Meatloaf: It’s What’s For Dinner at the White House

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I am so happy that I have finally found common ground in one thing with our new President.     And, it should be no surprise that it’s food related.     Apparently our new President is simply mad about meatloaf.    He’s never met a meatloaf he didn’t like.  And, it seems to be the meal of choice when dining with his team.   It may be the only authentic thing about him.

The majority of Americans may not be able to connect with our new President, but food can be a great equalizer.

The President’s favorite dish is also served at his exclusive Mar-a-lago Club alongside oysters, champagne and caviar.  It’s actually his mother’s recipe,  the one she served him as a child.   Mary McLeod Trump’s recipe contains a variety of fresh sautéed vegetables – red and green bell peppers, Spanish Onion, minced garlic, and beefsteak tomatoes, along with fresh parsley.    It’s to be served with mushroom gravy.   Sounds delicious.

In 2012 he tweeted the best meatloaf in New York City could be had at the bar and grill in his tower in Midtown Manhattan.      And this version was also made with his mother’s recipe.

He and his wife appeared in 2005 on the Martha Stewart show and made meatloaf sandwiches.   Martha’s recipe included carrots and was a mix of pork and beef.   Barak Obama ate with the new President and commented how fantastic the White House meatloaf is.

Maybe this one term should be labeled the Meatloaf Presidency.

In Youngstown or Pittsburgh, It’s Not a Wedding Without the Cookie Table

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Weddings are all about the bride.   It’s bad form for other female attendees to wear white, or for bridesmaids to upstage the bride in beauty.   But, at a Youngstown or Pittsburgh wedding, there is definitely something that always upstages the bride.     The bride and groom could catch on fire from altar candles, or the groom could pass out, but if one thing is intact, then that’s all anyone will remember.   And that one thing is the Cookie Table.   In both cities, weddings are an “I Do,” and “Pass the Cookies.”

 

The Cookie Table is a tradition that goes back at least to the 1930s Depression era when many of the blue collar Catholics in Youngstown and Pittsburgh couldn’t afford a big wedding cake.    So, their relatives, usually the female relatives of the bride, got together and baked elegant cookies for the wedding reception.   And these were not just your run-of-the-mill chocolate chip or plain sugar cookie or snickerdoodle.     They brought said cookies together and displayed them artfully on the Cookie Table.   That way guests at the reception can graze on them before, during, or after dinner, and even walk out with a filled napkin or a take-out box for the next morning.

 

Although originally the cookie table was in lieu of a cake, today families have them in addition to the cake. Families who accept that people will load up for a take-home load of confections, offer elegant take home boxes to their guest.  Locals judge the family by the size and quality of their cookie table.     It’s a sign of how well loved the bride and couple are.

 

And while the original cookie tables reflected the ethnic makeup of the family, today all the ethnicities have merged into a virtual Hapsburg Empire of cookies.

 

One thing that Pittsburg and Youngstown have in common are their Italian, Greek, and Slavic Catholic immigrant communities, where it’s believed the tradition started.   These groups came to work in the steel mills and coal mines of both regions.   They wanted a little reminder of their Old Country on the big day in the New World. Now the tradition is more regional than religious, with other denominations not wanting to be left out of the sweetness.

 

Many think that the tradition started in the Italian Catholic communities with cookies like pizzelles – the thin crispy, anise flavored waffles.     Maybe that’s where the name for the Italian Wedding cookie came about – the crispy, confectioner’s sugar powdered cookie.     Now the Cookie Table includes kolachi from Poland and other Slavic countries, bobalki from Slovakia, kataifa from Greece, torte from Germany, and of course, the obligatory clothespin cookies. They’re called Lady Locks in Pittsburgh. The clothespin is what we in Cincinnati would call a mini crème horn, which is based upon the German baumstreitzel or Schillerlocken – ribbons of dough wrapped around a conical form, baked, and then filled with sweet cream.    In Ohio there’s also one addition you probably won’t find on a Pittsburgh cookie table – the chocolate and peanut butter Buckeye.

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Whatever you call them Clothespins (Youngstown); Ladylocks (Pittsburgh); or Crème Horns (Cincinnati) these elegant confections are bound to show up on a Cookie Table.

 

Both Pittsburg and Youngstown’s historical societies have documented and studied the hyper-regional phenom, and a Youngstown woman is currently producing a Cookie Table documentary.

Nesselrode – A Long Forgotten Cincy Soda Fountain Syrup and its Ties to Russia

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Russian diplomat Count Karl Nesselrode, after whom  a fountain syrup was named.

Soda fountain culture fascinates me.   It reached its height during Prohibition when non-alcoholic drinks were the only option.    Cincinnati was flooded with them and their legacy still exists in our beloved Aglamesis and Graeters Ice Cream Parlours, where you can still order a nectar or a raspberry phosphate at the counter.

So, when I received the 1910 recipe book of one of Cincinnati’s beloved soda fountains from an descendant, I was ecstatic.    I only had to flip a few pages to find names of syrups of which I’d never heard.    When I found the Nesselrode syrup recipe I knew I had found my new bff.

The recipe book was from Mullane’s – a Cincinnati candy company that was in business for over 140 years.   In addition to candy, they had restaurants and soda fountains, where corseted and coiffed ladies served an extensive menu of ice cream drinks and sundaes.    They had over 30 different bousemade  syryps from the common, like raspberry, to the bizarre -a beef tea flavor.      We think our generation invented the savory dessert!   “Meet me at Mullane’s” was a common phrase amongst locals when spending a day of shopping downtown.

