What the Mt. Adams Good Friday Steppers Ate a Century Ago

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A dinner of deviled eggs and potato pancakes is what many of the  German Catholics of Mt. Adams ate on Good Friday.

My family has observed a Good Friday pilgrimage now for over 120 years. It’s the climbing of the steps to the Immaculata German Catholic Church in Mt. Adams, the highest point overlooking the river in Cincinnati. I’ve been doing it consistently since I was a kid. We’ve had as many as three generations of our family on the steps at once, but five generations of my family have been saying a prayer on every step nearly every Good Friday since before the dawn of the 20th century. It’s really a unique event that seems to grow in size every year, despite bad weather some years.
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My great grandmother, Frances Gehring Shaeser, a single mother of five girls and one boy, started the tradition for our family. At the time she was working as a nanny, looking after the children of a wealthy family on 4th street in downtown Cincinnati, near the now demolished St. Philomena Catholic Church. Back then, they started climbing the steps early in the morning at the Ohio River, which have been restored recently at Adams Landing. I climbed the original route from the Ohio River about five years ago and it took me nearly three hours. Needless to say, I’ve only done that once! That route goes from Adams Crossing, through Riverview Park, on a bridge over Columbia Parkway, and up the steps known as Celestial Street to Hill Street, Hill Street to St. Gregory Street, and then up the last steps to Immaculata. Today, we start on St. Gregory Street and climb the last set of steps to the church, which depending on the line, can take up to 2 hours in itself.

 
It’s a beautiful event. Hundreds of people are shoulder to shoulder, front to back on the steps, in perfect silence, praying together. Many people carry and say the rosary. Some just say a prayer on each step without the rosary. The great thing is you don’t have to be Catholic to participate. You can even say a mitzvah or a good intent on each step – it doesn’t have to be the rosary. There is an other-worldliness, an energy that you can’t quite describe, but you certainly can feel. It’s also conducive that there is such a beautiful view of the Ohio River as you climb the steps to the peak of Mt. Adams.
Back when my father was a kid, he would walk the steps with his mother, and two of her sisters, and his cousins. My grandmother’s older brother, lived on Baum Street in Mt. Adams. Afterward, Dad said the boys would play the card game Bloody Knuckles and they would have a family Good Friday midday meatless meal of deviled eggs and German potato pancakes, maybe dressed with a bit of Frances’ homemade jams or syrup.

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My early memories of the event were stopping afterwards at Frisch’s on Central Parkway with my family and having their signature fried fish sandwich on rye with extra tartar sauce. Because it’s the last day of Lenten meat fast on Fridays it was usually the last time we ate fried fish sandwiches until the next year. We couldn’t split a hot fudge cake between the family, as most of our trips to Frisch’s ended, because Good Friday also required an abstinence from snacking in between the two meals we were allowed to have. Dessert was considered breaking that observance. That was back in the 70s and 80s – things regarding Lenten food abstinences have been relaxed quite a bit.

 
This year Dad and I will go. In years past we’ve run into his cousins, who are still climbing the steps in their late 70s, like Dad. And, of course they always bring up the Bloody Knuckles memory.

A Cincinnati Candy Company Invented the Baseball Card

 

 

Two of the three only known pairs of the H.D. Smith 1888 bubble gum baseball cards.

Cincinnati’s Red Stockings were the first major league baseball team, so it’s no small wonder that a Cincinnati candy company, H. D. Smith,  invented the chewing gum baseball card in 1888.      Over 125 years later, these cards, or more accurately, player diecuts, (previously called Scrapps Tobacco Cards), are still being traded, some going for several thousand dollars.     Our own Harry D. Smith, confectioner, and fireworks distributor, created a billion dollar sports trading card industry from one of his candy promotions.

Five of players in the cards are now Hall of Famers (Thomson, Brouthers, White, Hanlon, and Comiskey), and one, Bennett, had the Detroit Stadium named after him in 1896, after a train accident severed both legs and ended his career.

