Relish America’s Oldest Condiment



My first entry discussed a relish stolen and adapted from German cuisine – sauerkraut.   An even older and perhaps more important condiment across American convenience cuisine is pickle relish. While today it’s not as popular as ketchup or even salsa, it was the first true American condiment, even though borrowed from Indian chutneys, and still ranks as top 5 in most used condiments.


It’s funny to think that our oldest American condiment is an adaptation from Asian Indian cuisine.   It wasn’t until perhaps the 90s that we started becoming familiar with curries and vindaloo.   But we had stolen a version of the Indian chutney and had been using it steadfastly in America since before the Revolution.


Relishes go back to the late 1700s, but gained popularity in the 1850s in America.   H. J. Heinz company had been producing a relish called Chow-chow since the 1870s.    Chow-Chow is a southern born catch-all relish. Recipes for Chow-chow from South Carolina date back to 1770.   Chow-chow is a relish made from chopped green tomatoes, cabbage, mustard seed, onions, hot and sweet peppers in vinegar. Variations can contain cucumbers, celery, carrots, beans, asparagus, corn and cauliflower.   It has always been a chunky, non-pureed relish that is popular as a condiment on black eyed peas.


Over the summer I had the opportunity to visit Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the original brick house of German immigrant H.J. Heinz.   While the house was the boyhood home of Heinrich Johann Heinz it was also the site of innovation for many of Heinz’s pickled products.   After Heinz had become one of the large packaged food companies in the world, he donated it to the company in 1904, and it was floated down the Allegheny River to the company headquarters where it became a museum.   Heinz donated it to Greenfield Village in 1957, when it was moved for the second time.  It’s filled with all sorts of relics of Heinz’s relish products throughout the 20th century.   It’s interesting to see what kind of relishes and pickles Americans consumed.


The H. J. Heinz house in Greenfield Village.


Most believe relishes originated from the need to preserve vegetables for winter, and that its roots extend back to India, where chutney, India’s relish like condiment, goes back to the 1600s.


In 1888, Heinz introduced a sour pickle relish known as Piccalilli.   Legend had it that the recipe originated with Napoleon’s chef.   It was a mix of green tomatoes, gherkin pickles, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, turmeric, mustard, vinegar, and spices, having a bright yellow color, rather than the green of today’s pickle relish.   It, however was not as popular as the relish Heinz introduced the next year.   Too bad, now we know that turmeric is a miracle spice for heart health.      British today use Piccallili today to go with eggs, toast, and sausage.   There’s even a rare Piccalilli made in a former Dutch colony called  Surinamese Picalilli with garlic sambal and Madam Jeannette peppers that I’d love to try.


In 1889 H. J. Heinz introduced India Relish to the U. S. and British markets.   Originally a secret recipe, it was very loosely based on India relishes, featuring a sugared and vingared mix of pickled cucumbers, green tomatoes, cauliflower, white onions, red bell peppers, celery, mustard seed, cinnamon and allspice.     Pickle relishes in India contained in addition to the American relish ingredients, sesame oil, lemon juice, ginger, and garlic, and sometimes even chopped mangos.   Chutney is similar, with the addition of chili peppers and tomatoes.


I think of the three chutneys that most Indian restaurants in America serve with their deep fried samosa appetizers – the spicy chili and onion chutney, the cooling mint /coriander chutney, and the sweet and savory brown chutney. Each has much deeper flavor than our bland pickle relishes.   And, I could even see using some or all of them in the same uses as our blah American pickle relish.    But we chose a much less spicy and boring formula to make American.



India relish became Heinz’s best selling condiment, after his pickles and vinegar, until the ketchup boom during the late 1890s.    The FDA in 1910 was on a misbranding witch hunt, and didn’t appreciate that Heinz’ India relish was not from India.     Heinz was taken to court for misbranding, as were Grape Nuts cereal, which had neither grapes nor nuts, Holland Gin, not from Holland; Coca-Cola, and others.   The FDA seized five cases of India relish, but the legal case was dismissed, as with all others, when the court ruled that the name was being used generically.


