Local Burger Beer Inspired a Global Drink – the Slush Puppie

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Shortly after I entered the foodservice business, I visited an equipment distributor in British Columbia, who distributed ice cream and slushie machines.   I remember the principal telling me. “You can make millions in fryers and ice machines.”     He told me about Canadians and their love affair with slush drinks.   In Canada, their sales surpassed that of soft drinks.   He also told me that the largest market for slush ice drinks in the world, was also the coldest area of the world – the Canadian province of Manitoba.

 

One Greater Cincinnati man, Will Radcliff, built a multimillion dollar global business from flavored Slush Puppie drinks.     He passed away only two years ago, but his legacy lives on, the brand now owned by J & J Snack Foods Corporation of New Jersey (which also owns ICEE), who bought it in 2006 from Cadbury Schweppes, the parent company of Dr. Pepper and Seven-Up.

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Slush Puppie Founder, William Lawson Radcliff.

 

William Lawson Radcliff, the creator of the Slush Puppie, was born in 1939 to modest beginnings in Dayton, Kentucky. His family moved to the West Side of Cincinnati, where he graduated from Western Hills High School, along with the majority of the Chili Pioneers’ families.

Next he got a job shining shoes the Western Hills Country Club. But sales was in his DNA. He got his feet wet selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, and also set up a distribution network for a peanut company.  His peanut venture was so successful, that the company couldn’t keep up with demand and asked Radcliff to take a break.

It was during this “break” that Radcliff attended a National Restaurant Association trade show in 1970 in Chicago. It was at the show that he saw a slush making machine.   He had an idea that he could sell a slushie drink for 10 cents, and make 7 on each sale.    That’s a humongous profit, especially during the energy and inflation crisis of the 1970s.   Slush making machines had been commercially available since the 1950s.      Products like the Slurpee sold by 7-11, were not being marketed well enough to spread the joy about flavored slushed-ice drinks to the U.S. market, Radcliff thought.   The company that made the machine he had seen in Chicago, didn’t even have promotional materials for their distributors.

So, the family story goes that one night after returning from the trade show, Radcliff was sitting on his Cincinnati front porch with his mother, Thelma and his sister, Phyllis.   Over a brainstorming session with a six pack of local Burger Beer, they came up with the name Slush Puppie.   Radcliff would adopt the logo of a loveable floppy eared dog wearing a toboggan cap.

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An important aspect to the slush machine’s success was the experience.   Watching and hearing the drink being made was almost as much fun as consuming it.  Aside from the flavoring and the cold shock of the first mouthful, there was the smell of the syrup and the noise of the Slush Puppie as it poured from the dispenser.    Not only did he market the flavor but the entire experience.

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Radcliff bought controlling interest in 1971 in a tobacco and confectionery distributor, and Slush Puppie Corp began manufacturing drink machines and mixes.     Beginning with four different syrup flavors  – cherry, grape, orange, and  lemon-lime – the Slush Puppie Corporation soon implemented a distribution network to convenience stores across America and now 62 countries.  Today there are over 40 flavors, including cotton candy and pomberry acai, some fortified with fruit juice and vitamins.

 

Eight years later the company moved to a hilltop facility that had previously been a salvage yard. “Mount Slushmore”, as it came to be known, eventually grew into a 30,000 square-foot plant, transferring production to Mississippi in 1996.

When the drink reached Britain in 1977 sales quadrupled.   Schoolchildren across the country caught the hype of a drink that offered a sugar rush, stained the tongue blue and caused a brain freeze headache if slurped too quickly. The Slush Puppie also became known as a hangover cure for boozy adults, made popular by “Huey Chunder” in his 2007 Hangover Companion. Chandler described the Slush Puppie, as being “like the cold, wet nose of a puppy up the front of your dressing gown”.

As the company grew, he expanded to include Thelma’s frozen lemonade, Pacific Bay Smooth-E, Lanikai Frozen Cocktails and other products.   After selling the company to Cadbury Schweppes in 2000, he bought 3500 acres of wetland in Florida’s Lake and Marion counties, the majority of which he gifted to the St. John’s River Water Management District.

