Van Gogh loved Balkenbrij, A Food Ancestor of Goetta


Since my trip to New Orleans two years ago, I have been following in the footsteps of the only Dutch ancestry line in my family.    My fourth great grandparents Rainier and Grada Reinsen (great Dutch names, huh?!)  arrived in New Orleans 1846  from Rotterdam, Holland, with their family of seven children, one of whom was my third great grandmother, Hendricka-Johanna.   She would meet her future husband, a Prussian tailor, Caspar Krebs, on their ship, the Scotia, and marry him at he St. Mary’s Ursuline Chapel on Chartres Street a year later.    They would  baptize two children there before heading up the Mississippi to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, just in time for the Know Nothing anti-immigrant riots of the early 1850s.

What was different about this Dutch line from most of the Dutch, and the reason they immigrated, was that they were Dutch Catholics – two strikes against them for the Know Nothings.     The Dutch Republic had been persecuting the Catholics and forced them into the most southern rural province, called Limburg.      Most of us have heard of the stinky, but super-delicious Limburger Cheese, one of the province’s proud products.   The province of Limburg is an intersection of German, Dutch, and Flemish language and food, so I had to research more about their culinary traditions, to see if any of these traditions made it into my family’s foodways.

So I went to the website of the province to find out about their food.   What I found was a very interesting ancestor of goetta called balkenbrij.     The site says there is nothing more ‘Limburgische’ than balkenbrij.    It’s literal translation from the Dutch means ‘belly porridge,’  because, like goetta, it was originally made from everything left over in the belly of the pig at slaughtering time for the poor rural farmers of the region.     It’s prepared with the pluck – heart, liver, lungs and kidneys –  along with other leftover meat from the pig, and sometimes blood, cooked, ground and cooked again, with bacon, and some sort of grain – which varies from buckwheat to rye.

Then, here’s where it’s different than our goetta.   Because of the high content of organ meat, a special local spice blend is used, called rommelkruid, which consists of ground licorice, sugar, anise, clove, cinnamon, white pepper, ginger, and sandalwood – think of German gingerbread spices.    Goetta typically only used allspice to counter the minerally organ flavor when it used those cuts in its early days.

The website says Balkenbrij in Limburg “is a delicacy that should not be absent from any Christmas breakfast, and to make it without blood is unthinkable.”     Ok, so that made it into our family – no Christmas breakfast at home is without goetta.    Balkenbrij was so popular in the old days, that during Lenten fasting, a meatless variety was made with pork stock.    After being poured in loaf pans and gelled, the delicacy is cut in 1 cm thick slices and pan fried, ususally in ox fat, the staple fat of the region, until ‘brown and crispy.’


Limburger balkenbrij, made with pig’s blood.

Balkenbrij is also eaten in variation in the two provinces that border Limburg.  Gelderland, to the east doesn’t use blood.  But they do sweeten it up with the use of raisins, currants, or other local sweet berries.     Their sweeter variety is served with sugar, or a sweet syrup called treacle, over pancakes.       The more savory Limburg version is served, like goetta, as a meat substitute, and with a good rye bread.


Gelderland balkenbrij, made without blood, and with raisins and currants.

The rural farm province of Brabant to the east, makes a much simpler version, probably because of the expense of the spices.       In Germany, across the border from Limburg, pearl barley instead of buckwheat or rye, is used in their variant of balkenbrij, which is called Moppkenbrot.

Brabant is where the famous Dutch impressionist Van Gogh was raised and started his career.   Although the majority of his famous paintings are in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, he spent the 1880s sketching the rural farmers – the balkenbrij eaters – of Brabant.     His first masterpiece, the Potato Eaters, shows a family of Brabant farmers sitting to a modest dinner.    That painting should really be named the Balkenbrij Eaters!  A local Van Gogh tour in Brabant has a day of regional cooking of the days of Van Gogh, with regional chefs, and it features balkenbrij.    So, Van Gogh subsisted on this wonderful grain sausage as he built his illustrious career.

93435_v_GoghVan Gogh’s first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, painted in balkenbrij country of  the Dutch Brabant province.

Today, according to the website, there are only 50 butchers in Gelderland that make balkenbrij, and 20 or so in Limburg and Brabant combined.   A 1995 campaign in the Netherlands, called “Tafelen in Nederland,”  (Dining in the Netherlands) tried to revive regional home cuisine, like balkenbrij, with the younger generations, serving elevated dishes like “wild boar and balkenbrij in puff pastry.”    But sadly, interest in balkenbrij in the Netherlands is decreasing, because like goetta, it is a long, laborious, many hours process to make.

And, balkenbrij made it to America in the large areas of Dutch immigrants in and around Holland, and Zeeland, Michigan, where it’s eaten in an Americanized form on a small scale.

So now whenever I hear anyone look down on goetta as poor man’s food -that it uses all the cheap organs and bad parts –  I can point to one of it’s ancestors, balkenbrij, and how it fueled the career that launched million dollar paintings.


Mace vs. Nutmeg – Muskatblute vs. Muskatnuss



Before I get started – I’ll admit straight out that I am on Team Mace. In this season of PSLs (pumpkin spice lattes)  it’s important to understand the difference between two spices, which are actually part of the same ‘nut’, that grows in Indonesia on the evergreen tree named the Myristica frangrans.     Nutmeg or mace are part of pumpkin pie spices, gingerbread cookies, and of course, its one of the Sweet Apostoulos (Sweet Apostles) of Cincinnati chili spices.

Mace and nutmeg, in my opinion, are like two sisters.   One is the more devious of the two (mace) – perhaps the spicy redhead.     The other is the more classic or conservative sister (nutmeg).

