Please, Sir, I Want S’more!!

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Ah, summer!   Time to be in the backyard, picnicing al fresco style, drinking fizzy refreshing drinks and grilling or cooking over an open fire!     For many, this means breaking out the ingredients for one of America’s favorite campfire snacks – the S’more.

We all know the s’more is a sandwich made up of a campfire roasted marshmallow (degree of char up to the individual) nestled with a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers.

First references to “Some Mores” would make us thank the Girl Scouts of America for the invention of the snack. The first recorded recipes appears in the 1927 edition of Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, although reports from the Girl Scouts of American describe them as early as 1925.

However, the Moon Pie snack may point to an earlier origin from Kentucky.     Moon Pies have been made at the Chattanooga Bakery since 1917. They’re a confection that consists of two graham cracker cookies filled with marshmallow and dipped in chocolate.  Sounds a lot like a s’more. Moon Pies are closely associated with southern cuisine and being washed down by an RC Cola, which some refer to as a “working man’s lunch.” Earl Mitchell, Jr., said his father came up with the confection after asking a Kentucky coal miner what snack he would prefer eating.   The miner requested something with graham cracker and marshmallow, which had been dipped in chocolate.

The Graham Cracker has been around quite a while and is an American invention.   Presbyterian Minister Sylvester Graham invented them in 1829 in Bound Brook, New Jersey, as part of a health food regime to suppress unhealthy carnal urges, the source of many maladies, he thought.   It was made from graham flour, a combination of finely ground, unbleached wheat flour with the wheat bran and germ coarsely ground and added back in. They were unsweetened or lightly sweetened, thus their view as a ‘temperance food.’   The Reverend said that an unhealthy sexual appetite could be curbed by eating bland foods like his graham cracker. He also frequently lectured that ‘self abuse’ was inspired by children eating crackers and sweet treats.   Another whackadoodle who thought sexual appetite could be curbed by mild foods was John Harvey Kellogg, who was the inventor of corn flakes cereal in 1878.   He also stressed keeping the colon clean with regular yogurt enemas.

I wonder what Graham and Kellogg would say of the s’more!

Nowadays there are so many variations possible of the s’more. Graham Crackers come in flavors like cinnamon, chocolate, honey, gingersnap, and marshmallows come in a variety of flavors too from coconut to key lime.   Saveur magazine this month has a recipe for smoked almond graham s’mores with bourbon marshmallow filling.   Although the varieties could be endless, there’s nothing better than a classic roasted marshmallow s’more.

White Sauces are for Dippin’ !

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Growing up, the only barbecue sauce I knew was the super-sweet, ketchup-heavy kind that we’re used to tasting on our local Montgomery Inn Ribs.  It’s thick, gelatinous sauce, and in my current opinion, unsophisticated, compared to the deep and spicy varieties of the South. Our Cincinnati barbecue sauce is a Midwestern hybrid, almost like the grape jelly based sauce 70’s housewives were putting in their ‘Swedish Meatball’ hor d’oeuvres for cocktail parties.   It’s not natural for pectin to be a component of a barbecue sauce!

As I tasted the variety of barbecue sauces out there, I realized a world of wonderful tangy flavors from the mustard sauces of the Carolinas, to the savory, vinegary, spicy varieties of the south.    I thought the spectrum of barbecue sauce ranged only from brick red to mahogany, and maybe to caramel.     And I thought had come in contact with all breeds of barbecue sauce – That is, until I heard about the white barbecue sauce on the Arby’s new Smokehouse Turkey sandwich.

White barbecue sauce, I thought?  Who the hell ever heard of a white barbecue sauce – clearly this was something Arby’s invented to be unique among a par-for-par lineup of fast food barbecue sandwiches in this country.

But what I realized was that there was a legit white barbecue sauce.    And it was southern – the region known for the best barbecue.   Maybe Arby’s was on to something.   Apparently white barbecue sauce is a Northern Alabama tradition, started in 1925 in Decatur, Alabama, by Bob Gibson at his Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Restaurant.  The current heir to Bob Gibson’s restaurant, Chris Lily, is a world barbecue champion, and owner of the secret white sauce recipe, so he’s got some street cred attached with his sauce.

White barbecue sauce is a mayonnaise-based sauce used to dress chicken and pork, which includes vinegar, coarsely-ground black pepper and salt.      Some add garlic, paprika, or cayenne pepper, or even herbs to mix it up.   In northern Alabama it’s used to marinate, baste, and as an all-purpose table sauce for dipping potato chips, pretzels, and fries.   It’s even good on grilled fish, say some users.

Like its tomato and mustard based country cousins, white barbecue sauce comes in differing shades – ranging from porcelain to putty.     There are also differences in viscosity – some versions flow like fat-free milk, while others flow more like ranch dressing.  

