Schnitzel – My Favorite German Comfort Food

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If I was asked what my favorite American comfort food is, the answer would be country fried steak.   There is something about a pounded piece of chicken or veal, crispy breaded, fried, and smothered in thick white peppered gravy that is incredibly yummy to me.    As I mentioned in my post of 2014, the  High Hill German immigrants of Texas adapted their homeland schnitzel into what we now know as the country fried steak.   So then by extension, schnitzel is also my favorite comfort food.

Schnitzel has a wonderful history, coming out of Vienna, Austria.   There are a huge variety of types, and many countries outside of the German speaking world have their versions of this dish.     In writing my latest book, “Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati,”   I wrote about a now gone Austrian-Hungarian restaurant called Lenhardt’s in Clifton, that served 12 different varieties of schnitzel.   Nowadays you’re lucky to find a German restaurant that serves more than the standard weiner schnitzel.    Even the Black Forest and Forest View Gardens German themed restaurants in town didn’t serve that many varieties of schnitzel.

But sadly, Lenhardt’s is now gone – a victim of progress and university expansion.   The historic mansion that housed the restaurant was sold by the family, and demolished to build condos for University of Cincinnati students.   The mansion was built by local beer baron Christian Moerlein for his daughter as a wedding anniversary gift, and was filled with Victorian character, including angel murals in the dining room, believed to be done by the same artist who designed the original Moerlein beer labels.

I remember Lenhardt’s very well in college.  I used to meet friends in Christy’s Rathskeller below the restaurant, for ‘stammtisch’, to practice my very broken German, and have a few liters of Warsteiner.    I also remember how gracious the second generation owner, Frau Windholz, was to my fundraising causes for a student group of which I was a member.   She gladly donated gift certificates to the restaurant for a raffle we had every year.   But even more than that, I remember how delicious their schnitzels were and how much a treat it was to eat there. I usually ordered the Jaegerschnitzel or the Holsteinschnitzel when I dined there.

The types of schnitzel that Lendhardt’s used to serve:

  • Jaegerschnitzel – literally hunter schnitzel – topped in a burgundy or cream mushroom sauce
  • Wiener schnitzel – Austrian – no sauce
  • Zigeunerschitzel – gypsy schnitzel – served with a tomato based sauce with red peppersand mushrooms – think Hungarian
  • Holsteinschnitzel – topped with a fried egg and anchovie
  • Rahmschnitzel – heavy cream, black pepper, and white wine
  • Kaiserschnitzel – literally, king’s schnitzel – over easy egg with lemon caper sauce
  • Italianschnitzel – tomato sauce
  • Paprickaschnitzel – like chicken paprikash
  • Sailor schnitzel  – a thin slice of ham, cheese, and light wine butter sauce

A new favorite restaurant of mine, Katharina’s Conditorei in Newport, Kentucky, has renewed my interest in schnitzel.   Although Katherina’s only serves wiener and jaeger schnitzel – they do it well – pounded out flat and tender and breaded with a thick, crispy coating.     It’s really a simple dish, but when freshly breaded and done well and paired with some great German sides, like their homemade creamy dill potato salad, it makes for an amazing dinner.

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With the current popularity of fusion concepts, I’ve even seen variations like buffalo chicken schnitzel, and pretzel crusted weiner schnitzel.      Even though German and Austrian cuisine is the least trendy food category now, I think that a schnitzel-only concept would do well.     Offer a variety of different updated schnitzels with fries and other good sides like smashed sour cream potatoes, rotkraut, or cheesy spaetzle, and you’ve got a winner.

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Germany’s St. Martin’s Day : When Goetta & Other Gruetzwursts Were Made

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St. Martin’s Day, or Martingstag in Germany, on November 11, is probably one of the most popular saint’s feast days in the Catholic world.   That’s except in the U.S., where it’s virtually unknown.   In Germany it has a mini-Mardi Gras associated with it, and could also be called the German Thanksgiving, as it celebrates the harvest and earth’s bounty.

St. Martin of Tours, a Roman-legion-turned-monk, was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor.  His holiday originated in France, but then spread to Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe.  In addition to honoring the popular saint, it celebrates the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of harvesting.