The cards are beautiful 2″ by 3″ full color lithographs, printed in Germany, and showcase the old flattop striped caps and tie-up jerseys from the day.     It wasn’t until 2012 that a collector noticed the H.D. S & Co. tab on one of the three only known pairs in their original condition they came in with the gum package, and tied them to the H.D. Smith Company in Cincinnati from an 1888 Cincinnati Enquirer article:

“Prominent among our Cincinnati industries is to be found the well and favorably known house of HD Smith & Co., manufacturers of confectionery and chewing-gum, making a specialty of the latter.   A novel production of theirs this season is the St. Louis and Detroit Champion Baseball Gum – a piece of gum with a perfect lithograph picture of one of the champion nine of the National League or American Association on each piece. The pictures were made to order in Germany, and are wonders in their way. ”

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The year was 1887 and the Cincinnati Redlegs had played a great season, finishing second in the American Association to the St. Louis Browns.      Fans had eaten Doscher’s Grandpa’s Corn Fritters (not Cracker Jack) at the concessions at the Palace of the Fans and drank a lot of  Moerlein Beer.     Cracker Jack would not be introduced until the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  The Browns had 95 season wins to Cincinnati’s 81, even though Cincinnati had a winning record against St. Louis with 12 wins to their 6.     St. Louis would face the Detroit Wolverines in the World Series, playing best out of 15 games.     One St. Louis player, James “Deacon” White had played for the Redlegs in 1876 with star player Mike “King” Kelly.    James gained his nickname Deacon because of his upstanding character and integrity.

King Kelly, on the other hand, was NOT known for his character.    He was known to be a heavy drinker, perhaps a folly he picked up carousing the many beer halls and saloons of Cincinnati.   In the 1887 season, Kelly made big news as he was refused his $375 good behavior bonus by Chicago White Stockings manager Albert Spalding.   Not only that, but Spalding also refused to refund Kelly the $225 in fines levied against him for drinking.    Spalding was trying to rid the team of n’er do wells and drinkers so much so, that he sold King Kelly to the Boston Beaneaters that season for $10,000 more than double the price for any player.     Good riddance, he thought!

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So St. Louis was defeated 10 games to five by the Detroit Wolverines.    The next season of 1888, however, the Wolverines finished fifth in the National League and the team owners lost so much money, they disbanded  and sold off all the players.

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The H.D. Smith Company was well established as a candy and chewing gum powerhouse in 1887.  Harry Smith had been part of the 1884 founding, with the other Cincinnati Candy Barons, of the National Confectioners’ Association in Chicago.

The H.D.Smith Candy Company (left) and owner Harry D. Smith (right) at the 1884 National Confectioners’ Association.

They made six well known chewing gum brands from their 5 story factory on Main Street near the Ohio River that sold from Maine to California.      They were Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Cough, Excelsior, Crystal Palace, and Ylang Ylang.

H.D. Smith’s Beauty Gum box, a Red Riding Hood fan pull, and a Big Long trade card.

The Smith Company were magicians of candy marketing, being known for the prize packages and promotions.    Think of them as the brilliant candy licensees of the day, always coming up with a prize, game, or promotion with their candy to create and instill loyalty in their customer base – children.      They had a gum ball game that looked a lot like Chinese Checkers called Phen-Hunch.

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One of the past times for Victorian children was scrapbooking.   So a lot of companies created postcards and die cuts for children to paste into their scrapbooks.    H.D. Smith played to this hobby, and had, earlier in the year introduced die cuts of President Grover Cleveland and three members of his cabinets with their gum packages.    So, they thought it would be great to print nine of the star players from each team of the 1887 World Series, and include two in each pack of gum.   Little did they know how popular this would be.

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H. D. Smith’s President Grover Cleveland and cabinet gum cards, the predecessor to the first gum baseball cards.

Nine players from Detroit were featured:  Hall of Famer Big Dan Brouthers, 1st base; Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlop, 2nd Base; James “Deacon” White, 3rd base; Jack Rowe, shortstop; Charles “Pretzels” Getzen, pitcher; Ned Hanlon, center field; Hardy “Old True Blue” Richardson, left field; Charles Wesley Bennett, catcher; and Big Sam Thomson, right field.

 

The St. Louis players printed were; Tip “The Woodstock Wonder” O’Neill, left field; Doc Bushong, catcher; David L. “Scissors” Foutz, pitcher; Charles “The Old Roman” Comiskey, 1st base; Arlie “The Freshest Man on Earth” Latham, 3rd base; Curt Welch, center field; Will “Yank” Robinson, 2nd base; Bill Gleason, short stop; and Robert “Parisian Bob”  Caruthers, right field.

