The Competitive Industry of Communion Wafers

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The making of the Communion wafer is something most Catholics never think about. The wafers are everywhere, and just miraculously show up on the altar. And, it’s a mundane and simple process to make them. It involves heating a mixture of pure wheat flour and water – and nothing else – between two metal plates, which imprint a religious symbol on the face. But the market for communion hosts is a very competitive market, now largely supplied by one dominant secular company in Rhode Island.
Even as early as the late 20th century, hosts were still made by priests, nuns, or parishioners for theirs or neighboring churches. The Jubilee Catholic Museum in Columbus, Ohio, has an old steam-heated host making machine from the 1880s, that was used by the Poor Clare’s of St. Joseph’s convent of Portsmouth, Ohio. That operation supplied hosts to the Diocese of Columbus and other Ohio dioceses.

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An 1880s Communion Host machine from Portsmouth, Ohio.
Then came the council of Vatican II, which changed, among many things, the nature of the communion host. Before Vatican II, the hosts were much thinner than they are today, and meant to dissolve on the tongue, as that was how they were received at Communion. Vatican II, changed that and allowed parishioners to receive the host in their hands. It also allowed hosts to be thicker and taste more like bread. How to do this with just two ingredients is a miracle unto itself.
Growing up in the 1970s, my church in Cincinnati had parish bakers who made actual loaves of bread that were used at communion. I remember them being very inconsistent, depending on the baker. Some were chewy and very sweet, while others were somewhat bitter and not so tasty. The inconsistency in batches was probably one of the drivers for that practice being stopped.
Hosts fall into the same category in Europe as the anise-spiced springerle Christmas cookie – baked goods with images printed on them. In Germany, those baked goods are  called bildergebaeck. Springerle is thought to have originated in the monasteries of southeastern Catholic Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Biblical images were very popular on springerle, so, this famous Christmas cookie is probably a secular offshoot of communion bread. Before the Nicene Council of 325, communion was celebrated with a full meal. The council limited the Communion celebration to bread and wine.
A similar Christmas tradition in the Catholic regions of Poland, Lithuania, and Slovakia, to springerle, involves a special communion-like thin host, called oplatek printed with a Christmas image, being passed around and broken at the family dinner on Christmas Eve.
One family owned company, Cavanaugh, in Greenville, Rhode Island, now supplies 80% of the hosts to U.S. Catholic Churches. In 1943, a local Jesuit priest in Greenville asked local Catholic inventor John Cavanaugh Sr., to invent a more-automated host making machine to help the nuns at this laborious job. Cavanaugh created ovens and mixers for the nuns; then three years later, John Jr. and his brother Paul started making bread themselves. There are still orders of nuns and parish bakers making hosts for churches in the U.S., but their numbers have decreased significantly in the last several decades. The equipment is very manual and the work taxing for aging nuns, clergy and parishioners.
Cavanaugh’s hosts range from simple printed image of the cross to elaborate images of a lamb. And, some say the Cavanaugh hosts break cleanly and have a nice bread flavor, not the pasty flavor of some of the religious-made hosts.
For Cavanaugh it seems to be a recession-proof business. Even during the U.S. economic downturn, their business was one of the only to increase. Apparently as the economy takes a nosedive, more people go to church.
Hosts for the Protestant denomination churches are made in a different area than those destined for Catholic churches, as the Protestant hosts include other ingredients like oil. And Cavanaugh has a similar market share to the U.S. in Australia, Canada and Britain. Where is the growth market for the communion host industry? It seems, West Africa.
The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, are the largest religious producers of communion hosts in the U.S. and can make up to 8 million wafers a month. But they can’t compete with Cavanaugh’s production capacity of up to 25 million wafers a week. The Benedictine Sisters became the first community to product a low-gluten altar bread that was approved by U.S. bishops in 2003, of which they sell 15,000 a week.
The only requirements for communion wafers is that they be unleavened, made purely of wheat (with no preservatives), recently made, so there is no danger of decomposition, and must have at least some gluten in them. The Vatican recently released a letter that hosts that are completely gluten free are “invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.” If someone has celiac disease and can’t have any gluten, the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops says that may receive a wine only communion. It is also important that they hosts be crumb free. You don’t want pieces of the transubstantiated Christ going everywhere. And, although it’s not a requirement that the manufacture must be human hands-free, Cavanaugh markets their products as hands free, saying it contributes to the spiritual nature and sanctity of the host. This plays to the pre-Vatican II conservative ideas of older clergy who were used to administering communion to mouth.
There is one local producer of communion hosts left. They are the cloistered Passionist Nuns in Erlanger, Kentucky on Donaldson Drive, who have been making hosts since 1951. The nuns who make the hosts change out of their black habits into light blue ones at 8:30 AM each morning and spend about six hours a day  making hosts.

