A New Savory Battle – Yorkshire Pudding vs. Dutch Pannekoeken

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Yorkshire pudding flights from Reform Social & Grill, U.K.

 

Savory is the new sweet – especially in the dough world.     Savory bacon found its way into desserts several years back.   Pork liver found its way into dessert caramel.    Both of those trends, thankfully, have hit their height and gone.   But now, smart chefs are taking a new trend to heart by taking comfort breads and making them bite-sized and savory with upscale ingredients.

 

Take the Yorkshire pudding for example.   It’s not a pudding at all by American definition. It’s a savory bread, soufflé really, invented in the UK, that originated as a bread baked under a rotisserie.    The hot drippings from the roast were mixed in with the dough below.  Originally it was served as a first course to fill up the eater so they ate less of the expensive meat. Now it’s a staple of the English Sunday roast.

 

Restaurants like Reform Social & Grill is offering a flight of six savory bite-sized Yorkshire puds. They range from a salt beef, horseradish and watercress, a hot smoked salmon, cream cheese and chive version, to a Tunworth Cheese and truffle. These can go in a variety directions. What about a duck and hoisin, to go Asian-Fusian. Chicken vindaloo or curry would be a nice touch.   You could take it southern and have a pimento cheese and bacon version. And you could even go all Cincinnati and have a goetta and beer cheese pud.   The opportunities seem endless – I offer this for free to Chefs Salazar and Kelly – GO!

 

But then you have a very similar dish in the Dutch pannekoeken or pancake.  It’s similar to the Yorkshire pudding in that it’s very light, but eggy, and not the dense pancake that we’re used to seeing at Waffle House or IHOP in the U.S.

 

I had my very first savory pannekoeken in Utrecht, Holland, at De Oude Muntkelder, with my friend Debbie, who grew up on them in Amsterdam.   It was a little café built into the bridge on the canal that was once a receiving warehouse to merchants.   I had the Indonesian pannekoeken, which had chicken, and sauteed mushroom, onion, and leek, covered in a yummy spicy peanut sauce.   It was like stepping into a whole new savory world.   I bought a special pannekoeken skillet and had Debbie bring back real Dutch pannekoeken mix and made my own.     Man were they good!

http://www.deoudemuntkelder.nl/en/menu/pancakes/

 

A few years later I found the Canadian chain De Dutch in Vancouver, that serves all pannekoeken, all day.     Founded by none other than a Dutch immigrant – It too was amazing.   They have traditional versions– like the Amsterkoeken with eggs, edam cheese, and ham with hollandaise sauce.   Then there’s what I had – the Windmill – a smoked salmon, edam and hollandaise drenched version.    It sounds decadent, but it has less calories and carbs than bagels and lox, I can assure you.

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A De Dutch savory pannekoeken.

 

Although pannekoeken can be wrapped like a crepe (although they’re not quite as thin as a crepe) and cut into little sort of pinwheels, the Dutch eat them flat and sprawled out on a plate with knife and fork.     But they can be made in muffin sized versions like the savory Yorkshires and served in a flight.

 

Both the savory Yorkshire and the Pannekoeken are legs up on our American savory version – the fried chicken and waffle, or the local Belgian Liege version we’re familiar with in Cincinnati– sorry Jean-Francois!   And there’s really no room for variation on this domestic version, unless you do something to the breading or the marinade, like make it a Nashville spicy chicken and waffles.    That doesn’t seem like enough room for creativity.

 

I hope local chefs take this ‘flighting’ of small savory breads to heart and offer us some creative bites this year!!

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Pitched Potatoes – a Weird Local Dish Connected to Bruckmann Brewery and its Thuringian German Roots

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Dave Hackman’s Pitched-tators.

 

In 2003 the Cincinnati Enquirer reported about Dave Hackman of Green Township and his weird cookout specialty – pitched potatoes.   For decades, he’s cooked whole Idaho potatoes in a homemade cooker of bubbling pitch or tar, and serves them to his guests.

 

That’s right, he cooks them in the petroleum based black tar that people use to seal roof leaks.   It’s like a deep fat fryer, using tar instead of oil.  To the normal potato-eater it may seem like a ridiculous and dangerous way to cook potatoes.   But, Hackman claims that this method produces a delicious potato – one that’s fluffy and flaky, like baked potatoes before people began microwaving them.  This process takes about 25 minutes, and Hackman says you have to be careful not to overload the cooker or it will boil over.