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The last home of Slush Puppie Founder, 5769 Beech Grove Lane in Covedale, Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

 

 

 

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Borrowed Foods – The Great Cultural Food Heist

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It seemed in the neighborhood, school or church circle, there was always some mother who would not share a recipe when asked. She’d much rather make that batch of her awesome rocky road fudge, than lend over their ‘secret recipe.’   Corporations like Coca-Cola, KFC, and even Skyline Chili have their secret recipes and formulas safely guarded from food robbery.   But in the history of the world, the best food inventions have been stolen.

 

Distinct cultural groups have travelled from place to place over time, due to wars, repatriation, and discrimination.   Through all their relocations, these groups carry the food traditions of their former homelands, adapting them to their new.   As the world grew, metropolitan trade centers exposed locals to exotic foods from the Far East, which they took and adapted as well.

 

Two of our most iconic ‘American’ dishes – the frankfurter/hot dog, and the hamburger – were stolen from the Germans.   They’ve been hiding in plain sight for over a century, embedded with the name of the German city from which they were stolen!   They’ve been so assimilated into our culture no one thinks of them as anything other than an American invention.

 

Our own chicken fried steak is an adaptation by the Texas Germanic immigrants of the schnitzel.   It really should be named Schnitzel Texas.

 

Anything we consider southern foods we stole from East African slaves – black eyed peas, peanuts, sesame, grits, perhaps even the concept of breading and deep frying proteins, like fried chicken.

 

The Cincinnati cheese cup is an adaptation of the Austrian topfenstrudel, made with topfen or quark, a type of cheese similar to our cream cheese, only better.

 

One of my favorite sweets, the Austrian strudel is an adaptation of baklava from Greece/Turkey/Syria.     The concept of thin layers of butter layered dough is the foundation. But the Austrians replaced the ground nut and honey filling with fruit– cherry, apple, peach, or apricot.   We’ve adapted the strudel in America to include pumpkin, and even a horribly commercially available product called Toaster Strudel.

 

Corned beef and cabbage, which we typically associate as an Irish dish, was actually introduced to them in this country in large cities like New York, by the Jewish, as a cheaper substitute to their bacon.

 

Goetta and scrapple are adaptations of a huge family tree of slaughter sausages or grain sausages (gruetzwurst in German) like panhas, knipp, and even haggis.

 

Probably the most nomadic of all groups are the Ashkenazi Jews, travelling from Southern to Northern Europe as they were expelled due to anti-Semitic waves.   Gefiltefish, long associated with Jewish cuisine, was actually lifted by them from Germanic cooks in southern Europe, who had been stuffing fish with its ground and seasoned innards since the middle ages.    The Ashkenazis adapted away from the re-stuffing aspect, boiling balls of fish in heavily seasoned broth.   On the upper east side in turn of the century New York, Jews could discreetly learn where their neighbors originated by asking them if they seasoned their gefiltefish with sugar (Poland) or pepper (Lithuania).

 

Germans are notorious for their stolen foods.   Sauerkraut, or the fermentation of cabbage, is said to have been stolen from the Chinese.       German lager beer was stolen from the Egyptians who discovered fermentation of grains.   Of course the Germans perfected brewing with their beer purity law, Rheinheitsgebot.

 

So because of all this culinary robbery, it’s difficult to give credit to some of our world’s best and earliest food innovations.   Who invented the noodle, for example –   Germans, Italians, or the Chinese? Is gnocchi an adaptation of spaetzli or vice versa?   Is the perogi an Asian dumpling with Cyrillic flair?   These topics have sparked great food debates over time, but thankfully not started any wars.   It’s all this variation that brings interesting culinary diversity to our world.

Depression Era Sandwich Shops

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An ad from 1920s for B & G Sandwich shop, which had four locations downtown in Cincinnati.

We think that the assembly line sandwich chain like Subway is a recent innovation.  But its ancestor goes back nearly a century to the era of Prohibition.   As large restaurants without alcohol no longer turned a profit, smaller, more economical restaurants popped up, many in their place.   These were called ‘quick lunches’ and slanged “gobble-and-git.”    The quick lunches of the 1920s, aslo known as sandwich shops, substituted the steam tables of also popular cafeteria’s like Mill’s Restaurant in Cincinnati, with an often zigzagged lunch counter.

