Cincinnati’s Native Son Lafcadio Hearn and his Culinary Influence on New Orleans


I found another interesting connection between Cincinnati and New Orleans cuisine.   It has to do with one of their most fun krewes – the Krewe of Lafcadio.     While setting up a backstage tour of Mardi Gras floats on my trip, I saw a description of this Krewe and instantly recognized the unusual name.   Could it be this was named after our own short-lived local son, journalist Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), who wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer about the seedy side of Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine and Bucktown?   And, it absolutely was.

The Krewe of Lafcadio represents culinary New Orleans. Krewe members dress up in chef garb and as lobsters, shrimp and crawfish, while parading during Mardi Gras.   They satirize New Orleans culture, much like Lafcadio did while writing about New Orleans’ melting pot of a culture.   Their king each year is a local chef who is pulled in a traditional mule-draw float. And, their duke is usually a longtime restaurant worker.


Chef Michael Regua of Antoine’s was the King of 2015. Antoine’s, founded in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, is considered America’s oldest family-run restaurant. Antoine’s son, Jules took over the helm, after his mother sent him back to France to apprentice in the kitchens of Paris, Strassburg, and Marseiles. When he returned, he invented the American iconic dish, Oysters Rockefeller.   That original secret recipe is still closely guarded by the family.   Jules’ son Roy took over and ran the business until 1970.   Today the business is run by the founder’s three times great grandson – making it a sixth generation family owned restaurant.


2014’s King was Alon Shaya, an Israeli-born chef who spent a year studying cuisine in Italy, before opening the Italian Domenica restaurant inside New Orleans’ Roosevelt hotel.


Back to Lafcadio.   After marrying a mullato woman in Cincinnati and creating scandal, he was sent to New Orleans in 1876 by the Cincinnati Commercial to cover the election of that year.   While there he wrote the Creole Cookbook, and great stories about cultural New Orleans for a variety of publications.     He chronicled Mardi Gras, wrote about political corruption, and wrote about the city’s voodoo culture with relish.   He created the image of new Orleans as sensual, frivolous, and intriguing, personifying the Crescent City as a woman.

Shortly after moving to New Orleans, he wrote to a friend about the city back in Cincinnati:

Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.

As a great conniseur of food, Lafcadio’s Creole cookbook gives a great historical view of New Orleans cuisine with long forgotten methods from recipes he collected from noted chefs of the day and creole housewives.

The cookbook is filled with recipes like  “Orange Croquante,” “Maigre Shrimp Gombo for Lent,” “Mushroom Catsup,” and other noted New Orleans dishes amidist now forgotten housekeeping directions like how to make yeast, boil soap, and prepare whitewash for the walls.    Other interesting recipes from the time for ‘Grenouilles frites’ or fried frog legs, fried pigs feet, Carolina rice birds, and roast pigeons point to the variety of game and meat Americans used to eat.    He even has three different recipes for mock turtle soup that may have actually come with from Cincinnati.  One includes both walnut and mushroom ketchup, along with lemon, vinegar and hard boiled eggs.  Huckleberry and whortleberry pie round out some of the interesting desserts.

Unfortunately for us food etymologists, Lafacadio did not comment on food while writing in Cincinnati or write a cookbook, but certainly sampled and drank some of our local culinary treats before heading to the Crescent City.

Cincinnati Heritage Pies


Mecklenburg Pie

This past Sunday evening on the Great British Baking Show, the competition centered around pies.   It made me think about all the heritage pies and signature pies from restaurants here and gone in and around Cincinnati.     As it turns out we have quite a few heritage and signature pies in our history.

Pie hasn’t been the most popular dessert form for a while. It’s hard to find a good fruit pie around, and it seems we only crave pie around the holidays.   That said, a brand new shop O-Pie-O, which specialized in pies, just opened in Walnut Hills this past week.   They had been selling on a small scale out of a tent at Findley Market downtown.   They seem to be bringing back the popularity of pie.

Pumpkin pie has a cult following in Cincinnati.   And people are particular about whose they buy.    We’re a very brand loyal pie consumcers when it comes to the pumpkin variety.  A few years ago, Busken and Frish’s started a pumpkin pie war inadvertently with billboards, that created national interest and a New York Times feature.     For older pumpkin pie snobs, the best pumpkin pie remains Frisch’s.   Theirs is just the right consistency, color, and spice blend.   Most new pumpkin pies are more sweet and cinnamon, rather than a blend of the three pumpkin pie spices, nutmeg or mace, cloves and cinnamon.   These are three very strong spices, but a pumpkin pie masters the balance of these three flavors so that all are tasteable, but none is too overpowering.       A good second pumpkin pie that does this in addition to Frisch’s is Grand Finale’s pumpkin pie, made in a small crock with the owners’ mother’s nearly 100 year old recipe.


Frisch’s Pumpkin PIe

Frisch’s is really one of the few go-to places for good fruit and cream pies.   They have trademarked a brand – Frishly-baked.   They used to do a traditional mince pie, that’s not as popular as it used to be. But they do make good coconut cream, cherry, and apple pie.