 

When a guest asks for a potato, he grasps the potato with both hands, thumbs positioned at the end and center of the tuber.   Then he squeezes the hot inner pulp onto a paper plate, leaving behind the black, sticky napkin and potato skin behind.   The most amazing thing is that the potato tastes nothing like the tar it’s cooked in.   In my opinion, even though the tar doesn’t get into the potato, the petroleum based volatiles, like benzene, can potentially get into the potato, which is not good.   It’s similar to how oil gets into a French fry when it’s being deep fried.   It’s the simple laws of mass transfer through a semi-permeable membrane, but that’s the chemical engineer in me talking.

 

Ever since he was 10 years old, in 1947, Hackman says his father Arnold Hackman, made pitched potatoes.   Since his father’s passing, he claimes to be one of the few people who cooks pitched potatoes.

 

Hackman tells his story of how the pitched potato method came into his family.   His father was brewmaster for many years at the local Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery, back when they sealed wooden beer barrels with tar.   This indicates that Hudepohl was either not using quality made beer barrels, or, they were reusing them too much and they were springing leaks.   A good German cooper, like the ones in White Oak, who supplied many of the downtown Cincinnati breweries would have made barrels that were naturally sealed and didn’t require tar coatings.   Either way, Hudepohl were probably, and hopefully, using the more natural plant based rosin material to seal the barrels than the toxic petroleum based black tar.

 

The story goes that one day a stray potato fell into a vat of bubbling tar – or maybe someone dropped it in to see what would happen. What a raw potato was doing at a brewery in my opinion brings the credibility of this story into question.  After a while this potato bobbed to the surface, someone retrieved it and mustered the courage to taste it.   So because of either the novelty or the bravery of this taster, the tar-cooked method made it into the Hackman family.

 

In the 1975 Joy of Cooking, there is a pitched potato recipe that cooks them in the more natural plant based resin or rosin.     This would be the most pristine extra-virgin olive oil, compared to the tar that Hackman uses, but he proclaims that resin is for sissies.

 

The pitched potato recipe is actually a fairly old one, dating back over 100 years.   And it did use pitch/tar/resin, whatever you want to call it, but it was the natural pine tar resin, not the petroleum based product that Hackman uses.   In its room temperature state pine tar resin was hard, and could be used to patch roofs and leaks, but if you struck it with a hammer, it cracks like peanut brittle.     A wood fired cauldron would carefully melt this pine tar resin, the potatoes would be carefully dropped, cooked, and then set aside and cooled. Once cooled, the tubers would be tapped with a stick and the rosin coating would crack, peeling off like a hard-boiled egg.

 

There is a connection of this old method of cooking pitched potatotes, to Hudepoh-Schoenling.   Back in the day, Cincinnati brewmasters jumped from brewery to brewery for the best opportunity. One of Hudepohl’s long term brewmasters was Charles Klink, who came from the Bruckmann Brewery, where he worked as brewmaster from 1916-1918, until he moved to Hudepohl.     Klink was very influential in the local brewery community, serving as President of the Master Brewer’s Association in America, after the end of Prohibition in the 1930s.

 

Bruckmann Brewery started a local social group called the “Free Setters”, and hosted the group’s annual Beefsteak Dinner at their taproom at the brewery site on Ludlow Avenue near Northside.      The founders of Bruckmann Brewery were Johann Caspar Bruckmann and his brother Friedrich, who were immigrants from a small town in Thuringia, Germany.     A 1904 Cincinnati Enquirer article describes how the Free Setters, hosted at the Bruckmann Brewery, entertained a group of visiting and local newsmen at a dinner.   One of the beloved dishes at these beefsteak dinners, in addition to Thuringian bratwurst, was pitched potatoes.

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The bust of John C. Bruckmann at Spring Grove Cemetery.

 

Two things for which Thuringia was known, especially the village where the Bruckmann’s hailed, were their dense forests and potatoes.   There’s even a special type of Thuringian cheese that’s made from soured milk and potato mash. In fact, it was a several year long potato famine in their home village, Berka vor dem Hainich, which probably motivated their immigration to Cincinnati in the late 1840s.         An available quantity of pine tar and potatoes made pitched potatoes a common dish in Thuringia, and the method, along with their brewing recipes, were the valuables that the Bruckmanns, whose parents were innkeepers, brought with them across the Atlantic.