My grandpa always swore by using mace in the pumpkin pies he made at his bakery, rather than nutmeg, citing that mace was spicier.    Mace is the outside, reddish lacy covering of the nutmeg, which is the seed kernel.     Both are considered two separate spices – and chefs have wavered back and forth between as to which is spicier than the other.

Nutmeg is one of the secret spices in my favorite soda, Coca-Cola.  Another interesting fact is that it contains hallucinogens, which are usually not enacted with the small amounts we include in recipes for Christmas cookies or the cream sauces for fish or spinach.   The flavor of mace is described as more subtle but spicier –  a combination of cinnamon and pepper.

Nutmeg used to be sold in its whole nut form sans outer mace covering.    The nuts were kept in elaborate boxes with elaborate graters.      Grated nutmeg is always spicier and more flavorful than already ground nutmeg you buy in the spice aisle.    The Dutch were some of the earliest importers of the spice.   The lead character in the new movie Tulip Fever, set in 17th century Amsterdam, was a nutmeg importer.     There’s a scene in the movie where he inspects a shipment of nutmeg from Indonesia, to find that they shippers have weighted the nutmegs down with shells.    The Dutch love their nutmeg, which is one of the spices in their beloved sweet spread, spekulaas, which is like a liquid gingerbread they use as Americans use peanut butter.


Recently I started translating a recipe in old German sutterlin script for Nuremburger Lebkuchen or Gingerbread.     The recipe called for 1/2 Lot (about 15 grams) of muskatnusse, along with cinnamon and cloves.        Modern German recipes just call for muskat – which is the generic, blander already ground.   Muskatnusse is ground nutmeg, but muskatblute is mace.   Modern German bakers consider fresh ground nutmeg spicier than mace.    But then I don’t think Germans, who think paprika is ‘scharf’, are experts on spice!   Nutmeg is definitely cheaper than mace, so maybe their camp is a justification of the frugal.

So as you make your pumpkin pies and gingerbread cookies this holiday season, consider the spicier sister, Mace, in your recipes.

Prettles, Yet Another Goetta Cousin from Northwest Ohio German Immigrants


A pan of Henry County, Ohio, prettles, a first cousin to our Cincinnati Goetta.

Yesterday, I received two comments on my Kansas Pruttles blog, by folks from Henry County, Ohio.     That’s the county in the area of Toledo, Ohio.      They both spoke of this Germanic dish both of their families made in the area around Napoleon, Ohio, growing up in the 1950s, called prettles.  It consists of pork, spices, and pinhead or regular oats – a close first cousin of our goetta.    Now we can connect  the “Interstate 75 Goetta Cousin Trail”  from Cincinnati’s Goetta, to Minster’s Grits in middle Ohio, and to Henry County’s Prettles, in northwest Ohio.

Prettles is prepared a bit differently than our goetta, even though the ingredients are the same.  Instead of putting it in a crock pot or large pot, the meat and oats are cooked separately and then mixed together, before baking on a sheet pan.   Sometimes, they’re made into patties and frozen.    Goetta is typically poured into bread pans and cooled, frozen, and cut into slabs to be fried.    Prettles is fried, but its in more loose form and eaten on toast.  Sometimes, like our goetta, it’s dressed with a sweet syrup like molasses or sorghum or ketchup.

The cool thing about Henry County is that we can tie prettles to a very specific region in the Germanic kingdoms.    Most of the Germanic immigrants in Henry County, Ohio, came from an area called Visselhovede or Walsrode, a small farming community in the northern German lowlands,  generally between Bremen and Hamburg.

My father’s family come from upper Mecklenburg, next door to this area.    An old German electrician at my first plant job out of college called me ‘Klaudeitsch’, when I told him of my family’s origin.   When I asked him what it meant he said. “See how big your feet are?  That’s so you don’t sink into the marshland.  And see how tall you are?  That’s so if you do, you can still yell as you are sinking to be rescued!”

Similar to the low lying farm country of Westphalia and Hanover where our goetta originated, the German patronymic farming system left the younger relatives without any land, as bauer  or farmhands who worked for their oldest brother, had to ask to get married and were basically serfs.   This predicament sent many of them packing to America.

These lowland Germanic immigrants of Henry County, spoke low German, and were mostly Lutherans.     They  turned what was then called Ohio’s great black swamp into fertile farmgrounds,  into a mirror of their fatherland.

The Henry County Historical Society interviewed several old retired farmers born in the 1930s for an oral history project and they all mentioned that their families made prettles (along with blood sausage and schwartenmagen or ‘head cheese’) at the time of hog butchering.

A butcher, Herm’s Meats in Napoleon, Ohio, makes two types of prettles by request, and a whole host of German sausages.     They make the typical pork and beef, and then one made only with beef shank and beef heart.   The current owner of Herm’s says that the pork makes a richer broth for the prettles.    Herman Bischoff started the business in 1964, so he could provide the German meats like prettles, that he had in his youth, but were no longer available.

There are two restaurants in Napoleon that serve the local delicacy on their breakfast menus as a ‘choice of meat’ with eggs – Spangler’s and Big G’s – and one truck stop about 5 miles out of town.    But travel 20 miles out in either direction from Napoleon and you won’t find prettles.

While prettles is eaten today in the homes of those of Germanic ancestry in Napoleon, Defiance, and Archibald, Ohio, it’s also eaten in Putnam County, just south of Henry County, and can still be found at Holgate Market in that area.

Hamler, Ohio, in Henry County is famous for late July Summerfest, where 25,000 people ascend to polka dance and eat sausages and prettles.