When grilled the mayonnaise reduces into sort of an opaque glaze on the meat.   To the first timer, it looks a little alarming, kind of turning the chicken into a bubbly glazed doughnut.

Coming back to the Arby’s version.  It’s certainly introducing a new taste profile to the North and Midwest, and even the south.    Their version is a bit sweet, and has a mild horseradish taste with a hint of mustard.   You might even wish it were their signature horsey sauce, with the spicy horseradish burn-your-nose feel, rather than a hybrid of the white barbecue sauce.

Bagel and a Schmear

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As ubiquitous as the bagel is today, for most parts of the country outside of New York City, it’s really only a mid-century modern food.   For example, in Cincinnati, it wasn’t until 1969, when the New York franchise Hot Bagels brought the delicious food to our city, and then sold out to the Catholic owned Marx’s Hot Bagels.   And, the bagel certainly came without all the flavors of bagel and cream cheese that we have at our fingertips today.   You might have seen poppyseed or sesame seed, but certainly not cinnamon raison or jalapeno cheddar.

It was Harry Lender and his son Murray, who experimented with automation and freezing of bagels, who are responsible for the birth of the bagel nation.   It was Lender’s Bagels that many of us saw first on grocery shelves in the late 60’s and early 70’s.   So for us GenXers, it’s really only a food that’s been around in our lifetime.

Now it seems like you can’t go anywhere without seeing a Panera, Brueggers, or even a local bakery that makes the hole-in-the-center, boiled and then baked delicacies.  But before mid-century it was doughnuts, pastries, and coffee cakes that ruled the breakfast roost.

And, it’s the large Eastern European Jewish immigrant communities that we have to thank for our beloved bagels.   They came in hoards to New York City in the 1880s and took with them their bagel.   But, what would become the scrumptious schmear that now automatically comes with the bagel, cream cheese, had an earlier start in the United States.

In 1872 New York dairyman, William A Lawrence had experimented with mixing cream and milk, inventing cream cheese.   However, cream cheese wasn’t largely accessible until Lithuanian Jewish immigrant brothers Isaac and Joseph Breakstone mass produced their brand of cream cheese in the 1920s.   They had started their dairy in 1880 on Manhatten’s lower east side, where all the European immigrants, Jewish and Gentile mixed.   It’s not known when the Jewish community married cream cheese with their beloved bagel, but it was destiny – like peanut butter and jelly, like macaroni and cheese.

Cream cheese was much like the soft cheeses of Eastern Europe with which immigrants were already familiar.   Slicing a bagel and schmearing it between halves made the bagel like a cheese knish – an already beloved Jewish pastry.   But with the bagel, it was a chewier bite. And, it gave the possibility of an endless amount of flavors to incorporate into the cream cheese. Who knew back then we would have bacon cream cheese as a possiblility!

The origin of the bagel itself is credited to Poland.   One nativity story says it was created in 1683 by an anonymous baker in a stirrup shape to commemorate the victory of Poland’s King John III Sobieski over the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Vienna.

But others say it was created much earlier in Krakow, Poland, as a competitor to the obwarzanek, a lean bread of wheat flour designed for Lent.   There is reference in 1610 in the “Community Relations” of Krakow that ‘beigels’ were given to women as a gift after childbirth.     There is record of them being given out at Jewish bris or circumcisions as a symbol.   Consider that the next time you take a bite out of your next bagel!

But even older ancestors of the bagel exist. The Italian ciambella ring bread is immortalized in 17th century royal portraits.   Then there’s another regional variant from Puglia, called the tarallo, a medieval and more dense version. The Roman buccellatum is a possible ancestor, but going back even further, Muslin Uigars in China were baking the girde, and trading them on the silk road.

Whatever the proper bagel genealogy, the bagel started turning up in New York sometime before the turn of the 20th century. The Bagel Bakers Union 338 was a union established in New York City in the early 1900s by the primary handcraftsman of New York bagels.   Early bagels established by the union were hand made and weighed 2-3 ounces.   Fast forward to the 1990s and most bagels were double that in size.     The union controlled the bagel industry until the 1960s when automation took over and the bagel nation was born.

In Cincinnati, our favorite bagel shop, and the only one endorsed by the Jewish Federation as kosher approved, is Marx Hot Bagels. It’s run by a guy who some say is saltier than his bagels.   But below his crusty exterior, much like the bagel, is a tender, caring man, who was also extended the distinguished award of ‘Righteous Gentile’ by the Jewish community.

