The Yankee Pop that Saved Cincinnati’s Oldest House

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Cincinnati’s Oldest Brick House, the Betts House, and the pop that saved it.

The history of American Cola drinks teaches us a valuable lesson in reinventing economies. It’s no coincidence that the most successful and iconic American sodas were invented in the south.   Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, by John S. Pemberton.   Its archrival Pepsi, was invented in New Bern, North Carolina, in the 1890s by Caleb Bradhem.   Dr. Pepper got its start in Waco, Texas in 1885.   Ale-8 was born in Winchester, Kentucky, in 1906, and still is an iconic drink.

 

So why was the south so soda savvy?   Well, after the Civil War uprooted the South’s slave economy, the soda industry was one way they had to reinvent themselves.   In the aftermath of the Civil War, forward thinking business people, newspaper editors, and politicians urged the South to replace its old agrarian economy with a new one of industry and commerce.   With a plethora of soda fountains (that added soda water to ice cream and flavored syrups), and a hot climate that required constant refreshment, the South was ripe to foster a whole new industry.   Former coal regions of the U.S. should take note.

 

One of those iconic soda brands, started in New Orleans, Louisiana, was given a new product with Cincinnati Yankee ingenuity.   That product became so successful, its fortune ended up saving our city’s oldest house, the Betts House.

That soda pop, invented in Cincinnati, is Barq’s Red Crème Soda.   It was the brainchild of Robert S. Tuttle, Sr., who with partners Hugh Carmichael and Albert Badanes, founded the Barq Bottling Co. in Cincinnati in 1937.

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The 1941 Barqer, a company newsletter with Cincinnati Bottling Partner Badanes on the cover.

Before we award Yankee ingenuity, we need to go back to the start of Barq’s.   French immigrants Edward Barq and brother Gaston, founded the Barq Brothers Bottling Company in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1890.   They had early success with orange soda winning an award at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.     In 1898, Edward married and moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, where he invented the drink that would become Barq’s Root Beer.   In 1934, they started franchising out bottlers around the country. That’s where Cincinnati comes in.

The ingenious bottling franchisee, Mr. Tuttle, decided to add red dye to the amber-colored creme soda, creating what would become a kids’ favorite — red pop.    It was even more popular when mixed with vanilla ice cream to create the Pink Cow.

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The Pink Cow.

Soon thereafter, the parent company in Biloxi, Miss., where franchise bottlers purchased the root beer and creme soda concentrates, also began adding the dye.

 

Tuttle experimented with other flavored Barq’s like lemon-lime, and orange, but the red-dyed crème soda remained king.

 

The thing was, the dye didn’t add any flavor. Unlike, say Faygo’s Redpop, which is a strawberry flavored soda, Barq’s red pop didn’t add any fruit flavors at all. It was the perception of the color red. It was brilliant!   What the industry realized, after Barq’s addition of the red, is that the color red is a bright, fun color.   Most red soda was consumed by children.     Red colored, strawberry soda became a standard drink at end of slavery Juneteenth Celebrations, but was not referred to by its flavor, but as ‘red pop’ or ‘red soda’.

 

Psychological research in the food industry showed that a consumer’s perception of a food’s taste is more dependent on color than actual flavor. If it looks good, people will think it’s good.   That’s why Blaq water, hucked out by the Real Housewives of New Jersey Manzo family failed miserably – nobody wants to drink black water! By the 1960s, red dye in soft drinks had become an end in itself, a way to attract consumers to a fruitless product.

Sales took off and the threesome realized success as the franchise that covered Greater Cincinnati established plants in Hamilton and Portsmouth.          Mr. Tuttle bought out his partners in the mid-1960s and was president until his retirement in 1980.   He sold the franchise, and then it was bought out in 1995 by Coca-Cola, which is the only plant in the country that makes a Barq’s Diet Red Crème Soda today.

Here’s where the oldest house comes in. Robert was married to Martha Benedict Tuttle, the great-great granddaughter of William Betts.   In 1804, when downtown was farmland, Betts built his house in Cincinnati’s West End. In the 1980s, the house, where Martha’s mother was born was crumbling and in danger of demolition. It was the oldest brick house in the City and not only represented Martha’s family, but a period of Cincinnati living history in danger of being lost. She used her fortune and influence to help restore and set up the foundation that became the Betts House Research Center.   The house had survived the 1811 New Madrid Earthquake that shook the Ohio Valley.   With sufficient funds it could certainly survive the 80s.

The fortune behind a popular kid’s drink now helps teach kids about the pioneer history of our wonderful city.

 

The Food Behind Norman Rockwell’s 1958 The Runaway

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The original photo taken in 1958 by Rockwell that was the basis for his Saturday Evening Post Cover, The Runaway.

 

July marked the 100th anniversary of Norman Rockwell’s first Saturday Evening Post cover. To celebrate, the Norman Rockwell Museum, hosted a Model’s Reunion day, on July 16, where models discussed their experiences with the artist in panels, discussions, and print signings.

 

One of the models present was Eddie Locke, now 66, who appeared in one of Rockwell’s most iconic paintings – The Runaway – which was the September 1958, Saturday Evening Post cover.   It depicts a state trooper seated at a diner lunch counter, bending over in counsel to a young boy, presumably intent on running away from home.     At the boy’s feet is a knapsack filled with his earthly possessions – maybe a toy gun, a pack of bubble gum, and a box of cracker jack.   You can almost hear the officer saying, “Awe, your parents can’t be that bad!”

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Eddie Locke, the model for the runaway boy.

 

What setting could be more American than a diner counter?     Well, that’s if you were white. Segregation prevented most African-Americans in 1958 from eating at most lunch counters, which was the protest setting that started the Civil Rights movement.

 

The painting captures the highest ideal of police work: helping someone in need at a vulnerable moment.     This is an ideal that especially resonates today, with all the police shootings rocking our country. Rockwell’s painting harkens back to an idyllic time and a comforting setting, defined by good old American comfort food.

 

The models for the painting were Rockwell’s Stockbridge, Massacheusetts neighbors, then 8 year old Eddie Locke, and 30 year old state trooper Richard Clemens.   In April of 1958, they posed for an hour for the artist, at the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Pittsfield, Massacheusetts, on Lennox Road.   At that time there were about 400 HoJo restaurants in the U.S.     They were one of the first national restaurant chains, and popularized fried clam strips in American food.