Victorian relishes in America were mostly chunky preserved pickled vegetables.   And, the most valuable piece in Victorian china sets was is the relish tray.   A refined Victorian table always had a relish tray with pickled onions, carrots, radish, cauliflower, pickles, and olives.   It was our version of the Italian antipasto.  The relish tray tradition met its end with commercial refrigeration in the 1930s and 1940s, and it was probably around this time that relishes became less chunky and more pureed and bland like the typical sweet pickle relish with which we adorn our hot dogs or what we add to our macaroni salads.


An early advertisement showing Heinz’s products.   India Relish is in the lower right corner.


Pickle relish today is most commonly used as a hot dog dressing at family cookouts and in most sports stadiums.     Fast food restaurants tend to use whole pickles on burgers, rather than relish.   But, the most famous place that India Relish was used, was in a recently found recipe by Ernest Hemingway for his Wild West Hamburger.   The recipe was part of 2500 pieces of ephermera recently digitized by the John F. Kennedy Presidential library during Hemingway’s stay in Havana, Cuba from 1939-1960.   His burger in addition to calling for grated carrots, apples, onions, capers, minced ham, and a host of spices, called for a dollop of India relish.


So if you want to eat the burger that Hemingway was eating when he wrote books like For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, you can use Saveur’s August 2014 post of his recipe:


1 lb. lean ground beef

2 oz. sliced ham, minced

1/3 cup dry red or white wine

¼ cup grated cheddar cheese

2 tbsp. capers, drained

2 tbsp. grated tart apple

1 tbsp. minced parsley

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 ½ tsp ground sage

1 ½ tsp. India relish

½ tsp. Beau Monde seasoning

½ tsp. Mei Yen Powder (9 parts salt, 9 parts sugar, 2 parts MSG – use 2/3 tsp of powder with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce when 1 tsp of Mei Yen powder called for)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small scallions, minced

1 egg beaten

1 plum tomato, cored peeled & grated

½ small carrot, grated

½ small yellow onion, grated

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to tast3e

1 tsp canola oil

Hamburger buns, lettuce, sliced tomato and onion

Ketchup, mustard, and mayo for serving


Mix ingredients, except for oil, buns and condiments in a bowl.

Form into four 6 oz. patties. Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium high heat.

Cook patties, flipping once, until cooked to desired doneness, 8-10 minutes

For medium rare.   Serve on buns with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard,

Doing the Hanky Panky in Cincinnati



To anyone on the West Side of Cincinnati, the party pleasing appetizer called Hanky Panky brings up memories of superbowl and holiday parties from the 1970s.   There were certainly many Bengals fans choking on Hanky Panky at parties west of Interstate 75, when the Bengals choked against the 49ers in the 1989 superbowl.  Hanky Panks, as it’s affectionately abbreviated, is a simple pre-foodie appetizer that mixes equal parts of ground beef and ground pork sausage with Velveeta cheese, worchestershire, garlic salt, and oregano. It is usually broiled on rye bread or pumpernickel squares.   It’s a perfect comfort food, kind of like an open faced slider, when served in the bruschetta form, or used as dip with rye points in the more interactive form.   Some people, like my friend Lisa, think it’s not a party without the Hanky Panks.


With something so regional it’s hard to pin down it’s origin.   Because it so specifically calls for Velveeta cheese, you might think it could be easily tracked down to a recipe book put out by the Kraft food company to increase use of their cheese product in the 1970s, when it reached its height of popularity.   One imagines it’s name possibly derived from all the ‘key parties’ also popular in the swinging 70s.   Unfortunately there’s no apocryphal recipe book from Kraft – and it’s known by different names in different parts of the country, but not consistently known across, so that evidence would refute a national recipe publication.   It seems to be popular at the other end of the state in Cleveland, Ohio, with the same name, but in Missouri it’s known as Rye Pizza.   While not really popular in Northern Kentucky, it is traditionally served at Derby Day parties around Louisville, Kentucky.   Where it’s not known as Hanky Panks it can also be heard referred to by the all-purpose sobriquet, S.O.S.   There’s even a reference to it being known in Ohio Eastern European neighborhoods as Polish Mistake.


