My Hat Is Bigger Than Yours – Ohio Amish Sausage



It’s that time when all the great farmers’ markets open and we get to use fresh locally grown produce again.      Sundays this time of year were made to drive out of the city limits and get lost in the country to find any one of the many farmstands or markets.

Ohio has the largest population of Amish in the world.   And Holmes County, with its 18,000 Amish leads that statistic.    It’s interesting that the Amish are nicknamed the Pennsylvania Dutch, but Ohio houses the majority of them.   Well, at least Pennsylvania was where they started before moving west.

There are many Amish stores in Ohio in the 26 Ohio counties that house them.   I was turned on to one by a coworker.  It’s  called Steiner’s Country Market between Eaton and New Hope, Ohio.  It’s actually not Amish run, because there are no Amish in Eaton, Ohio,   It’s run by the Brethren that live in Preble County, Ohio.   They’re like Amish Lite (which oddly also sounds like a beer)  because they dress like Amish, but have no problems owning SUVs and big farm equipment.   The non-Amish farmers in Preble County can’t stand them because they get religious tax exemption for some of their farming business expenses, and the non-Brethren don’t.

The store is just what you would expect – lots of supposedly Ohio Amish made products, like Mrs. Miller’s jellies, made in Fredricksburg, Ohio.      There are other products labelled Amish made  from Ohio and Pennsylvania.    I was amused by one brand , Jake and Amos, that had a cartooney logo of two long-bearded straw hat-wearing Amish brothers .   It’s labelled as using Amish STYLE recipes – but like most of the products in the store being marketed as Amish, they’re made in a factory like the rest of our canned and jarred grocery products.   The store had an entire aisle of wholesale old fashioned candies, pickled vegetables, and pies.   I took home some jellies but was unimpressed  with them.  I wanted to taste real fruit, but they were mostly fake-flavored, over-pectined gels.    The one good thing about the store was their extensive meat counter, on which the German-accented butcher gave me the background.


Then I found out about Ohio’s true Amish product – Trail Bologna – made in the small town of Trail, Ohio.     It is a uniquely spiced all beef bologna sausage, available available in the standard smoked, cheddar, and hot pepper, in both ring and larger diameter sandwich size.  It was invented in 1912, by a butcher, Michael Troyer, and is being made now, available nationwide by the fourth generation, Ken and Kevin Troyer.


The Troyer Amish are known to be one of the most conservative sects of Amish in the U.S.    In addition to the normal Amish no-no’s the Troyer Amish prohibit carpeting, upholstered furniture, and even linoleum!   Can you imagine that Church discussion when the new linoleum product was discussed for its evil?!    Their ancestor, bishop Elias Amos Troyer, split from the Swartzentruber Amish in Holmes county Ohio and started his own church over issues of ex communication and hat brims!      Seriously, they split because the men thought a wider hat brim was more holy.

My hat is bigger than yours!!

Don’t Get Salty or Caustic with Me!!



Has Cincinnati become the national mecca of the soft pretzel?   It seems like the Queen City is well on its way, with all the recent entrants to the market.   In the last two years, four brand new business specializing in soft Bavarian style pretzels have opened in Greater Cincinnati.    And that doesn’t include the local bakeries that make their own pretzels, knots, and twists.     These new entrants aren’t your run-of-the-mill festival pretzel that is frozen, reheated, salted and sat under a heat lamp for hours.   These are hand-kneaded and hand-rolled and many even use the authentic German methods of preparation.


In an earlier post, I told the history of the man who brought the bretzel to Cincinnati – Mr. E. F. Kurfiss.   His bretzel was the traditional Baden-Wurtemburg, lye-dipped soft pretzel, with a fat belly and thinner arms.    Today we expect our pretzels today to have a consistent diameter.   If they’re not we think them deformed and odd.