Restaurants like Mecklenburg Gardens has their nearly 50 year old recipe for Mecklenburg pie, a pecan mocha pie with a coffee cream whipped topping.   This was the signature dessert when the restaurant earned their 4 Michelin star status.   The crust is chocolate pecan crust, a mocha cream chocolate expresso filling, and a coffee whipped cream. It’s a variation on a pie made famous at Blum’s, a San Francisco sweet shop that closed in the 1960s.

Then there were the pies made famous by the College Hill landmark restaurant, Schuller’s Wigwam – their peanut butter pie, and their chocolate chip pecan pie.   My mother’s peanut butter pie, I think, is a variation of Schuller’s recipe.

The Trolley Tavern on the West Side had a famous turtle pie that included caramel, chocolate, and roasted pecans.

Habig’s on the West Side had a famous seedless German-recipe Concord Grape pie that some people said was the real reason to go there to eat.


Concord Grape Pie

U.S. Chili is one of the few restaurants in the city that still makes custard pie. If you give the owner a few days he can make one to order.

Five star Pigall’s had a Crème Caramel Custard pie that was well loved.

The restaurant at the old Shillito’s Department Store downtown had a frozen lemon pie that many people remember, with a graham cracker crust, and a mix of frozen lemonade and sweetened, condensed milk.

Germano’s in Springdale had a raspberry cream pie that many people loved.

ZZ’s Pizza in Walnut Hills, in addition to making awesome gourmet pizza pies, made a famous rich butterscotch pie and banana cream pie that had a layer of chocolate on the crust.

The Cincinnati public school bake shop, founded in 1960, had a very popular chess pie they made, from butter, sugar, egg yolks, cornmeal, nutmeg, salt, tapica powder and powdered milk, according to Rhonda Warren, who made them for many years.


Chess Pie

In the 1980s the Grasshopper pie, a cream pie made with crème de menthe and a chocolate crust was popular at several local restaurants.



Grasshopper Pie

The Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio, was famous for their French Silk Pie, their Shaker Lemon Pie, and their Black bottom pie, a two layer cream pie with chocolate filling, and a spiced rum filling, underneath a whipped cream topping.


Black Bottom Pie

Although I’m a fan of Frisch’s pumpkin and coconut cream pies, probably the best pie I’ve ever had was the S’mores pie at a restaurant in Douglas, Michigan, called Everyday People.   It’s not even worth trying to replicate, because the housemade marshmallows are so delicately done and married with the chocolate and graham cracker crust.     It’s one of those pies that it’s hard to match the original.

So whatever your flavor there are numerous pies to try in Cincinnati.    And now is the best season to start trying some.

Savory Simon Hubig – the German Piemaker of New Orleans, Originally from Newport, Kentucky


Savory Simon Hubig, son of Alsatian Immigrants to Newport, Kentucky

In preparing for an upcoming trip to New Orleans and Gulf Shores, the first thing I investigated was the iconic foods of the area.   New Orleans is a food city by nature, so there’s no lack of great places to sample local cuisine.   But, there’s a New Orleans local iconic pie brand, Hubig’s, that has been making turn-over style fried pies since 1921.   Unfortunately a fire destroyed their factory in 2012.   Three years later the owners are still squabbling over whether to bring back the pies, while loyal customers are left with a huge hole in their sweet-tooths.

NOLA residents might think of Hubig’s pies as a local institution, much like the po boy, the muffaletta, or the beignet, but Hubig’s actually starts right here in Greater Cincinnati.   So what NOLA advertises as ‘New Orleans-style pies’ are actually Newport, Kentucky-style.   Hubig’s parents, Katharina and Simon immigrated to Newport, Kentucky in the 1850s from Alsace Lorraine, along with a huge wave of other peasants who were suffering from famine, and the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars.   The interesting thing is that they likely landed in New Orleans, and took a steamboat up the Mississippi to Newport, like hundreds of their wearied countryfolk.   Actually kinda of funny – this is exactly how my Kreb’s ancestors landed and travelled and one of the reasons I’m going to New Orleans, to trace their steps to Newport, Kentucky.  Like my ancestors, the Hubigs were Catholics and became members of St. Stephen’s German Catholic Church in Newport,  who’s cemetery provides the final repose for the piemaking family.

Savory Simon was born in 1860, in Newport, Kentucky, and four years later his mill-working father died.   Simon and his brothers helped his mother operate a bread baking business for Newport housewives.   His industriousness allowed him to become foreman by age fifteen, and in 1890 at age 30, he opened Hubig Pie & Baking Company at 510 West Fifth Street in Cincinnati. He patented a pie oven that could produce over 30,000 pies a day, a capacity larger than any other producer in the U.S.    Hubig also developed pie bags and crates that allowed for pies to be shipped longer distances for the first time.

Hubig became president of the local National Association of Master Bakers, and was a powerful lobbyist to the federal government on issues like egg , flour, and wheat pricing.

His business became so successful, that in 1910 the U.S. government garnered a deal with him to setup his patented pie making machine in Central America to feed the workers digging the Panama Canal. He retired in 1912 at age 52, selling his business to the F. O. Stone Baking company.