Before the 1920s, George Nathan, a food writer of that time, said there were only 8 types of sandwiches – swiss cheese, ham, sardines, tongue, liverwurst, egg, corned beef, and roast beef.    Before the 1920s sandwiches meant a picnic or a ladies tea party.  The sandwich shop by 1926, Nathan said, had invented thousands of variations and cemented our national love of the Sandwich.    New York City by that time had over 5000 sandwich shops, where busy city dwellers could eat quickly and economically.

Cincinnati didn’t have as many sandwich shops as New York City, but we had our fair share.    They were located next to theatres, like the Fountain Grill & Sandwich Shop, which was next to the Albee Theatre on 5th street.     There were some, like the 60 Second Shop, that were next to streetcar stops in entertainment districts.   Others like B & C (3 E 8th Street), Helena Sandwich Shop (416 Walnut and 127 E. Court Street), and All in One (606 Vine Street) were dotted throughout downtown.    One distinctive factor of Cincinnati Sandwich Shops were that that advertised waffles in addition to sandwiches.  The waffle was an even cheaper way to fill your belly, with a cup of coffee, in the Depression era.   My grandmother told us that when she started her first big girl job after high school in a box factory in Northern Kentucky, one of the things she was able to do was treat her mother on a Sunday afternoon, to a movie and a waffle and coffee at a sandwich shop on Monmouth Street in Newport.

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Matchbooks from Cincinnati’s 1920s era Sandwich Shops.

Cincinnati had four locations of a national chain called B & G Sandwich shop, whose slogan was “A Meal a Minute.”.  By 1920, B & G had chains in major cities of 40 states from New York to San Francisco.  IN 1920 the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said of B & G:

Is there anybody who doesn’t relish the type of sandwiches served in a B-G place – those three-deckers, toasted, and made with such wholesome edibles?   The most popular of these sandwiches is the B-G Special, composed of various meats and Mayonnaise dressing.  Their coffee is of first-rate quality, prepared as it is by special process.   And the pies are something which make you feel glad that you’re eating in a B-G place.   We highly recommend a B-G Sandwich shop for a light snack on a hot summer’s day.

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A 1949 Cincinnati B & G Sandwich Shop downtown.

The chain lasted into the 1960s here in Cincinnati.   These quick lunches and sandwich shops inspired drug stores with soda fountains to add light lunch fare and sandwiches.    Cigar and candy stores even shoehorned lunch counters into the back of their stores too as the sandwich craze took off.     In Cincinnati,  the coney counters and chili parlors, took advantage of the quick lunch craze , starting in 1922 with Empress Chili, and the rest, is history.

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A 1940s menu from B & G Cincinnati.

 

 

 

 

Debunking the Oktoberfest Myth: All Germans Act Like Bavarians

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In a region where German food fests dominate from late August to October, there’s one myth to debunk.   Not all Germans are lager-slurping, pretzel-biting, sausage-eating, lederhosen- wearing, kraut-chomping, Catholic polka dancers.   Although Oktoberfest, on which most of our Americanized German festivals are based, was invented in Bavaria – to celebrate the wedding of King Ludwig and Princess Theresa- not all Germans act or eat like Bavarians.

 

The Cincinnati brats we eat at local Oktoberfests are based on the Bavarian weisswurst.   The lager beer we drink is Bavarian.   But the Germanic kingdoms have a far more diverse palate that what we see a these festivals.

 

My father’s family, for example, is from northern Mecklenburg, Germany, near the Baltic coast.   They came to Cincinnati in 1855, forming a Mecklenburg, Lutheran, chain-immigrant enclave in Cumminsville/Northside.   Herring and saltwater fish dominated the menu of their homeland.     That tradition lasted three generations in my family.   Eating pickled herring on New Year’s Eve was considered good luck. Uncle Howard and Aunt Dee served three types of herring on the holiday gnosh-spread at their Christmas gathering – a brown smoked herring spread, a red creamed herring spread that was either beet flavored or lingonberry flavored (I can only remember the color), and then the traditional chunked, pickled herring, known in Germany as matjes. When I visited Penzlin, the town in Mecklenburg where my family originated, and took my Woellert cousins out to dinner at Zum Punschendorper, I had some of the best fish I’ve ever had. It was served grilled and whole, tail and head.