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Sr. Mary Angela, a Passionist Nun from Erlanger, Kentucky, cuts the hosts with a foot operated drill from a larger 14″  host.
Their process starts with mixing the flour and water. One scoop of batter is ladled onto what looks like a waffle machine or pizzelle maker, which imprints the symbol of the chi-ro, an ancient symbol of Christ. The large host is cooked, the edges trimmed and is placed on a rack in the humidifier to cool and then be remoisturized over night. After being remoisturized – to avoid cracking during the final cutting –  they are stacked 72 sheets high and then taken to a host cutting machine. The machine is foot operated and can cut 4500 hosts from one stack.   The nuns will cut six stacks in a morning.   The hosts are bagged and then ready for shipment.   A day’s production for these Passionist nuns is about 27,000 hosts.

The cottage industry of nun- or parishioner-made communion hosts is on a steep decline and in huge competition to Cavanaugh.   There may never be a return to hand made hosts or the birth of  a ‘craft communion host’ market, but the making of them has a long tradition in the Church.

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Jean Shepherd – The Voice of Red Ryder BB Guns and Creamed Herring Dip At the Wigwam

Many in Cincinnati would not recognize the name Jean Shepherd.    But, if you heard his deep baritone voice, most would immediately recognize him as the voice of Ralphy in the 1983 holiday cult classic “A Christmas Story.”      Born in Chicago, and raised in Hammond, Indiana, Shepherd, or “Shep,”   became a radio storytelling icon.    But his career began in Cincinnati, at one of our historic restaurants – Shuller’s Wigwam in College Hill.   “A Christmas Story” is loosely based on his childhood in Indiana.

Shuller’s Wigwam operated at the northeast corner of Galbraith and Hamilton Avenues from 1922 until 2000.    Founded by Russian immigrant Max Shuller, it was an iconic eatery that expanded over the years, becoming sort of a dinner club and party palace.   Unfortunately the building where thousands of Cincinnati families celebrated birthdays and graduations no longer stands.

In 1991, only a few short years after the release of “A Christmas Story,”   we celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday there in one of their party rooms.     The restaurant was known for their expansive free relish tray that included creamed pickled herring dip and delicious rye bread for dipping.    My family brought a tradition from northern Germany of eating pickled herring on New Year’s Eve and during the Christmas season for good luck, so this was a real treat for the older adults when we ate there – not so much with the younger cousins.

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In Cincinnati between 1950 and 1954 Shep did a DJ show from Shuller’s Wigwam on WSAI and a nightly comedy show on WLW called “Rear Bumpers”.    He also worked broadcasting on WCKY-AM and WKRC-AM  and TV (1947-51; 1953-5) during his stint in Cincinnati, where, as he said in a 1982 Cincinnati Enquirer article, he “developed his style.”

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Shep broadcasting from Shuller’s Wigwam in the 1950s.

Although “A Christmas Story,”  was a flop at the theatres in 1983, over many years it became a cult classic.   Now it plays in loop during the Christmas season, and all sizes of the leg lamp are given as gag gifts and put up for decoration over Christmas.    There’s even a Ralphy “Oh Fudge”  candy being sold this year.   Many who grew up in the 1950s can identify with the stories told in Shep’s childhood memories.  My father, for one, can’t go through Christmas without taking it in.    For him it never loses its hilarity.   Ralphy’s family kitchen in the movie could be my Grandmother’s kitchen in North College Hill.      Ralphy’s little brother played in the cabinet below the sink, as my Dad did in his childhood home’s kitchen, with his imaginary friends Chuckie and Norbert.    And, like Ralphy’s dad, there are stories of my Grandfather taxing the 1920s knob and tube wiring at Christmas and throwing the breaker with all his lights.

