The original hand-piped, winged marshmallow Peep.

Other local candy companies have chocolate dipped the Peep, a variety of flavored Oreo cookies for other unique basket stuffers.     The chocolate dipped Peep opens up a whole new genre of candy that can be dipped in coconut a variety of finely chopped nuts as well as sprinkles, nuts, and even Pop Rocks candy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Peppermint Patty and a Threeway: Parts 3 & 4

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The Elite Confectionery in Middletown, Ohio, owned by the four Greek immigrant Revelos Brothers, who taught Thomas Haggis how to make ice cream and candy.

So in Part Two of the Peppermint Patty and a Threeway, we connected the Greek candy legacy in Cincinnati to Cincinnati Chili through the Sam Haggis Sweet Shop in the Hollywood Theatre in College Hill.   It is the first documented location where a chocolate mint cream candy was sold alongside or as a finish to a bowl of Cincinnati Chili.     Sam Haggis opened his shop in the Hollywood Theatre in about 1926 and was serving light lunches of chili and sandwiches by 1930, as well as candy and ice cream.    He had help from his younger brothers Peter and Thomas.   Peter’s father-in-law Sotirius Shoukas came with his family and got a job with the Kiradjieffs at the original Empress Chili in 1922 and learned how to make Cincinnati Chili.

But this story just keeps getting better.   In the food business the legacy can go back even further.   Where did Sam and his brothers learn how to make candy?   Where did they get their start?  While in many cases, without family oral history, these questions can go unanswered.  In our case, one cool public record answers that question very specifically.     In 1918 Samuel Haggis was 18 years old and required to sign up for the Draft for World War I.   At the time he lists his job as candymaker at 328 West Fifth Street at the Sarros Brothers Confectionery.   He lists his younger brother Thomas Haggis as his nearest relative, who is working in Middletown, Ohio for the Revelos Brothers at their Elite Confectionery.

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James Revelos was the first brother to come through Ellis Island in 1903 from a small village of Kosma, Sparta, Greece, where his family were farmers and sheepherders.    There his name was changed by the recorder from Rempelos.   James learned the candy trade from Greek immigrant relatives in Lima, Ohio.   Nick and Charles came to the U.S. in 1909, and John in 1912.   They opened the first Elite Confectionery in 1909 next to Gordon Theatre, and then moved across the street.   By 1920, the time Thomas Haggis worked for them, the Revelos brothers had bought three properties and had an ice cream and candy factory and soda fountain that became a popular after theatre destination for generations of Middletonians.     Many soldiers who came back to Middletown from World War II stopped at Elite for a thick Chocolate Delight malt before seeing their family.

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The soda fountain of Elite Confectionery about the time Thomas Haggis worked there.  Note the same Tiffany tulip lamps and white marble tops as at the original Aglamesis Ice Cream in Oakley in Cincinnati.

In 2010, before the last of the Elite Confectionery locations was demolished in Middletown, George Revelos, the oldest remaining sons of one of the founders, saved the Revelos sign for his nephew, Nick Revelos in Columbus.

In 1918, the Sarros Brothers confectionery consisted of brothers Nicholas J. and Frank J., who had come to the U.S. from Sparta, Greece, in 1900 and 1906 respectively.    The brothers  had help from their father John, who immigrated in 1903.    Their other brother George soon joined, and they also had help from other Sarros relatives Argiro, Christoph, James, and another Nicholas.    They operated a retail store and all the relatives – as many as 8 at one time including other workers, like Sam Haggis, lived behind or above the store.

Sam, Thomas, and Peter had learned the trade and saved enough money in 1922 to form the Haggis Brothers Confectionery, at Eire Avenue in Hyde Park, which is now the location of Graeter’s Ice Cream.   Sam brought his knowledge from the Sarros brothers, and Thomas brought his knowledge from the Revelos Brothers, perhaps bringing their most popular candy, the Klondike, a mix of chocolate covered, roasted Spanish peanuts and caramel.      Then Sam started his Sweet Shop in the Hollywood Theatre with help from Thomas.