In his retirement and with his money, Hubig became an avid art collector, supporting local Cincinnati artists, like John Retting and others.  He even had famous painter Frank Duvenek paint his portrait.


Portrait of Simon Hubig, Jr, by Frank Duvenek


Duvenek painting Hubig in demonstration to his life drawing class – Cincinnati Art Academy

Then, for some reason, Hubig came out of retirement, opening up more bakeries across Texas.   The Forth Worth Star-Telegram, reported in 1918 “Simon Hubig, the famous pie man of Cincinnati” had opened more pie shops – in Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.  The Dallas location was bought by Jack Ruby and operated as a night club before his assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald on national tv.   In 1921 Savory Simon Hubig opened in New Orleans at Dauphine Street, and that location was the only one to make it through the Depression. NOLA residents had consumed over 25 million Hubig pies by their seventh anniversary in the Crescent City. The Orleans Parish jail was typically the largest customer.


For $1 a pie you could choose among sweet potato, pineapple, peach, strawberry, lemon, coconut, chocolate, blueberry, apple and banana.     Mince pie was a popular variety in the early days, but dropped later as it’s taste fell out of favor.


Hubig died in 1926, but left a legacy that New Orleans would make their own.   In 1943 Henry Barrett took over from the Hubig family and struggled through World War II with the family and employees using their own sugar rations to keep the business afloat. Still owned by Barrett’s nephew and the son of Henry Barrett’s original partner, Otto Ramsey, Hubigs was putting out 28,000 fried pies a day before the fire.

While NOLA residents wait for Hubig’s to return other companies like Windowsill and Butcher have popped up, but they’re just not the same.     And little do they know, they have an Alsatian woman – Savory Simon’s mother, Katharina Hubig, from Newport, Kentucky, to thank for their iconic pie.   I wonder if she also served goetta alongside her fried pies.

Cincy Beer Barons and their Summer Hop and Barley Farms


When we think of Cincinnati’s Beer Barons, most of us see their sprawling downtown Over-the-Rhine breweries. But what we forget is that those breweries required huge quantities of barley and hops to brew the beer.  And that wasn’t grown downtown. You couldn’t just go to Listermann’s and pick up all your brewing supplies, pre-malted, canned and ready for worting.   These ingredients had to be grown and sourced locally on the farm.   Before Prohibition, the area north of I- 275, now known as Union Center, was teaming with hundreds of thousands of acres of brewing crops to supply the downtown breweries.

West Chester, Mason, and Liberty Townships were the areas with the best farmland in the area.   Butler county has had a long history of agricultural dominance in Ohio.   Hamilton, Ohio, fathered some great agrigultural equipment companies that innovated farming across the country.   So, the smart and savvy Beer Barons decided to buy farms in this area and grow their own supplies of barley and hops, creating vertically integrated breweries.  German breweries, fueled by the large influx of immigrants, were opening up all over Cincinnati and the demand for barley was great. The problem was that barley was hard to grow and required a lot of special attention. Farmers were reluctant to plant it and the competition for barley supplies was growing each year.   In 1900, 4 of the 5 largest malting houses in the country were located in Cincinnati and the majority of the malted barley grown in Ohio was grown in southwest Ohio. But today no malted barley production occurs in Ohio.   Back then,  brewers like Moerlein, Hauck, and Mulhauser all bought summer farms north of Cincinnati.

Hop farms were big business too in Cincinnati.    The brewers were probably growing versions of what today are known as Saaz and Hollertau hops.  Most of the brewers were from the kingdom of Bavaria, and carried these native hop rhyzomes with them to America.     Some of these hybrid native hops are still probably growing wild in the areas of these old summer farms off of the Union Center exit.

The soil and climate of southwest Ohio are particularly hop friendly.   I can attest to this.  I grew three hop varieties (Saaz, Hollertauer, and Cascade) prolifically off my parents’ back porch in college, near Butler County, until my Dad ‘accidentally’ mowed them down.      Today, though, most of the commercial hop growing takes place in the Pacific Northwest with varieties like Mt. Hood, Williamette, and Cascade, named for their growing region.    Today’s Cincinnati craft brewers tend to brew more bitter beers, with higher alpha acid content, so the hops of our forefathers would probably not be strong enough to supply the current craft beer market.

Before Prohibition, in 1899,  the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce drafted laws to govern fair business transactions, because there were so many hop dealers in the city.   Cincinnati even exported hops to Europe to meet their brewing needs.    And, local farmers were called to Congress as expert witnesses in 1893 to testify how additional taxes on hops were impacting farmers and brewers.

In addition to constant supply of hops and barley, there were several other reasons for the beer barons to own these summer farms.   They offered a place for their brewery horses to come and rest and recuperate.  Imagine the strain these poor animals endured pulling the heavy brewery wagons up and down the steep hills of Cincinnati.  Another reason was a place to build large country homes for the families to escape to during the hot and humid Cincinnati summers and avoid epidemics.   Remnants of these farms can still be found north of I-275.

John Windisch and his partner, John Hauck together bought 400 acres of land  in 1876. The partners went their separate ways and the land was divided. The Windisch farm was located between Crescentville Road and Allen Road.   The original home burnt down and was replaced by the large red brick home that still stands on Windisch Road.

