Royal Red Shrimp – The Secret Delicacy of the Gulf Coast

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Royal Red Shrimp (pleoticus robustus) native to the Gulf Coast, the Keys, and Connecticut.

I was driving down the 193 toward the Dauphin Island ferry in Southern Alabama when I got a lucky call.   It was my childhood friend, Mike, who lives not far in the Gulf Area of Mississippi.     He is a foodie from way back like me – a Midwestern-turned Southern one – one who knows goetta AND grits.     He saw my Facebook post from the night before about Mobile, Alabama, food, and wanted to give me some recommendations. He was driving in the opposite direction toward his former Cincy home to celebrate his fabulous mother, Barb’s birthday.   So, for the second year in a row, we missed each other in the Gulf.   One of these Septembers we’ll have a beer on a fishing boat in the Gulf.

He told me about a shrimp native to the area called Royal Red Shrimp (pleoticus robustus).     He proclaimed them the “best thing on the coast,” and directed me to a little unincorporated town of Bon Secour, east of Gulf Shores.   It’s a French fishing village meaning “Good Harbour” dating back to the late 19th century.   One fishing company has been in operation there since 1890.   Apparently, with Royal Reds, once you go red, you don’t go back – to pink, white, or brown, that is.

The primary catch for the Bon Secour fishing fleet ranges from Mobile Bay shrimp to this deep water “Royal Red” shrimp Mike told me I had to try.   Large shrimp boats dock on the inlet river in Bon Secour in front of processing plants awaiting packaging and shipment to all of America.   It’s these multi-generational fishing family companies that are folding due to competition with cheaper overseas farmed shrimp. These overseas critters are what we typically eat at local restaurants that serve generic shrimp dishes.     There is an Alabama Wild Shrimp program that bands together the local fishermen of Bon Secour and the Mobile area to help them ally with marketing, PR and branding efforts for Alabama wild caught shrimp.

Those who’ve had fresh wild caught gulf shrimp know there is nothing better.   And I was excited to try this Royal Red variety.     Royal Reds are a tastier species compared to the pink, white, and brown varieties. The Red’s higher fat content make them sweeter and more tender than coastal shrimp.     It’s that tenderness that makes them cook in about half the time as pink, white or brown varieties.

While few had even heard of the Royal Red before the mid-90s, they now have a cult following with locals and tourists in the know along the Gulf Coast. Royal Red Shrimp can be identified by their large size, rich crimson color and their naturally salty and flavorful taste that has been compared to Lobster and Bay Scallops.

Although still not well known, Royal Red shrimp have been plentiful for a long time. They were caught 100 years ago by Sicilian and Greek immigrants in deep waters 40 to 60 miles offshore in the Atlantic, at the edge of the underwater ridge known as the Blake Plateau.   These immigrants founded the modern commercial shrimping industry, which traditionally has focused on the inshore white, brown and pink species. They were found off the Gulf Coast in the 1950s, and off the coast of Connecticut in the 1980s.       Aside from Stonington Fisheries in Connecticut, the Gulf Coast, and the Florida Keys, you will be hard pressed to find Royal Reds anywhere else.   They never see the light of day in their 1200 to half mile deep habitats, and as a result are flash frozen on the boat.   If they weren’t, they’d go bad before the boats reached shore.

They were simply were not an economically feasible catch until fairly recently, partly because of the need to develop special deep-water nets and get them approved by the government.

With four main gulf coast shrimp species, each has a different flavor.   Watch for a new bar trend – shrimp flights – like a flight of wines or bourbons.   Brown shrimp (penaeus aztecus) have an iodine-rich diet, which imparts a strong flavor that goes great with robust dishes like gumbo and jambalaya.   On the other hand, white shrimp (penaeus setiferus) have a more mild flavor with natural sweetness because they’re found in areas with less salinity, like brackish estuaries and bayous. If you boil or sauté them, they’ll soak in the flavors of the sauces and seasonings. Finally, pink shrimp (penaeus duorum) are also sweet with an even more mild flavor profile, so they pair well with dishes that feature delicate sauces (like shrimp and grits) and they grill up well.