 

Klink worked at Hudepohl during the same time period as Hackman’s father, and is probably who transferred the pitched potato recipe to him, learned at Bruckmann Brewery.     The story of the potato being dropped in a tar vat at the brewery is probably fiction.   The petroleum black tar is more readily available and cheaper than the natural rosin today, and probably how the Hackman family recipe morphed into what it is today. Even though no reports of toxicity have been reported by their family or cookout guests, this foodie would prefer pitched potatoes cooked in pine tar resin than black tar.

The Ultimate Easter Pig-in-a-Blanket:The Rye Wrapped Ham

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A Rye Wrapped Ham or “Osterschinken”

Many are feverishly preparing for their upcoming Easter Brunch or Easter Dinner.   And what says Easter more than a baked ham?     Coated in a crisp, sugary glaze and slow baked, maybe scored and pierced with cloves, it’s the traditional dish for many.     These days you don’t even have to do the work.   You can order a wonderful Honey Baked Ham, already cooked, spiral sliced and neatly packaged.   Be sure to save the hambone for pea soup after your family has grazed the meat.   Most grocers like Kroger and Trader Joes have similar, and tasty knockoffs.

 

But before the days of time-saving Honey Baked Hams in Cincinnati, people went to an unlikely source to bake their Easter hams – their local bakery.   In addition to all the wonderful confections made at bakeries for Easter, they provided this savory service as well.   Back into the forties and probably earlier, people would take a ham in a large roasting pan to their local bakery before Easter. The baker, who had huge industrial ovens, would then glaze and wrap the ham in a rye bread crust and bake it for customers.   This produced an extraordinarily delicious and moist ham.

 

My Grandfather did this for his loyal customers at his bakery in Dayton, Kentucky.     He’d advertise a few weeks before Easter and usually, as my mother recalls, about a dozen or more of their good customers would bring him a ham to be baked.   He had a 6 shelf rotary conveyer oven and could handle at least a dozen hams at a time overnight.     His oven was big enough to load my uncle as an adolescent on a shelf and rotate him around to clean it.     Grandpa would wrap the hams in a thin rye crust, bake them and return them to the customer.     My mom recalls how delicious the crispy rye crust was coming out of the oven, dipped in the ham juices.   I’m not sure if Grandpa delivered the ham with or without the rye crust still enshrouding it like a giant pig-in-the-blanket.

The other Easter confections at Grandpa’s bakery – the lamb cakes (always one ‘black sheep’) and the bunny cakes.

 

The practice is definitely of German origin. In Germany and Northern Europe a bread baked ham is called “Ostershinken” or Easter ham.     A good dough is flavored with caraway and coriander seeds, maybe sweetened with local honey or molasses.   Some recipes call for adding beef stock to the rye bread for an even more savory flavor. One 1954 American recipe calls for cutting a hole in the dough and halfway through the baking process, taking it out, pouring brandy into the hole and finishing the baking. The ham is usually glazed in brown sugar and stone ground mustard.   Some old German recipes call for orange or apricot marmalade glazing, which to me sounds insanely good.

 

But as we lose more and more family owned bakeries to big box stores, this practice is less common. Virginia Bakery in Clifton used to offer this service. They used some ingredients only available through bakery supply companies like caraway emulsion, rye sour, and caramel for the dough.   The trick  to making rye sour yourself, apparently, is to mix a rye yeast starter, and hang a cut onion in cheesecloth over it and allow the juices to drip into the starter.   Bonomoni Bakery in Northside still offers this service to select clients, and there are probably more bakeries that do it as well.

 

But Jesus, whose Resurrection we celebrate on Easter was Jewish.   And pork is not to be eaten by Jews according to kosher regulations.   So why eat ham on Easter? It’s simple – hams are in season.   Before modern refrigeration, hogs were slaughtered in the fall and made into sausage and other cured products that could be kept over the cold winter months. Most hams were made at harvest and allowed to age and properly cure over the winter.      Lamb, which has more traditional connection to the Jewish Passover feast, is less popular in the U.S., and pork was king in Germany.   The custom of rye wrapping was brought over by German immigrants.

 

German immigrants also brought us our modern customs of celebrating Easter.   The paschal lamb, the symbol of the risen Christ is not who brings us our Easter goodies.   Easter bunnies have their roots in old German pagan traditions celebrating the goddess Eostra, goddess of fertility, around the Spring Equinox.   You’ve heard the phrase ‘breeding like rabbits’.   Well, they became the symbol of this fertility for the spring goddess and morphed into the hoppy Peter Cottontail.

