Crosley Field’s Spicy Mustard

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In Cincinnati our brands have longevity.   In many cases our brands outlive the founding company.   And Cincinnati consumers are extremely brand loyal.   This loyalty amps up when you talk about ball park food.     Crosley Field was a magical place for generations of Cincinnatians and Red’s fans.   Heck we invented professional baseball in 1869, with our Cincinnati Red Stockings. When older Cincinnatians wax nostalgic about the old Crosley Field, they fondly remember food and drink they enjoyed in the park.   Imagine smelling the fresh roasted peanuts that Peanut Jim Shelton sold in his cart, buttered popcorn, the smell of 5 cent Ibold cigars, and of roasting sausages.

Over the years fans could guzzle a Hauck, Schoenling, Wiedemann, Bavarian, Burger, Hudy, or Brucks beer with their dog or brat.  And topping those Cincy sausages was one of the most beloved products, the special the spicy brown mustard served at its concessions.   This holy condiment was made exclusively for Crosley Field by local Frank Tea & Spice Company.   It was a combination of their brown Dusseldorf style mustard, and their Frank’s Red Hot, the same cayenne pepper sauce that was used to create the original Buffalo Wing sauce in 1964.   Frank’s Crosley Field spicy mustard wasn’t available to the consumer, but they also made a spicy brown product called Mr. Mustard that was.

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A 1940s Brucks beer Ad for Crosley Field.

The Frank Tea & Spice company was founded in Cincinnati in 1896 by German – Jewish immigrant Jacob Frank.   He saw a niche in bringing smaller, shelf sized packages of whole and ground spices to the consumer. They expanded into sauces, mustards, and Jumbo brand peanut butter.

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Jacob Frank, founder of the Frank Tea & Spice Company, in his twenties.

 

Redland Field opened in Cincinnati’s West End on May 18, 1912, and was closed June 24, 1970. It was renamed Crosley Field, after the local radio, car, and device entrepreneur Powell Crosley, Jr., in 1934 after he bought the team.   The very next year lights were added and the very first night games in major league history played.   The park stood at the intersection of Findlay Street and Western Avenue, where industrial Queensgate is today.   The main gates into the park were approximately where Phillips Supply Company sits today. Between seasons of 1911 and 1912, the former Palace of the Fans and the original League Park seating were demolished for the new stadium. It was built during the ballpark construction boom of 1909-1923, the same era Chicago’s Wrigley Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park, both still in use, were built.

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The main turnstiles of Crosley Field.

 

For over 60 years, Cincinnatians topped their dogs, brats, metts, and soft preztels with this beloved spicy brown mustard.    According to John Frank, Jr., son of the last president of the company, the Red’s wanted their mustard really hot.   The hotter the mustard, the more beer sales. That was until 1970, when the team moved to the new Riverfront stadium.   Frank’s mustard did not make the move with the team, because the company had been sold in 1969.   Instead, the Riverfront concessions began serving the neon yellow French’s and Gulden’s brown mustard.

Then in 2001, with a 1996 ½% sales tax increase voted in by Hamilton County, the new Great American Ballpark was built, and a new mustard contract came up for bid.   Cincinnati fans believed strongly that a Great American Ballpark deserved a Great American mustard.   Something local and something that tasted as close as possible to the original Crosley Field spicy brown.     In the process, we first looked to Bertman Ball Park Mustard, served at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, and two of the previous Cleveland stadiums for over fifty years.   Yes, it was a local Ohio-made product, and yes it had a local ball park legacy, but I need not go into how we feel about Cleveland teams here in southwest Ohio.

So a mustard taste-off was planned.  Five judges were chosen, among them Skyline Chili’s then VP of Marketing and the park concession’s purchasing manager.     A blind taste test was devised of five worthy opponents:   Findlay Market Zydeco, Woeber’s Spicy Brown, Findlay Market Jalapeno, Zatarain’s Creole, and Uncle Phil’s Spicy Brown Dusseldorf.       The contender from Berlin, Wisconsin, Uncle Phil’s won and became the new ballpark’s signature mustard.  It was the only mustard served at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

Now a little about mustard chemistry.   The level of heat in a mustard is directly related to the specific type of seed used. Yellow mustard seeds (also called white) are the mildest, while brown and black seeds much hotter and more pungent.   The liquid used to moisten the seeds and bind the mustard also plays a role in a mustard’s pungency.

Spicy brown mustard is made with brown mustard seeds, which are soaked in less vinegar than a standard mustard. The combination of the hotter seeds and less acidity makes sure the nose-scorching heat is more prominent. Spicy brown mustard also leaves the bran on the seeds, which don’t fully break down when processed, giving the final sauce a coarser texture than yellow mustard. It can be mixed with spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to give the mustard a slight earthy note.

Spicy brown is also known as deli mustard, because it can stand up against other robustly flavored items like pastrami, roast beef, and sausages.

Dusseldorf’s mustard is a type of spicy brown that consists of ground brown and yellow mustard seeds, unfiltered spirit vinegar produced in Dusseldorf, the special lime and mineral rich water of Dusseldorf’s Rhine River, salt, sugar and spices. It has a bright creamy consistency and a malt brown color and contains small pieces of husks.   The flavor is hot, malty, and spicy, which is credited to the triple grinding of the mustard husks.

Many chefs believe Dusseldorf mustard has much better flavor than Dijon. It’s better for cooking, better for salads, and in Cincinnati, it has the sex appeal to be a better topping for dogs and our local ballpark sausages than the more universally popular Dijon mustard.

In 2010, because of a mustard dispensing pump change by park vendor Delaware North Sportservice, Uncle Phil’s was replaced by Heinz Brown mustard, causing an uproar with fans.     The Uncle Phil’s mustard was splatting out on fan’s clothes when it was dispensed in the new pumps, apparently being too thick.   But, the Heinz Brown wasn’t the same spiciness and didn’t remind loyal fans of the old Crosley Field spicy Brown, like Uncle Phil’s.   Protests quieted down as fans became used to the new mustard, but a search was in store for another one.

In 2013, the mustard story came full circle back to the old Crosley days. Springfield, Ohio’s Woeber Mustard Company won the 900 gallon-per-year mustard concession contract at Great American Ball Park.   Their own Woeber’s Dusseldorf Mustard, and the original Frank Tea & Spice Mr. Mustard were awarded the contract.     Woeber’s bought the Mr. Mustard brand from Paul Fischer, owner of House of Herbs, in 2008.   Fischer had bought the brand in 1980 from Durkee Foods, the inheritor of the Frank Tea & Spice Company.   Woeber’s, a third generation German immigrant family-owned company, ousted the Wisconsin based Uncle Phil’s mustard at the ballpark, and our local legacy was restored.

So when it comes to ballpark mustard in Cincinnati, don’t take out the spice or the Dusseldorf, unless you want to cause a mustard revolution.

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