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Shep’s broadcasting stint in Cincinnati  led to a television version at KYW in Philadelphia. In 1956 Shep moved to the Big Apple on WOR New York where for 21 years listeners all over the Northeast were treated to his nightly dose of genius.

His shows were a mix of comments, silly songs, jokes and other digressions all circling around a central tale.  For 45 minutes you laughed and wondered if he would remember to even finish the story, but he always did.   Shep’s other great radio enterprise was live broadcasts on Saturday night from The Limelight, a nightclub in Greenwich Village.

Shepherd was truly a great ‘radio novelist’ and it all got started here in Cincinnati, at the Wigwam, over creamed pickled herring dip.    Although we don’t have it at our family holiday gatherings anymore, every time I see the dip, I am reminded of Ralphy and his adventures.

 

 

 

 

What Hungarian-Daytonians Eat for Thanksgiving

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My coworkers and I were sitting down for our Thanksgiving carry in. We were ready to nosh and chat about our upcoming long weekend. As a food history geek, one of the questions I enjoy asking coworkers is what traditional family dish they eat at Thanksgiving. And I thought I had heard it all – stories of that weird cranberry sauce or funky stuffing a relative makes. For my family, it’s my grandmother’s oyster stuffing that I now make for our feast. So, I asked my coworker, Anna, and she told me about a new dish I’d never heard of, and a connection to the wonderful Hungarian immigrant community in the Old North Dayton neighborhood.

Anna said that as a kid her Hungarian grandmother made these crepes called Palacsinta at Thanksgiving. She filled some with strawberry preserves, and others with apricot preserves, chocolate, and even cottage cheese.   Anna said they’re hard to make without a crepe maker because they’re so thin and burn easily in a standard pan, but her grandmother made piles of them. Her grandmother had immigrated to America from Hungary when she was four years old, most probably to escape communism after World War II or the Revolution in the 1950s.

Palascinta are a light, super-thin, simple pancake, like the French crepe, or the Russian blini. They are typically rolled or folded in a triangle and filled. Fillings come in sweet versions, like Anna’s grandma made – filled with apricot, poppyseed, or other fruit preserves; and savory – filled with eggs, cheeses, creamed meats, or mushrooms. There is also cake made from stacking the pancakes over sweet cream.

So then my boss started talking about the Old North Dayton neighborhood, which was where the Eastern European immigrants from Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, and Hungary settled in the early part of the last century. Like most immigrant neighborhoods in America, many of its original inhabitants and their descendants have moved on and up to different areas.   But there are still remnants of these immigrants if you look hard enough.   The area is bounded by the Mad River to the South, the Miami River to the North, and the Chessie Railroad system to the West.

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The first Hungarian immigrants settled in what is known as the Kossuth Colony. It was a section of houses created by Hungarian immigrant, Jacob Moskowitz, for immigrant workers he recruited for the Barney & Smith Car Company, which made elegant wooden rail cars. The area was named after Louis Kossuth, the Hungarian hero of democracy during the Germanic Revolution of 1848. Both Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio’s old German / Hungarian neighborhoods have streets named after Louis Kossuth. A few of the original houses are standing in the old Kossuth Colony, and the area is on the National Historic Register.    In the early 1900s, due to the industrial jobs available,  there were thousands of Hungarian immigrants in Dayton, Ohio.

There was another Hungarian neighborhood in West Dayton, larger than Kossuth Colony, at Conover Street and Dakota Streets. It housed small Hungarian restaurants, like the Gypsy Hut, operating from the 1930s to the 1980s, which had an onion shaped cupola and a popular walk up window. It was also where the local Hungarian language newspaper was printed.   Again, much of that heritage is gone today, but the food and the customs still exist in families and homes of the descendants, like Anna’s.