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The three types of herring dip served at North German fish chain, Nordsee.

A dish called sahnenherring, or herring in cream sauce (usually dill, sour cream, and mayonnaise) is still the most popular form of herring in Mecklenburg.     A local seafood chain in northern Germany, called Nordsee, was founded in 1896 to supply seafood from the North Sea to residents of Bremen. They began chaining in 1964 and are still very popular throught Northern Germany.     They serve the three types of herring salad that my family served at holiday gatherings. I visited a city location in Wolfenbuttel several years ago and it’s an amazing operation.

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And lager beer was not as prevalent in Meckleburg as schnapps or hard cider was.   Another family recipe that unfortunately has been lost, was my Grandfather’s eierlikor or eggnog, that he made at Christmas.   It was thicker than modern store eggnog, and sipped, and would have been made with brandy or schnapps, rather than today’s spiked with bourbon or whiskey.   My father’s family did adapt and drank Bruckmann’s Thuringian-style lager beers, which was owned by their friend, fellow Cumminsville Turnverein member and Lutheran parishioner, and was just a walk across the Mill Creek from their home and frame shop.

 

Today our German-Cincinnatian foods from pastries to sausages are a mish-mosh of foods from different regions of Germany. In densely packed German Over-the-Rhine, the West End, and Covington, Kentucky, butchers and bakers had to adapt their offerings to Germans from all over the kingdoms of Germanic central Europe.   Even goetta, is an adapted mish-mosh of Germanic grain or slaughter sausages like Knipp, panhas, jeternice, and a family tree of similar dishes.

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A 1915 ad in a Cincinnati German newspaper for a northern Kentucky German meat market.

 

In a very broad sense – here’s how Germans ate regionally during the largest period of their immigration: Southern Germans from states like Swabia, Baden and Bavaria ate dumplings and noodles, representing a class of foods called mehlspeisen (flour foods), as their main caloric source.   Northerners relied more on potatoes, beans, split peas and lentels.   Northerners used pork fat, while southerners used butter for cooking. Northerners (like my ancestors) ate large amounts of saltwater fish, while southerners used freshwater species like pike and carp.

 

Each city produced its own local sausage.   Bavaria had weisswurt (white sausage), like our Cincinnati brat. Swabians had blutwurst or blood sausage, and beutelwurst, which in Cincinnati became Johnny-in-the-bag. Saxons had rotwurst (red sausage), which morphed into our Cincinnati Mett.   Residents of Frankfurt in Hesse had a local sausage, Frankfurter wurst, which became our American hot dog.

 

Dresden was the city of stollen, Berlin was a city of jelly filled doughnuts, and Nuremburg made gingerbread.   And, while beer is certainly the national beverage of Germany, they also enjoyed cider, Badeners drank more wine, and northerners (the land of Jaegermeister) preferred a local schnapps.

 

Thankfully we do have some local German-inspired dishes that are not Bavarian – our hot slaw is more Northern German, and our goetta has a more Westphalian, and Northern German root.   So, when you eat to your fill at any of the many local Oktoberfests this season, know that you are eating like a Bavarian, not necessarily ‘like a German.’

 

 

How the Bagel Came to Cincinnati

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In the 1960s, the bagel was still considered exotica in Cincinnati.     We were still largely a city of family owned Gentile German bakeries.     The filled danish and the doughnut were the dominant hand held pastries. But, behind the scenes, a bagel revolution was stirring in the Queen City.

 

The bagel had already firmly implanted itself in New York City, first in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, in the wave of Eastern European immigration that started in the 1890s.     By World War II, the bagel had staked its claim within the larger New York population.  The bagel itself, had originated in Poland.   But the bagel was starting to begin its westward migration into the Midwest.

 

We have the garment industry to thank for the bagel finding its way to Cincinnati from the Big Apple.   In 1961 Hal and Audrey Block, with their two sons, Steve and Alan, moved from New York City to Columbus, Ohio.   Block, son of a Jewish peddlar in New York, was a traveling salesman in the garment industry.   He and a coworker Eddie Kaye had been sent to the Midwest by their company.   Both of their wives lamented their inability to buy bagels in the “hinterland outpost” of Ohio.