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My Royal Red Shrimp grill in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

While Royal Reds can be found all year long, their season runs from late summer through the end of fall. The best time for the freshest Royal Reds is during the peak month of September. Lucky for me, I was there during the peak.   I found them frozen, as they should be, at Fresh Market Fish in Bon Secour, and grilled them that same night.     I might have slightly overcooked them, but we still enjoyed their sweetness.     They don’t need a pairing with cocktail sauce or anything for that matter.   I’ll have to do some scouting to see if they’re available in Cincinnati.

 

 

 

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Conecuh – The Sausage of the South

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Cincinnati certainly has some ‘street cred’ with our local sausages.   But we’re not the only ones who make great wursts.    And I’m always one to give props to a producer that makes great encased meats!  I met my new favorite spicy sausage in the land of gulf shrimp and moon pies –  Mobile, Alabama, recently on my yearly trip to Gulf Shores.     It’s called Conecuh Sausage, made in the county by the same name in Alabama, a Creek Indian word for “Land of Sugar Cane”.   I tasted it at my favorite restaurant in Mobile, Alabama :   Kitchen on George.

This product of porcine valhalla was not so discreetly embedded in a side dish of smokey jamabalya.   It’s spicy, smokiness permeated, making it the star of the plate, even though the fish was pretty darn good too. I’ve never had jambalaya so smokey and tomatoey. I asked my waiter about the sausage and got a lesson on its origin and maker.   He said it’s made in Conecuh, Alabama, where all they do is make sausage and bacon.

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The Pontchartrain Catch of the Day at Kitchen on George in Mobile, Alabama, with Conecuh sausage jambalaya.

Conecuh is a county in southern Alabama.   In the days before most had their own freezers, a man named Henry Sessions formulated his recipe for hickory smoked pork sausage. After returning from World War II, Sessions worked as a salesman for a meatpacking plant in Montgomery Alabama.   He started Sessions Quick Freeze in Evergreen in 1947 so that people could bring their pigs and cattle, have them slaughtered, and store them and their vegetables in his rentable meat locker.

But it was Sessions’ high quality smoked pork sausage that put his company on the map.   Customer demand for the sausage made the family butcher 250 hogs a week to satisfy these cravings. Today the 100 employee company makes 35,000- 40,000 pounds of sausage a week.   Henry’s son John Crum Sessions and his grandson, John Henry sessions, now run the company, which has a gift shop.   The smokey aroma from the plant pulls north Florida and Gulf Coast beachgoers of I-65.   To many this smell is the ‘smell of the beach.’   They call it ‘aromatic advertising.’

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John Crum Sessions, current owner of Conecuh Sausage Company.

While I had this amazing sausage in jambalaya, I also had it the next morning at the historic Kate Shepard House – run by delightful proprietors Wendy and Bill James – alongside scrambled eggs and praline French toast made by Wendy.   It’s also good in gumbo and probably would be great in split pea soup or any dish that would be complimented with hickory smokiness.   John Sessions’ wife, Sheila, makes his favorite version in pork and beans.

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The praline French toast and Conecuh sausage with eggs breakfast by Wendy James at the historic Kate Shepard house in Mobile, Alabama.

The sausage comes in small links and normal links, in hot and spicy, hickory smoked and Cajun smoked. It can be found in 21 states at Publix, Costco, Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, Rouse’s, Kroger, and many others. I am hoping to either find it or bring it to Cincinnati, so I can experiment with it in many more southern and Yankee dishes.   It’s simply amazing sausage!!

 

 

 

The Best of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati

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Cream Puffs, Struedel, and Brats – oh my!    Add in sauerkraut balls, pretzels and beer, and you have Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.    In Cincinnati, we no longer have the largest nor the most authentic Oktoberfest.     And, the food and location just keeps getting weirder and weirder.       This year, instead of being on Fifth Street around our beautiful Fountain Square, cast at the Royal Bavarian Foundry in Munich, where Oktoberfest started, the whole festival was moved to 2nd and 3rd streets with a spectacular view of….. the Ft. Washington Way Highway and the stadiums.   Despite this new location, an estimated 640,000 attendees ate their way through the stalls, over 30,000 taking the new streetcar.