 

But when The Runaway appeared on the cover of the September 20, 1958, Saturday Evening Post, all references to Howard Johnson’s had disappeared.  The restaurant’s celebrated 28 flavors of ice cream shown on the mirror in the reference photo, had been replaced with a blackboard list of daily specials. Rockwell claimed his reason for the switcheroo was that he “wanted a more rural look, to suggest the kid had gotten a little further out of town.”

The model for the trooper, Clemens, says his police supervisors were “very pleased a Massachusetts trooper had been chosen for a magazine cover.”  Posters of the painting were soon hanging in police stations all over the country.  To show his appreciation of the force, Rockwell painted a portrait of Clemens in his winter trooper’s cap and gave it to the state police, who reproduced it as a Christmas card in 1961.

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Rockwell state trooper model Clemens in 1961 (left) and recently (right).

That was the same year that Johnson hired famed New York chef Jacques Pepin to oversee food development at the company’s main commissary in Brockton, Massacheusetts, where he developed recipes for the company’s signature dishes that could be flash frozen and delivered across the country, guaranteeing a consistent product.

So what were the comfort foods on the daily special in 1958?   We can decipher four of the daily specials on the blackboard in the painting.   The board showed Spaghetti & Meatballs, Grilled Cheese, Liver and Onions, and Cubed Steak – all very iconic American dishes.   A pie rack with three whole pies was added to the far left, with presumably an apple and a cherry.

What would be the food setting behind the counter today, if Rockwell’s The Runaway were re-imagined with an 8 year old runaway African-American boy and a white police officer?

Kentucky Common Ale: Bringing Back a Forgotten American Beer Style

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The taproom at Bellevue’s newest microbrewery, Darkness.

 

This past weekend saw the grand opening of another microbrewery in Bellevue, Kentucky, called Darkness Brewery.   It’s housed in an old car lot garage on Route 8, the main drag through the hip and burgeoning river town across from Cincinnati.   Masterbrewer Eric Bosler and co-owner Ron Sanders are specializing in dark beers – porters, stouts, and black ales – thus the name.   Their dark beers are lighter than the typical dark styles and easier to drink.

 

I was compelled to try their new beers on Sunday to help escape the heatwave.     But, as karma would have it, their AC had gone out the night before at their opening. They had several industrial sized fans running in their tap room, which made a pleasant Sunday drinking space.     A future rooftop deck will hopefully offer idyllic Ohio River views.

 

As Eric’s super-friendly wife served us, I got a history lesson from Eric while gulping down two of his Bellevue Uncommon Ales, one of their non-dark varieties.   And, although dark is their specialty, I think the feature of their operation is this historic Kentucky Common.

 

Eric deserves some huge props for bringing back what’s known as the Kentucky Common Ale, one of only three indigenous beer styles in America.     The style has been largely forgotten since Prohibition, even though before Prohibition it was the most consumed beer in Kentucky.    The other indigenous American Beers are California Common or Steam Beer, and the Classic American Pilsner or CAP, which adds corn, and/or rice to what was typically a barley-only mash in Europe.  All three types are modification of Central European lagerbier with lots of local improvisation by the Germanic immigrants.

 

Like Anchor Steam Brewing in California brought back the California Common beer in the 1960s, Eric, as a beer preservationist, is bringing this cool legacy back to Northern Kentucky.

 

The Kentucky Common beer was a once popular form of ale from the area in and around Louisville, Kentucky, from the 1850s to Prohibition.   It was also known as Cream Beer or Dark Cream Common Beer.   By Prohibition, about 80% of all beer consumed around Louisville was this Kentucky Common.   The beer was top-fermented and not krausened, meaning it was fermented once and sent out for sale.   The Kentucky Common typically went from mash to saloon in less than 8 days.   Because it didn’t travel well, it didn’t reach popularity outside the Ohio River Valley, although some reports document it being shipped into Indiana and as far north as St. Louis.

 

Before modern refrigeration, breweries depended on ice harvested and stored from the previous winter for producing beer. Louisville didn’t have the weather conditions to produce enough ice for this. Common Beer was fermented at higher temperatures like an ale, but was aged for a very short period of time to reduce carbonation, eliminating the need to keep it cool. The end result was that the specific gravity was moderate, the carbonation low and the taste full and sweet. It was consumed fresh, usually as draft beer.    And, it was economical, about half the cost of lager beer.

 

Typical Louisville water is very alkaline due to underlying Karst characteristics, which refers to the amount of chemically soluble limestone in its landscape. The Kentucky Common used dark malts and rye to help acidify the mash to combat the alkalinity of the water.     Eric’s version uses dark malt, corn and rye, along with East Kent Golding Hops, introduced in England in 1790, only a few years before Kentucky became a state in 1792.    Eric surmises that original Kentucky Common producers, used Nugget hops from New York State, and other native, spicy hops found in Louisville.

 

Historical accounts reveal that Kentucky Common brewers used California Gray hops for bittering and New York Hops, like Nugget and Clusters for flavor.

 

Louisville was the 12th largest city in the U.S. at the time of the Civil War.   With a community of Germanic immigrants comparable to Cincinnati’s, it had its own German newspaper, the Louisville Anzeiger.   The Anzieger published recipes and numerous accounts of the varieties of Kentucky Common ales brewed at its six large breweries.    Run by Germanic immigrants, the six breweries producing Kentucky Common were, in order of founding: Conrad Walker’s Brewery (1858), Shelby Street Brewery (1861), Butchertown Brewery (1865), Phoenix Brewery (1865), City Brewery (1872) and Ackerman Brewery (1877).

Being able to taste history and see the revival of an almost forgotten beer style mirrors what’s been happening in Bellevue the past several years.     Now, the hip burg has a gem of a microbrewery to anchor it’s other cool restaurants and shops.   I’ve found a new drinking hub.