Nicholas Sarros had been an espionage agent in the Greek Navy and was captured by the Turks in 1898 in Constantinople.   He escaped and made it to Cincinnati by 1900, where he was first a candy peddler and then worked with his relatives at 528 West Fifth Street, in the Greek enclave around Fifth Street at the time.

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Nicholas Sarros, who taught Samuel Haggis the candymaking business.

In about 1903 he started the Chophouse, a saloon, pool hall and restaurant at 319 Central avenue for the next 22 years.    He worked with the Greek Council in Chicago, helping Greek immigrants in Cincinnati, and was an interpreter in Hamilton County courts for the Greek community. In 1919, he would invest with the Stephen and Charles Ponticos in forming Cupid Ice Cream, which was later sold in 1966 to French-Bauer Ice Cream.

Brother George J. Sarros left the candy business and operated a Royal Chef restaurant on Wooster Pike in Mariemont, and then a Flying Saucer burger chain on Glenway Avenue in Westwood.   A sign remnant of another Flying Saucer chain still exists on Eastern Avenue in Columbia-Tusculum in front of a junk yard.

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Brother Harry J. Sarros opened the Marathon Inn at 7215 Montgomery Road in 1928, and is credited for inventing the local double decker sandwich called the Hippo, a heaping portion of ham and turkey.   It’s probably so named because it takes the mouthspan of a hippo to take a bite of this massive sandwich.   His sons George and John Sarros took over the business after his death in 1949 and operated the Marathon until 1959.

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The site of the Marathon Inn today on Montgomery Road.

Yet another interesting connection exists with the Sarros family.    George Sarros, wife was Katherine Kalomeres, brother of Charles Kalomeres, who owned candy stores in Cincinnati, and whose daughter Tula Kalomeres married Ted Gregory, and co-owned Montgomery Inn.  Tula invented the now popular and super sweet Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce.

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Both Peter and Samuel went on to run chili parlors after leaving the candy business, but the tradition of a chocolate mint and a threeway that started on Hamilton Avenue in College Hill lives on today nearly 100 years later in Cincinnati.

 

The Pretzel Ministry of Fr. John Aloysius Seiler of Covington, Kentucky

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The hat, apron, oven mit and soft pretzel recipe of Fr. John Aloysius Seiler next to his memorial plaque at St. Elizabeth Hospital.

Ministry to the sick and dying may be one of the toughest jobs out there.     There’s no easy way to comfort a family going through such a time of trial.     But one local priest created a unique “Pretzel Ministry” that left a lasting mark on thousands of northern Kentuckians.  Fr. John Aloysius Seiler ministered to the sick and dying at St. Luke/ St. Elizabeth hospitals in Ft. Thomas and northern Kentucky for over thirty years from 1981-2015, after a long career as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Covington.      With a compassionate ear and an offering of his hand made and delicious Bavarian soft pretzels, he ministered to families and their care givers.

It’s not known if the pretzels he made were from a family recipe, but his next door neighbor growing up was a baker, Albert Heineman, Jr.     Perhaps he developed a taste or a knowledge of soft pretzels from him.  We also know that long lines of people formed at the hospital whenever he brought his pretzels, to savor a delicious. comforting bite.    His recipe that hangs in St. Elizabeth’s hospital, next to a memorial plaque, is designed for a quantity of 100, to be made into straight, twirled, or cigar shapes.     Fr. Seiler clearly understand the maillard reaction and the German Laugengebach Method (lye dipped breads) that makes the crunchy outer crust, and is caused by dipping the dough quickly in a lye bath before baking.     And his recipe warns to use a porcelain or stone dish for the lye bath, not aluminum, which would rust in the caustic solution.

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He was born in 1935 into a Germanic northern Kentucky family to parents  Raymond and Henrietta Seiler.    Their house was on 17th Street in the Austinburg neighborhood, in the parish of  St. Benedict Catholic Church, near the Licking River.    He returned there many times, bringing his fellow postulants and brother priests for pinochle games with his family, something he took with him to wherever he was living.

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A young Fr. Seiler, shortly after his ordination in 1959.