 

Our local breakfast delicacy, Goetta, is infused everywhere, which is not a bad thing, if done properly.   Goetta Balls are an acceptable variation on the more common sauerkraut ball.   But this year’s new Goetta Grill Donut Sandwich at the Busken booth just seemed a bit over the top to me.   The Strasse Haus had a Goetta Corndog this year.   But (with the addition of cornmeal) isn’t that really just a scrapple dog?

 

Despite these German fusian-fails, there were a few good local products that made their debut at Oktoberfest this year that deserve mention.

 

The Germania Society released their new house-made mustards and sauces at their own Oktoberfest in August.   They brought the new line with them at their brat booth over the weekend.     Bottled in Columbus, Indiana, they are house formulated recipes.   There’s a great Bavarian Sweet Mustard, a German Sweet-Hot mustard, a Sauerkraut Mustard, and a Curry Sauce.   They also have the dry rub spice blend used on their rotisserie chicken.   I bought all of the sauces and tried the sweet, sweet-hot, and the curry sauce.   All were pretty good, but I thought the sweet-hot mustard could have had a bit more zing.

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I was very excited to see a new collaboration between local legacy meat market, Avril’s, and Cincy Beer Brats.   I think it’s a brilliant move on Avril’s part, and has been a long time coming.   They served a Bourbonwurst infused with Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, and a Bratwurst with Braxton Brewery’s Oktober Fuel Oktoberfest Lager.    Cincy Beer Brats also have a Pale Ale Bierwurst, and a Pumpkin Bourbon Ale Bierwurst from Alltech Brewery in Lexington, Kentucky.   All are available at a few local retailers, including both Jungle Jim’s locations.   I’m very excited to see where this new venture with Avril’s goes!

 

The big theme this year at Oktoberfest was Bratwurst vs. Pretzel, which I though was odd.     And, in Cincinnati they’re just brats, not bratwurst.   Brat to pretzel is not an apples to apples comparison.   I think it would be smarter to have a brat vs. mett vote and maybe a cream puff vs. strudel vote. That way you’re comparing like proteins and like pastry.

Oktoberfest Statistiken

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This weekend we prepare for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, supposedly the largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich.   Racine, Wisconsin, also has that claim, as do a few other cities.     While we put on our eating pants (or lederhosen) and eat German food to our heart’s content, the people of Munich will be consuming too.     Our Oktoberfest season starts even earlier than Munich’s with our region’s most authentic Germania Park Oktoberfest, in mid August.

 

The festival is now on its 183rd year – based on the wedding party of Bavarian Crown Prince Louis, and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich to attend the festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates. These famous public fields were named Theresienwiese—”Therese’s fields”—in honor of the crown princess; which has now been abbreviated to “Wies’n.”   The 16 day festival now starts in September, because the weather is milder than

 

Here’s what we consume in Zinzinnati on Oktoberfest Weekend, according to the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce:

 

64,000 sauerkraut balls

20,000 cream puffs

87,452 metts

80,000 brats

24,640 potato pancakes

23,000 soft pretzels

16,000 strudel

3600 pounds of sauerkraut

700 pounds of smelly Limburger cheese

400 pickled pig’s feet

 

Wow our German palate seems starved to eat our heritage!   The estimate is for 500,000 jolly attendees for the three day weekend.

 

We are also host the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, with 48,000 dancers in 1994.   We’ve had celebrities like George Takei, Nick Lachey, and Mini-me lead this crazy tanz in past years.