Cioppino, the stew of the San Francisco Fishermen

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At the Taste of Cincinnati this past weekend, the longest running Food Festival in the United States, I became a fan of  a dish new to me.   It’s an Italian-American fish stew called Cioppino, as presented by Via Vite Italian Bistro.     The Chef told me it’s a dish that was created in the 1880s by Italian fisherman who settled the North Beach Neighborhood of San Francisco, many of whom immigrated from the port city of Genoa.

Originally it was made on the fish boats while out at sea and later became a favorite as Italian restaurants multiplied in San Francisco.  Traditionally it’s made from the catch of the day, which on the Pacific coast is typically a combo of Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, and any other fish sourced from the Pacific Ocean.   It’s then combined with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce, and served with buttered, toasted bread – either local San Francisco sourdough or French bread.

The name comes from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect of Genoa, meaning “to chop.”    This describes the method of preparation of the stew – that is, chopping up the leftovers of the day’s catch.   As it turns out Ciuppin is the name of a classic soup from Genoa, similar to cioppino, but less tomatoey, and using the local Mediterranean seafood cooked until it’s falling apart.   Cioppino is also similar to other regional fish soups in Italy like cacciucco from Tuscany, brodetto from Abruzzo, and even coastal Mediterranean dishes like bouillabaisse from Provence, and suquet de peix from Catalan-speaking coastal Spain.

Via Vita’s version was deep, rich and tomatoey, with the most tender rings of calamari, lump crab and a nice hunk of salmon.   Theirs was served with a French bread crustini, not a sourdough toast.    The deep tomatoey flavor was what hooked me – most fish stews seem to be cream based, like chowders, served with starchy oyster crackers, black-peppered to high heaven, and sprinkled with sherry.    While I do love a good oyster or seafood chowder, there’s something bright in the rich tomatoey flavor of the cioppino as the canvas for fresh Pacific seafood.     Alongside a Napa red and maybe a redhead, on an outside table overlooking the Pacific and I think I’d be in heaven.

The Frito Pie, New Mexico’s version of the Threeway

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When it comes to the Frito Pie, Cincinnatians and New Mexicans share something in common.   We always seem to be defending our city’s culinary icon.     New Mexican’s say the Frito Pie was invented at the Five and Dime Store, right off the main Plaza in Old Santa Fe, by Teresa Hernandez in the 1960s when it was a Woolworth’s Drug Store.   Teresa ladled her mother’s homemade Texas style chili into an opened Frito’s bag and topped it with cheddar cheese.   Hmmm – sounds a lot like our Cincinnati threeway – chili, cheddar cheese and a starch – albeit a crunchier starch than our spaghetti noodles.

While the serving may not be as glamorous as a Cincinnati threeway, ladled gloriously over a football shaped bowl, I still have to defend the Frito Pie’s ability to become a food icon in both the southwest, and all over the country. I remember as a kid of the 1980’s a neighbor introducing us to serving Texas style chili over Fritos. And wow,  what an epiphany that was in our family’s culinary repitoire!

The Frito Pie comes by several different names, among them, the Frito Boat, or the Walking Taco.  Each name, a nod to the ingenious convenience and portability of the dish.    And, a variety of other ingredients are used.   Some vendors serve with lettuce, sliced jalapenos, and sour cream.

Recently Anthony Bourdain, in his CNN food series “Parts Unknown” called the Frito Pie “warm crap in a bag,” and “colostomy pie.”     This is not too different from Cincinnati’s lambast from Deadspin.com , calling our chili a “horrifying diarrhea sludge,” and saying that you’d be better if you were “hit by a car” than have tried Cincinnati chili.   Well, those are fighting words to loyal Cincinnati chili enthusiasts.   And, what Anthony Bourdain said about the Frito Pie are fighting words to New Mexicans.

But unlike Cincinnati Chili, there is an age old feud over who invented the Frito Pie first.   Our chili was undisputedly invented in a strip club on Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati in October of 1922.   San Antonio, Texas, also holds a claim that they invented the Frito Pie 30 years earlier.   And the inventor was reportedly Daisy Dean Doolin, the mother of the creator of Fritos – Charles Elmer Doolin.       Kaleta Doolin, Charles’ daughter, says, despite him being called the Thomas Edison of snack foods, he didn’t even invent the Frito.   He bought the Frito from a small corn chip company, owned by a Mexican, Gustavo Olguin, who was trying to make money to go back home.   She outrighly discredits the Santa Fe creation story and attribute the creation to her grandmother, Daisy, who made the dish in 1937 for a “Cooking with Fritos” campaign.

Ok so maybe the Frito Pie, which is not really a pie, was a corporate invention.   But it was the small drug stores, football stadium concession stands, and street festivals that popularized it as a southwest regional food icon, NOT the Frito Lay company.   And, regardless of whose claim is true, neither New Mexico nor Texas has anything to be ashamed of, like Cincinnati and our beloved chili.