What struck me about the components of the Nesselrode syrup in the recipe book was its complexity.   The syrup consisted of a slurry of candied pineapple, Maraschino cherries, glace marron (what they called candied chestnuts back then), and rum flavoring.

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An ad from at 1915 Confectioner and Bakers’ Gazette promoting candied chestnuts (glace marrons) for Nesselrode confections.

So that was the makeup, but I had to get to the bottom of its weird name -which had nothing to do with its components.   Apparently there was a whole line of Nesselrode desserts named after a Russian diplomat of the mid 1800s named Count Karl Nesselrode, which were super popular duing the Victorian era.    There were Nesselrode puddings , cakes and pies.    And, they all included candied chestnuts, liquor (rum or brandy)  and a mix of candied fruit, which normally included cherries.

Why and who named the syrup after this obscure Russian diplomat seems to be lost to history.    He was secretary of state in Russia in 1814 and for 40 years guided Russian policy and served as a conservative statesman to his native land.     One of his actions that would have made him unpopular with Cincinnati’s Germanic community was that he sent troops in 1849 to quell the rebellion of locally popular Kossuth, for whom we have streets named here, and in Columbus’ German Village.     Kossuth actually spoke to a packed and adoring crowd at the Cincinnati Turnhall on Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine, after fleeing the Revolution.

For whatever reason Nesselrode sundaes dropped out of favor and out of memory.  Maybe it was the expense or unpopularity of chestnuts in America.      But in the 1930s, the Nesselrode pie was brought back by Spier in a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side.  It was a lighter, fluffier version of the dense Victorian era dessert, and it was topped with chocolate.     The pie became popular across America in the 1950s and 1960s, and then dropped off the map again.

Maybe Graeters or Aglamesis should consider bringing it back to the soda fountain to see how if our current palates agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cherry Pastry and George Washington’s Inability to tell “Alternative Facts”

 

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The madness is happening again.  It’s cherry thing-a-ling time – the one weekend a year that it happens.   Starting today, customers will snake out the door at a little German bakery in Batesville, Indiana – Schmidt’s – and get their once-a-year fix of the delectable cherry pastry.      The bakery makes them by the tens of thousands one weekend a year – President’s Day weekend.     Now late February pastry is dominated by paczki donuts and king cakes leading up to Mardi Gras and Lent.     But President’s day?    It’s not a holiday typically thought of as a food holiday. 

 

 

 

But the deep fried cherry fritter is based on the legend of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree.    He could not tell a lie – or as we call them today,’ alternative facts’ – and admitted to his father that he had done the deed.     The pastry is a part donut, part fritter – covered in a rich cherry glaze and bits of chopped cherry.   Think of the standard apple fritter, only cherry flavored.

 

 

 

I just found out about this cult of cherry pastry only last year, from a cousin on the West Side.    Apparently the knowledge doesn’t travel much further east than Glenway Avenue or I-75.    So I will be one of the mass of Cincinnatians making an early morning pilgrimage on Saturday morning.   Schmidt’s  also happen to be one of the only bakeries in the Greater Tri-state region that still makes salt rising bread.      What a treat – two delicacies in one trip!

 

 

 

They’ve made over 30,000 of them in years past over President’s day weekend.   And although they haven’t been making them since colonial days, they’ve been making them about 50 years.   The bakery itself opened in 1963 and originally sold more pizzas than pastry.  Then, after moving to a new location in 1970, they sold the pizza portion of their business and focused on the sweets.     It’s located right off I-74 in the Batesville Shopping Village.   Clem and Bertie are the owners, but Clem is largely retired.

 

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His crew of 15 has been making the cherry thing-a-lings since yesterday.   A shipment has already gone off before sunrise this morning to local Channel 12, to let the public know it’s time again.  And come Monday, if you haven’t gotten your allotment of the delicacy, you’ll have to wait again until next year.

 

It’s All In the Crackers

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I’m off the chili and spaghetti for a while on a New Year diet program.   But, I am on the new Skyline Greek salad.   It fits into my program nicely and is a hearty salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and garbonzo beans.  This Monday as I drove through the local Skyline, I ordered my new fave salad.   It came with a standard pack of oyster crackers.   They don’t even need to ask, they just include the crackers.    So, I thought I’ll have a few for tradition sake.

And as I tasted the crackers, I noticed to myself, “Wow these are more crispy, buttery, and saltier than usual.”   They must have just got a shipment in.    But the taste difference was significant.

The next day my sister calls me excitedly and left a message.  “Have you had the new Skyline chili oyster crackers?   They’re SOOO good – they’re more buttery, crispy and salty than their old crackers.”

So I called her back and told her I had tried them on Monday and though the same thing.  She said she made a comment to the waitress who verified they did change vendors.  For some time, apparently Skyline has been scouting for a new cracker vendor that brings the quality back to ‘the way they used to be,’ according to the waitress.

My sister had brought some home for her son to try.  He’s loves oyster crackers – apparently they’re his goldfish.   He is a butter cracker afficianado at his young age.

I asked my sis if she could verify the new crackers were capable of making a hot sauce shooter.  That’s where you pierce the top of the cracker and inject a bit of hot sauce.   With one of the samples she brought back for the family, she verified that indeed you can still make a shooter, and perhaps an even better one with the new crackers.

At one time I know that local baker ShurGood supplied the crackers but I have to investigate who was formerly supplying and who the new supplier is.  Kudos to Skyline.for this upgrade.   It’s truly the small things in life that make all the difference!