Fr. Seiler was ordained  a Diocesan priest into the Archdiocese of Covington, Kentucky, in 1959, by Archbishop Paul Leibold.   He served a variety of Covington parishes, but lastly served as a parish priest at the German-American Catholic Corpus Christi Church on 9th and Isabella Streets in Newport, Kentucky before it closed in the 1980s.    This was the ancestral parish of both of my Grandmothers’ Germanic immigrant families and now operates as a retirement home.

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He was known as a soft and gentle man with a good listening ear, and one who offered sage advice to those searching for answers and comfort.     Many of the hospital workers at St. Elizabeth couldn’t start their day without a greeting from him on their respective floors.      Fr. Seiler returned to the Great Pretzel Baker in the Sky in 2016, and in true form, donated his body for scientific research to the University of Cincinnati Medical School.

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Cincinnati, Bauhaus Architecture & the Joy of Cooking

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Cockaigne, the estate of Marion Rombauer Becker and John Becker in Anderson Township.

The Joy of Cooking is probably the most widely known cookbook in America.  Started in 1933, by Germanic immigrant Irma Starkloff Rombauer, it produced editions into the third generation of the Rombauer family, and is still in print.

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Irma Starkloff Rombauer, author of Joy of Cooking.

And many don’t know it’s Cincinnati connection and its connection to Bauhaus architecture.    When Irma’s daughter Marion Becker took over the cookbook from her mother in 1963, she was living in Cincinnati at her Bauhaus estate in Anderson Township, which the family referred to as Cockaigne, named after a medieval fantasy land.

Her husband, John William Becker, was the foremost Bauhaus architect in Cincinnati, and had built Cockaigne from his designs in 1940.    Germany, where the Bauhaus style originated,  is celebrating 100 years of Bauhaus design this year.    Becker is also famous for the Rauh-Pulitzer house in Woodlawn that the Cincinnati Preservation Society recently restored back to life.     I had the opportunity to tour it with the CPA shortly after its restoration and can attest that it’s a masterpiece of modern design.   Although more known for his architecture, and wild 70s Trumpian combover,  Becker also contributed to the Joy cookbook series with his wit and humor.

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John Becker, Cincinnati Bauhaus architect and Joy contributor

Irma was the first sort of amateur cook to undertake a cookbook.   She was the daughter of German immigrants in St. Louis who were culturally and politically active.   She had no culinary credentials. Her philosophy was that women learned how to cook under the tutelage of a good friend.   She wanted to be that friend.    At the time all American cookbooks were written by famous chefs or school marms like Fanny Farmer, who had taught in the culinary world.    Irma invented the action form of recipes – integrating ingredients into the steps, and added commentary and history for each recipe.

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Marion Rombauer Becker

But her daughter, Marion brought a new perspective to the Joy of Cooking series.     She added the term “Cockaigne” to any recipe that was one that the family made in their own home.   Items like Chocolate Chip Cookies Cockaigne and even Cincinnati Chili Cockaigne (which proliferated the myth of chocolate in Cincinnati Chili), started showing up in editions up to 1976, when Marion passed away and passed the biz along to her son Ethan.   Having served as the first professional director of  the Cincinnati Modern Art Society, Marion brought a modern design perspective to the books that shunned photography and used only line drawings to demonstrate methods.     She also added new recipes utilizing whole grains and introduced Americans to new foods like tofu, jicama, and kiwi.

Unfortunately the wonderful Cockaigne estate was demolished in 2005, but the Joy of Cooking lives on as the most influential American cookbook.

 

Now They’ve Done It: Frisch’s Has Changed Their Tartar Sauce

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We’re just about halfway through Lent now, in a city that puts great pride in it’s Lenten Fish Frys  – and yes that’s the correct way to spell the plural of a Fry – pluralize the noun, don’t conjugate the verb!   Bilboards and Social Media advertise every Fish Fry and Lenten menu of local restaurants.     I’ve been to four myself already – Germania, Kolping, Mary Queen of Heaven, and Old St. Mary’s OTR – and all have been wonderful.    In addition to the fish, Cincinnati goes through tubs and tubs of tartar sauce during peak Lenten Fish Fry Season.

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In 2017 I was honored to be consulted by the Catholic Telegraph for an article about National Tartar Sauce Day, March 3, a celebration that falls conveniently near Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.   It was cooked up by none other than the new owners of Frisch’s Big Boy.      A proclamation by Mayor John Cranley on March 3, 2017, made the holiday an official one in Cincinnati.