Bishop Perpetuus of Tours, ordered fasting three days a week from the day after Saint Martin’s Day. In the 6th century, local councils required fasting on all days except Saturdays and Sundays from Saint Martin’s Day to the Epiphany on January 6, a period of 56 days, but of 40 days fasting, like the fast of Lent.   Because of this similarity, it was therefore called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Saint Martin’s Lent).  This period of fasting was later shortened to “Advent” by the Church.

Because St. Martin’s Day precedes the penitential season of Advent, it is seen as a mini “carnivale”, with all the feasting and bonfires on St. Martin’s Eve.   Bonfires are built and children parade with homemade lanterns in the streets after dark, often led by a character dressed like St. Martin as a Roman soldier, riding a white horse.  After these lantern processions, called Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge, they gather around the bonfires, drinking gluhwein or hot spiced wine, and sing songs for which children are rewarded with candy.  It’s kind of like trick-or-treating.

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In the Rhineland region, in cities like Cologne, bread pastries called Weckmänner or sweet bread men, are eaten in the days leading up to the feast day.   Sometimes these men are carrying little clay pipes embedded in their dough,and usually have raisins for eyes and shirt buttons.  The following day, goose or duck is eaten at a festive Thanksgiving-like dinner. Following these holidays, women traditionally moved their work indoors for the winter, while men would proceed to work in the forests.

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The goose became a symbol of St. Martin of Tours because of a legend that when trying to avoid being ordained bishop of Tours he hid in a goose pen, but was betrayed by their cackling. November is when geese are mature enough for slaughter.  St. Martin’s Day was an important medieval autumn feast, and the custom of eating goose spread across Europe. In the peasant community, not everyone could afford to eat goose, so many ate duck or hen instead.

St.  Martin is credited with spreading wine-making throughout the Touraine region, the area of France’s Loire valley, and with introducing the Chenin blanc grape varietal.   The Loire Valley is in northeastern France.  That region includes Vouvray, the home of Chenin Blanc, which is just east of the city of Tours, St. Martin’s hometown, along the Loire River.   Legend says that when he founded the Marmoutier monastery in 372 his monks began producing local wines with this grape.

In addition to coinciding with harvest-time, St. Martin’s day is also the time when newly produced wine is ready for drinking, and the end of winter preparations are done, including the butchering of animals, particularly the hog.   An old English saying is “His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog,” meaning “he will get his comeuppance” or, more bleakly, “everyone must die”.

When the hog was butchered in Germany, the entire carcass was used, including the blood, internal organs, and the off cuts of meat.    Even the brain could be used for bragenwurst or brain sausage.   So all the products from snout to tail were made at this time for Winter.  While the owner of the hog, who might have been the baron, oldest son, or owner of the manor house, used the loin, ham and other good cuts, he might offer the day laborers or younger siblings, the tagelohner and the heurling the other cuts of meat and organs for making sausage or wurst.   Blutwurst or Blood sausages would be made, and the small amounts of off cut meats would be mixed with a variety of filler grains (rye, barley, buckwheat, oats, cornmeal, and even gingerbread) to make the gruetzwursts or grain sausages, which would have included knipp, pinkel, panhas (the grandfather of scrapple), and of course our other beloved goetta predecessors.

Before refrigeration, the onslaught of cold weather would be the time that these gruetzwursts could be ‘put up’ in the meat house and kept without spoiling.  So St. Martin’s Day could be called the first Goettafest.    Maybe Glier’s should declare St. Martin the patron saint of goetta, and host a St. Martin’s procession to kick off their Goettafest.  Heck, they should even change the date from July to the weekend closest to November 11!

Eierlikor – the East German Spiked Eggnog that Drinks like a Custard

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One of the great legacy recipes my father’s family has lost is my Grandpa’s famous holiday eggnog.     As the second youngest grandchild, I never had the pleasure of trying it. But, I heard all about it growing up.   Grandpa’s eggnog was some magic elixir, some mystical German cure-all. Everyone looked forward to imbibing at Christmas, when Grandma and Grandpa hosted their large family in their small 1920s two bedroom cottage.    The faux cardboard holiday chimney that decorated the basement was still around when we were kids, long after the family holiday party moved to the larger house of an aunt and uncle.   Grandpa loved Christmas – he had a yearly lights display on the outside of the house, and a Christmas O-gauge train set and village that choo-chooed at the bottom of the Tannenbaum.