Kentucky Country Ham – A Forgotten Food Tradition


Hanging in all their glory at the Alexandria Country Fair this year were the beautiful  Kentucky Country Hams of the students of the statewide 4H Ham Project.   This year’s winner in Campbell County was Samantha Webster.     Of the 17 participants in the months long program, which is set to revive the dying craft with the next generation, more than half are girls.    Last year’s winner of the Country Ham project was another gal, California, Kentucky native, Deborah Myers, who also won the Kentucky State Fair 4 H Ham Project.    After learning the process hands-on, the students submit their hams at the Kentucky State Fair and then show them at the Alexandria Fair in August.   They are judged on aroma, size and cleanliness, and shape.      The students must also give a presentation on one of two topics  – country ham history or how to market country ham.   The program was started in 1995 by Bill Robertson Jr., of Finchville Farms Country Hams.    The program has grown from 42 students in two counties to now over 700 students statewide.

In Campbell County, the hams are hand rubbed with a cure of salt, brown sugar, black and red pepper.   But every family in Kentucky has its own secret spice blend.   Some may use mustard in the rub, or paprika or even herbs.    The state is split down the center as to smoke or not – West Kentucky hams are (cold) smoked, Eastern Kentucky hams are not.  Most of the commercial producers in Kentucky do smoke their hams with hickory wood.  Only one commercial producer in Kentucky smokes with the addition of sassafras wood.


So seeing these beautiful hams made me remember how long it had been since I’ve actually had Kentucky Country Ham.   I do remember the beautiful earthy, barny flavor but I don’t even remember where I had it.     The interesting thing is that most country ham is shipped out of the state to high end restaurants in NYC and California, who are using and appreciating it as American born and bred charcuterie.     There are only a few farm to table type restaurants in Greater Cincinnati, like Metrople and Commonwealth Bistro, who are doing anything with country ham.    One of the best ways to experience country ham is uncooked, thin sliced, with a dollop of pimento cheese in a beaten biscuit.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to properly cook country ham.  It’s usually cooked way too  long to the consistency of shoe leather and served as a steak with badly made red eye gravy.    Country ham doesn’t need to be cooked much at all – only a few minutes, especially thinly sliced – only until the fat first becomes transparent.    Country ham also has the bad rap of being way too salty.  Again this comes down to bad preparation – not soaking it enough to remove the salts.   Some producers use saltpeter or nitrite to cut down on the amount of salt needed for the cure.   Salt is essentially competing with bacteria to be the first to get to the bone.     If salt wins, you get a beautifully cured ham.

It also comes to the aging – with a year or more of aging, a country ham doesn’t even need to be cooked – it can be sliced and served as such like prosciutto – that’s when the best of the beautiful flavors or country ham come out – notes of tobacco, hickory, or even sassafras, as seen with those few producers who smoke with a combination of woods .      Each aging barn or smokehouse has its own native bacteria that give different subtleties of flavor.    The aging during the ‘summer sweats’ as they’re called, contribute the most of the flavor.     The younger hams under a year,  are the only ones that should ever be cooked.   They still have a bit of moisture and are not as hard as the longer aged hams.

I am a hamvangelist.  But in our Queen City, it can be found mostly in the German form, like the Westphalian ham, or even the cottage ham, which isn’t really ham at all.     With the recent popularity of charcuterie in restaurants, people will pay top dollar for an Italian proscuito or Spanish Iberrico cured ham.    But we forget that we have a centuries old tradition in artfully cured hams right across the river in our Kentucky cured hams.   But why is that?

There’s the fact that it’s a very laborious art.    From the trimming of fat, the hand rubbing of salt and spices, to the hanging, the smoking, and  the constant monitoring and packaging, there’s a lot of steps in the process.    The USDA regulations created in the 1980s have not made this process any easier or less expensive.    Then there are the large producers like Harper’s of Clinton, Kentucky, who semi-automate the process and produce on the order of 200,000 hams a year, where small producers like Scott Hams of Greenville, Kentucky, or Father’s Country Hams of Bremen, Kentucky, produce on the order of 5000 a year.    The large producers have an upper leg on economies of scale and do a lot better job of marketing themselves.    Harper’s former owner, Curtis Harper, took on a persona like Boss Hog of the Dukes of Hazard, calling himself “Boss Ham” and filming commercials with the slogan, “Never Fear, Boss Ham is Here!”

Although Triggs County, where the annual Ham Fest happens, is considered the capital of Kentucky Country Hams, we used to have more northern Kentucky-local producers.   One was Taylor Farms Country Hams, founded in the 1950s by Edwin Wiley Taylor in Harrison County, Cynthiana, Kentucky, just northwest of Lexington.     They lasted until the 1980s, when Edwin’s grandson, Michael Taylor sold and moved to Florida.    But before selling he experimented with a country ham fast food concept called The Olde Smokehouse, which had restaurants in Moorehead, and in the Shakertown Village in Pleasanthill, Kentucky.


C. Michael Taylor, last owner of Taylor Country Hams in Cynthiana, Kentucky, in the 1980s.

For centuries, even before the birth of the state in 1792, families who came to Kentucky from Virginia had been smoking and salt curing country hams for their families out of necessity.      Before refrigeration, salt curing was the way families were able to preserve meat, especially pork.      Nearly every one of the eight commercial producers left in Kentucky has an origin story like that.   The Newsom family of  Colonel Newsom’s Country Hams in Princeton, Kentucky, even though founded commercially in 1917 by Hosea Newsom, had been curing country hams since they arrived in Western Kentucky in 1823 to claim a Revolutionary War land grant.   The first ancestor there, William Newsom, even willed his country ham recipe to descendants.   Now carried on by Hosea’s granddaughter, Nancy Newsom, one of the few female Kentucky Colonels, it has received international recognition and is the only country ham producer in the states invited to the prestigious World Congress on Ham in 2009 in Spain, where one of her hams now hangs in the Museo del Jamon.