 

Only six Munich breweries are approved to brew the Oktoberfest beer, all of which strictly adhere to the Rheinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law of 1487.   They are: Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbrau, Spaten, Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner, and Paulaner. And, an estimated 7.5 million liters of beer will be consumed under the tents.   This figure is actually down from the 7.7 million liters from 2014.     The 5.9 million festivalgoers also nearly choked on 122 oxen and 51 calves to go with the beer.

 

The drunkards in Munich lost 804 passports, 742 wallets, 479 cellphones, and three wedding rings at the 2015 Oktoberfest.

 

Similar to the stein carrying events that are held under the Uberdrome at the Moerlein Lager House, Munich has a stein carrying competition as well.   The current record was set in 2014 by German Oliver Struempfel, who carried 25 full beer steins without spilling over 131 feet.   The women’s record goes to Anita Schwarz for carrying 19 steins.

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Stein stealing is one of the biggest problems at Munich Oktoberfest.   110,000 people unsuccessfully attempted to walk out of the Munich tents with a beer stein.

The biggest problems with Oktoberfest Zinzinnati is the arrival of non-German foods like jambalaya in the food area, and the lack of anti-acids.

A Tex-Czech Icon, the Kolache Enters Cincinnati Market – Sort of!

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This morning as I stopped at UDF for my coffee, my eyes nearly jumped out of their sockets when I saw a Tex-Czech food icon, the kolache.   I glanced over at the counter warming shelf, that holds breakfast sandwiches.  Staring back at me on one of the wrapped sandwiches was “Cheddar Sausage Kolache: Hardwood Smoked Cheddar Sausage wrapped in a Sweet Dough.”     I had just written about the Tex-Czech foodways and the kolache.

UDF has really amped it up with their fresh deli offerings in the last several months.   In fact, they are trend-forward with the same thing happening across all American convenience stores, and doing a great job at it.   Gone are the days of hot dog rollers and warmed up taquitos as the only convenience store offerings.

Thankfully, UDF marketeers decided to describe what a kolache is on the package, as most  Cincinnati natives would not know a kolache from a venecek (another Czech pastry).     And, surely the Germanic demographic of Cincinnati fits with the demographic of the kolache.   But the UDF marketeers got it a bit wrong.     A  kolache is definitely a sweet yeast dough pastry.   But it’s a sweet filled pastry too– with some sort of fruit marmalade, a sweet creamy cheese, or poppy seed paste.   When you add a savory sausage in the pastry, it’s then called a klobasnek.   Both the kolache and its sibling come from the Texas Hill country around San Antonio and Austin, where Germanic and Czech immigrants settled just before the time of the Civil War.   Bakeries and meat lockers in that area sell these adapted foods of these groups including sausages and the kolaches.

UDF’s ‘sausage kolache’ comes two in a package.     They have the right sweet dough, but look more like what we would call pigs-in-a-blanket.       The difference is that pigs-in-a-blanket are usually Vienna sausages or cut hot dog bits wrapped in crescent roll dough.     What American kid didn’t grow up eating pigs-in-a-blanket?     But it’s interesting to see the fusion of Tex-Czech into Cincy-German foodways.   And who knows, maybe we’ll see a Cincy Bratwurst Klobasnek filled with Dusseldorf mustard or sauerkraut in our future.

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The traditional American pig-in-a-blanket.

 

What’s interesting about the whole pastry wrapped sausage is that they all seem to go back to a Germanic origin.     Germany has a version they call Wurstchen im Schlafrock – literally ‘ little sausages in a bathrobe’.   Cute.   This dish was around long before the first American pigs-in-a-blanket reference shows up  in the 1957 Betty Crocker “Cookbook for Kids.”     Irma Rombauer had a recipe for “Link Sausages in Pastry” in her 1931 Joy of Cooking.   And, by the 1970s, pigs-in-a-blanket had baked its way into American cocktail party culture.

 

There’s also a version in Germany that’s called the geflugel sausage roll that’s more square than the Wurstchen in Schlafrock, but both are found in many train stations and street vendor carts all over Germany.   Sometimes the Wurstchen im Schlafrock has German mustard or curry ketchup, pickles, cheese or even bacon inside.