The standard festival hot pretzel in the U.S. morphed from another version of the pretzel, the Lititz Pretzel. In 1884, Greater Cincinnati lists Michael Grau (1834-1923), an immigrant from Thungen, Germany, as the “Baker of the Only Genuine Lititz Steamed Bretzel.”   Thungen is between the Baden-Wurtemburg /Palatinate region and Upper Bavaria – Germany’s bretzel baking regions.     Grau started his bretzel bakery in 1868 on Monmouth Street, Newport, Kentucky’s central business district.     He made his pretzels in a less caustic mix than the lye of the Baden-Wurtemburg version Kurfiss brought.   The problem is that the less caustic mix doesn’t break down the gluten proteins in the dough to amino acids that can be caramelized through the Maillard reaction that takes place in baking.


For years Servatii has been known for their huge three and six pound soft pretzels that are served with beer cheese dip for large parties.   They still make the largest soft pretzel in the Greater Cincinnati area. They have the typical salted version and a sesame seed version.   Their Bavarian pretzel recipe was carried from Muenster, Germany, by founder, Wilhelm Gottenbusch in 1963 when he started the first Servatii’s in Hyde Park.


Pretzel Baron, founded in 2015, is an extension of the Servatii’s family, and sells retail packed Bavarian soft preztels.   In January of this year, Valora Group acquired Pretzel Baron for an undisclosed amount. Valora is a Swiss-based independent retail company that runs a retail network of more than 2,500 convenience and food service outlets in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and France. The company also is a world leader in pretzel products, operating a bakery-products value chain.


Then there’s Bretzel OTR which opened a few years ago at 14th Street near Vine. They started in Columbus, Ohio, but saw the expanding Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, with its Germanic history as a growth market.   Bretzel makes 40 different flavors of hand rolled Bavarian style pretzels – flavors from spinach-asiago to orange-thyme.


A lowkey German themed bar in Covington, Wunderbar, bakes its own oversized soft pretzels.   They can be found at the bar, and at Braxton Brewery in Covington as well.


Now Bellevue, Kentucky has its own local pretzelry, the Pretzel Place.   It’s in the former space of Twisted Sister, another pretzel bakery, and new owners Beth and Brad, are using the same recipes for pretzels and pretzel knots as Twisted Sister.   They have something called the Pumpkin Spice Dessert Pretzel Knot that’s definitely on my radar!


Now if someone could come up with a sourdough caraway rye soft pretzel, I would be in heaven!

Spargelzeit – It’s White Asparagus Time!!



There’s a small farm just north of Hamilton that I pass everyday.     Every year in late April, a sign goes up at that farm to get your order in for asparagus.    They grow the typical green asparagus, but it always reminds me of that wonderful German time called ‘Spargelzeit.’    That means it’s white asparagus time.    Spargel is the beloved white asparagus that is harvested in early spring and revered as a super seasonal dish in Germany.

A childhood friend of mine who now lives in Swabia in Germany posted a dinner with spargel on Facebook yesterday that made me craving it. too

I’ve been in northern Germany several times during Spargelzeit and love the way they serve it.   Its cooked to a tender consistency, covered in a creamy Hollandaise sauce, and sprinkled with fresh chopped parley or herbs.   It’s usually accompanied by a regional potato dumpling and some sort of cured ham rolls.

The village where my grandpa’s mother Carolina, was from in Westphalia, Germany(Oppenwehe) has a Spargelfest around this time every year, and they elect a Spargelkoeningin or Spargel Queen and even have a huge Spargel parade through the small town – what fun, huh?    In fact there are several areas and cities in GErmany from the north to Bavaria in the south that have Spargel Day parades and elect a Spargel Queen.



How cool to devote so much honor to a seasonal vegetable, but I feel like this is something we should be doing more of in the age of processed everything.

Three cheers for Spargel – “ziga zaga ziga zaga oi oi oi!!”

Judith Anderson, the Betty Crocker of Kroger’s Country Club Brand


Food brands have been flooded with what advertisers call “Identification Characters” since the Industrial Revolution. They’re those fictional faces that appear on the boxes, like Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, Uncle Ben, and Mrs. Paul.   I know, I’m sorry to break the news that there never was a real Betty Crocker.   These characters act as brand ambassadors that humanize an otherwise faceless corporation and make the product seem more accessible. They tell us their fish sticks are made from real fish, and we believe them.   The convince us to use their mix because the pancakes come out lighter and fluffier than other mixes.