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The go-to tartar sauce has always been Frisch’s delicious version.    And the true judge of a Cincinnati Fish Fry is it’s tartar sauce.   Many people carry-in their own jar of Frish’s just in case.    It was not originally made for fish, but for the double decker hamburger – to replace the Thousand Island dressing that California hamburgers of the post war period – McDonald’s and David Wian’s Big Boy – used.   But when David Frisch brought the Big Boy to Cincinnati, he dressed it with tartar sauce instead, like Tucker’s, Green Derby, and other burger joints in Greater Cincinnati were doing.

My friend and food stylist, Mary Seguin, offers sage advice when making tartar sauce.  She made the tartar sauce and ran the St. Clair Fish Fry for many years.    According to Mary, a good tartar sauce MUST start with real mayonnaise, not the fat free, cloyingly sweet kind.   It should also have a variety of good herbs, and acid to balance the sweetness.    She added olives and finely chopped red onion to hers.     But alas, she still hasn’t divulged to me the secret recipe to Seguin’s St. Clair Tartar Sauce.

David Frisch painstakingly mixed the tartar sauce for the Big Boys himself in the early post war days.   But Louis Schulman, whose family made Lady Rose Tartar Sauce for Tucker’s double decker, introduced his product to Frisch and the rest is history – until 2019.     Schulman’s is now the Reading-based Food Specialties.  This year Frisch’s introduced their new Spicy Tartar Sauce in time for Lent to a city that likes to hold tightly to its food traditions.     But new taste buds require new, spicier flavors.    It’s the original recipe with the addition of cayenne pepper.

The food bloggers have already posted recipes using this new tartar sauce.    There are recipes for spicy tartar sauce deviled eggs, spicy Big Boy pizza, and ginger-soy salmon with Frish’s spicy tartar.

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You can dip your Frisch’s crinkle cut fries in spicy tartar sauce while cheering on the Reds this year.

Not only is the new spicy tartar sauce available at the restaurants, on the fish sandwich and the Big Boy, but also at Great American Ball Park.     I’m totally on board with the new spicy tartar sauce, and even think they should go further with Sriracha Tartar next year.    I even think they should brand the new Big Boy with spicy tartar sauce the “Gran Chico.”    Muey delicioso!

Before Cookies and Cream There Was Cincinnati Delight

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Michael Buschbacker behind the counter at Ma’s Ice Cream Parlor in 1929 in Over-the-Rhine, showing a case full of cigars, pipe tobacco, and cigarettes, as well as ice cream pots.

It’s that time of year when all the great ice cream stands start opening.   One of my faves, Putz Creamy Whip, in Northside opened today.   They’re the only creamy whip in Greater Cincinnati that uses horizontal cream whip machines from the 1950s.  And they claim it makes their creamy whip even creamier.

So it’s fun to remember ice cream flavors that are uniquely Cincinnati.   One flavor, called Cincinnati Delight, was made locally from the 1930s to 1966 by an Over-the-Rhine landmark called Ma’s Homemade Ice Cream.   It was the grandfather of the flavor we now call cookies and cream, but was made with bits of the chocolate cake part of an ice cream sandwich.   It could have been called Cakes and Cream, but its inventor, Michael Buschbacker decided to give tribute to his beloved city.   It could have also been called Over-the-Rhine Delight, but that doesn’t have as much a ring.   And, we weren’t hip enough back then to distill every neighborhood into a three letter anacronym like OTR.

Michael was the son of Ma – Anna Graf Buschbacker – who opened her ice cream parlor at 69 East McMicken at Grant Park, around the corner from today’s Moerlein Taproom.     Cincinnati Delight was made in the basement of the store, where their ice cream machine lived, and was their best seller.    They couldn’t make it fast enough.

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The Over-the-Rhine wedding photo of Ma (Anna Graf) and Stefan Buschbacker, German-Hungarian immigrants to Cincinnati who arrived in 1907.