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The German Wurstchen im Schlafrock (left) and geflugel sausage roll (right).

The corndog also has German roots in Texas, like the kolache and klobasnek.   The story is that the same German and Czech-Bohemian immigrants who came to Texas got lukewarm reception from the Americans on their sausages.   So they wrapped them in readily available cornmeal batter and deep fried them to make them more palatable.     The stick in the corndog came later, but the sausage-in-a-pastry concept is the same.     So corndog, sausage kolache, klobasnek, and pigs-in-a-blanket are cousins, all with a very Germanic origin.

Saveur Magazine’s recent September edition included an article on elevating the American pig-in-a-blanket.   They tried making with several different doughs – brioche (based off the French saussicon brioche), puff pastry, and croissant – but settled on the Southern buttermilk biscuit dough, with their house made sausages.

Look for more Tex-Czech fusian foods at your neighboring United Dairy Farmers market soon.

 

Old Aunt Nellie’s Pork Lard Biscuits

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There’s no better way to relax the mind and enjoy the late summer than a drive along Kentucky’s AA highway.     It’s a very secluded drive winding up and down the hills of Campbell, Bracken, and Mason counties of Northern Kentucky.   I had that golden opportunity this past Saturday on the way to Old Washington, Kentucky, to print T-shirts for an upcoming family reunion.    There are no fast food joints at every exit on the AA like other major highways.    And the signs for little farmers markets and produce stands off the highway remind you of all the wonderful fall harvest items and dishes soon to come to the table.   As you near Maysville, Kentucky, the hilltops are bathed in bright yellow with fields of blooming sunflowers.

There are three burial sites of my mother’s family just off the AA.  I decided to stop at one of them to pay homage to her family.    I was reminded while strolling the family plot of one relative, Old Aunt Nellie Henderson.   She was my grandfather’s aunt, and I heard many stories of her as a kid.    Nellie was the sister of my great grandfather, Fredrick Gibson Ling, who was the first of his farm-raised siblings to go to college – in Chicago.   It was called ‘business school’ back then, but was more like an associate’s degree in accounting, which he used as clerk for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad offices in Newport, Kentucky.    For a young boy in his early twenties who’d never cooked for himself, who knows what kind of new food he was exposed to in the big city.   The big city lunchrooms, cafes, and speakeasies he would have seen must have been just a brave new exciting world.    I have the monogrammed leather suitcase he took with him to Chicago.   My Grandpa showed me the autograph book he had with all the great things his male classmates wrote about him when he graduated.   The ‘big city’ certainly made an impression on my great grandpa, because when he returned, he and his new wife moved to the ‘big city’ of Dayton, Kentucky, near the even bigger cities of Newport, Covington, and Cincinnati.    He spent the next 30 years raising his family, and recording freight inventory going through the area on the railroad.

But it was Aunt Nellie who stuck out in my head on this past trip.    Several years ago I had gone through my grandmother’s recipes for a legacy family cookbook I put together for a family Christmas gift.  Aunt Nellie’s biscuit recipe was one I found, among several others.     Grandma’s recipes were not the best for duplication.  Her recipes were more like notes or just suggestions of how to make a dish.  But Grandma always gave credit to the relative or publication where she found the recipe.

And Nellie’s biscuits must have been divine for my Grandmother to have snagged the recipe.       The recipe was probably the one her mother, Anna Gibson Ling, used for the family.   Anna was raised with six sisters in Suffolk, England, during the Crimean War.  Anna’s father, Cornelius Gibson, was the Land Agent at a manor house called Willingham Hall, owned by the Barnes family, and a fraction of the size of Downton Abbey.  Cornelius would have had a job similar to the character, Tom Branson, on Downton Abbey, who made all economic arrangements for the farms on the estate.

But English biscuits are known to be hard and dry. They squat on the dividing line between cracker and crisp cookie.   So, Anna probably adapted this English biscuit with which she was familiar to the country recipe with pork lard.  She might have also been instructed by farm neighbors that soft red winter wheat flour, with lower protein and gluten was the best for biscuits.   The end result – magic!