As much as they loved it not one of my aunt and uncles or their spouses ever thought to preserve Grandpa’s recipe for my generation.   My dad remembers that it was different and thicker than typical store bought eggnog and it was strong!   It was probably passed down to my grandfather from his father and his grandfather, who came from northeastern Germany.     And the thickness and strongness fits the description of the German eggnog, “Eierlikor,” which literally translates to egg liquor.

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This German version is popular in East Germany in the areas of Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Vorpmmern, but it’s quite different than our domestic version. Served in small chocolate shot glasses, after a meal or before dessert, it’s sweeter, and thicker than ours.   It’s more like a drinkable pudding or custard.   Think of a rich, creamy, dedacent go-gurt.   It’s a drink whose popularity extends as south as Dresden, and was popular during the days of the former GDR.   Even then, when other food staples were in short supply, there never seemed to be a shortage of brandy – the drink’s most common spiking liquor.   This was one of the few indulgences that added light to the otherwise dark existence ‘behind the iron curtain.”

In the Netherlands, it is called Advocaat, and is much the same as the East German Eierlikor. Its color is golden yellow and drinks like a custard.   Advocaat is made with a blend of egg yolks, sugar or honey, brandy, vanilla, and sometimes heavy cream or evaporated milk.   Some commercial producers of Advocaat include Bols, DeKuyper, and Verpoorten, who sell mostly into the Dutch and Belgian markets.  In the Netherlands, it’s served with a little spoon, and also served as a topping on waffles, with ice cream, or used in pastry creams.     I tasted this version on a trip in college to Amsterdam, and was fascinated by how they mixed it to make some unusual cocktails.  Some popular drinks made with Advocaat are the ‘Snowball’ – a mix of sparkling lemonade and lime juice.   The ‘Fluffy Duck’ adds rum to Advocaat. And in the Tyrolean ski resorts in Italy they make the ‘Bombardino’, a cocktail that adds even more brandy to Advocaat with the addition of whipped cream.

Our U.S. version is typically not heated like the German version.     Ours can be made with brandy, vodka, rum, or even bourbon, whereas the German version is typically made from brandy.   My family typically spikes the store bought nog with rum.     The U.S. version also spices the nog with cinnamon or nutmeg or both, while the German version may only sprinkle it as a garnish on top, rather than add to the mixture.

One brand of Eierlikor, Brandt’s, is from the village of Sietow in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the region where my Grandfather’s recipe originated. Another brand, Braune, made in Magdeburg in Saxony, has probably the most flavors commercially available – chocolate, chocolate mint, chocolate mocha, chocolate rum, gingerbread, cinnamon, crème brulee, coconut, rose, praline, chocolate chili, and even pina colada.

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A trip to Jungle Jim’s German section is in order to find an authentic East German Eierlikor to sample this holiday season. And just maybe, I can piece together a recipe that’s similar to Grandpa’s old holiday favorite.

The Alabama Orange Roll

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My heart and palate have still not left my new favorite state, Alabama, since my trip there nearly a month ago. I fell in love with its deep culture and southern cuisine.   Theirs is the cuisine of the deep south, with some of the residue of Louisiana creole cooking, but with its own viewpoint.   I found yet another local favorite dish from the area.   The Alabama Department of Tourism lists it as one of the “ 100 Foods To Eat Before You Die”.   But, it was one I hadn’t experienced while I was there.   I asked our server at Kitchen on George in Mobile, for an example of a regional popular dish.   All he could come up with was crawfish and shrimp and grits.   He gave me no inkling of the secret food that accompanies most family dinners in the Gulf Coastal south – a yeasty sweet bun called the Alabama Orange Roll.

Maybe our server didn’t mention this delicious treat as a regional delicacy because it comes in a basket for every table in Alabama.     It’s taken for granted because it’s everywhere.   Whatever the case, I was intrigued.

This new tip came by way of our corporate chef.   Before coming to our company, he had cooked with some of the finest executive chefs in Birmingham, Alabama.     It was on a recent visit to a southern fried chicken chain in Dallas, Texas, that our chef told me about this Alabama Orange Roll.

You see we assume that all southern fried chicken family meals are created equal.   They are not.   Not only in the type of oil in which they’re fried or the spice, makeup, and crunch of the batter.   In the Carolina and Georgia Low Country every chicken dinner, and for that matter, any other southern dinner, comes with a biscuit.   Well, in the Gulf Coastal South, which includes Texas and its interior, everything comes with a yeast roll, not a biscuit.   I don’t know if it’s because it’s hotter there, but Gulf Coast southerners prefer a lighter roll with their dinner that has a bit of sweetness to it.     Sure, just like the Low Country Coasters a bit north of them, they’ll douse the roll in butter and local honey.   But they prefer their yeast rolls.