S.O.S. is a military term used particularly heavily during World War II to refer to a meal made of creamed chipped beef on toast, flavored with Worchestershire and dried parsley.   It seems Hanky Panks may have been an adaptation of this military convenience meal.   The amp up to the American civilian table was its replacement of chipped beef with fresh ground beef and spicy sausage.


What makes Hanky Panks so good is that they appeal to all strata of society. While the name may turn up noses on the East Side, with its West Side connotation, you just can’t refute, the cheesy, gooey, meaty deliciousness that they offer.


There’s no doubt Hanky Panks have reached pop icon status in Cincinnati. There’s even a local band called The Hanky Panks. Maury’s Tiny Cove restaurant in Cheviot includes them in their Cincinnati appetizer plate.   They’ve been popularized at the new Rookwood restaurant in Mt. Adams with the hipster craze of haute street food.   Rookwood amps them up by using goetta instead of just ground beef.   Maria Longworth would most certainly approve.


There’s no secret to the recipe, and no variations.   It’s always Velveeta, and always equal parts spicy sausage and ground beef.   There’s no mystery, no chef technique required to concoct this treat.   While some chefs and restaurants have tried to sophisticate Hanky Panks by adding chorizo and gourmet cheeses like gouda, you just don’t stray from the standard if you want true Hanky Panky.   I’d like to salute that now anonymous, but brilliant housewife, wherever she was on the West Side, who first concocted this now Cincinnati party favorite.




The Wrong Schmear Created the Gooey Butter Coffee Cake


Growing up with Grandparents who owned a bakery, Ling’s Pastry Shop, in Dayton, Kentucky, and an uncle that owned Ling’s Flour Shoppe, in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, I certainly was exposed to the arts of pastry and cakemaking.     My career height rose to  icing apple and cherry turnovers on a Saturday with my grandpa, helping out at my uncle’s bakery. My grandfather had learned from German immigrant bakers at the Cookie Jar on Monmouth Street in Newport, Kentucky, after he had returned from World War II, where he served as a cook at the Army Training Camp in Ft. Claiborne, Louisiana.    Grandpa and Grandma operated the  bakery for nearly thirty years, bringing German pastries, over the top wedding cakes, and cheeky holiday cakes to Northern Kentucky residents from one bend in the Ohio river to the other.


Grandpa finishing up a wedding cake.

As a kid there was still a culture of coffee cakes at breakfast, at least on Sundays and holidays.    The low carb, health conscious education in America has successfully killed our coffee cake culture.   Grandpa and my uncle had loads of coffee cakes in their bakery cases, cinnamon crumble, all sorts of danish, the pinwheel, which was a combination of cherry, apricot and blueberry filling in one cake.   That was my favorite, because you could cut a piece in a way that you got a bit of all three flavors on one delicious pastry shell.  But the most popular selling cake, and probably the most unhealthy of all was one called the candied butter coffee cake.


Grandma third from left with her crew

It was fairly simple and just what its name implied – a candied, gooey butter filling housed in a buttery Danish pastry shell.    It was sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and sold in about 8” square  or round sized cakes.    I know it sounds more like something Paula Dean created – it contained more than a few sticks of real butter.   It was tough to get one of these at home, because there were never any leftovers at the bakery.     It’s no surprise why it became so popular in the towns along Kentucky Route 8 that hugged the Ohio River.  But since my uncle sold his bakery, I’ve never seen a candied butter coffee cake anywhere in Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky.  While Cincinnati, with its German heritage  has some very popular local pastries like the Christmas stollen or the Original Virginia Bakery schnecken, the candied butter or gooey butter coffee cake is not something I’d ever seen outside of my family’s bakery.


However, St. Louis, Missouri has a deep local tradition of the gooey butter coffee cake and its many variations.      The gooey butter coffee cake is to St. Louis what the sachertorte is to Vienna, Austria – it’s the pastry of the people, although the Sachertorte is 100 years older than the gooey butter.    The standard lemon bar, of which Duncan Hines now has a boxed version, is actually a variation of the gooey butter coffee cake, with more of a pie crust than a Danish crust.