Even into the 1940s, country ham wasn’t something you necessarily would find at the store.    Rural Kentucky families either cured their own, or knew someone in the area who did.    It wasn’t until after World War II that families started commercially producing country hams.      The industry peaked in the 1980s with 35 producers at the founding in 1982 of the Kentucky Country Ham Producers Association.   Now there are only 8 commercial producers left.

In addition to USDA regulations providing larger barriers of entry and continuation to smaller producers, changes in American eating habits have affected the industry.     It used to be that retail grocers would buy the whole ham and slice on site.  Now they want prepackaged already sliced meal sized portions for the ready to eat market.     And, dry smoked bacon has surpassed the sales of country ham for most of the producers.    The good thing is that Millennials eat out much more than their older Generation X and  Baby Boomer elders, so they have experienced and appreciate the country ham they eat at restaurants.      The only problem is marketing to them, which is done by hitting the events like the Fancy Food Show, the Country Ham Expo, and music events like Nashville Eats.

What would be cool is if the Alexandria fair hosted and marketed a local country ham tasting of the 4 H project products – or, if Metrople or Commonwealth hosted a country ham tasting.       The only way you’re going to taste the variety of country hams is at the Ham Festival coming up in October 13 and 14 in Cadiz, Kentucky, in Triggs County.     I will definitely be there!



The Buffalo Eating Natives and Bourbon Drinking Pioneers of Mariemont



Both of my history road trips last weekend led me back to my own backyard and again to buffalo and bourbon.  I learned about buffalo trails and bourbon invention in Stamping Ground, Kentucky, in search of some family roots.   And, I learned the first cemetery in Cincinnati at the Columbia settlement near Lunken Airport is built on a Native American mound.     No wonder the local Natives were peeved at the early Cincinnati settlers.  The Buffalo Trail through Stamping Ground, what the Shawnees called Alanant-o-Wamiaowee, is actually a circular trail who’s eastern edge extends from Stomping Ground through Big Bone Lick in Boone County and crosses the Ohio at the confluence of the Little Miami.

That confluence just happens to be at an ancient Native American settlement known as the Madisonville site.    At over 600 years old, this site is one of the most important sites in the U.S. for early Native American archaeology, and is probably one of the least known locally for its importance.      The sad story is that the majority of its artifacts are not local.   Although there are a few at the Museum Center, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Mariemont Preservation Society,  the majority were pulled out in the 1880s and now in storage at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum.    The interesting thing is that this virtual Luxor of the U.S is less than 2 miles from my own house as the crow flies.   It’s now part of a parking lot for the Mariemont swim club.   And, what local archeaologists say is the country’s largest Native American serpent mound, snakes from the swim club along Miami Bluff Drive.

serpent mound at Mariemont Ohio 2011 08 01

The site was discovered and it’s study was led by local German American physician Dr. Charles Metz, who lived in Plainville, what the area of Mariemont was called before it became Mary Emory’s model community.   He was also a member of the German gymnastic club, the Cincinnati Turnverein, when he lived  in Over-the-Rhine.    Metz used funding from Harvard to finance the digs, which is why they have the majority of the artifacts.    What’s interesting about the site is that it is the only known ancient Native American site that shows the importance of buffalo to the diet of its inhabitants.    Many buffalo effigies and pendants were found at the site.   Dr. Metz discovered and wrote about the buffalo trace from the site to connection with the Alanant-o-Warmiowee trail.    Buffalo bones were found in the refuse pits and as tools the inhabitants used.    The early inhabitants of the Madisonville site tracked buffalo along this ancient trail, and maybe even as far as Stamping Ground.


A buffalo effigy unearthed from the Madisonville site in Mariemont.

The site was on the farm of Joseph Ferris, whose daughter Phebe Ferris, allowed the digs through her trusted friend Dr. Metz, and later willed the site to Harvard University.    Joseph’s 1814-ish brick house is still standing on Wooster Pike in Fairfax, now the home of Old World Restoration, and his brother’s house – get his name – Eliphalet Ferris – is the oldest brick structure in Hamilton County — built in 1803 on Plainville Road in Mariemont across from the tennis courts.    All the Ferris family are buried in the ancient burial ground next to the Mariemont Community Church, which was at one time part of their large 480 acre farm.

The houses of Joseph Ferris (left) and Eliphalet Ferris (right)  You can see the whiskey distiller has the bigger of the two!

Just like in Stomping Ground, the ancient buffalo trace stop is also the site of Ohio’s earliest corn whiskey production.   Joseph Ferris’ farm was known as “Whiskey Run” because in a little hollow behind his house he distilled our state’s earliest corn mash whiskey.   Just like Elijah Craig, he shipped the final product downriver to New Orleans, but not in charred white oak barrels, but rather in salt glazed pottery that he made on his farm in a great kiln that has been recently rediscovered on a trail behind the Carillon Tower at Dogwood Park in Mariemont.   There are probably Ferris whiskey crocks hanging out at antique shops in New Orleans to be found.   So even though Joseph Ferris’ whiskey was corn mash, we really can’t call it bourbon, because it wasn’t aged in charred white oak barrels.


Salt glazed homemade bricks at the ruins of the Ferris Whiskey Run kiln in Mariemont.