This particular chicken chain made their own sweet yeast roll. It was one of the items whose cooking we were assessing to recommend our oven.     It was during this assessment that our sales rep and our chef were talking about how in Texas and the coastal south the yeast roll reigns supreme over the biscuit.   The store manage said they tried a biscuit adder to their menu, but no one ordered it. They wanted their yeast rolls.

In Alabama, particularly around Birmingham, this delicious Orange variety is served with every meal in every family style restaurant. It’s like a cinnamon roll in that it’s a yeast dough, rolled, and doused in a glaze.   But it doesn’t have cinnamon and it’s glaze is made with orange juice, orange zest and confectioner’s sugar.     The orange roll has been described as “a little tangy, a little sweet, a little buttery, and a lot delicious.”     Although they’re served throughout the year, they’re a popular item at Christmas and the holidays.

One of the most famous places for this orange roll is a restaurant called All Steak in Cullman, Alabama, almost smack-dab between Birmingham and Huntsville.   Cullman is a picturesque city with an historic German heritage, who’s magnolia and azalea lined streets fragrance the city in Spring.   They have a Festehall Market Platz that hosts their annual Oktoberfest and numerous music fests.   But their Orange rolls are what makes them famous.

In 1934, a man named Millard Buckman opened a restaurant in Pulaski, Tennesee, that he planned to call All Steak Hamburgers.   But when he bought a sign he only had enough money for All Steak and that’s what the name became. Four years later Buckman moved the restaurant to Cullman.   Buckman sold to Charles Dobson in about 1970, who had started there washing dishes in 1958.    In 2006, it sold to a Decatur native, Matt Heim.     Dobson divulged their Orange Roll recipe to Bon Appetit magazine in the 1980s, and later had second thoughts about this revelation.  You can still find that original recipe online.

There are some orange rolls commercially available in groceries, even to us northern Yankeees. Sister Schumann’s is a well-respected brand, nicknamed ‘Sinister Schumann’s’ by local chefs that’s available at Krogers and other local groceries.   A Birmingham local, Millie Rae, also makes orange rolls on the order of 720 dozen a day and sells to grocery stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.   Her rolls were made famous by Urban Cookhouse Restaurant in Homewood, Alabama.

Yet another place is famous for their orange rolls and that’s “The Club” (emphasis on THE), a dinner club with one of the best views of downtown Birmingham.   Their recipe is a little bit different, because theirs contains coconut, which the others do not.

The origin of the recipe and the concept are not known.   Whoever invented this citrus sticky bun, should get a James Beard Award in my opinion. I am going to have to integrate them into a holiday brunch, maybe alongside a slab of crispy goetta topped with a fried green tomato!

For Cincinnati Germans, The Kinkling Became A Fasching Food Custom that Morphed into Halloween

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A Fredrick County, Maryland Kinkling Doughnut

With all my recent posts about Mobile, Alabama’s Mardi Gras foods, I’ve been searching for a reason to write about our own local German Fasching customs.     Well, I found one and how it relates to Halloween.   Recently, a non-German, native Cincinnatian posed a question to our local authority on customs at the German Heritage Museum.   She said that when she and other kids went trick or treating on Halloween in Cincinnati in the 1950s they would not say, “Trick or Treat,” but rather: “Kigili, Kigili.” She didn’t know what this meant, but thought it sounded German.

Considering the large German heritage of our region, this probably morphed from the Swabian-German dialect word for doughnuts: “Kuechele,” and that the reference was to kids of German descent saying, “Kuechele, kuechele,” asking for doughnuts as treats at Halloween.   The, other kids of non-German descent in the neighborhoods heard this and picked it up.

A Cincinnati native, George M Henzel, recalled that children in Cincinnati in the 1910s did in fact get doughnuts as they begged from door to door. “ Halloween handouts were home-made doughnuts, cakes, and cookies, or maybe apples or other fruit. Very little candy was passed out, and if it was, it too, was home-made, such as taffy or peanut brittle.”