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An ancient idol of Eostra, where the term Easter originates

 

The Hard Luck of the Irish and the Lesson of Crop Diversity

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St. Patrick’s Day reminds me  of the Emerald Isle’s fantastic  contributions to comfort food – corned beef, shepherd’s pie, Irish soda bread, and the Guiness Ice Cream Float, to name a few.    But we should also be reminded of the tragic food event that sent the massive wave of  Irish immigrants to the U.S.  – the Irish Potato Famine.    It’s a tale of caution and warning emphasizing the importance of food diversity.   It teaches us that man cannot live on potatoes alone – or at least one genetic variety of them.   

 

Between 1845 and 1852 over one million unfortunate Irish peasants died of starvation and another million picked up and left for fuller bellies.   While there was a host of political and social factors leading up to this tragedy, the bottom line is that 3 million Irish people became dependent on one single strain of potato.    That’s a precarious situation for sure.

 

The potato was actually first cultivated in 5000 BC in South America, and crossed the Atlantic on the ships of the Spanish conquistadores, reaching Europe by 1570.    After a lukewarm reception, European nobility soon realized potatoes were easier to cultivate than wheat, and their high caloric content could sustain 10 people on an acre.   Now centuries later, this high caloric content of the fried potato would plague us in quite the opposite way, helping to create the American Obesity Epidemic, but I digress.    In Ireland, the potato quickly replaced a more diverse agricultural landscape as peasants sought to live off of smaller and smaller plots of land.   That’s where the politics of English rule came in, but again, I digress.

 

What happened to cause the Famine was a potato blight called Photothora infestans, a fungus which caused the potato plants to wither and blacken, while the tubers rotted in the soil.     This first wave of this fungus came in 1845 causing massive crop failures and by 1846 there were hardly any seed potatoes left to plant.     There was no backup crop to convert to and the results were tragic.

 

A similar thing happened to the grape crops here in Cincinnati in the early 1860s.   Cincinnati, with its east facing hillsides was on track to become America’s wine country.   With Catawba and Isabella varieties of grapes being grown on both sides of the Ohio River by German immigrants, largely funded by millionaire Nicholas Longworth, a fungus called phyloxera, caused black rot of the vines.      These vineyard workers tried sulfuring the vines to stop the blight, but what was needed was a rot-resistant strain of plant.   It is said that on his deathbed, Nicholas Longworth called out to his son-in-law, William Flagg, his right hand vineyard man, that he had found a rot resistant Catawba strain, and then he died.     By the end of the Civil War, the vineyards in Cincinnati had been decimated, and Nicholas Longworth’s French winehouse overseers moved to California to found their industry.    The Longworth Winehouse was rented to a beer brewery, and then converted into a Cottonseed Oil Factory, and finally, paved over by Interstate 75.   The former vineyards were sold to developers by Nicholas’ son Joseph Longworth, and the east side neighborhoods of Cincinnati were formed.  Lack of crop diversity prevented us from achieving Sonoma Wine Country status.   But then Beer was king in Cincinnati – and thank Gambrinus there was not a hop or barley rot.

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Cincinnati’s Horticultural Society in the 1850s, who were able to breed good strawberries, but not able to find a black rot resistant Catawba or Isabella grape variety. 

 

Costa Rica’s banana industry nearly went bankrupt after fusarium oxysporum destroyed thousands of hectacres of one strain of banana in the 1930s.   Failing to diversify, the same blight threated the industry in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s.   If bananas taste different to you than they did as a child, you are tasting different strands of bananas because of this fungal pest.

 

The U.S. Corn Industry faced a leaf blight in the 1970s with their monocultured high-yield hybrids, costing billions and driving prices way up.

 

But store yield and big box business has driven this monoculture, threatening to eradicate certain crops or even drive prices higher to the consumer.   And ok, we in the U.S. are not dependent on one variety of potato like the Irish were.    But, we can certainly be affected by the less nutritious monocultured agriculture that can threaten health, economics, and jobs.