Hauck’s farm was adjacent to Windisch’s farm and stradled Butler and Hamilton counties. The stately Victorian mansion on the corner of Crescentville and Mosteller Roads was the summer home of the Hauck family.    It was even bigger than their downtown mansion on Millionaire’s Row on Dayton Street, now owned and being restored by the Cincinnati Preservation Association.  Built in 1904 by Louis Hauck, the son who inherited his father’s brewery, it has 22 rooms, nine fireplaces and tons of stained glass, ornate carved woodwork and tilework.  It was used for many years by members of the Hauck family including Frederick Hauck, one of Cincinnati’s most famous philanthropists.   I took guitar lessons there in my college years in one of the Hauck family bedrooms, and witnessed my cousin Kenny’s wedding there to his lovely wife, Karen.   At the time I had no idea its role in the history of my favorite adult beverage.


The Hauck & Windisch Brewery incorporated near the end of the Civil War and operated for 15 years.  Then, In 1870 Hauck incorporated as the John Hauck Brewing Co.  Born in Rhenish Bavaria, Germany, in 1826, Hauck  came to the United States at an early age and worked at a variety of breweries to learn the art.  One belonged to  his uncle, George Herancourt, and another was his father-in-law, Mr. Billiod’s, in Philadelphia, after a two year stint in Germany. With his savings, Hauck entered a partnership with Windisch in 1864. This partnership lasted until 1879, when Hauck bought his partner’s share, and continued the business. In 1894 the brewery, at the corner of Central Avenue and Dayton Street, covered nearly five acres, and had an annual capacity of 300,000 barrels.

The Christian Moerlein Summer Farm was on the north side of Port Union Road on the border of Fairfield and Union townships with acreage in both. Christian Moerlein, also born in Bavaria, owned a brewery on Elm Street covering three city blocks. He bought the rural property in Butler County between 1870 and 1876. The original house was built on a hill and its driveway was on the township border. After the home was torn down in 1927 it was replaced by a 17-room white frame house with pillars across the front. A nearby barn had the Moerlein name on its roof.  Back in the day, the farm could be reached from Cincinnati by either the Miami-Erie Canal at Port Union to the east, or the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad to the west.   A gazebo that once graced the Moerlein garden at this retreat has been restored and now sits in Beckett Park in Westchester.


Still another farm, the Mulhauser farm of the Windhish-Mulahauser or Lion Brewery, was located on Route 4 .    A large two story barn, built in 1881 on their farm was reconstructed in Beckett Park in 2008 as a community gathering and rental facility.   The Barn still bears the Muhlhauser name prominently in its slate tile roof.   Many weddings have occurred in the former stables of the Mulhauser brewery workhorses.


It was the employees of Ohio Casualty, who saved the historic barn.   They contacted West Chester Township and descendents of the Muhlhauser family about saving the structure. Working through The Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty, the Muhlhauser family collected the funds needed to dismantle the barn and move it to Beckett Park. West Chester Township then funded the re-construction and restoration of the prominent timberframe structure -one of last remaining timberframe barns in the state.

All of the beer barons who owned these farms were members of a German sport and social club, known as the Cincinnati Turnverein, where their beers were served at events, picnics, and Turnfests.   The 1889 Turnfest was sponsored by the Windisch-Mulhauser Brewery and served at the grand festival held at Imwood Park.


Professor Eric Stockinger at Ohio State University is working to bring back the barley crop to Ohio. In 2014 his research team planted a half pound of Conlon and Scarlet variety two row barley. It grew and they will be working to expand this new research and educational endeavor in 2015 and beyond.

And several hop farms have popped up outside of Cincinnati.   Brent Osbourne started a Kick Starter campaign to raisd $10,000 for a hop farm in Monroe, Ohio.   His main purpose is to provide fresh, local hops for homebrewers and inquiring commercial craft brewers.   Another farm, Valley View hops in Milford, Ohio, east of Cincinnati, grows Williamette, Cascade, Chinook and Mt. Hood, among other varieties.

It would be great for Cincinnati and southwest Ohio to regain even a fraction of their pre-prohibition levels of hop and barley farming. Even cooler, would be to find some wild hops growing from these legacy beer baron summer mansions and recreate their legacy brews.

The Cincinnati-German Pretzel – It’s Not your Aunt Annie’s!

pretzel from baden wuertemburg

The German soft pretzel or ‘bretzel’ in German, can be found many places in Greater Cincinnati.   Mention the ‘facebook’ coupon at the Hofbrauhaus in Newport, for example, and you get a free soft pretzel with dipping mustard to go with your beer.    And at any of the handful of Oktoberfests around town, you can find them en masse – stacked on sticks, worn around necks to be bitten off in between gulps of Vienna lager.

But the original ‘bretzel’ did not look like the consistent tubed one we see today.    The man given credit for bringing the German soft pretzel to Cincinnati was immigrant Ernst Friedrich Kurfiss (1800-1866).   E. F. arrived in Cincinnati from the kingdom of Baden-Wuertemburg, with his wife Elizabeth and 3 year old son, Johann, in 1829.   He immediately started baking the bretzel, well known to Germans,  somewhere in the 1200 block of Vine Street.     This is according to  Robert Wimburg, author of Cincinnati: Over the Rhine.