 

The Bitterballen: A Distant Cousin of the Sauerkraut Ball Makes it to Covington

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Lisse Steakhuis’s bitterballen.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally happened.  Amsterdam’s historic and most popular pub food has made it to Greater Cincinnati at the new Lisse Steakhuis in Mainstrasse, in Covington, in the former Chez Nora.   A   Dutch-inspired steakhouse, Lisse is named after co-owner, Hans Philipo’s hometown in the Dutch province of West Holland, the bulb capital of the world.   It’s also the first time the Dutch huis instead of the German haus has been used in a Mainstrasse business name.

After hearing about this new restaurant, and having seen an episode of Weird Foods with Andrew Zimmern about the Dutch pub treat, I sampled my first bitterballen last night with a friend.      The restaurant is in the process of its soft opening, so service is being worked through and the Dutch dishes are being perfected.      The team of black dressed, high booted, ‘simply irresistible’ hostesses make you feel more like you’re in a Robert Palmer video than a Dutch restaurant.

So what is a bitterballen?   It’s a deep fried ball of meat pieces of veal or beef dispersed in a viscous roux or gravy.     They’re not bitter at all, but salty and crunchy.  They sometimes have onions or carrots or other chopped up vegetables and are typically flavored with nutmeg.   There are other versions that are spicier and include curry.    The croquet like treat are a much older, but distant cousin of our beloved sauerkraut balls.     They are about 300 years old, a popular pub food to go with a Dutch beer.    Legend has it that they are the Dutch answer to tapas, which they were exposed to during Spanish rule about 500 years ago.   But they started to show up at pubs in the 1700s in Amsterdam.    An enterprising pub owner was tired of losing hungry customers in the late afternoon, and so he invented these as an appetizer to hold them over to dinner, and keep them drinking into the evening.

The name bitterballen came from the fact that originally they were served with bitter liquors instead of today’s beers.     If you’re used to the crunchy and sauerkrauty texture of a sauerkraut ball, then you might find the bitterballen a bit off putting.   There’s really no texture outside of the crunchy, deep fried exterior.    The inside is a gooey, or more accurately slimy center of warm gravy with meat bits.    I would prefer some more texture with carrots, or even some onions.    The saving grace of the dish is the spicy homemade ground mustard that accompanies the balls.    It’s got a good amount of horseradish and heat.

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The meat gravy inside the bitterballen.

 

So even though the bitterballen doesn’t live up to the texture and crunch of it’s younger cousin, the sauerkraut ball, the Dutch have a leg up on us in Cincinnati.  They have a commercial manufacturer, actually several, who make bitterballen for the many pubs in and around Amsterdam who serve them.   Van Doebben brands cranks out over 120 million bitterballen a year.

Lisse really upsold the bitterballen at the restaurant last night – every single table surrounding ours had an order.   So whether we’ll see the bitterballen at an upcoming Oktoberfest remains to be answered,  but we now have a great new Dutch restaurant with some interesting dishes to explore.   And Lisses make a strong Windmill cocktail, which is also worth trying.

 

 

Kenyan Cheese Coneys

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Kenyans enjoying Cincinnati style Cheese Coneys in the Rift Valley of Kenya.

 

Food certainly brings people of different cultures together.   Fusian food should be the modern form of foreign diplomacy.     Cincinnati Chili, for example, is being served at Chili House franchises in the areas of the Middle East where we’ve been at war for the last nearly two decades.   But has our government ever thought to use Cincinnati Chili as diplomacy?

 

A local nonprofit, Child Wellness Fund, headquartered in Cheviot, introduced Cincinnati Cheese Coneys halfway around the world too.   In existence for 15 years, the CWF is a non-profit that uses Twisted Creek Farms as a camp for kids with behavioral needs, and sponsors among other programs, a Kids in Kenya Fund, which hosts a number of operations there for underprivileged youth from camps to durable medical equipment exchange.

 

Jamey Ponte, Director of the Kenya Fund, recently returned to Cincinnati for business meetings accompanied with one of his workers from Kenya, Patrick Othieno.   While in the Queen City, Othieno was exposed to Starbucks, Budweiser beer, and Skyline Chili, two of which are well- known brands in Africa.   But the third brand, well known to us in Cincinnati, stuck with the young Kenyan. As part of their going-back-to-Kenya sendoff, the Cincy folks sent Jamey and Othieno back to Kenya with four cans of Skyline chili.

East Africa is a new frontier for Cincinnati Chili, and they seem more receptive than Americans outside of the I-275 loop to try it.  Maybe it’s that this is a hometown food, not a national brand.   It’s something we all know, and many of us even make with our own family recipes in the home.   Maybe they can relate to Cincinnati chili, because the Kenyan diet consists mainly of braised stews.

 

Armed with the key ingredient to our local delicacy, all Jamey had to do was go to the grocery and put it together.      But it’s not so easy for someone living in Mau Narok, a small village in the Rift Valley of Kenya.  The western sandwich buns are replaced by starches like Ugali, a white cornmeal mush made into a thick paste and served with vegetables, like Sukuma wiki (like our collard greens) or the rare meat stew.   Think of it as the Kenyan cornbread, served with every meal.   There are also flat breads like Indian chapatti, and a denser fry bread like a donut called mahamri that is made with coconut milk.

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Kenyan Ugali, a white cornmeal paste, used as starch with most meals.

 

There’s also maharagwe, a type of kidney bean coconut curry soup. You might call it their version of ‘chili’, albeit meatless.   The western bun is really only attainable in the large cities like Nairobi, which has a Burger Hut restaurant.   But that’s a many hours trek from the Rift Valley.   You won’t even find Coca-Cola very easily in Kenya, to go with your chili dinner.    Ginger sodas are much more popular, and the Coca-Cola Company makes a ginger ale cola called Stony Tangawizi, which has a jolt of ginger that will clear your nostrils.

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Kenyan Maharagwe, a bean and coconut curry stew.

 

After staring at him on the shelf for several weeks, Jamey decided to make a cheese coney feast for his Kenyan colleauges.   Despite the said challenges, he went to the ‘fancy store’ to find the makings for cheese coneys.   Finding bread that could be split as a bun, and cheddar cheese, he spent more than a Kenyan would typically spend on a week for this meal. But the end result was successful.     Jamey served his local food from the heart, as close to it as he could, and the Kenyans loved it, as evidenced by their lovely smiles.   Call it Food Diplomacy.   Now we just have to teach them not to eat cheese coneys with a fork!