 

The lesson is that the DNA technology that puts the world at risk to develop shelf stable, high yield (and as a result,  blander tasting) products, can help us to diversify and create healthier, tastier products that are resistant to blight and disease.     Using breeding is a type of DNA manipulation that farmers have followed since the dawn of the earliest paleo-agriculture.   It’s a way of  doing things naturally that can happen, rather than ‘test-tubing’ a feature that couldn’t happen in nature without manipulation.    

 

An example of successful new breeding is the Honeynut squash.  It’s a new variety of butternut squash that’s half the size of the current breed.   Developed by Cornell plant breeder Michael Mazourek, it promises twice the flavor and nutrients in a smaller size.   Look for it on menus and in farmers markets this year .   Maybe Chef Jose Salazar will find a way to integrate it into his fabulous repertoire.   Scientists are teaming up with more and more chefs to develop breeds that are more efficient and taste better.   Other coming attractions are the Habanada pepper that’s all sweet and no heat; the Kossak kohlrabi – a thick skinned, soccer ball sized version; and Piraciacaba –  a thick, multiheaded broccoli that can withstand high heat and mild enough to snack on in the raw.

 

If you celebrate St. Patty’s Day today, also give a nod and a toast to the lesson our Irish forefathers gave us  – to keep our agriculture diversified.

 

 

 

The FCS (Fried Chicken Sandwich)becomes the NHFCS (Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Sandwich)