The Old North Dayton neighborhood has a church for each group of immigrants – St. Stephens Byzantine Catholic Church for the Hungarians, St. Adelbert for the Poles and Czechs , Holy Cross for the Lithuanians. Today, in addition to the Czechoslovakian, Polish and Lithuanian Clubs, there is the Magyar (Hungarian) Club of Dayton, which meets in the neighborhood and also hosts a Hungarian dance troupe, which performs at Dayton’s International Festival every year.   Although mass is no longer said there, plans are being made to turn St. Stephens into a Hungarian Museum and neighborhood cultural center.

There is one Eastern European restaurant left in the Old North Dayton Neighborhood, called the Amber Rose, which has food representing all the immigrant groups who settled the neighborhood. The Rose is housed in the 1912 Sig’s General Store, founded by Polish immigrant Sigmund Sziezopolski. But to get true Hungarian pastries in Southwest, Ohio, you have to travel farther north to Dobo’s Bakery in Piqua, Ohio, which has Hungarian beigli or nut rolls, dobos tortes, and hajas, the Hungarian cookie version of Russian rugelach.  The owners of Dobo’s are members of the Dayton Magyar Club’s Hungarian dance troupe.

My next foodie road trip is to Old North Dayton to explore the Hungarian remnants of the past and have a cabbage roll at the Rose.

Dayton Ohio’s New Pie Crust

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If you’re a regional foodie, a fun weekend trip is to visit one of the three Dorothy Lane Market locations in Dayton, Ohio.  Although smaller, it’s Dayton’s version of Jungle Jim’s.    I visited the Springboro location this past Friday and it’s decked out with all sorts of Christmas goodies like Ohio’s largest panettone – the Italian version of the fruitcake, jumbo Lebkuchen, and gourmet flavored candy canes.     You’ll also find other cool local products, like the Pine Club’s stewed tomatoes for a nice steak topping, or Mama DiSalvo’s delicious marinara sauce, or even Mike Sells potato chips.

I learned on my visit about a new Dayton-made product – a frozen pie crust made by the Barnaby Pie Company.      They make a hand-rolled nine inch pie crust that you can find in the frozen section.   The crust is preservative and trans fat free, and promises to be flaky and to make the tradition of pie making  “as easy as pie.”       You can save your energy and creativity to the your homemade delicious filling, leaving the time-consuming crust part to Barnaby’s.

The company, owned by Susan Groner Steele, launched in 2013 with a dream and a logo (created by Dayton-area Kevin Morgan Studios)  of Steele’s grandmother, Dorothy McGaw Barnaby.    It was Grandma Barnaby who taught Steele the piemaking art, at the tender age of 5, in her Dayton, Ohio, kitchen.      And she lovingly made her pies for decades for her husband, Paul, and children Bruce and Elaine, and other friends and family in the Miami Valley.

Growing up in Ogden, Utah, Grandma Barnaby travelled to Boston in 1918 to study dramatics and music.    She passed this love of music to her children.   Her son Bruce became a Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music graduate, and was known for his Dixieland and Big Band Performances.

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The company has a cool Cincinnati connection.    Susan Steele’s sister, Robin Groner Nielsen is an owner of Doscher Brothers Candy.       So you can top your Barnaby crust pie with Doscher Candy Cane bits and have a truly regional holiday pie!

 

 

In Akron Ohio the Burger Meets the Bun Where the Rubber Meets the Road

 

The original sliders from Cuyahoga Falls Ohio’s Hamburger Station.

Akron, Ohio, used to be the Rubber Capital of the World. That’s due to BF Goodrich, the first company to make radial tires, choosing the city as their headquarters and employing thousands of Akronites. But like, Detroit, those boom days are gone. A newer nickname still stands for Akron –the Hamburger Capital of the world.   This is because it was two brothers from Akron, Fred and Charles Menches, who claimed to have invented the hamburger in 1885.