He operated a coffee and boarding house between Sycamore and Broadway in 1842 and 43, and by 1846 had a bakery on Front Street.     E.F. Kurfiss died in 1866, but his bretzels lived on – unfortunately not into his second generation.   His son, John and his daughter Augusta’s husband, John Gunkel, moved to Louisville, Kentucky and operated a pork and beef packing company there from the 1850s to the Civil War.    Both enterted the 4th Kentucky Calvary in 1861 and fought with the Union.    John died of pneumonia at the end of the war in 1865, having made it through some very bloody battles, like Chicamauga, unscathed.

But the Baden-Wuertemburg style lye-soft pretzel made it as a feature at all the German saloons in Over-the-Rhine. From Kissell’s to Schuler’s to Hildebrand’s the pretzel boy vendor was a common sight.   Even on the packed streets of 19th century downtown and Over-the-Rhine, the pretzel vendor vied with the Negro hominy man, the sauerkraut and cheese men, the ringing bells of the scissors sharpeners, and the yells of the coal and rag peddlers.

Local artist Henry Farny immortalized the bretzel boy in his 1875 sketch of Wielert’s saloon for Illustratedl Cincinnati.


Bretzel Bakeries were not specifically called out in the Cincinnati city directories until 1878, when three bretzel bakeries were listed in Over-the-Rhine: Simon Dorshung’s on 152 Clay Street, C.F. Lohmann’s at 28 West Mulberry, and Catherine Moser’s at 85 McMicken.

According to legend, Medieval monks invented the bretzel to tide them over their fasting during Lent, and shaped the dough to represent arms crossed in prayer.   These are the same monks who invented bock beer for the same reason.     We gotta love the creativity of these ‘starving’ monks!

In Baden-Wuertemburg, in southwest Germany near France and Switzerland, where pretzel baking has most firmly taken root, and where our Cincinnati guy, Herr Kurfiss hailed, the pretzels are known for their fat “bellies” and skinny, intertwined arms.    It’s not the consistent tubular shape of your Auntie Anne’s variety.   In much of Germany and parts of Switzerland and Austria, the pretzel is the symbol of the bread baker’s art, as the baguette is in France , even though the pretzel is much older. Wooden and iron pretzels signs have hung over bakery doors for centuries, especially in the south of Germany.    This lye pretzel is the type that E.F. Kurfiss would have been baking in Over-the-Rhine before the Civil War.

The goal of a Baden-Wuertemburg soft pretzel is two distinct eating experiences, one crunchy and one fluffy, in a single pretzel.   And, the defining secret of this experience is lye, a powerful alkali that gives them their contrast between a creamy white interior and a cruncy, dark-brown, lightly bitter crust.   Just before baking, pretzels are dipped into a bath of water and lye, (somewhat like a bagel) which transforms the starch on the surface so that it can brown quickly, while the interior remains moist. Cold lye solution can burn the eyes or skin, but the chemicals are neutralized by the heat of the oven.

As a nod to the long pretzel legacy in Over-the-Rhine, a new business, Brezel, has opened there at 14th Street in the last year.  Female owned, it feels like more of a bagel shop with its over 29 flavors of Bavarian hand-rolled bretzels.     With varieties like cinnamon sugar, banana nut, ranch, habanero, jalapeno, and coconut & almond, you’ll find one to suit your particular taste.   Although E.F. Kurfiss might be confused with some of the flavors, I think he’d be happy that his bretzel legacy lives on in his former German neighborhood in Cincinnati.

Dueling Sandwich Cookies


September marks the reintroduction of a longtime American brand – one of which most Americans have never heard.   Leaf Brands began the production of Hydrox cookies on September 4, this year at their facility in Vernon, California.   They are very proud to bring back the Hydrox, what they call the Original Sandwich Cookie.   Yep, it predated the Oreo, and was always free of animal fats.   Leaf Brands went old school, rolling back the recipe to when real sugar, non-hydrogenated oils and high-quality cocoa were used.

Leaf Brands is a candy company, around since the 1920s, that sells such brands as Astro Pop, Wacky Wafers, Tart n Tiny, Bonkers, and Farts candies.

Hydrox is the brand name for a cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie that debuted in 1908 and was manufactured by Sunshine Biscuits.   Oreo, which was introduced later in 1912, was actually inspired by the Hydrox, but Hydrox was always seen as the knockoff.

They say the cookie being manufactured is like the original Hydrox you remember – less sweat, more tangy, and more chocolate flavor than its younger rival, Oreo.   And it stays crispier in milk.

The name Sunshine chose sounded more like a cleaning solution than a cookie.   Later market research showed that the name was not well received in the market.   Its creators came up with the name from the atoms comprising water.  In 1908, they were looking for a name that would convey “purity and goodness.” Since water is known for those qualities, they developed the name from the elements making up a water molecule.   Hydrox was fresh enough to gain an all Kosher status.   But with a name like Hydrox, that didn’t seem to go very far.