Capture.JPGNashville Hot in Crescent Springs, Kentucky.
It used to be that the burger was America’s sandwich .   Everything American was compared to apple pie, hot dogs and burgers.   Well now that FCS or fried chicken sandwich has surpassed the burger in popularity, it’s a brave new world.    It’s a similar trajectory as salsa overtaking ketchup as the most popular America condiment.  In search for the better burger, we’ve found the fried chicken sandwich.
All the chains are clamoring to invent an FCS that rivals the king, Chick-fil-A, who’ve grown a staggering 18% in the last year, compared to the typical 2% or less of the fast food industry overall.   Even better burger startups like Mooyah have added an FCS to their lineup and claim staggering sales increases.    There seems to be an addiction to Chick-fil-A’s FCS.  My nephews love it, and they’d go there over McDonald’s any day.
Ever since Truett Cathy created the fried chicken sandwich in the 1960s, it has been vying for most American sandwich and its finally won.    McDonald’s introduced their McChicken sandwich in 1980 and it flopped, but they brought it back 8 years later and its been around since.      Lately they’ve introduced a Southern Style Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich to rave reviews.     FCS chain Leghorn in Chicago opened in 2014, promising to donate 2% of earnings to social causes that Chick-fil-A would never touch, with their conservative Southern Baptist influence.    We’ll see if conscious dining prevails over first-to-market.
The South may have lost the war between the states, but it’s winning the foodie war.   And another variation on fried chicken, is being used to differentiate FCS’s all over the U.S.   It’s the hottest new trend this year -Nashville-style  hot chicken, and it’s beginning to travel north of the Mason–Dixon line.     It’s a variation that has stayed segregated until only a few years ago in Nashville’s African American community.
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The first FCS from Chick-fil-A
We first have to go back in time to 1946 to understand the FCS.  That was when Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A invented his fried boneless breast of chicken and put it on a sesame seed hamburger bun.    At that time he was running a restaurant called the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Georgia, across from the now demolished Ford Motor Plant, whose workers patronized his restaurant.   The first secret of its deliciousness is that the breast is marinated in pickle juice.     Being a vinegary solution, pickle brining tenderizes the chicken, gives it some spice, and makes it juicy.   The second secret is that it is pressure fried, which also adds to its juiciness.   It originally had over 20 spices, nearly twice that of the Colonel’s original recipe.      It was Truett Cathy’s mother’s recipe – Lillla Kimbell Cathy, but of course the mogul who grew his restaurant to become America’s largest fast food chain, is given credit for invention of the FCS.   This food etymologist, won’t steer credit away from economizing mothers who are the best and most prolific food inventors.    But Cathy registered the term Chick-fil-A, in 1963. after first calling it the chicken steak sandwich, which didn’t have the same marketing stickiness.
After finding a pressure fryer made by a company in Eaton, Ohio, that cooked chicken in the same time it took to cook a burger – 4 minutes –  Cathy opened his first Chick-fil-A in 1967 in Greenbrier Mall in Georgia.    New technology called the clamshell grill, rolled out over 15 years ago for McDonald’s has reduced that burger cook time in half, and some cases even more.   But still the FCS reigns supreme.
But now the FCS is becoming the NHFCS or Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Sandwich.     And all the big guns are getting involved.    KFC introduced their Nashville hot chicken on the bone and tenders (which can me be made into a sandwich) this January.   O’Charley’s came out with their Nashville Hot FCS and in their commercial, they blast:  “Hot Chicken from Kentucky???  Bless their hearts!”    Tested in Pittsburgh, when it came to Nashville, KFC’s Nashville hot  was scorned by locals.    You see, in Nashville their hot chicken is served with pickles on top, open faced on white bread, not sandwiched and served with a biscuit.
Nashville hot chicken is more than just another spicy Cajun type of chicken.  It’s super hot and the story is supposedly one of even hotter revenge.  The traditional recipe is essentially dry-brined chicken that’s deep-fried and tossed in a sweet-spicy sauce made from cayenne and brown sugar.  Although evidence suggests spicy hot fried chicken has been served in Nashville since as early as the 1930s, the modern Nashvile hot chicken is said to have been born in 1971,   And its inventor was Thornton Prince III, owner of  the BBQ Chicken Shack Café.  Apparently he was a huge womanizer.   After one particularly late night out, his girlfriend decided to take revenge on her cheating boyfriend.  So she served him an extremely spicy-hot  fried chicken, thinking it would give him the burn.   But her scorn backfired and he loved it.   So much, that he took it to his restaurant and others loved it too – soon other spicy fried chicken shacks popped up in the African American neighborhoods in Nashville, like Hell’s Half Acre and others, where it stayed hidden from the rest of Nashville’s population until recently.
Prince’s great niece Andre Prince Jeffries now operates the restaurant her uncle owned, Princes Hot Chicken Shack, which has been popularized on the Food Network show Diners’ Drive Ins and Drives and as even been given an American Classic James Beard Award for its invention.
The Eagle in Over-the-Rhine makes a pressure fried sweet and spicy Nasvhille hot-like FCS that after two years continues to cause two hour waits on the weekend.     They were the first to the Nashville hot chicken game in Greater Cincinnati, but its’ a Yankeefied spiced-down version that doesn’t pack as hot a punch as the original.
Now Crescent Springs Kentucky, seems to be the capital of the local Nasvhille Hot Chicken food craze.   A Chef driven concept called Nashville hot opened in February to rave reviews and big business.  They serve five levels of spiciness from original Nashville Hot, Southern Heat, Midwest Medium, Yankee Mild and Traditional   They even serve a Nashville Hot fried and grilled catfish which is pretty damn good.    Captain D’s has released a Nashville Hot Fish version, that they’re test marketing this year in three southern markets.  Nashville Hot’s owner has eyes on the other side of the Ohio River in either Oakley or Westchester/Mason later this year.
Another chain, Joella’s from Louisville, Kentucky, is opening across from Nashville Hot, but they missed their boat of a mid February open date.
Colonial Cottage in Erlanger, Kentucky,  has been serving bone in Nashville-style  hot chicken for a while and has the required burn of the original.
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Colonial Cottage’s Nashville Hot Fried Chicken
So hot is the new black and the Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Sandwich is the new better burger.   Stay tuned for more Nashville Hot knockoffs.

Westphalian Beutelwurst Becomes Johnny in the Bag Sausage in Cincinnati

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Johnny in the Bag, made by Stehlin’s Meats, Bevis, Ohio.

This past weekend I spoke at the Bockfest Cultural Series at the Woodward Theatre, about the sordid history of some of our Cincinnati Germanic sausages.     We are all familiar with our Cincinnati Brat, Mett, and even the Currywurst.   But, they all have a bit of a ‘lost in translation’ journey from the product that originated in Germany to the final form we see in Cincinnati.   One of the sausages I spoke about is called “Johnny in the Bag.”   I had never heard of this sausage until recently and certainly had never tasted it.

I learned about this sausage from an old family story called “The Great Sausage Flight of 1952.”     In 1952, Jack Dorsel, the grandson of the founder of Dorsel Pinhead Oats, was living in Dallas, Texas, with his wife Loretta Brosey Dorsel.   Now Loretta was my maternal grandmother’s aunt, namesake, and godmother.     If you are a fan of goetta, you know that pinhead oats are the key ingredient to this local beloved grain sausage.   Apparently Jack complained to all his family back home, how hard it was to find good German sausages in Texas, and that he couldn’t find any as good as the ones in Cincinnati.