But needless to say, this connection between buffalo, bourbon, and Native Americans seems to be running strong in my Fall activities.


Gritzwurst – Another Goetta Cousin From the Upper Midwest


A pan of gritzelwurst – a dead ringer for goetta.

A cousin of mine recently posted about an ancestor of his, unrelated to me,  from the upper Midwest in Lowell, Wisconsin, who was a famous sausage maker in the 1880s.   One of the sausages for which he was famous was Gritswurst.     I recognized that as a dialect form of gruetzwurst, translated from German as “grain sausage”.   Gruetzwurst is the general family that goetta, and its cousins like scrapple, livermush, purkel, and even Louisiana boudin are part of.   It’s the sausage that comes from the leftover cuts of pork at a traditional fall hog slaughter.

This particular ancestor of my cousin was from a little town in Lippe-Detmold, near Westphalia and Hanover, the land where our goetta originated.


August Kuhlman, the great gritzwurst maker of Lowell, Wisconsin, and wife Marie.

In the upper Midwest Germanic immigrant farming regions of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, Illinois, and even Perry County, Missouri, gritswurst was traditionally made on the farm from the meat of a boiled hogs head.   The meat was ground, spiced with cinnamon and allspice or pepper and sage, and mixed with steel cut oats.     Some variations added dark raisins, a version that has ancestors in Northern Germany.     Others used pearl barley as the grain, because that was available, or in addition to steel cut oats.     In the Dakotas it is typically made with buckwheat grouts.    It is called gritzwurst, gritza, and even gritzelwurst across the Upper Midwest.

Today only a few meat lockers and family butchers still make it, but typically, like our goetta, use better cuts of meat like pork shoulder instead of pork head.   It’s also pan fried just like goetta, and  served with karo and maple syrup, and sometimes molasses.   In some areas of Illinois it is served on bread with apple butter.   I’ve found no mention of it being dressed with ketchup like goetta is in my family.    Those Upper Midwesterners don’t know what they’re missing!

Unfortunately for the upper Midwest, there’s no Gliers factory or Goettafest that keeps this tradition alive on as large of a scale as in Cincinnati.   But our goetta cousin, gritzwurst, is still being made in the many homes of Germanic immigrants who love that smell of it frying up in a pan.

The Bourbon Baptists of Scott County, Not Bourbon County Kentucky


I went searching for family and found instead ……bourbon.    It shouldn’t have been a surprise.   My family is no stranger to the reddish caramel colored  liquor.  Mom’s bourbon slush made a great companion to our Christmas eve lasagna for many years.  Now  the Kentucky Mule has become a fave at family gatherings, in our authentic copper cups.

It was on one of my recent  road trips to Stamping Ground, in rural Scott County Kentucky, where I uncovererd my family’s connection to the invention of bourbon.    Scott County is beautiful,  in late summer, when sprawling tobacco fields are bright yellow and ready to be harvested.   Black, vented tobacco barns suspend the drying leaves.    And crumbling Georgian Mansions and ancient stone walls that dot the hilly countryside, recall days when the enslaved worked these fields of tobacco and hemp, the cash crops of this county.

The purpose of my visit  was to find the burial place of my maternal sixth great grandparents, Lewis and Fanny Thompson Herndon.  They had immigrated in the pioneer days of the 1780s to Stamping Ground Kentucky with the persecuted Traveling Baptist Church from Orange County, Virginia.   The Anglicans of post-Colonial Virginia did not like these new Baptists and gave them cause to travel hundreds of miles west through Indian country.  Think Daniel Boone and Shawnees with skull crushers.

Stamping Ground was named by the Indians because the buffalo trampled the soil near the springs there.  It is on the ancient Alanant-o-Warmlowee buffalo migratory trail.    The town grew up around this buffalo springs, with several fortified stations, Lindsay’s, Herndon’s and Johnson’s.     For a brief time in the 1810s, the town was called Herndonville, after Joseph and Scott Herndon, cousins of my ancestor Lewis, who owned the land on which the town was planned.   Cool, I thought, it was all there – I just had to find their stones.

I had gotten a tip from online records of the Stamping Ground Baptist Church, where my ancestor was first noted.   “On the second Saturday in October, 1795, at a Church meeting held at Brother Thomas Herndon’s (fortified station), Brother Elijah Craig, moderator, received Lewis Herndon (my ancestor) and Andrew Johnson (the man who built the three cabin stockade where my ancestor would have gone for safety if there was Indian trouble).    “Craig, Craig,” I thought. “Why does that name sound familiar?”   Of course – Elijah Craig is that great bourbon made by Heaven Hill Distillery in Louisville!   But what does Bourbon have to do with a Baptist preacher?    Baptists don’t even drink alcohol, unless it’s medicinal. Because drinking leads to dancing, which leads to, well, you know, fornication.

Elijah Craig was one of three Baptist preaching brothers (the others where Lewis and Joseph) of Orange County, Virginia, who made the trek to Scott County Kentucky in the 1780s.     All three had been jailed in Virginia for preaching without the license of the established church of the state.   Elijah became pastor at Great Crossing Baptist church, in 1785, a year after its founding, about 5 miles away from Stamping Ground.   Lewis and his family were members here.   All was well  – Craig preached in a very outspoken, candid, and sometimes caustic way.    He had been a very popular preacher in Virginia.  But here’s the thing about Baptists.  They LOVE to argue and point the  finger of condescension at each other.    There are today over 100 different Baptist church organizations in America.

Further review of the church records showed members accusing each other of sins of lying, dancing, intoxication, and fornication with slaves.    As many members were dismissed as were received.   That included the named slaves of the members, who were received, but not allowed to vote in the congregation.