 

 

A baseball expert, Robert Lifson, at Robert Edward Auctions, had incorrectly called these Scrapps Tobacco cards in the 1974 Sports Collectors Bible, and the name had stuck ever since, until the H.D. Smith revelation in 2012 from the 1888 Cincinnati Enquirer.     Now the earliest baseball cards are known to have been invented by a Cincinnati candy company and paired with Cincinnati-made H.D. Smith chewing gum.

 

Mellocreams, the Gritty Little Easter Candy I Loved to Hate

 

 

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Sensory memories are the strongest we carry with us in life.    Most of these  memories are about food that we remember from our earlier days, food that brings us joy that we still eat and celebrate.    One of my strongest sensory memories is of my paternal Grandmother and the Easter candy she went out of her way to get for us, that I absolutely couldn’t stand.

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Easter 1977 with Grandma,  me and my siblings and our baskets of gritty mellowcream candy.

Every Easter Grandma would gush about these mellowcream candies – shaped like little rabbits and chics – that she would order ahead and have someone pick up for our Easter baskets.   To this day, I don’t know who made them – maybe Fawn Candy, maybe they were made by a bakery or confectioner in her North College Hill neighborhood that’s no longer around.      She made such a big deal about them that I had to act like I loved them as much as she did, even though they were quickly traded with friends for something better from their Easter basket.    But then they weren’t a strong trade either.

Mellowcreams are the same family as candy corn.    Someone recently joked that all the candy corn in the world was made when it was first introduced, in 1901, in Cincinnati, because it keeps getting regifted and recycled because NO ONE LIKES CANDY CORN!!    I am not a fan of candy corn, or the mellowcream pumpkins also popular at Halloween.    So, this naturally carried over into Grandma’s mellowcream Easter Candy.      The flavors were kind of wonky too.     But it’s that gritty, sandy texture that mellowcreams and candy corn have that I cannot stand.    To me they tasted like eating little soaps.

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The ButterCream or Mellocream candies (like Candy Corn) Goelitz made in the early 1900s, in Cincinnati.

Grandma grew up during the heyday of mellowcream candy production in Cincinnati.   Goelitz Brothers had introduced their new mellowcream Cream Corn in 1901, along with their other shaped mellowcream candies.     Nuss and Messer took up the Cincinnati mellowcream market when Goelitz moved their candy business to Chicago in 1906.    What a treat it must have been for Grandma, as a girl at that time, to stop at a downtown confectionery to get a bag of penny mellowcream candies, when she would go with her mother on the streetcar to the house where she was a nanny.       She surely stopped at Mullane’s or Mehas Candies on Fountain Square  in her twenties, when she worked as a salesgirl at the shoe accessories deparment at Smith & Kasson Department Store on 5th and Race Streets.     Grandma probably gave her favorite candy to her many nieces and nephews whom she adored, before she started her own sizeable family.

So how ungrateful of us to take for granted this delight that Grandma was offering us from her heart.   How horrible for us to not have an open mind to learn to love these gritty little candies we were destined to get every Easter of our childhood.     It’s funny, now I’d certainly enjoy chewing on one of those sandy mellowcream bunnies, just to refresh the memory of my awesome Grandma.

 