So, Jack’s favorite nephew, William and his wife packed up two suitcases full of sausages – 8 pounds of Cincinnati metts, 5 of Cincinnati brats, and three five pound Johnny in the Bag sausages.   They boarded a day flight with nothing else, and presented this sausage hoard to their beloved uncle so he’d stop his complaining.   Now that’s love!   It was such a big deal, the Dallas newspaper photographed Uncle Jack, nephew William and wife with their sausages, documenting this local delicacy.

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Jack Dorsel and his Christmas Sausages.

So the scarcity of this strange delicacy fascinated me.     I consulted my Dad, my go-to sausage and meat authority, and he knew of Johnny in the Bag.   It was something he had seen at the local meat market in his youth, and probably something served at the parties of the Germanic clubs of which my grandfather was a member – the ‘Bund” and Top Notchers in North College Hill, a suburb of Cincinnati.     Had I discovered a lost ark of our Germanic sausage world?

On my sausage archaeology quest, I found only one local Germanic meat market still making Johnny in the Bag.   That craft-maker of Germanic wursts is Stehlin’s Meats on Colerain Avenue.     Apparently Johnny in the Bag was available as early as the 1930s, until fairly recently, at many of the meat markets at Findley Market downtown.     Johnny in the Bag, also known as Johnny in the Sack, is a pork blood sausage that’s made with rye meal, and bits of fat or bacon.   The pork blood is cooked and reduced with rye meal until it is thick enough to congeal and thicken at room temperature, then it’s pressed into a linen bag the size of a lunchmeat loaf, and allowed to dry, sometimes smoked.   It’s typically sliced thin like lunchmeat, or cut thicker and pan fried.

But, in 2010 there was a scare with pork blood cakes being imported from Asia, particularly Taiwan. There was concern that they weren’t being produced safely, and they might be a vessel for pork bred sicknesses. The Los Angeles papers reported the USDA had banned their importation and production in the U.S. They hysteria that popped up discouraged meat markets all over the country, including Cincinnati, to stop making blood sausages, like Johnny in the Bag.     Thus the reason for the scarcity of this product locally.   But, thankfully for those who enjoy a good blood sausage, Stehlin’s won’t be bullied by hysteria to stop manufacturing this Germanic delicacy.

In Germany there is a long culture of a variety of bloodsausages or blutwurst.   Beutelwurst is the ancestor of our Johnny in the Bag, and it hails from North Germany, in the area of Westphalia and Lower Saxony, which also happens to be Goetta Country.   Beutel means bag in German.    To Westphalians, it is also known by a nickname, Punkerbrot.  It is one of the oldest types of sausages in Germany, and was invented out of necessity in a time of meat scarcity.   It was typically made right at slaughter time, because the pork blood had to be processed almost immediately or it would coagulate and be useless.   Like goetta, the beutelwurst, was about farm economy, and using every part of the pig from tail to snout.

Beutelwurst is a blood sausage that is stuffed into a linen or paper bag, rather than a natural casing, and allowed to dry for several weeks. The blood is mixed with fat, bacon, and with rye flour. Then chopped onions and spice are added – typically marjoram, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper.   It is then boiled in the bag and allowed to dry.   The Deutsche Lebensmittelbuch or German Food Code 2.232.12 specifies that Westphalian Beutelwurst must contain rye meal.     There is also an old Pommeranian/Silesian/Prussian recipe for beutelwurst that contains potatoes.

Although fully cooked and ready to eat, beutelwurst in Germany is typically pan fried and served in a variety of ways.   In Saxony, fried slices of Beutelwurst are served with Knipp, a grain sausage cousin of goetta, in a dish called Knipp un Buddelwurst.     In Berlin, there’s a dish that mixes fried beutelwurst slices with liverwurst and potatoes and is called Tote Oma, or morbidly, Dead Grandma.   Like Knipp, in Germany, beutelwurst is known as Arme-Leute-Essen, or poor man’s food, again, much like our goetta.

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Dick, Ron and John Stehlin, owners of Stehlin’s Meats.