But Craig paid as much attention to building business as he did to his ministry.  He  bought thousands of acres of land which became Georgetown, and slaves, around thirty three in total, which he used to tend crops of corn, hemp  and tobacco.    He opened a saw mill, grist mill, paper mill, fulling mill, and rope works.    He also started distilling whisky with the water at Royal Springs near Georgetown, at his fulling mill, with high limestone and low iron, ideal for whiskey .

A second Baptist preacher, Joseph Redding, came to the Great Crossing area.   He criticized Craig on his outside speculative business interests, and said he was working the hand of the Devil.    Craig of course defended himself, which resulted in a nasty fight and Craig’s expulsion in 1791 from Great Crossing Baptist Church.

What was different about whisky in Kentucky was that it was distilled with the only native grain in the Bluegrass – corn.     There were others distilling corn whiskey in Scott County Kentucky at the time.   But the story goes, Elijah Craig was shipping his whisky to New Orleans in recycled fish barrels.   He realized that the best way to clean out a fish barrel was to burn the inside.   These barrels were made with Kentucky white oak, the only wood that extracts vanillans and tannins that give Kentucky bourbon its flavor, along with the limestone filtered water.  Craig tasted the bourbon stored in these charred barrels and noted the amber color and its difference in flavor to the other corn mash whiskey his neighbors were making.   So, Craig is given credit for the charring of the barrel, and thus the invention of the technique which gives bourbon its distinct caramel color and flavor.    Cool, so the inventor of bourbon, admitted my ancestor into the Baptist church.  Now I know why bourbon runs in my blood.

Well, in recent years, bourbon historians have disputed Craig’s invention of bourbon.   And it’s hard to say for sure, kind of like giving credit to the first German brewer of lager beer in America.   But I have my historic bets behind Brother Craig.

Brother Craig got saltier and saltier in his old age.  He only lasted a few months in 1795 at Stamping Ground Baptist, his business interests taking him away from his ministry.  He would release a scathing pamphlet in 1807 against one of his successors, Preacher Jacob Creath, who wouldn’t make a full payment for a slave who died.    He released another pamphlet earlier in 1801, criticizing Baptist churches who paid their ministers like employees.  Craig’s  business interests started spiraling too.  He ended life a poor man, in 1808, with only one slave, Harry, to pass on and not a lot of property.    Perhaps Harry, like slave Nearest Green in Tennessee, who has recently been given credit for teaching Jack Daniels how to make whiskey, was Elijah Craig’s bourbon distiller.

Elijah Craig was buried in the old Stamping Ground cemetery, next to his momma Polly –   like my ancestors, in an unmarked graves.     Polly was a tough bird who was the leader of the infamous Women’s Water Bucket Bridage during the 1782 indian attack on Bryant Station.

The Bourbon Baptists of Scott County Kentucky – Momma Polly Craig, and her son Rev. Elijah Craig, the father of bourbon.

And bourbon was not invented in Bourbon County – It was invented in Scott county.     Scott County was carved from Woodford, which was carved from part of Fayette County.   Bourbon was a name Kentucky distillers used to distinguish their corn mash from the rye whiskey of the east.    It was not connected with Bourbon County.     Probably also a big f-u to the Anglicans who had driven them out of Virginia.   Before Baptists found their aversion to the drink, many were distillers.   A 1796 ordinance passed by the Elkhorn Baptist Association, of which both Stamping Ground and Great Crossing were members, decreed a member could not be dismissed for selling intoxicants.

I found Stamping Ground Baptist Church and its old burial grounds on the hill behind the church.    I walked the grounds of the cemetery, not really expecting but hoping to find some indicator of my ancestors – a  stone, or a later generation.   The church had been moved several times, and the burial ground morphed around these locations of the Church.  I saw names of the neighbors of my Lewis Herndons – Lindays, Johnsons, Smiths, but none of my kin.   There are large patches of unmarked plots in between the old rows of stones which are all possible resting spots.  I make a spiritual tribute, knowing they’re here and moved on to find the marker for Lindsay’s station, near where Lewis’ 70 acre  homestead stood at the north fork in Elkhorn Creek.   I find the marker, on one side a full tobacco barn, and the other an outhouse surrounded by a rolling field of wildflowers.


But nearly across from the Cemetery is the Buffalo Springs Park.  It’s an ancient spring where the buffalo used to come to drink the limestone filtered water that it was later found, would make great bourbon.

It’s also, the site of the former Buffalo Springs Distillery,   which made great bourbon under brands Buffalo Springs, Boot and Saddle, and Old Stamping Grounds names from about 1934 to 1967.     So, there was a local distillery in the neighborhood of my family too, the same water they used to water their livestock and quench their thirst.   I bet that bourbon was really great.



My ancestors’ children all had enough of the arguing Baptists of Scott County.  My direct ancestor Elijah Herndon, got out of town and fought with his other brother Elisha, in the War of 1812 in Canada at the Battle of Thames, and then moved to Campbell County, starting a Methodist Church in Carthage.  His brother Elisha moved out of Scott County and disassociated with the Baptists.    Another brother James, moved he and his slaves to Mountain Island in Owen County and didn’t join any churches, but freed his slaves and gave them land on the Mountain, which their descendants still own today.

So now we can toast our Bourbon Baptist ancestors when we relish the delicious liquor of their invention.