But why doughnuts at Halloween? Well, this probably was a transfer over from another German holiday, very similar to Halloween, that the Germans brought and celebrated before Lent– Fasching, also known as Karneval. On Fastnacht, or Fat Tuesday, Germans would eat a doughnut known as a Fastnacht to celebrate their having to fast for the next 40 days of Lent, leading up to Easter. Fastnacht and Fasching are the German equivalent to Mardi Gras and Carnivale and is celebrated in southern Germany, Switzerland, Alsace, and Austria. Fastnachts were made as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally prohibited as part of the Lenten fast.    These are very similar to the Polish paczki doughnut also eaten on Fat Tuesday, locally available at Busken and Bonomoni Bakeries before Lent.

In parts of Maryland, these Fat Tuesday treats are called Kinklings, or “Kuechles”, and are sold all over in bakeries before Lent. The Kinkling version of the doughnut is probably the same dialect that brought the Cincinnati saying “kigili, kigili.” In Frederick County, Maryland, they even call Fat Tuesday, Kinkling Day, as the German doughnut is found all over the city and region.     Fire companies, churches, and other volunteer organizations in Frederick County make and sell these kinklings by the tens of thousands as fundraisers.

In Maryland, the Kinkling is made from a yeasty dough about 3 inches across. The dough is proved and allowed to rise, then punched down, and scored into shape with a pizza cutter.   They are then dropped into frying pans of boiling oil.   The dough quickly puffs up until it resembles a tiny, tufted pillow.   Most are then dusted with powdered sugar while still warm.   Some older recipes use mashed potatoes in the dough.

The Pennsylvania Dutch communities in and around Lancaster County, also celebrate Fasching by eating the Fastnacht doughnut.

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A Lancaster County Fastnacht Doughnut

German immigrants in America took to celebrating Halloween with gusto.   For them, dressing up reminded them of this Fasching in the old country with masks and costumes. The witches and cats reminded them of Walpurgisnacht, a holiday celebrated in Northeastern Germany around the Spring Solstice, celebrating the mythical witches Sabbath.   Today, elaborate Fasching parades are orchestrated in Germany, where elaborate traditional carved wooden masks are worn.     The Hofbrauhaus in Newport, Kentucky, hosts a Fasching celebration put on by Cincinnati’s German American Citizen’s League.       Some wear these traditional carved wooden masks and clown costumes and parade around the beer hall.

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Locally, the Germans have been celebrating Fasching with masked balls since before the Civil War.   The Cincinnati Turner Societies and other German clubs had very popular Fasching balls where people dressed up in costumes like Martha and George Washington, General Bismark, and Mataafa, a famous Samoan King.

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An ad for a Fasching Masked Ball at the Cincinnati Turnhall, 1880s.

So, to mix it up the next time you go trick or treating, you might say, “Kigili, kigili” and see what kind of treat you get.

Frugal Germans in Porkopolis and Our Throwaway Cuts of Meat

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Being close to slaughterhouses and their throwaway cuts of meat made many interesting dishes popular in Cincinnati. Because nearly half a million pigs trotted through our slaughterhouses annually, a lot of dishes associated with soul food and frugal cooking have long been delicacies for Cincinnatians.

The first of these was pork spare ribs.   Originally they were considered a throwaway part of pork processing.   In the 1840s Germans in Cincinnati noticed spare ribs were being thrown in the river and saw that a cheap source of meat could be had .   One Philadelphian boarding in Cincinnati in the 1840s said of his landlady, “What a splendid table my landlady, Mrs. G. keeps. She gives us spare ribs for breakfast four or five times a week, and the finest I’ve ever tasted in my life.”   His friend, a native said, “You don’t appear to know they cost her nothing.   The fact is she can get a basket filled at any pork house in the city by sending for them and not paying a cent.”

Spare ribs are now considered a delicacy rather than a throwaway.     The spare ribs are the front ribs of the pig that attach to the sternum.   Spareribs tend to be less curved than the loin-back or baby back ribs.   The problem with the whole rack of spare ribs is that the breastbone/sternum section has lots of tough pieces of cartilage in it, which end up as hard to chew bits.   So butchers invented the St. Louis cut, which slices off the cartiledge laden part, as well as some excess flap meat at the end of the rack.   The end result is a more uniformly shaped rack, smaller and easier to eat.

But this secondary waste, the cut-off portion of the breastbone portion becomes another dish – rib tibs – which can be barbecued and served.   Eli’s Barbecue on Eastern Avenue in Cincinnati serves smoked rib tips at their very popular restaurant.   The extra flap meat can be used to make sausage.