The Cult Behind the Opera Cream

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There is probably no more recognized Easter candy than the marshmallow peep. That delicious sugary coated marshmallow confection can be eaten fresh, or made to sit out and get stale so it becomes delightfully crunchy. I’m a fan of the crunchy version. Local candy confectioner Aglamesis dips the bottom of the Peep in milk chocolate and calls them Muddy Chics. Sweet Tooth across the river completely coats them in chocolate. The other local candy that is associated with Easter is our Opera Cream, which comes in eggs, crosses, and now bunnies.
The man credited with the Peep’s invention, Roscoe E. Rodda, stirred up big controversy in the Cincinnati and national candy industries, as he made his way through co-ownership and merger of four Cincinnati candy companies. While in Cincinnati, he made partners with the inventor of our Opera Cream candy, Robert Hiner Putman, and may have divulged that secret recipe to a religious cult in Illinois, of which both were members.
Rodda got his start in the candy business working in Detroit, Michigan, for the firm of Gray, Toynton and Fox. He married Luelle Chetham in Illinois in 1885 and made his way to Cincinnati, by 1891, listed in the city directory as a confectioner. He was in a good spot for the candy industry. At that time, Cincinnati was the fifth largest candy producer in the nation, with several large manufacturers that distributed nationally.
All along the way, Rodda and Putman were both involved in a Progressive Era cult, known as the Catholic Christian Church of Zion. The cult was founded in Chicago in 1893 by a charismatic Scotsman named Dr. Alexander Dowie. What separated Dowie’s evangelism from the competition was his teachings on his divine healing powers. According to Dowie, in revelations given to him by God, sickness was a manifestation of sin and lack of faith. All followers needed to do to be healed was to ask for Dowie’s prayers. Dowie also preached clean living, free of smoking, drinking, dancing, eating pork and shellfish, but not, interestingly enough – candy. Other Progressive Era promotors of clean living, like Dr. Graham (of Graham cracker fame) blamed sugary sweets on teenager horniness, but not Dowie. Dowie started evangelizing in Chicago at tent like revival meetings near the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and quickly acquired a substantial and wealthy Midwestern following, around Chicago, and in Cincinnati.
In 1900 he bought land to start a religious community about an hour north of Chicago near Lake Michigan to be called Zion, Illinois. Then in 1902, he convinced 10,000 of his congregants to settle on this 6600 acre plot of land he bought, to build a theocratic utopia free of sin, vice, class antagonism and poverty – an Anti-Chicago of sorts.


Dowie built himself an opulent three story mansion in the center of town called Shiloh House, and brought in thousands of other, mostly well-to-do people. He created a print shop, which published his religious magazine called Levels of Healing. Here he published his sermons and talked about his healing ministries. Zion would become one of the largest and most grandly conceived Utopian communities in modern America. Before he moved his wife, son and daughter into his new mansion, a tragedy befell them. His daughter was preparing for a date, and started a fire with her kerosene curling iron that ended up killing her. Dealing with the death caused a rift between Dowie and his wife and son, as the fledgling cult was just taking off. Some also believe it was this tragedy that sent Dowie into a spiral of dementia that caused his ousting by the community in 1906.

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Zion was a hybrid of commune and company town. Dowie brought industries to Zion to support his socialist religious community. Settlers would work in various collectively owned light industries, which included a lace factory (that he brought experts from Scotland in for the startup), a candy factory, lumber mill and bakery. Everyone who lived there turned over their fortune to the city and all men were expected to work, and were given a profit at the end of the year.
Both Rodda and Putman were deacons of this Zion church in Cincinnati, which apparently had quite a number of followers. In the 1900 Level of Healing edition, Rodda praised Dr. Dowie’s healing prayers for his nine year old son, Emmons, who was hit by a streetcar in Cincinnati. Earlier he had credited Dowie’s healing prayers to restoring his daughter’s eyesight in 1897 at the Zion House in Chicago. Robert Putman, also praised Dowie in for his prayers saving his peach trees from blight.

 