The country biscuit’s popularity on the table has to do with its versatility. There’s nothing like a biscuit as a vehicle for fresh jam, sorghum, molasses or honey.   They’re also fabulous layered with country ham or covered in white sausage gravy.   They can even transition to dessert, when covered in fresh macerated strawberries and whipped cream to become shortcake.   My grandmother made the best fresh strawberry shortcake, with her version of Nellie’s biscuit recipe.   If I close my eyes I can still smell and taste it.

Nellie was the youngest sister of my great grandpa.    And when her mother Anna Gibson Ling, died early, Nellie became the de-facto mother, cooking the meals for her three hungry brothers – Melbourne, Garrod, and Fredrick, and father, Charles an English immigrant.   Her older sister, Maud had already married Samuel White, and moved to her own farm just up the road.     Because of these family care-taking duties, Nellie married late in life, after all her brothers had married and left home.   She never had children, but was known far and wide for her cooking.    She always hosted Thanksgiving dinner for her siblings living near the farm in Carthage.    So it was Aunt Nellie’s three niece-in-laws, Mary, Virginia, and my grandma, who became the inheritors of her cooking methods and farm recipes.

I visited one of her niece-in-laws Virginia, on her farm in nearby Melbourne, Kentucky, several years ago, and she even praised Nellie’s culinary brilliance.    Virginia and her husband Elbert had been at those Thanksgiving dinner tables that Aunt Nellie prepared.   After Uncle Andy died, Nellie would walk down the hill of her farm and meet Virginia and Mary and walk with them to Church every Sunday into her late 80s, a three mile round trip.

Nellie was a teacher for Campbell County Kentucky District 21 as a young woman.  I found a Kentucky State School Annual Settlement document for teachers that showed Aunt Nellie made a salary of $74.81 for the 1897-1898 school year.    She was also very involved with the Mt. Gilead Methodist Church in Carthage, teaching Sunday school to young children.   Her famous biscuits most certainly made an appearance at church, school, and Grange Hall picnics and Sunday family dinners, which is where Grandma tasted them.

When Nellie married Andrew Henderson in 1917 she moved to his farm high on a hill off of Washington Trace, overlooking the Ohio River, and had an instant new family to cook for.    Uncle Andy’s farm was so high on the hill that my mom said Grandpa had to park at the bottom of their unpaved driveway because their car couldn’t make it up the incline whenever they visited.      Mom remembers the fresh Sunday chicken dinners they had at Aunt Nellie’s and that they had to pump all their water from an outside spring-fed well.    Grandpa would try to pay Nellie and Andrew for the farm produce they’d give them, but they wouldn’t accept money on the Sabbath.   A discourse would ensue, which resulted in Grandpa slipping money in their mailbox on the walk down the steep driveway.

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A map of Carthage, Kentucky, showing the Charles Ling Farm, Aunt Nellie’s farm, Maud Ling White’s Farm, the school where Nellie taught, and the Mt Gilead Methodist Church.

The secret to Nellie’s biscuits of course was lard – cold lard as biscuit aficionados know.   And this lard was hand rendered from the fat of the heritage pigs her father Charles Ling, raised on the family’s ancestral farm.       Crisco would never duplicate the flavor of Nellie’s biscuits, and probably why the recipe fizzled out after my Grandmother.   And, because biscuits are hard to make well from scratch.   Pillsbury and other large food conglomerates made it easy to forget the handmade biscuits with their exploding premade dough in a cylinder products.

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A groundbreaking ceremony in the late 1950s for the new Mt. Gilead Methodist Church – the congregation who were fed by Aunt Nellie’s biscuits.

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The old Carthage Mt Gilead Methodist Church, built in 1900, now demolished, where Aunt Nellie would have served her pork lard biscuits.