The Country Boy: A Lesser Known Cincy Double Decker

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In honor of Cincinnati Burger week, I thought I’d tell the story of another legacy double decker I discovered over the weekend.   I’m always on the lookout for great vintage Cincinnati restaurant memorabilia.   One of those explorations took me to Covered Bridge Antiques in Mt. Healthy where I found a fifties matchbook that had a cool burger guy logo on the front.   Turning it over I saw that it was a local joint I had never heard of.     After snagging it for a deal, and doing a bit of research my eyes opened to another great Cincinnati burger story.    And, like the Big Tucker in Over-the-Rhine, it has Appalachian routes.   This double decker was called the Country Boy and was the signature burger for a still successful line of restaurants called Country Kitchen, founded in Cincinnati.   Like the Cincinnati Big Boy, it was dressed in cheddar cheese, pickles, lettuce and special tartar sauce.

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Like Escom Garth Tucker, founder of the Big Tucker Double Decker, Country Kitchen’s founder, William “Big Bill” Johnson was born on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains – near a crossroads called Foggertown in Clay County, Kentucky.   Bill was truly a country boy himself.    He walked up a dirt road a mile and a half to a one room schoolhouse to receive his eighth grade education.   Being an only child, he shared a heavy load of work on the farm – mending fences, milking cows, pruning apple trees, picking blackberries, and planting.   For fun on Saturday nights, they’d go to a neighbors to play a game called holygull, which involved guessing how many grains of corn someone had hidden in their closed hand.

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Big Bill Johnson, the founder of Country Kitchen.

 

Not particularly inspired to farm or teach, the only two real opportunities in Clay County, he devised to escape to the big city.   At 14, he told his parents he was going to visit friends in a neighboring county, and instead he and a buddy hitchhiked to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where they planned to join the army.   With a document that contained forged signatures of his parents declaring he was 18, he made an attempt, but was turned down because of poor eyesight.

 

So, Big Bill and his buddy put up with a hill family living on Columbia Avenue in Cincinnati, and went to work bundling Chipso boxes on the night shift at the Cincinnati Container Corpo. That was during the Depression so the pay was low and jobs didn’t always last.   He held a couple of jobs, like sanding furniture, but always saw that his lack of education would prevent him from moving up in the factory world   So he found his future while frying hamburgers at White Castle in Cincinnati.   Here was a business, Bill thought, that required common sense and a knack for getting along with other people.   He had both.

 

So he and a friend, Bill Goodman, in 1939 saved $400 to make a down payment on restaurant equipment and opened their first Country Kitchen at an empty store on 3rd and Vine Streets.   Selling hamburgers for five cents and steak burgers for 10, they pulled in about $32 a day.     This was several years before Frisch’s Big Boy opened in Cincinnati in 1946.   In 1942 Bill moved the restaurant to Paddock Road and Vine Street.   Feeding a steady stream of hungry World War II factory workers, business boomed.   Open 24 hours a day and serving more than just hamburgers, Johnson then opened stores in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, and sold them.   When the ‘eat in your car’ craze took hold, he quickly initiated curbside service with parking canopies and modern telecom equipment.   He continued to serve customers with the philosophy of “Treat Folks Special,” and in 1958, began franchising his Country Kitchen restaurants all over the country.

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Johnson and his wife, Ruth, lived in a six room ranch style house in Wyoming suburb, sending his two daughters and son to Greenhills High School, never really living a high rolling lifestyle that his phenomenal success would have allowed.   But he was recognized for his generosity to his home state by being awarded the “Outstanding Kentuckian Award” in 1970 and given the honor of Kentucky Colonel.

 

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He was one of the hundreds of Appalachian migrants who came to the big cities of the north for better opportunities.   “The whole thing about being a hillbilly,” Johnson told the Cincinnati Enquire in 1957, “ is to admit tat you are a hillbilly and not resent the remarks made about them.   You can also remind folks that all Hillbillies don’t act the same, and that Jesus wasn’t born in Ohio.”

 

Although Bill sold his trademark interest in 1968, Country Kitchen still exists today and is a testament to his hillbilly ingenuity and entrepreneurial prowess.   Pretty good for a country boy from this hills of Kentucky!

Francois Nothelfer – Cincy’s First Celebrity Chef

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Chef Francois Joseph Nothelfer, Celebrity Chef of the St. Nicholas Hotel.

 

Today there are hundreds of celebrity chefs, each with their own line of equipment and cooking shows.   Long before QVC and cooking shows, big cities had celebrity chefs who made their restaurants famous.   New York had Delmonico’s, which is still in business since being founded by Swiss immigrants in 1824.   Classic American dishes like Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska came out of Delmonico’s.   New Orleans had Antoine’s, founded in 1840, and gave us the popular American dish Oyster’s Rockefeller.   Behind those restaurants were celebrity chefs.

 

Cincinnati had the St. Nicholas Hotel, which gave our city a reputation for high end cooking.      Responsible for that foodie rep was our own celebrity chef, an Alsatian named Francois Joseph Nothelfer.

 

The St. Nicholas hotel was founded in 1865 by Balthasar Roth.   The hotel boasted ‘the best cuisine between the east coast and San Francisco.’   Think of Roth as our first Jeff Ruby.     Mr. Roth and his wife Thelia, were natives of Gottingen, Germany.  Before starting the St. Nicholas, the Roths lived in New Orleans, where they landed. Then upon arriving in Cincinnati, Balthazar was partner in the Bank Exhange / St. Charles Restaurant on Third Street near Sycamore, with George Selves (1814-1862), an English immigrant and restaurant mogul.

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An Ad of George Selves’ Bank Exchange Hotel, famous for its turtle soup.

 

Their son Edward Roth, was born in 1846 in Cincinnati.   He would take over the hotel from his father in 1879 as its sole proprietor.     Edward would hire the chef who made St. Nicholas’s cuisine famous and put Cincinnati on the culinary map.   In 1885, the young Chef Francois Joseph Nothelfer, was extended the offer of Executive Chef.

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An early ad for the St. Nicholas, showing the blue point oysters they served daily.

 

Chef Nothelfer had only been in the U.S. for two years, coming from a quick stint at the Hotel Brunswick in New York City, where he is said to have introduced sweet potato soufflé to the United States.   This dish became a favorite of robber baron millionaire Jay Gould.