 

They contacted a New York cousin of Block’s, whose father was an old time bagel baker, and used his recipes to start their first bagel bakery in Columbus, Ohio, called Hot Bagels, Inc., in 1967 at Kellner Road.   At the time, it offered seven varieties of bagels, with lox and cream cheese.

 

Following it’s success, they opened another Hot Bagels Factory, on Reading Road in Cincinnati’s Jewish Roselawn community, and hired John Marx, a Catholic, and former Mt. Adams bar bouncer as manager. When they went into receivership in 1969, John bought and took over the business, renaming it Marx’s Hot Bagels.

 

John had been around in the baking business. At 17 he got his first job in Kroger’s 8th and State bakery.   He moved around to several other bakeries, before getting his bouncer job in 1968.

 

Marx, the self proclaimed, “Bagel Man,” believes he was the first bagel shop in the country to offer blueberry, cinnamon, and cinnamon raisin bagels.   His is the only kosher Jewish bagel shop left in Cincinnati, and he enjoys catering to Cincinnati’s Orthodox Jewish community.   They gave him the honorary title of “Righteous Gentile.”   And in 1971, Marx was brought to the Smithsonian to demonstrate bagel twisting.   His personality is like that of local Jewish deli owner Izzy Cadet, or even the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld.     He now serves over 30 varieties of bagels.

 

The last fully Kosher bakery in Cincinnati was Buchheim’s Bakery at 2200 Losantiville, which had been making bagels since the mid 1970s, after the Hot Bagel Factory had introduced them to Cincinnati.     A 1977 Cincinnati Magazine article announced Buchheim’s Bagels were the best.  Immediately Roselawn’s Jewish community lashed back in the next month’s editorials, saying that Buchheim’s were egg bagels, which, aside from the hole in the center, had no resemblance to the traditional “Jewish donut.”   AND, Marx’s had 13 varieties of bagels.

 

It makes sense that Buchheim’s bagels were not ‘real’ bagels, as the Jewish community so vociferously declared.   Gerd Buchheim, was born in the Jewish Community of Bad Wildungen, Germany. Narrowly escaping Buchenwald concentration camp in World War II, he fled with his family to Bolivia. He moved to Argentina, where he got his pastry education, met his wife, and then settled in Cincinnati.   After a stint at Busken Bakery, Buchheim opened their kosher pareve bakery in Golf Manor.   So, Buchheim never got a stint learning the New York Jewish bagel secrets.   His bakery was famous for their crunch cake, challah, and rye bread, all baked without dairy. Gerd sold his bakery to his brother Fritz, in 1973, who introduced bagels to the lineup, as they noticed the bagel’s rising cult following in Cincinnati.

 

Another local bakery, Skally’s Old World in North College Hill, was one of the early high volume producers of bagels in Cincinnati. Odette and Ephraim Skally, Lebanese immigrants, opened their bakery in in 1977.   Their flagship product was pita, because they couldn’t find the staple of their homeland diet on grocery shelves in Cincinnati.    Seeing a rising popularity, they introduced bagels in 1981.   While pita was always a niche product, their bagels became the dominant product and they invested in bagel making equipment.

 

With the current low carb trends, many bagels have dropped in size an ounce from the traditional 5 oz., and most are sold in groceries through private labels, including Lender’s and Skally’s.   Since their introduction, national chains like Panera and Bruegger’s have popped up in Cincinnati, but those that like legacy can still crunch into a true New York Jewish recipe bagel at Marx’s.

Weisn Balls – The Region’s Best Sauerkraut Balls – in Louisville, Kentucky

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Chef Morgan’s Weisn Balls at Eiderdown in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