For the enterprising Menches Brothers, it was at the Eire County Fair in – where else – Hamburg, Pennsylvania. They were food vendors at the prestigious fair and ran out of sausages. To restock, they ran to the local butcher for help. Being the dog days of summer – September 18 to be exact – the butcher was reluctant to slaughter another hog in the heat and suggested they use ground beef instead. The brothers experimented with a patty to fry on the grill, adding coffee and brown sugar for extra flavor. A fairgoer was attracted to the heavenly aroma, ordered one, and the hamburger was born. For the last decade or so Akron hosts the National Hamburger Festival to promote their local hamburger heroes.

This week I got to taste a bit of this Akron burger legacy. My boss and I happened into the Hamburger Station for lunch on the way to a customer. This place in Cuyahoga Falls, is one of Akron’s oldest hamburger stops. It’s like stepping into a 1950s diner – there’s a counter with stools and a couple of booths  in a narrow, no-frills dining room.   Like White Castle, the burgers are small, but HS’s are a whole lot better. The original concept was to be able to cook the burgers quick, while you waited at the counter. We ordered the lunch special to split – three sliders a piece, with fries and a drink for under $7.50 – a working man’s deal.

Jim Lowe, founded Hamburger Station in 1975, after having worked over 35 years for another burger stand, Peppy  Service Lunch, which became Thacker’s Burgers.    Owner Marvin “Pop” Thacker gave the 14 year old Nashville runaway his first job in 1938 , and taught him how to make the signature small burgers.      The business was largely fueled by workers from Goodyear Tire and Rubber, near the hamburger stand.

The burgers are fried in a secret grease on the flat top, sandwiched in a light, steamed bun.   They come loaded with pickles, a huge mound of fresh, thinly sliced onions, and yellow mustard, never ketchup. The original founder thought that ketchup didn’t mix well with the grease and gave a bad mouthfeel to the burger. But he was from the Tennesse, like Krystal, White Castle’s competitor, which also serves their burgers with mustard only.    Maybe it was that familiarity that swayed him to the “no ketchup!” mentality.

Unlike either White Castle or Krystal, Hamburger Station buns do not have that “grey goo”  made up of the soggy part of the bread where the burger meats the bun.  It’s the onions that keep a barrier between the two, preventing grease absorption into the bun.   I think it’s pretty ingenious, but make sure to have one or two mints after lunch before visiting your customers!

The eaters at Hamburger Station were a mix of blue and white collars, all converging to enjoy a delicious burger.  French fries are fresh cut thin and fried golden brown.  And, the onion rings are mammoth cuts of fresh onions, battered and deep-fried super crispy. Northern Ohio kielbasa, chili dogs, and fried fish round out the menu for the non-beef eating crowd.

The Akron area has many such hamburger stands and driveups. They are like the chili parlors of northern Ohio. There are also several root beer stands that were originally franchisees of B & K (1955), now independently owned,  and even a local hot dog chain called Retro Dogs that capitalize on the nostalgia of drive-ins and neon.

So, if you have a crave for a better slider – forgo White Castle and Krystal, and drive to Akron, Ohio.

Potato Chip Archeology

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I recently discovered an old potato chip tin of the Up-to-Date company of Norwood, Ohio.    The white painted can had green lettering with red outline in 1940s era art deco script, with almost a Christmasy feel, and the words Crispy and Fresh.  Their address was 4920 Montgomery Road, Norwood, Ohio.  On the tin it noted simple ingredients:  Grade 1 potato chips, vegetable shortening, and salt.    There were no monosodium glutamate, or other hard to pronounce chemical additives .    These chips were not meant to go very far, nor were they meant to sit very long on a shelf.

With regional brands like Husman, Grippo, and Mike Sells, this one I had never heard of.

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Ohio  is second only to Pennsylvania in its number of independent chip companies.   As of 2017, Ohio has 10  independent chippers.    There’s Ballreich’s in Tiffin (1920) , Jones in Mansfield (1940), Mike Sells in Dayton (1910) , Husman in Cincy (1919) , Grippos (1919) in Cincy, Shearer’s in Massillon (1979) , Conn’s in Zanesville, Mumford in Urbana (1932),  and Wagner’s in Miamisburg (1978). The New Kid on the block, Hen of the Woods, in Over-the-Rhine came into the market in the last few years.    Both Herr’s and Frito Lay, which operate out of the state, have chip making plants in Ohio.