 

Nothelfer was Alsatian but worked at several Paris restaurants including, Durand’s in Place Madeline, and the Patisserie Frascati, a bakery and ice cream shop famous for inventing the Religeuse pastry.   The Religeuse is made of a small eclair dough (pat a choux) stacked on a larger on, iced to resemble a nun.     But, having this famous pastry experience, Nothelfer, neither brought it or other French pastry to Cincinnati.   Maybe he realized our city was already dominated with good and popular German bakers all throughout the Ohio River basin.

 

Where Chef Nothelfer specialized was meats.    He was famous for serving a variety of wild game at St. Nicholas that drew in the wealthy men of the city, many of whom were game hunters themselves.   A list of fowl served included:   pheasant, grouse, quail, snipe, woodcock, Holland plover, Mallards, canvasback duck, red-headed duck, and butterball duck.       But, Ohio game laws in the late 1910’s prevented the serving of these game birds in hotels and restaurants.

 

In 1917 Chef Notfleter predicted “horse meat will come into popular use in this country.   In larger European cities splendidly equipped equine shops are conducted and the eating of horse flesh is by no means confined to the poor class of people.”   Indeed Europe today doesn’t have the taboo we have in this country for eating horsemeat.   You can find ‘Pferdroulladen’ (horse meat roll ups) in almost any local market in Germany or Central Europe.

 

He described horse meat flavor as between beef and venison. “Although a little sweet, it is very good and just as healthy as any other meat.”     He himself ate horse meat five months during the siege of Paris in the 1870s.   He had a recipe for horse meat soup and horse goulash, described by the Cincinnati Enquirer, as ‘the-way-Mother-used-to-make.”   That was if you had an Alsatian mother.

 

Chef Nothelfer took a high level view, typical of master chefs.   He looked at ways to increase productivity and quality of what he served, going back to the supply chain.   He created a cut of beef called the St. Nicholas loin, that was adopted by the hotel industry.   It was a cut out of only the loin end and hip bone, leaving the tenderloin entire and sirloin strip without any butt, and a minimum of bone, compared to the standard pin bone loin cut.

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At a time when gas ranges were being brought into modern hotel cooking, his philosophy was that steaks could not be properly cooked by any fuel other than charcoal. He believed in wood for the bake ovens and only used a gas range to cook fish, as he said gas doesn’t affect the taste of fish as it does meats.

 

He produced some of the booziest sauces for his properly prepared meats.    One called “Ham Glaze Latonia” includes sherry, brandy, sweet pickle juice, brown sugar and allspice.   Another sauce, me might call ‘even drunker sauce’ is his “Colonel Bruce Mutton Sauce,” which included current jelly, ketchup, mutton gravy, claret, wine, brandy, and brown sugar.

 

His ingenuity extended even to equipment design. He designed and built a combination oven and hot plate for banquets – an early predecessor to the deli merchandiser of today’s retail groceries.

 

As a local celebrity Chef Nothelfer’s opinion was sought out by other cooks and housewives.     In 1916, he published an extensive list of kitchen equipment for new brides and housewives, that would be sufficient to feed a family of six.    We might consider him one of the first chef brand spokespersons. If he were around today, there would certainly be a Notfelter line available at Sur la Table.

 

Like our current Cincy celebrity chef Jean-Robert, Notfelter is said to have graduated more notable chefs from the St. Nicholas kitchen than any other chef in the country. In 1904, his chef Victor Hirtzler opened the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco and later wrote the famous St. Francis Cookbook.   After almost 40 years leading Cincinnati’s high end cuisine, at the St. Nicholas, and it’s successor the Sinton hotel, Chef Notfelter was recruited away to Cleveland.

 

So what legacy did our first celebrity chef leave us in Cincinnati?   The game he served is no longer popular, nor is the fussy French style banquet-cuisine.     His prediction about horsemeat being the new hamburger never came true.   His boozy sauces aren’t bottled on Kroger’s shelves.   But what he did leave us is the notion that a Chef is more than just a cook – he is consultant, designer, definer of social guidelines, dietician, entertainer, and more.   He paved the way for hundreds of other chefs to innovate in our foodie city, for which I am thankful.