So how did the gooey butter coffee cake originate, and how did it end up in Dayton, Kentucky?

One local baker in St. Louis, John Hoffman, credits his bakery to its origin in the 1930s.   In baking there are two types of butter schmears for coffee cakes – a gooey butter and a deep butter.     The deep butter was used in deep butter coffee cakes.   The gooey butter was more sticky and used as an adhesive for stollens and Danish rolls.   The cake was schmeared with gooey butter and it was placed in coconut, hazelnuts, peanuts, or whatever was desired to stick to the surface of the cake.


Herr Hoffman hired a new baker who was trained to make deep butter coffee cakes.   This baker got the two schmears mixed up and  used the wrong one in a batch.   He caught the mistake only after the cakes came out of the proof box.   Because it was the Depression, Hoffman decided to be thrifty and bake up these hybrid cakes anyway.    The new cake sold so well, Hoffman continued their production, and other St. Louis bakeries stole the idea.


Today in St. Louis area groceries sell fresh or boxed gooey butter cakes.   Haas baking, for example, sells a widely distributed square packaged version.    Ann and Allen baking has 50 varieties of gooey butter cake, ranging from blueberry to chocolate ganache.   Panera Bread Company, originally the St. Louis Bread Company, makes a gooey butter Danish for the St. Louis market.    Even Walgreens sells wrapped individual slices of St. Louis gooey butter cake as a snack alongside muffins, brownies, and cookies.


But how did this gooey butter cake travel from St. Louis to Dayton, Kentucky?    Well, there was a traveling baking supply salesman who stopped at my grandparents’ bakery every several weeks as he toured his Midwest territory.   He was always touting some new icing or fruit filling that could create the next best selling product.  My grandmother, acting as marketing manager, always convinced my grandfather to try these new products whenever they were shown by this salesman.    Grandpa would figure out how to incorporate them into a product, he’d make a few, put them out as samples, and if they were popular, they would become part of the standard products.


It’s my guess that this travelling salesman was who introduced Grandma to the gooey butter filling.  He saw its popularity in St. Louis, and was trying to profit on its coattails by bringing it to other bakery markets in his territory.  It indeed became a standard product and one of the most popular at their bakery.   Grandma said in addition to their lower prices it was always trying these new products that set them apart from their competition in Northern Kentucky.   But despite it’s gooeyness, it didn’t stick in the Greater Cincinnati area, and the Northern Kentucky Candied Butter Coffeecake passed with the passing of Ling’s Flour Shoppe.

Don’t Top the Currywurst!!



I consider myself lucky to have the type of job where I’m able to travel the world to visit customers and business partners.   Part of the fun of visiting is dining and getting intimate with my customers and their food culture.   One of my business partners is located in a little town in middle-northwestern Germany called Wolfenbuttel.   This also happens to be the town where Jaegermeister is manufactured, so most of our entertainment, when visiting involves copious amounts of this regional digestive.   Contrary to pop culture, Jaeger does not include elk’s blood, but in my opinion it doesn’t make it any more ‘digestible’.

The drink that translates “Master Hunter” up until only a few decades ago was considered an old person’s drink by young Germans. Its 56 herbs and spices were formulated to help digest the starchy and heavy German fare.   The U.S. would probably have never known Jaegermeister, if it weren’t for a Jewish-American businessman, Sydney Frank, with whom I share a birthday.   Frank began promoting the drink along with the heavy metal music community.   He bought exclusive importing rights in the 1980s and began associating Jaeger with hair bands like Metallica, Motley Crue, Pantera, Slayer, and The Bloodhound Gang. Frank saw to it that Jaeger became the tour sponsor for these bands’ national tours and the drink took off in America.   Soon, college frat kids were doing shots of Jaeger in a glass of Red Bull and calling it a Jaegerbomb.   Something originally invented as an aid to digestion had now completely changed it’s brand image to a hipster sport drink.  That made Jaeger on American college campuses a drink that aided  you  in bringing up what you ate, rather than keeping it down.  If you went to any pub in Wolfenbuttel and asked for ‘ein Jaegerbomb, bitte”, they’d laugh and garnish you an American.