In a town known for it’s b’s- bourbon, Benedictine spread, hot Browns, baseball bats – I was  surprised to find another b that tops my list – sauerkraut balls.    Louisville, Kentucky, introduced me to my now favorite sauerkraut ball yesterday on a foodie trip there with a friend – just in time for Oktoberfest Season.   These balls are the genius invention of Chef Brian Morgan at Eiderdown Restaurant in Louisville’s new hipster Germantown or ‘Gtown’ corridor along Goss Avenue.      Other restaurants like Four Pegs, Post, and Germantown Craft House all are within walking distance.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the best German sauerkraut balls are in Louisville, Kentucky, or that the best two balls on my Food Dude Best Balls list are found in Kentucky.     My top three are now Eiderdown, Augusta KY Pub, and Mecklenburg Gardens.   The Louisville Germans gave us the Kentucky Common – one of only three domestic takes on the Germanic lager.    It’s also a Germanic family, the Weisenbergers, who founded a mill in Midway, Kentucky,  whose ground corn has supplied Louisville grits since the end of the Civil War.      I also found on this trip at Eggs over Frankfurt in the other hipster Crescent Hill Neighborhood of Louisville, that not all grits are gloopy and flavorless.    Eggs over  Frankfurt’s grits are the best I’ve had so far.   But as a Yankee, I’m not a grits convert yet.   Let’s just say I’m  grits-friendly.

This Louisville food trip also gave me my first taste of Benedictine spread (of which I’m now a super-fan), taught me how to bloom a bourbon, and the flavor benefits of a high-rye bourbon  (above 35% rye grain ratio in the mash).      The obligatory trip to Matt Jamie’s Bourbon Barrel Foods also sent me with a care package of bourbon infused ingredients to fill my Fall cooking sessions.

Chef Morgan calls his sauerkraut balls the Weisn Balls – and even though they’re an appetizer, he adheres to the  same food philosophy he applies to his main dishes – creating freshly prepared foods with modern takes on classic flavors.    And this modern take is a delicious step off of the sauerkraut ball family tree.

Some may think it kind of weird to spend so much time traveling and tasting sauerkraut balls – a side dish; just an  appetizer.    I’ve formulated an Ohio Sauerkraut Ball Trail, and even found a Dutch variation called the bitterballen in Covington, Kentucky’s Mainstrasse District.   But as simple of a dish as they may sound, it’s not so easy to get all three of the aspects of a good sauerkraut ball combined together.    A good sauerkraut ball, in my opinion,  has three main aspects – crunchiness, creaminess and tanginess.     You’ve gotta have a good crunch on the outside.   You don’t want a wimpy breading, but you also don’t want one as thick as a hush puppy.     The inside has to be both creamy with some sort of cream cheese or other melty cheese, and that marries with the right amount of tangy sauerkraut to give the ball its name.

Here’s where Chef Morgan’s brilliance comes in.   For the  creaminess aspect, he uses house made, fried spaetzli – the German gnocchi –   and mixes it with just the right amount of sauerkraut.     The creaminess you get in the bite with the spaetzle is amazing.    He’s formulated a great breading that he fries to a very crunchy brown finish.   A small drizzle of shaved ‘kenny’s white cheddar cheese’ is sprinkled on the top of the order of 6 balls, and served with a side of spicy sambal mayo.

It would have been hard to top such a great first bite, but the striped seabass entrée I had at Eiderdown was the best fish since Bora Bora – with pesto cream and fresh mushrooms.    Chef Morgan also turns spaetzli, a German Amaleuteessen or peasant side dish, into a main dish, which my friend had, and it was pretty spectacular too.    The spaetzli was boiled and then lightly pan fried, served with basil, goat cheese, ratatouille, sliced almonds and lemon oil.

As much as I hate to mess with perfection, I still think integrating red cabbage or rotkuhl into the ball would take the tanginess over the top and create a new step off the Sauarkraut Ball Family Tree.         But spaetzli and sauerkraut balls I think are a brilliant combination that sure  have food trend legs.

 

 

How Crisco Ruined Jewish Cooking

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Triple delight soup – kreplach, matzo, and noodles – made with schmatlz.

 

Schmaltz is rendered chicken or goose fat.  It’s the staple of traditional Jewish cooking, and is a MUST in making a good chicken noodle or matzo ball soup.   It’s a delicious, divine secret weapon for cooks prohibited by religion in using bacon fat.

 

Those that have cooked or eaten with schmaltz know there’s no comparison.      Potatoes cooked with schmaltz take on a crispness and satisfying flavor that vegetable oil just can’t duplicate. Meats and starches have a depth and complexity that set them apart from the same dishes prepared with olive oil or butter.      If you had gone to any of Cincinnati’s Jewish delis of the 1910s, like Bilker’s on Central, or Izzy Cadet’s on Elm, the kugel, kishke, and kreplach you’d find were made with sumptuous schmaltz.