Oreo overtook the market and is now the highest selling cookie in not only the U.S., but the world. They have more flavors than just the chocolate-vanilla sandwich.     Just releasing a candy corn filled Oreo, there are also peanut butter, watermelon, double stuffed, birthday cake, dulce de leche, fruit punch, pumpkin spice, strawberries and cream, limeade, gingerbread, creamsickle, mint, banana split, red velvet, and even fried chicken!

Sunshine Biscuits, the creator of the Hydrox cookie was purchased by Keebler in 1996, and was replaced with a similar but reformulated product names Droxies.     To me it sounds like a sleeping pill – again with the terrible branding!   Keebler was bought by Kellogg’s in 2001, and they removed Droxies from the market in 2003.

I’m lucky to have an old Keebler plant about a mile away in the valley from my house that in the warmer months wafts great cookie baking aromas through my windows.   Kellogg’s markets a chocolate sandwich cookies under the Famous Amos brand.   On the Hydrox’s 100th anniversary, Kellogg’s resumed distribution of Hydrox under the Sunshine label, with first batches shipping in August of 2008.     Fans of the old cookie had bombarded Kellogg’s with thousands of phone calls and online petitions, begging for its reintroduction. They were made available nationally for a limited time, and less than a year later Kellogg’s removed Hydrox from their web site, never to bring them back to the market.

Leaf Brands got a letter from Kellogg’s stating they have no plans to bring back the brand.   So, the U.S. Patent office granted Leaf the exclusive use of the brand and now it’s their newest product.   And now the small fan base that craved the original American chocolate-vanilla sandwich cookie is overjoyed to enjoy their chocolatey-crunchy taste once again.

Leveling the Dippin’ Field – Keeping Belgian Mayonnaise Fat


I had always been a ketchup man.   Nothing else went with a burger or a heaping pile of fries. In high school some of my friends preferred mustard as their dipping sauce, which seemed eclectic to me.   Did they not understand the importance of ketchup?  It was the American condiment.   But never, was mayonnaise considered.   Mayonnaise was limited to things like grilled cheese, and the unnatural cafeteria fried fish logs, if its more preferred cousin, Frisch’s tartar sauce wasn’t available.

It wasn’t until my first trip to Belgium in college that I learned the true bliss of using real mayonnaise to dip frites or fries.   It was Eurrailing around with a buddy of mine studying at Exeter College, when I learned from his university friends that mayo is the only choice given at late night frite stands. This was after a particularly raucous night of partying in Brussels. And, it’s fatty deliciousness, along with the starchy potatoes they accompany are a great hangover cure. For kids in their early twenties with off-the-chart metabolisms, it has no bad affects.   Who was worried about heart-healthy condiments then?

Belgians take their mayo very seriously.   A 60 year old royal decree actually governs what’s in it. Belgian mayonnaise must contain at least 80% fat and 7.5% egg yolk.     For those looking for a high fat diet, I think this applies.     Belgians eat an estimated $1.2 Billion in mayo a year, surpassed only by a small handful of other nations.

And Belgians put mayo on everything.     Almost every town square from the Flemish speaking north coast to the mountains of the French speaking south has a potato shack serving frites piled with mayo.     There’s even a 2013 dance-pop song by Belgian star Stromae called “Moule Frites” or mussel fries, paying homage to the national condiment.   Some even put it on stewed apples with sugar.  Even the Mannekin Pis, the urinating boy fountain that’s a symbol of Belgium, was dressed eating frites with mayo. About the only thing Belgians won’t put mayonnaise on is their waffles and pancakes.


World disorder has put a mark on mayonnaise since its beginning.   Its origin has been tied to an assault on the Spanish island of Minorca in 1756, when French forces, led by the Duke of Richelieu, seized the Port of Mahon.   For the victory after-party, the duke’s chef wanted to make a sauce with cream and eggs.   Having no cream, he used olive oil instead, and voila, ‘sauce mahonnaise’ was born.


Another legend gives the nativity story in the town of Bayonne in southwest France – ‘sauce bayonnaise’.   French culinary encyclopedias say it’s based from the old French word, “moyeu” meaning egg yolk.   Some Spaniards even claim the French copied their recipe.   There’s a lot more olive oil in Spain than France.

But Europe’s cut throat condiment market is pushing Belgian mayo producers to push for loosening standards and lowering costs for producers. Non-Belgian European rivals are permitted to sell mayo with a mere 70% fat and only 5% yolk, which is cheaper to produce than the royally-decreed Belgian kind.

Belgian chefs aren’t taking this dressing down of the fat in their mayo very well.   Some have said comparing higher fat Belgian mayo to lower fat Euro versions is like comparing a farm raised chicken to a factory hen.   Belgian’s Deputy Prime Minister Kris Peeters has met with both sides to try to quell the controversy. He was even sprayed with mayo in public by antigovernment protesters in 2014, who don’t like the idea of taking the fat out of their national condiment.     Mayo is always unhealthy.   The Belgian producers just want to make it less expensively to compete with non-native mayos infiltrating their market.