The Story of the Enslaved Cooks of Burlington’s Tousey House Tavern


On October 19, 1862,  Erastus Tousey, owner of what is now the Tousey House Tavern in Burlington, Kentucky, received a letter from his son-in-law.   He was  Dr. Benjamin Stephens, Surgeon General of the 22nd KY Union Infantry, and the man who would found the GAR, the Union Veterans organization.  He described goings on with his unit and apologized for not writing or being able to visit the Touseys earlier.     In closing, Dr. Stephens said, “Remember me kindly to all the family, and I embrace in that category, Aunt Lydia and Martha.”     It was a sentimental, but weird closing, considering Aunt Lydia was the enslaved cook of the Tousey family, and Martha, her enslaved daughter, unfortunately for her, born in Kentucky.     President Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January of the upcoming year, but it wouldn’t immediately free the slaves of Kentucky and three other slave states that didn’t join the Confederacy.    Strike two for Martha.

In October of 1862, Lydia was about 72, and her daughter Martha was into her 40s.    This is what we can piece together from unnamed slave schedules of Boone County.    Also part of the enslaved family were Jefferson and Tommy.    We can only hope that at 72, Lydia was more of a overseer in the kitchen with her daughter, than one who lifted pots and stooped over the hearth.     These were the days before the birth of the Kentucky Hot Brown, and the cuisine they cooked for the Touseys would have had a distinct Catskill Mountain influence, which is where Lydia was from.

Jefferson and Tommy operated the smokehouse out back, and did other work, perhaps travelling with Erastus on his numerous business trips to Connecticut, New York, and the Northeast.    All four of the Tousey’s enslaved were former slaves of Erastus’ father, Zera Tousey.   Erastus would take ownership of the four at his father’s death in 1833.    Erastus’ up and coming nephew, Zera Craig, also of Burlington, would receive from his grandfather, his other slaves Rachel and all her children – Harriet, Rebecca, Moses, Albert, Spencer, Anderson, Tombulen, and Allen.

The Boone county historical society has several love letters Erastus Tousey wrote to his wife in the 1830s and 1840s, that were recently written about in the Cincinnati Enquirer.    Apparently they had a very heated and spicy relationship.  And, of course they did, as Mrs. Tousey wasn’t so tired as other housewives – she had a cadre of enslaved women to cook and clean house for her.

Erastus’ father Zera, and his two brothers, Thomas and Moses, had immigrated to Boone County Kentucky in 1804, from Durham, New York, and founded the now forgotten town of Touseytown near Petersburg, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Lawrenceburg, Indiana.    They were entrepreneurs and grew tobacco and hemp, which they stored in a big warehouse on the river and which river traders also used to weigh, store and inspect their goods, that would be shipped further downriver to Louisville.   Hemp was the cotton of the northern slave states.     It provided rope, twine, and netting to package the cotton of the south, as well as supply the steamboat industry.  In order to staff the intensely laborious production of hemp and tobacco, the brothers brought with them from New York a large group of slaves to do the backbreaking work.    It was all a very profitable endeavor for the Touseys.       Erastus grew up in this environment, but in 1822, decided to move south of his family’s enclave to Burlington, Kentucky, and build his house, which now serves some of the best Kentucky southern cuisine in the area.   One of the richest versions of the Kentucky Hot Brown is to be had at Tousey’s.

Lydia was born in New York, and her son, Thomas had as well, the year that the brothers Tousey immigrated to Kentucky.     Lydia carried an infant on horseback, on foot, and on flatboat from New York to Boone County Kentucky – no rest for the weary.  We think of slavery as mostly a Southern thing, but New York had embraced slavery as early as the 1600s when the Dutch East India company brought slaves to the New Amsterdam colony.   And, most of the early enslaved population in the Northern Kentucky counties of Boone, Campbell, and Kenton counties had come with their owners from Virginia, as part of the Travelling (Baptist) Church that immigrated to the area to escape persecution of their Baptist beliefs in the Piedmont of Virginia.

As a slave born in New York, Thomas was the lucky one- if any luck can be derived from the institution.   In 1799, New York passed a law for gradual abolition.   It declared children of slaves born after July 4, 1799, to be free, but would have to work as indentured servants for the masters who owned their mothers, until age 28 for men and age 25 for women.   According to Zera Tousey’s will, Thomas would turn 28 in March of 1833, and he was a freeman.    His sister Martha was born later in Kentucky, so even though her mother was born in New York, she was not eligible for emancipation.      The Tommy that was part of the family in 1862, was not the Thomas, son of Lydia, but probably the son of Martha.   A Boone County Birth record of October 1, 1853, lists an unnamed boy slave child born to Martha or Malvina, owned by Erastus Tousey.   Martha probably named her child after her older brother in tribute.

Zera Craig, Erastus’ nephew died suddenly in 1848, without heirs, so for a few years, Erastus owned the family group of Rachel and her children.    After about 1853, they are gone from his tax list, so it’s not known if they were sold or emancipated.    The most probable result was they went to whomever bought or inherited the farm that Zera Craig got from his grandfather.   Zera Tousey’s brother Moses had at his death in 1834 slaves Bill, Willas, Daphne, Eliza and her child, women Vicey, Agness, and Ellen, and children Mason, Joshua, Jack, Jeff, and Jane.