 

What’s more, schmaltz provides a unique tie to the past that must be preserved. Schmaltz is like a thread that runs through a great cultural tapestry.   It’s a secret handshake among Jews and those in the know who love to cook and eat.

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But while Jewish housewives were using schmaltz for their cooking, Gentile housewives in America were using pork based lard, especially in Porkopolis Cincinnati.

 

 

Here’s where P & G comes in.  The company that gaveth to Cincinnati, also tooketh, with one of its early food inventions.   In 1907, German chemist, E.C. Kayser, turned up at Procter & Gamble Ivorydale offices with a fabulous food find.  It was a ball of fat.  But it wasn’t just any ball of fat.   It looked and cooked like lard. But no pigs were harmed in its production. It was something called hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and it could be produced in the lab a lot cheaper than both lard and schmaltz.

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It was called Krispo, and later Crisco, (shortened form of crystallized cottonseed oil) a vegetable shortening with one evil purpose: to replace lard.

Cincinnati already had a fairly large cottonseed oil market.   The Longworth Wine House had been converted after the Civil War into a Cottonseed oil plant by his grandson, William Pope Anderson.

Americans were already uneasy about the meat industry after Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, but Procter & Gamble had their work cut out for them.   Unlike lard, Crisco was made in a lab by scientists.   Lab made products were not necessarily an appetizing idea back then.

Procter & Gamble twisted the lab-made moniker and Sinclair’s meat industry expose to their advantage.    Launching a Trump-like ad campaign, the company instilled fear in people about adulterated lard. The ads bragged how pure and wholesome Crisco was. The company packaged the product in pure white and claimed “the stomach welcomes Crisco.”

Procter & Gamble became the marketing powerhouse they’re known for today with the Crisco brand. It sent out cookbooks touting how good Crisco made you feel. It shipped samples to hospitals and schools, then bragged about how those institutions trusted Crisco. It rushed onto the newly invented radio waves in 1923, sponsoring cooking programs that featured, Crisco.

One would have thought that Jewish cookery would have been immune to the Crisco Revolution.     But, P&G also had the brilliant idea of presenting Crisco to the Jewish housewife as a kosher food, one that behaved like butter but could be used with meats. In 1933, it released a kosher cookbook in both Yiddish and English.

In addition to being kosher, Crisco was also pareve and could be used to cook either dairy or meat dishes.

A pareve fat for cooking, baking, and frying was truly an innovation to the kosher household. A kosher housewife couldn’t serve fluden (a dairy or fruit pastry) made with butter after a meat meal, because it broke the cardinal rule of kosher – mixing meat and dairy.    Most Jewish food preparation utilized either butter or schmaltz. Each substance had its pros and cons for cooking and for the kosher kitchen in particular. The best grade of butter was expensive.   Cheaper butter was often adulterated with other undesirable substances. Schmaltz could be made at home but it was a very labor-intensive process, producing only a small quantity of fat.

Crisco offered many benefits. It was a vegetable product, it met the terms of the Pure Food Law, it was inexpensive, easy to obtain, easy to digest, didn’t create unpleasant cooking odors, and could be heated to higher temperatures than animal based fats. Traditional Jewish foods would be enhanced with the use of Crisco, P & G claimed. Latkes fried with butter come out soggy and greasy; latkes fried in Crisco would cook quickly and brown evenly. Even the shiksa housewife could make crisp, crunchy, latkes, provided they were fried with Crisco.

Because it made kosher cooking easier, Jewish women adopted Crisco and margarine—imitation lard and imitation butter—more quickly than other groups.   But unfortunately, the flavor and depth of their cooking was severely compromised.  No longer did they have to render down chicken skins with onions to make schmaltz.     But they lost the secret to their ‘Jewish penicillin.’   And apparently not too many Schlomos or Maurys complained when the change was made, seeing the benefits in household food savings with Crisco.

Procter & Gamble was proud that Crisco was kosher and advertised heavily in the Jewish press, causing a whole generation of Jewish housewives and Jewish deli cooks to convert to vegetable fat, and lose the secret ingredient that made their dishes so delicious.