The U.S. also has its standards, although much less fatty than the Belgian version.   Since 1977 U.S. mayo must contain only 65% vegetable oil and some egg yolk.  And, there’s been controversy here too.   Last year, Unilever, the maker of U.S. leading mayo brand Hellmann’s last year sued a startup company, Hampton Creek Foods out of San Francisco, for a mayo they produce that replaces egg yolk with Canadian yellow peas for implying it’s product was mayo even though it didn’t adhere to the U.S. labelling definition.     Unilever dropped the case after floods of complaints they were bullying a startup.

Some foods were not meant to be low fat or heart healthy.     And to ardent Belgians, that’s mayonnaise.   Threaten to take the fat out of their national condiment, and you just might have a flotilla show up ready to invade your port!

Do You Know the Muffin Man?


I do know my muffin man.   But he’s not the one who lives on Drury Lane, as mentioned in the 1820s English children’s rhyme, and he doesn’t have to ring a bell to get customers to buy.    Mine is the crunchy hipster with his hair in a messy man-bun from Blue Oven Bakery. He sells his hand made English muffins every Sunday at the local farmer’s market with a qeue the entire length of the market, before he’s even open.    And, his English muffins come in whole wheat and regular, and are about the size of a good hamburger. They’re not the small, thin, dried-out manufactured versions I grew up on in the form of Thomas’ English muffins. They’re the delicious, hand-hewn, chewy on the inside, crunchy on the outside.   They’re the kind that are awaiting a spoonful of delicious jam.   My muffin man makes the best English muffins I’ve ever tasted.

The crappy American version , originally called a ‘toaster crumpet’ was invented by a New York British Immigrant, Samuel Bath Thomas, in 1894, from his mother’s tea cake recipe. It may have ‘nooks and crannies’ to trap butter, but it’s manufactured blandness lacks the thickness and chewiness of the original English muffin he was trying to mimic.   The nooks for butter are needed for them to taste close to palatable!

The English muffin is not really a muffin at all, but a form of a crumpet. It is said to have originated in the ‘below stairs’ regions of English manor houses.    Unlike most breads, they’re not baked, but fried on a hot plate on both sides, giving a perfect golden brown top crust on both sides, and a chewy, inside.   Think of Mrs. Padmore and Daisy making these for their fellow workers at Downton Abby.  They probably came from even older country traditions, where the kitchen workers came, like the Welsh tradition of cooking small round yeast dough on bakestones.

Making these ‘muffins’ was a frugal way for the kitchen servants to use up left over dough and yeast for their own meals.     And, they were so good, that when the upper classes saw their servants making them, and tried them, they became a hit upstairs as well.   The lords and ladies began requesting them with their tea, and they became an English institution.   It became something classless, a very rare thing in the hierarchical and very structured British society.

In Victorian England, amidst the other street vendors, muffin men could be heard ringing their bells, announcing their walk down the alleys, with their muffins in wooden trays slung around their necks or balancing on their heads.   You definitely knew your muffin man then, and the street where he lived.   English Parliament outlawed the vendors from ringing their bells in 1840, but the law wasn’t really enforced until much later, and the muffin man gradually faded into bread history.


All this I learned on the second episode of my favorite fall food show on PBS, “The Great British Baking Show.”   It’s the best baking competition show on T.V.    Kudos again to the BBC for bringing such great programming.    They do sort of a quickfire challenge, a technical challenge, and then a showpiece challenge in each episode. It’s like a triathalon for bakers and really tests their technical skills and creativity, both of which a master baker needs.   Anyone can mix a Duncan Hines box cake together, but it takes a master craftsman to make a good English sponge or a true  Angel Food Cake.

This season, I’m gunning for Kimberly, the self-proclaimed “flavor magpie,”, who I believe was robbed out of winning Master Baker, in last night’s episode for her Peace Bread.   Her English muffins were perfect in shape, size, color and flavor, and she was the only baker smart enough to bake a test piece of muffin at the same time as her real muffins to determine when they were done on the inside – the most challenging part of the muffin making process.

So I’ll continue to take my tea with the slightly rustic, more authentic, English muffins of my Sunday morning muffin man, and continue to cheer on Kimberly on Sunday evenings.

And Then Came the Cheese Pocket

Cheese pocket jpeg

I’ve been talking about bread and pastry all week so I figure I’d continue the trend.   I officially declare it German-American Pastry week!   Cincinnati is a region that has a rich baking tradition.   Nestled in that tradition is our love affair with coffee cakes.   Just looking at the offerings of coffee cake in a Buskens brochure there are 14 available during the week.  You’d be lucky to get more than a few in most cities, like St. Louis, which also has a strong German-American community and used to be the dominant player in bakeries nationally.  Even small neighborhood bakeries like Wyoming Pastries and Regina bakery offer 15-30 varieties, rotated through the week.