 

Jones Chips has a specific chip style indigenous to central Ohio.  It’s called a ‘marcelled chip’  or wavy style, named after the wavy art deco women’s hairstyle of the 1930s.    Some believe that Dan Dee of Cleveland sold the Ruffles name to Frito Lay

It’s as if every small Ohio town at one time had its own potato chip company – or several.    Massilon, for example, thirty miles south of Akron, at one time had three chippers: Gold N Krisp, Kitch’n Cook’d, and Gee-Gee’s.    There were four more in Cleveland, only forty five miles away – Dan Dee,  Num Num, Restemeier, and Johnnies.   In Akron there were Salem, O.K., Flaherty, and Tyler’s.    Toledo had Kuehlman and Q-Man.   Even Columbus had Buckeye Potato Chips and Bowling Green had Cain’s.     In fact, it was Ohio chipper, Don Nuss of Num Num chips who started what would become the National Potato Chip Institute, the lead organization for the $6.3 billion dollar industry.

So, getting back to the Up-to-Date Company of Norwood, Ohio.    Its origin story comes out of another Cincinnati company.   In about 1926, Harry Jaspers was working as a machinist for Henry Husman Potato chip company in Cincinnati.   Husman is one of the oldest chip companies in the U.S. , founded in 1919 in Henry Husman’s  basement.   But, after working on the Husman manufacturing equipment,  Jaspers thought he could compete and create his own better chip, maybe less expensively than with the Snowden potatoes used by chippers that had to be stored cold.

Jaspers may have named his company after the Up-to-Date potato variety.   It was a Scottish potato variety released in 1894, that stood the test of time.   It was a popular all around potato that’s flattened, yet oval with light buff skin and off white flesh good for mashing and baking and  promoted for processing into French fries.    Although it wasn’t specifically designed or used as a chip potato, many liked the flavor of Up-to-Date chips better than Husman, next to whom they sold on most shelves.

Back in the 1920s, potato chips were still a novelty and not the snack industry behemoth that they are today.    There weren’t sold in the elegant foil bags that can hold chips on shelves for months at a time.    No, you typically went to the store where they were made or delivered fresh, and scooped them from a glass case or large tin into wax coated or brown bags and paid by the pound.

As waterproof packaging and other improvements became available by the 1930s, the potato chips industry went from a cottage industry to one with larger distribution networks.     Most chips, without preservatives became rancid when exposed to UV light, so opaque packaging became the norm.

So, Jerry took his chip making experience, found a partner in Jules Super and opened the Up-to-Date Potato chip company in the early 1920s.      They sold their greasy, crunchy potato chips first in large refillable tins, much like Husman, and then waxy bags.   As they grew, they developed a network of delivery around Cincinnati and across the river to northern Kentucky like Carl Wendroth’s grocery at Vine and Lindsay in Dayton Kentucky.  In addition to Husman, Up-to-Date competed with other regional brands like Gordons and Martin’s potato chips.       The chip developed a local following, but never made it out of the Greater Cincinnati area.

By 1939, Jaspers had sold out his share in the company to Super, and opened the Mt. Echo Tavern on Elberon Avenue in Price Hill.       The Up-to-Date company eventually closed in the late 1960s, as many regional brands did because of shelf slotting fees, and the power of Lays and larger snack companies.    Oddly enough, Harry’s son Donald L. Jasper, worked his way up to being VP and GM of Husman’s when they sold in 1990.
 

Hyde Park Housewife Grace Rush and her Boozy Fruitcakes

marthaanfruitcake1950.jpgA vintage red tin for candied ginger and a connection to the now closed Duck Creek Antique mall turned me on to a local fruitcake tradition.       Who knew that one of the booziest and most gourmet fruitcakes distributed in the U.S. was manufactured miles away from my house for more than 60 years?   I sure didn’t.