Zera and Moses Tousey owned another slave cook, Henrietta Woods, who had an interesting story.   Henrietta was born in Touseytown in about 1822, but was sold by the Touseys to Henry Forsythe, a riverboat captain  of Louisville, Kentucky, who then sold her in about 1841 to William Cirode, a wealthy French hide and fur merchant of Louisville.  When William died, his wife Jane Marie Cirode, who inherited Henrietta, moved to Cincinnati and gave Henrietta her freedom.    When Jane died in 1857, her kids Maria Louisa and William, still thought Henrietta part of their inheritance, so devised a plan to have her kidnapped and sold into slavery into the South.   Their mother hadn’t left them much, and valued at $300, the sale of Henrietta would give them the in inheritance they thought they deserved.  Henrietta was the cook at Mrs. Boyd’s Boardinghouse in Cincinnati, and was lured to Covington, where she was kidnapped and sold.     She was enslaved to work on a plantation in Mississippi for 10 years, returned to Cincinnati about 1868, sued the kidnapper and won $2500 in damages in 1878 – pretty unheard of for a black female!

As a trained hemp producer and rope maker, Thomas, son of Lydia, might have hired out to one of the ropemaking factories of nearby Covington or Newport, or may have wanted to stay close to family.      His whereabouts after becoming a freeman are unknown.

Erastus Tousey died in 1863, and his wife outlived him for several decades until she went to the great beyond in 1895.    The very sentimental story that is posted on the restaurant’s website is that Mrs. Tousey freed her slaves in 1863 and they decided to stay with her for many years and everyone lived happily ever after.    Well, Kentuckians all saw the future after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, so there’s not a whole lot of nobility to have waited for the Proclamation to free your enslaved.     Lydia, after a life of cooking for her mistresses, probably didn’t live much into Reconstruction, and was buried on or near the Tousey family plot in the old Burlington Cemetery, in an unmarked grave.

A Cincy Peach a Day Keeps the Dr. Away


Way before Nicholas Longworth, Cincinnati’s first millionaire, was cultivating Catawba grapes and making wine in the 1820s, Cincinnati, or Ft. Washington, as it was called then, was known for another fruit – the peach.    And, a gnarled old peach tree in downtown’s Lytle Park, across from the Taft Museum, Longworth’s former estate, may just be the last legacy of these heirloom peaches.


The old peach tree at Lytle Park, the last of possibly a 228 year old peach varietal from Ft. Harmar in Marietta, Ohio, and Ft. Washington.

Back in post Revolutionary days,  a stockade fort, named after the new president, Ft. Washington, was built in 1789, east of downtown Cinicnnati.   It was designed by Colonel Doughty, under the orders of General Josiah Harmar,  after whom Ft. Harmer in Marietta, Ohio, was named.     This Fort was bounded approximately by Fourth Street and  Ludlow and Arch Streets (which wrap around the Guildord School).     An obscure monument at the Guilford School memorializes Ft. Washington.    Although it only lasted until 1808, when it was torn down for the expanding Cincinnati, its bountiful peach orchards survived and were enjoyed by Cincinnati’s elite.

Ft. Harmar in Marietta was built in 1785, and had its own gardens and peach orchards, planted and propagated by Major Doughty, the same guy who designed Cincinnati’s F.t Washington.   The peaches he planted were still being grown in the Marietta as late as the 1880s, according to accounts.    These Doughty peaches were served at Ft. Harmar at a dinner for General Arthur St. Clair, his officers and their ladies.   The party so loved the peaches, that their deliciousness was recorded for posterity in the Fort’s records.

With the unsanitary conditions of fort life, a doctor was needed to attend to the soldiers at the new Ft. Washington and ensure a healthy diet.    Drunkeness was a problem at Ft. Washington.     Each soldier received weekly rations of whiskey, and although reports say that there were “wenches” in frontier Cincinnati, there were apparently not enough to go around, and all that was left was to drink and gamble on the off hours.

Dr. Richard Allison arrived at Ft. Washington as it was being built, as the First Surgeon General of the encampment.   He built his home and peach groves just west of the Ft. near the corner of Fourth Street and Lawrence, now Lytle Park.    Similar to the early soldiers, you can sip a hipster-curated whiskey cocktail from the rooftop bar of the Phelps Hotel across the street and look out over the land that was Allison’s Peach Orchard, now Ft. Washington Way.       It is very possible the peaches planted by Allison were brought to Ft. Washington by Major Doughty from Ft. Harmar, when he designed and supervised the building of Ft. Washington.    Doughty would retire from the military in 1800 and focus his time on the cultivation of peaches on his farm.

Nicholas and Susan Longworth were known to serve stewed peaches and peach ice cream for desert at their Belmont estate , now the Taft Museum, across from Dr. Allison’s Peach Grove estate.   So it is very likely that Allison’s peaches were the same ones on their entertaining menu.   Susan Longworth probably sent her Irish scullery maids for a weekly pickup of said peaches.

Dr. Allison was honorably discharged from the Army in 1796, and practiced medicine in Cincinnati until he sold the land around 1800 to Dr. William Goforth.   Goforth boarded Dr. Daniel Drake, the chronicler of early Cincinnati, who also documented the Allison peaches.    The land was then sold to the Lytle family, and eventually it became Lytle Park.

Dr. Allison died in 1816, and was buried downtown at the Fifth Street Wesley Chapel Cemetery, until city encroachment made them move him to a crypt in Wesleyan Cemetery in Cumminsville on Colerain Avenue.    He is known more as the father of Cincinnati medicine, but should also be rightly praised for being the father of Cincinnati peaches.


Thankfully the lone peach tree in Lytle Park is somewhat protected – fenced in on one side behind the bathrooms, and bounded by a steep one story stone wall and iron fence on the other.    It still produces fruit, and some locals have made preserves with its fruit.     And, still a lot of genetic work would have to be done to prove that it is in fact a descendant of the Doughty peaches of Ft. Marmar, and the Allison peaches of Ft. Washington.   But how cool would it be if this was in fact a 228 year old Revolutionary War era peach tree that lasted in the bustling core of our city?