I remember my grandmother telling me that they had a bakery products salesman from St. Louis who would visit my grandparents at their bakery and promote new products or pastry fillings.  It was this salesman who introduced them to the gooey butter coffee cake, which is St. Louis’ signature pastry. My grandparents called their version the candied butter coffee cake.   (see my earlier blog “The Wrong Schmear Created the Gooey Butter Coffee Cake”)

While St. Louis has its gooey butter coffee cake,  Cincinnati has a coffee cake unique to the region, called the cheese pocket coffee cake.  The cheese pocket has been around awhile. One might easily assume that the cheese pocket coffee cake comes from an old German recipe.   There are other German cakes made with quark, which is a strained curd cheese,  sometimes translated as  cottage cheese or farmers cheese.  In Germany, quark and cottage cheese are considered different types of fresh cheese.  Some have compared our cheese pockets to the German schmierkuchen, which is a bit different.   The schmierkuchen uses quark cheese, with a more dense dough than our cheese cup, which is not folded over, and they sprinkle the top with raisins.


A German Schmierkuchen

Polly Campbell, Food Critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer uncovered the origin of the Cheese pocket in Cincinnati :

“According to Gary Gottenbusch, owner of Servatii Bakery, the cheese pocket’s history in Cincinnati has a much more specific origin, going back about 50 years.  That  was when Gordon Nash of Priscilla Bakery in St. Bernard first made it.  Nash was president of the Retail Bakers Association at that time.”


Priscilla Bakery in St. Bernard

” The local chapter used to do a show and sell event.  Each bakery would bring in their best item and share in a spirit of cooperation.  Nash-knock-off  cheese pockets quickly became a staple at most bakeries in the 1960s and a customer favorite.   This sort of sharing of recipes and ideas is characteristic of Cincinnati’s bakeries. There has been a very reciprocal attitude among the bakers in Greater Cincinnati.”

Heck, they used to sing, perform, and drink together back in pre-Prohibition days at Grammer’s in a Baecker’s Gesangverein or Baker’s Singing Club.  It’s just understood that they share, even though they still all have their signature specialties.

The many choices locally justify a cheese pocket road trip to those, like me, with a cheese-sweet-tooth.   I think a blueberry cheese crown needs to be made available immediately.

Get Stung by the Bienenstich

It may be the coming of German Oktoberfest season, but for some reason I’ve had visions of German pastries dancing in my head lately.   It’s probably the restriction of sweets from my 40 day diet that I’m currently on.    We long for what we can’t have.   One interesting German pastry that was available at Germania Society’s Oktoberfest this year was the Bienenstich or Bee Sting Cake.    The Rathskeller or basement of the Germania Clubhouse hosts the most authentic German dinners of any Oktoberfest in Greater Cincinnati, with a huge dessert table of German-American tortes, strudel, cream puffs, and the bee sting cake.  They’re made by Servatti’s, a more Italian sounding bakery, but they’re fairly authentic to German origins.

Bienenstich is a layered German dessert made of  two cakes of a sweet yeast dough, think of a dense brioche, filled with a vanilla custard, buttercream or another type of pastry cream like Bavarian cream or Diplomat Cream.   The latter is a type of pastry cream with heavy ratio of whipped cream to custard, gelatin, and sometimes a dash of liquer.   The top layer has a baked-on topping of caramelized slivered almonds.  It  might have earned its name just from its honey topping.  According to one story the baker who invented the cake was stung by a bee.  Another story is that 15 century German bakers pummelled invaders with beehives, to fend them off.  They later celebrated by baking a cake named after their violent efforts.   I like the second story better, so that’s the one I’m sticking to!


Servatii’s Bienenstick Coffee Cake

The bee sting cake is not one of those German-American dishes you can’t find in Germany. Although it’s origin is attributed to Bavaria, where most of the German pastries come from that we’re familiar with in America, one can find it as north as Berlin in Germany at places like Rogacki restaurant in the Charlottenburg neighborhood.

One of the last family bakeries in Cincinnati that has such a cake is Little Dutch Bakery on Hamilton Avenue in the Mt. Healthy Business District.   It’s third generation German-American owned by Chris Girmann, and has won a Best of the City award CityBeat in 2008 for its bee hive cake.   Chris’ grandfather Frank W. Girmann, started the bakery in 1929 after immingrating from Germany and carried the bee hive cake recipe with him.    The bakery moved to its present location in 1954.  He married Margaret Habig, who’s family owned Habig’s German restaurant on the West Side of Cincinnati, famous for their German recipe concord grape pie.

Little Dutch’s beehive cake is a little different from the bee sting cake in that it doesn’t have the cream filling and uses pecans instead of almonds for the top crunch.  It’s similar to another Cincinnati baked delicacy, the schnecken, made by Virginia Bakery, except that it’s lighter and not as rich.

Girmann sprinkles dough with cinnamon and sugar, rolls it into a log shape and then cuts the dough crosswise into chunks, similar to prep for a schnecken. The dough is placed into honey-and brown sugar-glazed pans and gets another dose of honey and brown sugar, along with a sprinkle of pecans.  After the beehive cooked, Girmann adds caramel, white, or another type of icing.  He’s even iced them in chocolate or cherry at customer requests.

Whatever your preference – cream or no cream, the bee sting cake is still available in Cincinnati and can bring you ‘viele Gemutlichkeit’ or lots of happiness during Oktoberfest season.