Now I know what you’re thinking – the words gourmet and fruitcake don’t belong in the same sentence.     Yes, there are jokes about fruitcakes and even fruitcake throwing competitions.     Most commercially manufactured fruitcakes are made with abused ingredients – fluorescent green cherries not found in nature, rancid nuts, and sticky fruit peels.      And, those that tout being boozed up are done so not with brandy, but with something more like grenadine.

The Martha Ann fruitcakes made in Hyde Park and then Oakley by Martha Rush were not made with these low-grade ingredients.     Her 200 year old English recipe called for ten varieties of  fruits and five nuts, and was boozed up and aged several times with six year old, bonded brandy and sherry.     Martha Stewart, look out!   And, they were not just any fruits and nuts.    The dates came from Iran and Iraq, the sultanas (golden raisins) and orange and grapefruit peels from Greece, the citron from Portugal.    Add cherry, currants, figs, pineapple, and candied ginger.  The filberts (Brazil nuts)  came from Turkey, the almonds from Spain.   Add walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts.    Oh yeah, and fresh creamery butter and eggs from Clermont County farms.  The result was a dense, rich, flavorful fruitcake that was distributed widely in the U.S., and sold locally at Pogue’s Department Store.

1928 press photos of Grace Rush, left founder of Grace Fine Foods and her daughter, Martha Ann Rush Philley, after whom the brands were named.

So here’s how the story goes.    Grace Rush was a typical Hyde Park housewife.    She prided herself in her cooking.     But before the Christmas season she made and aged fruitcakes out of her 3574 Burch Avenue house (more like mansion)  for family and friends from St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Eire Avenue, where they were members.     She was known for these delicious fruitcakes, from a 200 year old recipe she swiped from her next door neighbor on Burch, Emma Blanton.

A fortuitous situation occurred in 1917, during World War I, when  Grace’s sister, a New Yorker, was Christmas shopping in Manhattan at Hicks & Sons Confectionery.    She said her sister made a much better fruitcake than the ones they had on display.    The owner told her to put her money where her mouth was.   A small sample was sent, an order was placed, and Grace was in business.   Grace’s husband, Wilfred Rush (1877-1957) , quit his job to oversee sales and distributing of the product, and they named the line of products after their daughter, Martha Ann.

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The 3574 Burch Avenue home of Grace and Wilfred Rush, where Martha Ann fruitcakes got their start.   It was later known as Ivy Manor by neighbors because most of the house was covered in English ivy.

The Enquirer told a story in 1955, recalled by Grace in the early days, during World War I.    When she mixed the batter by hand, her wedding ring slipped off into the batter.  She didn’t discover it missing until after the cakes had been shipped to soldiers in Europe.   Several months later she received her ring, ,and a letter from a soldier, with a marriage proposal.   The soldier said, “If this is not your ring, and you’d like another one, you can bake these cakes for me for the rest of my life, as my wife.”     Grace, flattered, quickly declined, but sent the soldier another cake in gratitude, this time without a ring.

In the height of the Depression, in 1937, Grace Rush saw it necessary to expand her fruitcake business out of her Burch Avenue kitchen and build the Grace A. Rush Bakery building at 3715 Madison Avenue, that would bake and make her specialty cakes, cookies and candied fruits into the 1980s.    In 1992 the fruitcake factory would  be converted into the Duck Creek Antique Mall.

In 1922, Rush Fine Foods introduced the Christmas gift package, a marketing idea that became popular with mail order and other specialty food products companies.   Theirs included a fruitcake, stuffed dates, candied citrus peels, mapled nuts, and glaced fruits.

She handed the business over to her son Warren Rush, until his very public society divorce, and then her other son John (1904-1981) , took over the business, overseeing its sale in 1974 to the Millelacs Company of Madison, Wisconsin.    By the time of the sale, they had two types of fruitcakes – the original dark Old English style, and a light rum boozed one.    They also made crème de menthe and rum cookies, Kentucky bourbon pecan cake, rum pecan cake, brandy pecan cake, and holiday pudding in brandy.     All that booze in one place!

The company lasted into the late 1980s, and then closed, ending Cincinnati’s locally made fruitcake legacy.