The pork shoulder, also a cheaper cut,  was used in a lot of local goetta recipes, and local sausages, like the beloved Bockwurst.     Even the cottage ham, a part of the upper part of the Boston Butt in the shoulder, is a result of making use of these cheaper cuts of meat.

Pigs feet were another throwaway part that became popular in Cincinnati, especially in the gelatinious pickled version. They were so popular, in fact, that they were given a local nickname, “Cincinnati oysters”.    They were more readily available and cheaper than oysters.   Before the Civil War in Cincinnati, pigs feet were the Buffalo Wings of the local bar and tavern scene – as a popular snack on most menus.   With all this gnawing on cartilaginous parts of the pig, you wonder if Cincinnati was a great place for dentists in the antebellum and progressive era years.   Even into the thirties, and during the Depression, pickled pigs feet were a cheap and calorie laden meal for Cincinnatians on a budget.

The last and probably the most controversial throwaway dish is chitterlings or chitlins, or the small intestine of the pig. Most meat companies and butchers have long considered them to be a messy byproduct of the pork business, which they sold as a necessary eveil to meet customer demand and to simply avoid the cost of disposing of them.   Chitlins are a laborious product to clean and have a lot of waste associated with their processing.   Most products on the market today are chemically bleached and as a result have a lot of grittiness to their texture.

One fifth generation local butcher, Louis’s meats, owned by brothers Rick and Rob Rothhaas, have launched a national chitlin product Called Uncle Lou’s, that caters largely to African-Americans. Their product, from a formula their father, Lou Rothhaas created, is a cleaner, more full-bodied chitlin, easier to handle than those sold frozen in messy 10 pound buckets by most butchers and supermarkets.   Their neatly packed 5 pound product sold nearly 2 million in 2002 and has grown steadily.   Their great great grandmother, Margaretha Reis Rothhaas, who started their family butcher shop in Cincinnati in 1887 would be proud.

The Rothhaas brothers also sell a spare rib, again catering to a the demands of a largely African-American consumer, who prefers smaller and less fatty spareribs than those typically sold today.   They provide the St. Louis cut, made from younger or runt pigs – what our local Germans used to call “spanferkel” or suckling pig.

What’s interesting is that a burgeoning food movement is growing in the U.S., to use the whole pig, tail to snout.     Dishes using exotic parts like spleen, tongue, nose, and even blood have popped up as trendy in this nose-to-tail movement.  But here in Porkopolis, we’ve been doing this for centuries.    Who was it that said that things happen many years later in Cincinnati?    In this piggy case, Mr. Mark Twain, you were wrong!.

In Cincinnati, not all German Metts Were Created Equal – Meet the Hamilton and Leona Metts

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Avril-Bleh’s Hamilton Metts

One of the sad casualties of the sale of our local pork packing giants like Kahn’s is the death of our local meat terms.     Now owned by Sarah Lee’s division of Consolidated foods, they don’t care about keeping the old Cincinnati sausages as products. A mett is just a mett.   But back in the day there were all kinds of mettwurst in Cincinnati, and people knew exactly what they meant and what they were getting.

I came across a local term recently for a Hamilton Mett, a term with which I was unfamiliar. I thought I had scoured all the local meat terminology.   But this term, like our Cottage Ham, is unknown outside of a 50 mile radius of Cincinnati.   Along with the Hamilton Mett I also found the Leona Mett.  These metts still exist in the wonderful many-generation owned local German butchers that thankfully still exist around Cincinnati. But the old guard is leaving us too, and the new generation is losing touch with these legacy products and their origin.

Back in the day before Kroger farmed out their meats to a contract manufacturer with their Private Selection Brands, they also carried Cincinnati Metts, Hamilton and Leona Metts.  It makes sense, Bernard Heinirich Kroger – “Barney”-  the founder, was son of Hanoverian immigrants.  Wow – I felt I had hit a gold mine of new local sausage terms to investigate!

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A 1930 Kroger met advertisement

So, I did as I always do when I have a local meat question. I called my dad. As the youngest by 10 years of 5 children, my Dad was the family ‘meat boy’.   It was his duty at the end of a school day, after walking home, to get the night’s meat order from my Grandma, and then walk the several blocks to the business district of his North College Hill hometown and pick up the meats from the local butcher on Galbraith Road.   Before refrigeration, a daily visit to the butcher was a necessity, and ensured the freshness of your meat.     This was before all our meat was cured and loaded with preservatives and would keep for a week in the refrigerator.