High School Cafeteria Cheese Coneys

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The Spartan Lunch Ladies of 1989 who served me and thousands of other students.  Clockwise from top are Clara Hennel, Edythe Lawrence, Jane Hardewig, Jessie Milazzo, Shirley Hausfeld, Agnes VandenEynden, Mare Clare Freese, and Melba Doellman.
For most Catholic school cafeterias, the predictable meal was always Friday Fish Day.   But for my Alma Mater, Roger Bacon, the day we all really looked forward to was Cheese Coney Thursdays.    For under $2 one of the nine Spartan Lunch Ladies served you two cheese coneys with house made Cincinnati Style Chili.   The chili was remarkably good, and tasted of Cincinnati.   The cheese was a bit wonky, though.    It was different than what you might get at a Skyline or Gold Star.   The grind was far coarser, more of a crumble,  probably originating from government cheese or another institutional cheese supplier.  The result was maybe a bit less creamy of a cheese as compared to Skyline’s gold standard long, thin, creamy cheddar cheese that melts eloquently.    But for made-from-scratch for 800 starving and growing kids, it was pretty darn good.
What we didn’t appreciate back then was that those Grandma-aged lunch ladies had been toiling since 6 AM every day, making those hot lunches from scratch in a kitchen larger than any restaurant today  in Over-the-Rhine.     I remember having to go retrieve something for a teacher one morning from  that kitchen.    It was like a car repair garage, the lunch ladies watching over industrial sized mixing tanks and cooking apparatuses.   They seemed like Rosie the Riveters, filling humming cooking equipment for the cause of us kids.   With all that lifting, some of them had forearms that could beat any boy in an arm wrestling competition.
Roger Bacon, A Franciscan high school, opened it’s school and all-scratch kitchen in  St. Bernard in 1928 for boys, and went co-ed in the early 80s.      It was one of the last all scratch high school cafeterias left in Cincinnati in the late 80s, when I attended.   And the nine Lunch Ladies were like surrogate Grandmothers, serving us homecooked food from their heart.   My fave was Melba Doellman, who enjoyed bingo, volleyball, and golfing at her ripe old age, according to a 1980s interview in our Baconian school newspaper.    She always gave me an extra big scoop of homemade stuffing on turkey day.   These ladies were magic, hooking us on their homemade mashed potatoes, cookies, apple dumplings, and of course the Cincinnati style cheese coneys.
If there’s anyone today who knows where the Spartan chili recipe originated and what spices it included, it’s Shirley Hausfeld, now 80, a lifelong native of St. Bernard.  She started at the Roger Bacon Cafeteria in 1981, and worked there over 25 years before retiring as its manager.  And, she probably cooked the recipe that was carried on from Clara Hennell, who started there in 1964 and worked for over a quarter of a century herself, serving me and thousands of other students.
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Spartan Cafeteria Lunch Ladies, Shirley Hausfeld (left) and Mary Clare Freese, stand proudly in front of their scratch made delicacies.     Shirley holds the secret to the beloved Cincinnati chili recipe.
There might be a connection between Roger Bacon’s Cincinnati Chili recipe and the neighborhood chili parlor, Chili Time.    The Vidas family still serves cheese coneys there at their restaurant the same way they did in 1943, when they opened it, less than a mile away from the high school on Vine Street.   That was about six years before Nicholas Lambrinides started serving his cheese coneys at his chili parlor in Price Hill he named Skyline Chili.    The cool thing about Chili Time was that it was always open late.   Because of that it was a popular hangout for us cooky kids after football games and other weekend events.  I shared many a plate of chili cheese fries there.
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Current Roger Bacon cafeteria Manager, Beth Powers, the wife of a classmate of mine, says they’re not completely all-scratch anymore, but they’re more so than most other local high school cafeterias.   Sadly, they don’t use the same Cincinnati chili recipe for the coneys anymore.
When scanning some of the other high school cafeterias’ menus, you find nearly all have a Cincinnati chili day.   Elder High School, which is Price Hill Chili-near, serves Threeways and cheese coneys.   They also serve two local dishes called the Cory and the Panther Burgers.   Lasalle High School serves Threeways.    Northwest High School serves Threeways and cheese coneys.  Kings Local schools mix it up with a potato bar you can top with Cincinnati chili.   Mariemont HIgh School has a Cincinnati chili bar on Thursdays, but without coneys.  Apparently once you leave their middle school you’re too mature for cheese coneys.   Seven Hills and Milford schools joins the chili bar craze, but Seven Hills’ is only once a month.    Summit Country Day High School boasts homemade Cincinnati Chili over Spaghetti with Cheese, but the word ‘Threeway’ is not used in any descriptions.  Really?  Maybe too many non-Cincinnati natives find the connotations offensive for their kids.
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John K., the winner of our coney eating contest for spirit week.  Our now Pulitzer prize winning class photographer, Dirk, is cheering him on from behind.
Spartan Alums still rave about the Thursday Cheese Coneys on the Alumni Facebook Page. During our spirit week, we would always have a cheese coney eating contest, usually sponsored by the St. Bernard Skyline Chili, right around the corner from its elder, Chili Time.   The winner my senior year, was John K.    Our now Pulitzer prize winning class photographer, Dirk, got a picture of said winner, surrounded by his Cheshire-cat grinning friends, after he uh-em, got rid of the said winning number of coneys.

 

 

Louisville’s Benedictine Spread: The Birth of American Middle Class Food

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A regional fave for Derby Day parties, not well known outside of Louisville, Kentucky, is the Benedictine spread.     It’s not, as it might sound,  a product of religious monks or nuns, looking for a light snack before Vespers.    It’s the invention, as many grateful Kentuckians know, of a benevolent  Victorian era caterer, Miss Jennie Carter Benedict, who created it in the 1890s.    To Louisvillians, the Benedictine spread is like ketchup, and many can’t imagine a party or a brunch without it.

 

It’s a spread of cream cheese, cucumbers, a bit of grated onion or chopped green onions, and a few drops of green food coloring, and some spice or tobasco.    Some cooks add dill to get the color or a bit of grated cucumber peel to keep the flavor more direct.     If it’s thinned out with mayonnaise or sour cream,  Benedictine becomes a dip.    As a dip, you can slather it on saltine crackers or party rye.   It’s most commonly made into a  finger sandwich.   To create a colorful spread at their Derby parties, some folks buy green and pink dyed loaves, filling the green with pimento cheese, and the pink with Benedictine spread.

 

The Benedictine is a beloved regional food, but more importantly it represents the emergence of the New American middle class food in the late 19th century.  Miss Jennie, is given credit for shaping the tastebuds of the Kentucky elite and the emerging middle-class.  She catered weddings and parties for Louisville’s most prominent families, whose tastes were broadly influential, and she wrote cookbooks.   She took cooking classes at the Boston Cooking School while Fanny Farmer was there, who is also given credit for creating the American middle class food palate of the 20th century.    The school taught “American” cooking.     This was a newly emerging food category inspired by British or New England traditions, different from French food associated with the rich,  and the food of recent immigrants.

The restaurant Miss Jennie opened after returning from Boston, pioneered this new kind of middle-class entertaining and dining.   The  food she served was  seen as genteel and respectable, but not aristocratic. Benedict’s restaurant  was part of the emerging middle-ground between the pubs and cafeterias that catered to the  working class and fancy restaurants that catered only to the wealthy. Miss Jennie’s food was a newly “respectable” version of recognizable, “American” ingredients and methods  within reach for families who couldn’t afford the regiment of servants needed to prepare fussy French meals.

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Jennie Benedict’s Restaurant and tea room in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jennie Carter Benedict was born in Harrods Creek, KY on March 25, 1860, to John and Mary Richards Benedict.   Her family had a wholesale business in molasses and other staples. The area is named for Harrods Creek. The namesake of the creek is either James Harrod founder of Fort Harrod (modern Harrodsburg), or Captain William Harrod, an early Louisvillian  The area became agricultural in the early 19th century, primarily selling flour and cornmeal to the nearby market of Louisville.  Harrods Creek was a hot spot for unloading cargo in the late 18th century. People wanted to avoid Louisville because it was a disease infested swamp. Farmers and millers were particularly attracted to Harrods Creek due to the rich bottomland and abundant water.