Ma took on the place from what had been a candy store, and operated it as such for a few weeks.    Then an enterprising salesman came by and said her candy store would make a great place for an ice cream parlor, being right next to a playground.  And, he had just the ice cream machine to make that happen.    She consulted her husband, Stefan, a Hungarian-German immigrant, they bought the machine, and the rest is history.

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In addition to Cincinnati Delight, Ma’s made the standards – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and then more interesting flavors like banana, pineapple, orange-pineapple, butter-pecan, peppermint, and Tutti-Frutti (a flavor introduced to Cincinnati in 1888 by Vienna Ice Cream Company, owned by Italian immigrant Giuseppi del Favero).    They made another flavor they called White House, which was vanilla ice cream with cherries – the precursor to cherry cordial ,which adds chocolate chunks to the mix.

About the 1950s, they added a creamy whip machine, and until they closed in 1966, they were the only soft serve ice cream in Over-the-Rhine.

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In addition to making ice cream, Ma also cooked a full menu for the small luncheonette in the parlor.   She made homemade soups, chili, beef barbeque, baked ham and roast beef.   She also served hearty breakfasts starting at 8 AM of ham and eggs with sweet rolls and coffee.  So when she or her son weren’t making ice cream or tending customers, she was constantly cooking.

Like the Tucker family of Tucker’s Restaurant in Over-the-Rhine, Ma was like a second mother to the many kids who came in without money, and still got a free small cone.   She sponsored a football team in the 1930s and 1940s that played in the amateur Cincinnati league and was coached by her son Andy, and practiced at Inwood Park.

 

Black Radish: The Old World German Variety from Thuringia Making a Combeback

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This past weekend the Dayton Liederkranz Turner Society hosted an amazing traditional German brunch at their basement beerstube.   It reminded me of the type I had experienced while traveling in both northern and southern Germany in the last several years.   There were fantastic little sandwhich buns called brotchen, and other yummy multigrain breads, plates of freshly made lunch meats, pates, cheeses, butters, jams, and preserves, four types of homemade sauerkraut, goulash, spaetzli, and many other delicious items.   On one of the meat trays was a very thinly sliced radish that was not the standard red radish we see year round at the grocery.  It was larger, more crisp than a red redish, and had a nice pepper taste, with a slightly bitter note.  To me, it had a texture just a bit more dense than say jicama, whose crunchiness I love in salads and sandwiches.    When I asked Jacob, the host of the brunch, what kind of radish it was, he said it is an old world varietal of Black Radish, that’s making a comeback.   These radishes were found at Jungle Jim’s Market in Fairfield for those curious foodies like me.

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The black radish, also called the Erfuhrter Radish (from the agricultural region of Erfuhrt in southern, Thuringia, Germany) has long been a staple of European cuisine, as far back as Medieval times.   The Tudors of England loved black radishes.  It gave way in the last half of the 20th century to the easier to peel, grow, and ship sweet spring radish and was virtually forgotten.  It has a thick black skin, with a strong white flesh ,and is known as a winter radish, as it’s sown from September to December.   It grows larger than the typical red radish, about 3-4 inches in diameter.   It was great for the poorer classes because it kept well for several months in a root cellar during the winter.

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It was also known for its folk medicinal properties- increasing bile for digestion, which also helps to detoxify the liver, and as an immune booster and anti-aging supplement (we could all use a little bit of that!)   This all made it great for the fatty diets and high alcohol consumption of historic Middle Europeans.  Recently the black radish has been studied because of high glucosinates, for prevention of gall stones.   It can also help with intestinal gas, stomach bloating, and even acid reflux.   It’s low in calories, high in fiber, Vitamin C and B’s, potassium, and sulfur, so it packs a healthy punch.

It can be sliced thin and eaten on a sandwich or salad, as it was served at the Liederkranz Brunch.   Or, it can be sautéed and eaten like potatoes or any other root vegetable..   It can be sliced in thin sticks and added for its unique peppery flavor to a slaw or salad.    And, finally, it can be thin sliced on a mandolin, seasoned and made into crunchy chips – either fried or baked. I am going to douse some thin sliced ones in good olive oil, season with Grippo’s BBQ seasoning and make my own chips.  Look out Hen of the Woods, there’s a new healthier chip coming on the market soon!