They’re different from cartooney characters like the Jolly Green Giant, or the newly upgraded and sexed-up Mr. Clean.   We believe that they are real people.

A few of these brand icons, like Orville Redenbacher and Chef Boyardee were actually real people. Ettore Boiardi, for example, was an Italian-American immigrant born in 1897, who passed through Ellis Island in 1913, and built a food empire that he sold for many millions in 1946.

Legend has it that the African-American chef  “Rastus” on the Cream of Wheat box  is the actual image of the butler of paper baron Peter Thomson at his Laurel Court Mansion in College Hill.    That’s the house where the Archbishop of Cincinnati used to live, and where real pizza king, Buddy LaRosa lived for a short while too.

Aunt Jemima is probably the oldest of these fictional ID characters.   She’s also the one whose image has changed the most over time, while causing the most controversy.     She has morphed from a post-Civil War tignon-bandana-wearing Mamie to a tight-quaffed, string-of-pearls-wearing, working Grandmother.

These characters have played themselves on TV commercials, in print ads, and some even travelled the country doing food demonstrations for their respective corporations.   In the 1910s through the 1950s Bisquick had a fleet of travelling Aunt Jemima’s performing in character at local fairs and showing the versatility of their company’s products.    One of our local Findlay Market vendors, Aunt Flora (Katrina Mincy), known for her cobblers, had a great aunt, Flora Saunders, who was one of those travelling Aunt Jemima’s.

Our local Dorsel’s Pinhead Oats had its own ID Character, Dottie Dorsel, named after the founder’s youngest daughter, Dorothea.   She ‘authored’ the Dottie Dorsel Cookbook, which presented different recipes, besides goetta, which could be made from pinhead oats and Dorsel’s other products like cornmeal.   Dottie has gone from a slim German-American housewife to a light-skinned African American chef.

Kroger had an interesting ID character too to promote their in-store Country Club brand.   Her name was Judith Anderson, and she was ‘Manager of the Kroger Housewives Service Department.’     I’ve found only one image of her, showing a delightfully bobbed middle class housewife in her mid to late twenties, smartly dressed and sporting a string of pearls.   She produced all sorts of small pamphlets promoting creative uses of the store brand products, each opening with a personal letter from Judith.

Don’t know what to do with that Country Club Marshmallow fluff?   No problem!   Judith could tell you how to whip up a dessert that was sure to impress your ladies’ tea group.     Want to find a product that was versatile and economic for kid’s meals?   Again, no problem –  Judith had over twenty recipes to use that Country Club Peanut Butter.

Kroger-shopping housewives could write to receive Ms. Anderson’s pamphlets in the mail every week.     From 1926-1930, Judith was the voice of Kroger, with her own cooking program on WLW radio, airing from 4:30 – 5 PM Eastern.  Kroger customers from St. Louis to Portsmouth could hear her talking through her recipes and offering family dietary advice into the Depression.

Nowadays most brands use celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse to promote their products, rather than these fictional ID characters.

“By Me Some Peanuts” … from Peanut Jim



Baseball started this week with Cincinnati’s favorite unofficial City Holiday – Opening Day.   Starting with the over 150 year old tradition of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, the day is filled with festivities and frivolities.    It’s a sign of our city’s  love for the game and its heritage.   The Redlegs, after all, were the first professional baseball team in the United States.

The sounds and smells of baseball bring back memories to many –  hanging out with Dad or Grandpa or good friends.   If the smell of roasted goober peanuts and cigar smoke remind you of baseball, then you remember one of the longest lasting and most memorable food vendors outside of the stadium – Peanut Jim Shelton.

Peanut Jim was born in 1889 in Union, South Carolina, descended from slaves who worked the land around Union for the Shelton families.  Jim started vending roasted peanuts in front of the turnstiles at the entrance to Crosley Field in 1932 and continued to sell for almost fifty years.     In 1970 he moved with the Reds to Riverfront stadium, but passed away in 1982, before the current Red’s stadium was built.

He operated a fruit and nut store on West Liberty Street in downtown Cincinnati’s West End, but also roasted his goober peanuts on site in his coal-fired push wagons he called “cadillacs.”    One was on display at Arnold’s Bar and Grill for many years, and one is at the Red’s Museum at the ballpark.