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Jennie Carter Benedict, the creator of Benedictine Spread.

At an early age, Miss Jennie displayed an skill for the culinary arts and for catering parties and events. This was the beginning  of a career that lasted more than thirty-two years and spanned many cities in the Midwest, especially Louisville and St. Louis.

 

She first entered business behind her home at Third and Ormsby in 1893 in a kitchen that was built behind the residence. She sent out 500 circulars to friends, offering to “to take orders, from a cup of chocolate to a large reception, sandwiches on short order, cakes large or small, trays and dainty dishes for the invalid.”  She began making fruitcakes, then she sold chicken salad sandwiches to students from a pushcart. Before long, her sweet and savory dishes became the centerpieces of parties and her business quickly grew.

 

Her first store and catering enterprise opened on May 1, 1900, with partners Salome E. Kerr and Charles Scribner at 412 South Fourth Street. In 1911, a new “Benedict’s” restaurant opened at 554 South Fourth Street. It was a beautiful establishment with an elegant soda fountain made from the rocks of Mammoth Cave.    The business required 65 employees to operate its catering and restaurant operation, which included the creation of fine confections, candies and ice cream.

 

In 1923 she was given an opportunity to move her business to St. Louis where she had catered. As attractive as the proposal was, Jennie was overwhelmed at the response of the citizens of Louisville to remain here. A committee of the retail business association was formed and in an unprecedented move, collectively presented her with a letter saying that “Louisville can ill afford to lose a citizen like you, one who has always been a leader in every civic and social movement and who has always stood for the advancement of its commercial interests. The name of Jennie C. Benedict & Co. has radiated to all parts of our country the name of Louisville.” Miss Jennie decided to remain in Louisville and continue to give them the “very best that can be had.”

 

In 1925 Jennie sold her business for $50,000, and retired to her home Dream Acre in Indianola overlooking the Ohio River on a bluff near Mellwood Avenue. She remained active in her many charities including King’s Daughters Home, and the Woman’s Club of Louisville.  For a time, Miss Jennie acted as editor of the household department of the Courier-Journal.  She wrote an autobiography entitled The Road to Dream Acre. Jennie Benedict died on July 24, 1928, and is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

 

Although she never married, she is said to have loved children and threw  weekend costume parties for them.

Benedict’s cook books are still being sold a century after they were  published.  Her The Blue Ribbon Cook Book, published in 1902, has been reprinted numerous times and most recently in 2008.   Oddly enough, the cook book never contained the Benedictine spread recipe, for which she is most famous.   Her cookbook contained recipes as sophisticated as Lobster a la Newburg, to convenience foods like Little Pigs in a Blanket.    Some of Benedict’s dishes have fallen out of favor, like calf brains and peptonized oysters for the sick.    But, she endures,  and the roots of many of Louisville’s flavors can be traced back to her recipes.

Jefferson’s Slave Cooks Bring French Cuisine To Cincinnati

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The portrait of Edith Fossett at Fossett’s in Keswick Hall.  In white chef’s toque she balances a bowl of apples on her lap, with the knife she’ll use to peel them.

There’s a restaurant called Fossett’s in Charlottsville, Virginia, near the Monticello estate of President Thomas Jefferson that has huge Cincinnati ties.  The restaurant sits in a high end golf resort called Keswick Hall.   It’s named after the President’s former slave cook, Edith Hern Fossett (1787-1854), who ‘jumped the broom’ with Joseph Fossett, Monticello’s enslaved blacksmith.    It was Edith who brought French cuisine to the Cincinnati elite.

Edith was separated from her husband when she accompanied Jefferson to the White House during his two-term Presidency (1801-1808), where she was to be one of his cooks. Joseph so missed Edith that he ran away from Monticello to D.C. to visit her and was beaten and returned.   So much for Jefferson’s ‘benevolent slave master’ reputation, but it does make a good love story.

It was in the capital that Edith learned the art of French cooking from Honore Julien, the former chef to President George Washington.   Jefferson had come back from his time in France as ambassador to the court of Louis XVI during the American Revolution, as a pure Francophile.   Under Julien and Jefferson’s White House butler, Etienne Lemaire, Edith learned how to cook Jefferson’s new favorite cuisine.   This was a technique that she passed on to her family, namely her two sons, Peter and William, who started Cincinnati’s most prominent catering businesses in antebellum Cincinnati, and used this influence to help hundreds of runaway slaves escape to freedom.

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Monticello’s kitchen, where Edith Fossett passed on her skills to sons Peter and William.

Recipes of Lemaire’s that survived into the Monticello kitchen and undoubtedly came to Cincinnati with Edith, were his Beef a la Mode, Boullion, Breast of Mutton, and Pancakes.       He was also famous for his desserts, among them petit fours and Savoy biscuits.   There was always ice cream served at Jefferson’s White House, and Lemaire hired an extra servant whose only job was to turn the crank on the ice cream machine.   One significant recipe of Chef Julien’s that made it to Monticello after the Presidency, was his cream cheese.   Another dish new to America that Chef Julien introduced to visitors at Jefferson’s White House was described by a visitor:
“a pie called macaroni which appeared to be a rich crust filled with the strillions of onions, or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not agreeable. Mr.Merriweather Lewis told me there were none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions was made of flour and butter, with a particularly strong liquor mixed with them.”

Jefferson was so intent on keeping the French technique in his Monticello kitchen, he invited Chef Julien there in 1809 for a remedial cooking session for Edith and her half sister Fanny.

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A drawing of Peter Fossett as a young house boy at Jefferson’s Monticello, from his 1898 interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.

When Jefferson died, his will freed only a few of his slaves, generally those believed to be of his own blood. The rest were sold off, many family members of those he’d freed, to pay for his exorbitant debts.     One of the lucky ones freed was Joseph Fossett, who is believed to be a son of Jefferson through his mother, Mary Hemings. Mary was originally owned by Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wyles, and he inherited Mary through his wife.     While Jefferson was away, Mary Hemings, was leased to Thomas Bell, a merchant of Charlottsville, who later bought and freed her, having two children by Bell.   Mary was the sister to Sally Hemings, who bore five children with Jefferson during her bondage to him.