Johnny in the Bag was invented in the 1920s or 1930s, by John Stehlin, the founder of Stehlin’s meats.   He developed a line of German sausages in a backroom sausage factory behind his meat market in Bevis, a northwestern suburb of Cincinnati off of Interstate 275.   His grandparents were poor farmers who had immigrated very early to Cincinnati’s northwest farm country around Green and Crosby townships from Baden, during an economic crisis and famine there.   He was probably the one who invented this American term for the German beutelwurst.   It became very popular in Cincinnati, and other Germanic meat markets began stealing the name John Stehlin had invented.   So, if you have a hankering for a centuries old German blood sausage, you can head over to the northwest side of town and patronize Stehlin’s Meats.

 

The Cincy Cheese Pocket and its Austrian Cousin – the Savory Topfenstrudel

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Today in Cincinnati, Graeter’s Ice Cream announced their long awaited new flavor – the Cheese Crown Ice Cream.   Graeter’s describes this new flavor as capturing “the elements of Graeter’s popular Danish pastry, the cheese crown. A rich cream cheese base is studded with bits of frozen pastry and a hint of cinnamon. It’s sweet but rich, with a flavor much like cheesecake.”

Cincinnati’s legacy German bakeries all have a variety of the cheese crown or the cheese pocket.     It’s a Danish dough with a cream cheese like filling.    Each bakery has its own unique version – some traditional, others with upscaled versions like cherry-pineapple.  Some are more gooey than pastry, while some are the reverse.

In my Sept 2015 blog “And Then Came the Cheese Pocket,”  I talked about the Cincinnati origins.

But I don’t think Gordon Nash of Priscilla Bakery created the idea of a cheese pocket himself.      I think that he based the idea on the savory Austrian Topfenstrudel.   Although the Cincinnati Cheese pocket or cheese crown is more sweet than savory, there is a long history of cheese filled savory strudels in Austria.   And there’s many different versions of topfenstrudel in Austria, like the pfirsich- or aprikose-topfenstrudel, peach and apricot cheese filled delights.

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Topfen in the topfenstrudel is the Austrian version of Quark cheese in Germany, which is also used in pastries.   Topfen is similar to cream cheese, but has a lower fat content.  It’s a white, un-aged, curd cheese.     It was created as a way to use soured milk that was not suitable for drinking, but was perfect for cheese making.   The sour milk is boiled until it creates the desired sized curd, and then filtered, cooled, and pressed into molds.   God love those thrifty Austro-Hungarian housewives for inventing topfen and quark cheeses!

In a recent blog about the German brotchen I started a wonderful email conversation with an American expat living for the last 40 years in Burgenland, Lower Austria’s wine region.   He had commented on my blog, and told me about the rich history of savory strudels and breads in his new home in Austria.

He talked about his favorite of these savory strudels – the white bean and goat cheese strudel – that his Austrian Schwiegermutter (mother-in-law) used to make specifically for him.   It was born in a time of necessity.   During the Austro Hungarian empire, the area around Burgenland was very depressed economically and white beans were a cheap and readily available source of protein.   You’ll find them in the savory soups and stews as well as the strudels of the Burgenland region.

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Burgenland, Austria’s famous bohnenstrudel, or white bean and goat cheese strudel.

The oldest of Austria’s savory strudels is one called millirahmstrudel, or milk cream strudel, which is referenced in a publication in 1696.      There is also a baked red cabbage and caraway strudel, a sauerkraut strudel, and a variety of gemusestrudel or vegetable strudels which might include carrot, celery, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin or spinach.    All these savory strudels are typically topped with a generous dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

There is also a whole other category of Austrian savory strudels using animal offal  like beef and pork hearts, brains, sweetbreads and tongues.    All of these wonderful savory strudels can be ordered and devoured in Burgenland’s heurigen or tradition wine taverns, and in the farmers markets which are getting ready to open again.   I think I’d have to do a culinary tour of these savory strudels.

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A typical Austrian heurigen or wine tavern overlooking its vineyards.

The cuisine in Burgenland, Austria,  is heavily influenced by Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian cuisines as well as Germanic cuisines.   It’s really a beautiful crossroads of Central European and Middle Eastern cuisines.  It also has an influence from the Balkans.  The strudel is actually an adaptation of Baklava from the Balkans, from which our famous Cincinnati Chili spices, the baharat, also hail.

So we come now full circle back to Cincinnati.    If it weren’t for the Macedonians, via the Austrians, and then the local German bakers, there would be no Graeter’s Cheese Crown flavored ice cream.   Sounds like Skyline and Gold Star should carry it in their chili parlors as a homage to their ancestors.