What made Peanut Jim so memorable was his costume.  He was always dressed in a top hat, tie and tails, and always sang a tune to sell his peanuts.     Jim always usually had a half smoked cigar in his mouth as well, a strong smell that mixed with the smell of his roasted peanuts.

Jim Tarbell, as Grand Marshal of the Opening Day parade one year honored Peanut Jim by his signature hat, and coattails.    An image of Jim Tarbell in that costume now blazons the wall of one of the buildings on Central Parkway at the entrance to the Gateway Corridor of Over-the-Rhine.

Peanut Jim was memorialized by African American photographer C. Smith behind the counter of his West Liberty Store in the 1970s.   That photo was recently on display with the C. Smith photography exhibit at the Cincinnati Public Library on Vine Street.

By the time Jim passed away he was vending peanuts out of a wheel chair due to a bad hip that had been broken in an earlier mugging by teenagers in the neighborhood.

There are still peanut vendors at the Reds ballpark, but none as memorable as Peanut Jim.


Spitzbuben, an Over-the-Rhine Gang and a Delicious German Cookie



A bridge closure near me on Marburg Avenue has really put a hitch in my morning giddyup.   Either of the two detours that I am forced to take are fairly roundabout and cause about a 10 minute delay in my already long commute.     One of the most logical detours is closed off because there are huge expensive mansions on that street and well, money talks, so there I go.     But who cares about my commuting delays?   One of the things it has forced me to do is get my coffee at the Coffee Emporium on Eire Avenue.     Their coffee is great – higher quality than my regular coffee stops.   This morning something besides the coffee caught my eye.


Coffee Emporium roasts their own beans and really has the best selection of coffees of all the shops in Cincinnati.   They also have both house-made and locally made pastries and breakfast items, like biscotti and other goodies.   Well this week I noticed a freshly made pile of German cookies called Spitzbuben of which I’d recently become familiar.       I looked down and said, “Ah Spitzbuben!!”   The hip coffee baristo looked at me like I had six heads, and said, “Huh?”   I told him, “That’s the German name of the cookie on your counter,” and he just looked at me like I had a secondary jaw coming out of my mouth like that scene towards the end in the first Aliens.   I decided not to expound.   I was running late anyway.


Spitzbuben are a sandwich cookie made of an almond shortcrust pastry, held together by raspberry jam, with a peek-a-boo window in the center, and then sprinkled in confectioners’ sugar.   They can be circular, or other-shaped.    They’re typically a Christmas cookie in Germany and Switzerland, but they’re so good that they are seen all year round.    The ones at the Coffee Emporium are a rounded star shape.       They’re very similar to my favorite cookie, of the same family, the Linzer cookie, made with the same cloves, cardamom and nutmeg-spiced shortbread used in the Austrian Linzertorte.


So the literal translation of this cookie means ‘peek-a-boo’ or ‘spying boy’.       And it reminded me of something I was reading while researching the Kroger company’s candy manufacturing for a recent project.       Barney Kroger gave an interview to the Cincinnati Enquirer in the 1920s.     At that time he was involved in local politics and was facing off with the local Republican political machine headed by the corrupt Boss Cox.     Kroger compared Cox’s “Old Gang” political machine to the Spitzbuben, or thieves and rascals from his days growing up and doing business in Over-the-Rhine.     The Spitzbuben were what the Germans of the neighborhood called the mischief makers, the ne’er do wells, who were always spying for the right time to steal something from his store – or a unknowing street vendor.    They were usually younger boys who roamed together in packs to pull off a heist – pulling attention away from someone, while another of the gang pickpocketed the target.     It sounded all very much like a Dickens novel, but set in the German Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.



A closeup of a group of the Spitzbuben, from Cincinnati artist Joseph Henry Sharp’s 1892 painting, “Fountain Square Pantomime.”      The extended arm is of a policeman, holding back the trouble makers who are making faces behind his back in defiance.

So the peek-a-boo translation refers to both a window to showcase jam in a delicious German Christmas cookie, and an eyeing street scoundrel ready to pounce and steal your money.