Joseph Fossett spent years finally buying the freedom of his wife and seven children who were sold in the settlement of Monticello.     They came to Cincinnati between 1837 and 1843, where Joseph ran a blacksmith shop on Vine Street, and his wife Edith, used her fine cooking skills in the catering business, aided by her two sons.   Their high class French cooking techniques made them able to be the caterers to the rich and famous of Cincinnati.

William Bell Fossett learned the art of cooking working with his mother, and then was joined by his brother Peter in 1850, when he was bought and freed.     After the death of their mother Edith in 1854, William moved to New York, called by the Underground Railroad.   He married Dorothy Condol in Geneva, New York, and took a job as a waiter at the Cataract Hotel in Niagara Falls, New York, a known hotbed of Underground Railroad activity.    Dorothy’s father, William Condol, was a known abolitionist and some of the Condol family were subscription agents for Fredrick Douglas’ abolitionist newspapers.

Many of the workers at the Cataract Hotel were free African-Americans, or runaways, with family just across the border in Canada.   There were many accounts of slaves being abducted from their traveling parties and secreted across the border.     William’s wife’s sister, was married to L.B. F Hamilton, also a worker at the Cataract hotel, also a known manager of the Underground Railroad, and the owner of a dining hall and catering business.   Hamilton’s mother’s was a slave, Catherine Bell, and William’s half aunt was Sarah Bell Scott, wife of free mulatto Jesse Scott, who had bought his mother, himself and siblings Daniel and Isabella in the Monticello estate settlement in 1827 after Jefferson’s death. This connection is probably how William met his wife.   Having the connection at the last known stop on the Underground Railroad before Canada would have given the Fossetts and their Cincinnati Underground railroad colleagues a connection for helping slaves escape all the way to freedom after leaving their care.     Needless to say, any runaway slaves who were given aid by the Fossetts were fed well.

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The Cataract House in Niagara Falls, New York, where William Fossett aided fugitive slaves, burned to the ground in 1946.

William and Dorothy Fossett had two daughters during their stay in Niagara Falls, Mary and Edith, with whom they were living in Cincinnati by the census of 1870. William found work with his brother Peter’s catering business, when Peter bought the business of his former boss Kate Jonas after her death, and then opened his own catering business.   He was known to have catered two grand events in Cincinnati – the opening of the Southern Railway at Music Hall, and the Masonic banquet at the north wing of Music Hall., shortly after the burning of the Masonic Temple on Third and Walnut Streets. When the Masons bought the former Scottish Rite Cathedral, William Fossett was made their chief caterer.   William’s daughter Edith Fossett Miller, operated his catering business after his death in 1901, on the corner of Kemper Lane and Locust in Walnut Hills.

Many accounts of the quality of both Peter and William Fossett’s catering are documented in the Cincinnati newspapers.   At George and Annie Blinn’s 50th Anniversary celebration in Cumminsville, in 1878, the Enquirer reported, “The supper was from the culinary of Fossett, a novel caterer and connosseur of refined and delicate taste. No delicacy was omitted – all rich and rare.”

At the 1881 Colored Waiter’s Union Gala, at Wuebbler’s Hall on Freeman Street, the Enquirer reported, “This elegant and sumptuous menu was served by that popular and well known caterer, William Fossett and assistants. The menu consisted of sherry, stewed oysters a la American; saddle rock oysters, fried, claret; canardaux olives; jambon a la printanier, dines carnies a la emperial, salad de valaille a la mayonnaise; champagne, fruit; Neopolitan ice cream (a fave of Jeffersons) a la macedoine, café noir, cigars.”

Both brothers gave back many times over to the Cincinnati African-American community, learning the value and difficulty of freedom from their own family’s experience.   In addition to his Underground Railroad activities, William was the first president of the Sons of Liberty, founded in 1854, which helped many African- Americans before and after the Civil War.

Peter married Sarah Mayrant Walker, in Cincinnati in 1854.   She was a hairdresser from South Carolina, daughter of Rufus and Judith Mayrant, and came to Cincinnati under the care of Captain Gwynne, whose daughter became Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.   In Cincinnati, her techniques made her the hairdresser to the wealthy elite of Cincinnati.    Sarah was a benefactor and volunteer for the Cincinnati Colored Orphanage, and was also sort of our own Rosa Parks, suing the Cincinnati Street Railway in 1859 for refusing her a ride. She won the case, set the precedent for African American women to be allowed to ride on Cincinnati Streetcars.

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Peter and Sarah Fossett.

Peter and Sarah were very much involved in the Underground Railroad, and Peter selected as one of a handful of African-Americans as captain to lead Company F of the Second Regiment of the Cincinnati Black Brigade in the Civil War. He gave land to form the Cumminsville Baptist Church on Streng Street in 1870, where he was pastor until his death in 1901.   He worked without pay as minister, but his congregation gave him a trip in 1898 back to his Monticello birthplace for a last reminiscence of his childhood.    The congregation still exists today in tribute to Peter Fossett.

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A 1935 Homecoming photo on the steps of the First Baptist Church of Cumminsville, founded by Peter Fossett.

Peter and Sarah Fossett had one surviving daughter Martha who married John Kelley in 1882 and had two daughters, Bessie Kelly Curtis, and Isabelle Kelly Miller.   Martha did not get into the food business, but took up the profession of her mother, and was a hairdresser.

But, Peter Fossett’s granddaughter, Bessie Kelley Curtis, took up the family business and was still operating his catering business in the 1950s, with recipes passed on Edith.  She was also a long time member of the Cumminsville Baptist Church that her grandfather  founded.   Her husband Ira W. Curtis had been an auto repairman for many years at Davies Auto Repair on Spring Grove Avenue near their Streng Street home.

Peter and his family are buried at the Union Baptist Cemetery in Price Hill, and William is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery with his family.

With their Monticello legacy, the Fossett family spread the love for French cuisine and the new American novelties, ice cream and macaroni, in Cincinnati.   It’s no wonder that Cincinnati has been the only city in the U.S. that’s had three concurrent Michelin Five Star rated French Restaurants – the Maisonette, the Gourmet Room, and Pigall’s – from 1970-1973.     Food is the great equalizer, and it was food that allowed the Fossetts and their descendants help so many in their African-American community.