I had a similar experience while in Wolfenbuttel with a German dish whose use we’ve completely bastardized – sauerkraut.   Sauerkraut, too, was invented to help digest the starchy north German fare.    It’s been called the ‘broom’ and long known for its gaseous consequences. In Germany, contrary to the U.S. , it’s ALWAYS a side dish, never a condiment.

Wolfenbuttel lies in an area known as Braunschweig – an area famous for its currywurst.   The company we partner with holds the Guiness Book of World Record’s title to the World’s longest currywurst.   It’s a long sausage that has a hard outer casing and a concentrated spicy, chewy center, served overflowing its long oval plate.     It swims in a warm pool of currygewurst, or curry ketchup and sprinkling of garam marsala or curry powder, and comes with a mountain of frites or fries, which you use to sop up the ketchup pool as you devour the sausage.   I’ve had currywurst at many of the local Oktoberfests in southwest Ohio, but we always top it with a generous portion of our beloved sauerkraut.

Our business partner has a fast food restaurant on the corner near their factory called Hassburger, which sells this regional delicacy.   In the U.S. we eat our brats, currywurst, and mets on buns and if you’re in a town with Germany heritage, like Cincinnati, you add a heaping portion of sauerkraut on top, with a spicy Dusseldorf mustard.   This is how you would typically eat such a sausage at the Reds’ or Bengals’ stadium.    So I’ve always thought the German way to eat a sausage was covered in sauerkraut, because, why they heck would you eat sauerkraut on the side – it’s a condiment.


So, when our business partners took us to lunch at the Hassburger and we all ordered the local delicacy, I thought I’d impress by ordering sauerkraut and eating it how I thought all Germans ate their sausage.   When the currywursts came, the sauerkraut to my surprise was served in a bowl on the side.   I thought nothing as I poured the sauerkraut over my currywurst and began eating.   But, my German colleagues looked at me as if I’d defaced the sausage.   Soon others in the restaurant noticed what I’d done, and even the cooks turned around in horror to see my kraut topped currywurst.    I thought we might be kicked out of the restaurant.


I asked my colleagues what was wrong, and they told me Germans never top their sausages with sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is always a side, never to be used to mask the flavor of the beloved currywurst. It’s almost an insult to top the wurst with something used to help in digestion that’s only a side-with- a purpose. So, I’d insulted my hosts, but learned a valuable lesson – never assume our German food customs are the same as they are in the Vaterland.

So when did we start adding sauerkraut to German sausages in America?   What’s our American obsession with loading our dogs and sausages with relish and condiments so that you need a bib to eat them?   The coney island hot dog was invented in the early teens before the U.S. entered World War I.   We put pickle relish, sautéed onions and peppers, horseradish, and even chili on these dogs.


In World War I, meat became scarce and was rationed.     Sauerkraut, which was mostly cabbage, on the other hand, was cheap.     In America, during World War I, sauerkraut, was renamed ‘Liberty Slaw’ to disconnect it from Germany and the awful Kaiser.   There was a great deal of anti-German hysteria in America during World War I, that led to a lot of Americanizing of German street names, family names, and even foods.   Liberty Slaw topped hot dogs and sausages to extend them as a meal and make it more filling.   This became a common convenience meal amongst the immigrant working class, and even though it mixed two items from Germany, it mixed them in a way that Germans never would have done themselves.


So, what we thought of as a German custom – topping German style sausages with German sauerkraut was actually a result of war rationing and hyper patriotism!


Why do we eat what we eat? Sure our taste buds tell us when something tastes bad. But where do our food customs originate? How and why did we connect certain foods as ‘goes-well-together’, while we didn’t mix others? How did the recipes evolve over the last 200 or more years to the items we find in restaurants and in homes today? Dann Woellert, Food Etymologist, eats and researches how our food came to be what it is. Starting with hometown comfort food favorites from his Midwestern Cincinnati, he uncovers the past and explains why good goetta has allspice or why lasagna has only four layers. Journey with Dann to the roots of our favorite dishes.