I asked Dad if he knew of this Hamilton Mett.   “Oh sure, I remember the Hamilton Mett.   They also made it in a larger loaf and sliced it as luncheon meat. Your Grandpa LOVED that, ”   he began. He also remembered the Leona Mett and that it was also available in a luncheon meat loaf too.     He bemoaned the how national consolidation has made it hard to find our good local German lunchmeats like Dutch loaf and others.

Dad couldn’t remember what spices were in the Hamilton and Leona metts, but he did remember they tasted a bit different.   So, I started calling around to the local butchers to get their stories. There were some consistiencies in their stories, but each was just a bit different.

Stehlin’s on Colerain Avenue said their Hamilton Mett is a pork and beef sausage.   The meat is more finely ground than a Cincinnati mett, and the Hamilton is smoked and fully cooked. In addition to having mustard seed, it also has some more spices in it than the traditional “Cincinnati mett.”

The Cincinnati Mett is an all pork sausage, maybe containing pork liver, that is smoked but not fully cooked. This is the one we see at the ball parks that’s grilled until charred and the skin split and served on a bun with sauerkraut.

Hamilton Metts come in natural casing or skinless, and sometimes mild and hot versions. The hot version just has cayenne pepper added to the spice mix for a bit more heat.

Hamman’s Meat Market in Fairfield confirmed their “Hamilton” is pork and beef and has mustard seed, as did Humbert’s meats in North College Hill.     Hamman’s also said that their Leona mett is pork and beef and is spiced with nutmeg, ginger and white pepper.   Eckerlin’s wasn’t much help.   They just said the Hamilton Mett was a specific local recipe that was created a long time ago and every butcher had their own recipe for it. None were able to tell the origin of these terms, but that they were created over 100 years ago by the local German butchers and they stuck.

One local story is that the best metts were made in Hamilton, Ohio, a very German city to the north of Cincinnati.   That seems unlikely as the Hamilton mett was made all over town, from north Cincinnati to northern Kentucky.

A 1960 Cincinnati Enquirer article describes the name origin:

“Mettwurst is produced in many forms. Berliner Mett, for example, is finer ground than Hamilton Mett, ring shaped mett, or other smoked mett.   Experienced outdoor chefs prefer the Hamilton Mett, which ranges in sizes from six to seven pieces per pound. The origin of the descriptive name is interesting.   In old Bavaria, Hamilton Mett is known as “hamlet mett,” because this sausage was produced in the pork butcher shops in the small town hamlets. Thus to people in larger towns or cities it was “hamlet mettwurst” or perhaps “country sausage.”   When hamlet mettwurst was popularized in Hamilton County area by early German families – name confusion resulted and the sausage soon became “Hamilton” mett. This accepted term is limited in usage to a 50-mile radius around Cincinnati, old “Porkopolis.”   In most other regions Hamilton metts are called ‘smokeys’.”

We do have the product Big Red Smokeys that’s still made by Kahn’s. It was served at the old Riverfront Baseball Stadium and is sort of a modernized version of a smoked Cincinnati mett, in between thickness of a traditional mettwurst and a hot dog.

As far as I can tell, the recipe for the Hamilton Mett, as described, is closest to the Jagdwurst in Germany, popular in the north and east parts of modern Germany. Jagdwurst translates into hunter’s sausage.     It is a fully cooked, smoked , finely ground pork and beef sausage with mustard seed, salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg (mace), and cardamom, with about 20% fat.   In eastern Germany a popular way to serve this is medium sliced, breaded and fried like a schnitzel.    Today, it’s also served commonly at breakfast, served cold, thin- sliced on a buttered brotchen, or small roll.     Katharina’s in Newport, Kentucky, serves Jagwurst this way in their breakfast meat plate – it’s fabulous!

The Leona Mett is closest in recipe to the Bavarian gelbwurst or yellow sausage.    It is a pork and beef sausage, spiced with ginger and nutmeg.

So it seems like the German butchers took their classic recipes from the homeland and locally just came up with more Americanized names.   Over the years, the recipes have changed a bit, but are still fairly close to the original Jagdwurst and Gelbwurst.  Let’s hope the local butchers keep these legacy products around for another generation of Cincinnati carnivores!