The family farm would pass on to Garrod, the youngest and only son who didn’t move to the ‘big city.’    Nellie would inherit all the furniture and kitchen implements, Garrod would get the farm equipment, and buy his other siblings out to get farm. His son, Roger then inherited the farm, which continued to raise pigs.    I remember visiting his farm, with my grandparents when my brother and I were staying with them when my sister was born.   Everything on that farm smelled like pigs, even the chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven, that Roger’s wife, Mary, served us!

Aunt Nellie lived to be 88, but the legacy of her lard biscuits and her farm fresh cooking lived on in our family through my Grandmother, her niece-in-law.  I’m sure someone is still making pork lard biscuits today similar to Aunt Nellie’s on the farms of Carthage, Kentucky,

 

Before Instacart and AmazonFresh, there were Huckster Wagons

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An early horse-drawn huckster wagon.

The web is rapidly changing how consumers get their weekly groceries. Online and app grocery delivery services are taking share away from traditional brick and mortar grocery stores.   This, at a time, when the largest Kroger retail store – larger than most Walmarts – opened less than a year ago in Oakley, on the site of a former machine tool factory.   Traditional supermarkets are biting back, offering store-supported delivery services.   Kroger has an app called Clicklist.

Actually, home delivery is nothing new. In fact, it’s where it all started, and like a big wagon wheel, we’re reverting back to our earlier days.   Only, today it’s with the help of technology.

Long before supermarkets and Walmarts there were hucksters.     These were men who peddled groceries door to door on a daily basis, fresh from the farm.     They were the mediator between the customer and the farmer.   They knew the customer’s needs, had a regular route, and offered value to the farmer who didn’t have to peddle.

Unlike the pushcart vendors in large cities – like the bagel peddler or the saurkraut peddler of New York city – hucksters carred a large variety of items.

There are still huckster ‘chuck wagons’ as we used to call them, when I worked at a chemical plant near Ivorydale.   That was because the plant didn’t have its own cafeteria.   So, the huckster would pull up with his heated and refrigerated truck to all the plants along Mitchell Avenue near Ivorydale, and sell egg burritos and the like for breakfast and come back with burgers and sandwiches for lunch.   It’s along the lines of the modern food truck concept, only there’s more variety, and they’re prepared, rather than cooked on site or to order. They’re also mobile and service a route, like the old grocery hucksters.

Some hucksters were based out of stores in town. Customers paid cash, bought on credit, or traded butter, eggs, or chickens for goods.

The huckster was a kind of consolidator of produce and poultry.   He collected in bulk from a number of small suppliers.     He even consolidated items country children foraged from the forest like mushrooms and ginseng or even rabbits.   Good hucksters carried anything that might be found in a country grocery store. And, they carried wishlists from their customers so that whenever they came in contact, they could buy or trade for that item.   Some hucksters stopped by country schoolhouses on their routes to sell snacks to the kids, who pooled their money to buy cookies.

Huckster routes existed locally as far back as the time of the Civil War.   An ancestor of mine, John Flora, was a huckster during that time.     He had his own horse-driven truck and would collect chickens from his Campbell County, Kentucky, farm neighbors, dress them, and transport them to the Cincinnati markets downtown.   Sometimes a huckster would also pick up other dry goods from the city for his farm neighbors, like a modern day Amazon. My guy, Mr. Flora, would transport church books for his local Carthage Methodist Church from the Methodist Book warehouse on Pike Street in Cincinnati, during his normal huckster route.

As motorized transportation became common, hucksters travelled even deeper into rural areas of Kentucky, often using Cincinnati-made Armleder and Schacht trucks with chain drives. Huckstering was especially important during the rationing of gasoline during World War II, which made rural people less mobile.     The practice of huckstering basically continued locally up into the 1950s, right about the time when supermarkets took off, and that became the preferred mode of shopping. Those small farmers who were formerly dependent upon the huckster used farmers markets to make up for the loss of the huckster convenience to them.

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A 1930s era huckster.

We still have huckster-like home delivery and farmers markets, but now you can follow your vendors on Facebook and Twitter to know where and when they’ll be and what they’re carrying!