In 1902 the Cincinnati Enquirer announced that Rodda, former operations manager of the Peter Eckert Candy Plant in Cincinnati was moving to Zion, Illinois, in May, to run Dr. Dowie’s Sugar and Confectionery Association’s Candy Plant, being built. One of the candies that Rodda supervised making was Jimcrax, a line of marshmallow candies shaped like comic characters of the turn of the century. It was probably at Eckert’s that Rodda learned the art of marshmallow candy making that he would later apply to his innovative Peep.
The Eckert Company would join the National Candy Company later that year in September, an association of 12 other candy companies in St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other large candy manufacturing cities. This is perhaps the reason that Rodda left town for Zion before the deal was inked. At Zion, Rodda would supervise the manufacturing of Sparkling Gems hard candy and Dove Brand cream chocolates. Rodda’s time in Zion only lasted two years, because financial trouble with the other industries made them shut down the candy operation in 1904 with lack of cash flow to buy raw materials, even though it was the most profitable business.
Around 1903, Dowie really went off the deep and and took on a persona of Elijah the Restorer, messenger of the Second Coming of Christ, much to the dismay of many of his followers. He was soon trotting around the globe in an Old Testament prophet costume of his own design, with patriarchal headgear, jeweled breastplates, and an ornately carved shepherd’s crook. This was great for a costume ball, but probably not as great for the credibility of the leader of America’s largest cult. He began endangering an otherwise promising Christian socialist experiment by borrowing against Zion’s already waning assets. Dowie was doing this to leverage an even more ambitious utopian initiative called “Zion Paradise Plantation,” a million acre agricultural commune he proposed to establish in Mexico, to supply the cotton, sugar, and other supplies needed for the industries in Zion City, Illinois. It would be manned by African converts who were “suited to working in the harsh environment.” Cincinnati opera cream inventor Robert Putman, and the Cincinnati Zion Deacon, W. B. Yerger, a rich Cincinnati insurance owner, met Dowie in Cuba in 1905, and went with him to Mexico to meet with Mexican President, General Porfirio Diaz, who had held a strong hold on Mexico for nearly three decades. Other Zion officials would meet them to discuss the project, which never came to fruition.
By 1905, Rodda was back from Zion, involved in Cincinnati candy companies, as a partner in the Reinhart & Newton Candy Company. And then in 1907, living in Norwood, he partnered with Robert Putman in his candy business, which amounted to three stores, one of them in the Fair, a large department store at 6th and Race downtown, that had its grand opening in 1906, at the height of the Dowie scandals.

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In 1906, Zion elders were concerned with Dowie’s ability to lead the congregation and his lofty plans. They recalled Glenn Voliva from Australia, ousted Dowie by letter to Mexico, and instilled Voliva as the new leader of Zion, making him owner of all of Zion’s assets. The assets of the Cincinnati Zion community were transferred immediately to Voliva as well. Glenn Voliva had originally been a preacher of the Disciples of Christ in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, before hearing of Dowie and converting to his cult in 1899. Dowie sent Voliva to be the leader of the Cincinnati community for 8 months from 1900 to 1901. During that time he increased the flock there from 100 to 400 congregants, many of whom were recruited from workers at Putman’s candy factory. While in Cincinnati, in 1900, Voliva’s son, Paul died after four days of intense suffering of spinal meningitis, without the care of physicians. The Cincinnati coroner investigated the incident and Voliva thought he was put through the ringer for the affair. Voliva had his son buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, and then was sent to Australia to help the Zion congregation there.

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By this time, Dowie’s wife and son had moved out of the Shiloh house mansion in Zion, and there were rumors they were divorcing. There were also accusations that Dowie had preached polygamy and had a love affair with a young Swiss congregant who lived with them at Shiloh house for a brief period. Many had made accusations that both Dowie had taken advantage of followers’ funds and led a lavish lifestyle, driving the community and its industries towards bankruptcy. Not surprisingly, Voliva, later in life would admit to leading a lavish life on the finances of his followers. In the midst of all this, Dr. Dowie died in 1907 at Shiloh house, without his wife and son.


Putman had sided with the Dowie faction of Zion, while Rodda thought Voliva the better leader, and so the two split their candy partnership. After leaving Cincinnati during the controversy of Voliva and the Zion Church, Rodda incorporated his own Rodda Candy Company, and moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Rodda took the Sparkling Gems brand name from Zion for his own company, and when Zion Candy reopened their business they would rename their brand Sparkling Beauties. He severed his ties forever with the Zion church. In Lancaster, Rodda bought the American Caramel Company, which had bought the Lancaster Caramel Company in 1900 from an unknown candy maker named Milton Hershey, who wanted to get into the chocolate business.

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Rodda merged the American Caramel company into Reinhart & Newton, which in turn had bought Cincinnati company, Dolly Varden, (maker of chocolate cherry cordials and other bon bons) and both operations were shut down in Cincinnati, in 1926. This shutdown caused a lawsuit by a large Dolly Varden shareholder, and wealthy Walnut Hills widow, Bertha Ruehl Selbert. Litigation would follow Rodda with his former business partner in the American Caramel Company too – a case that lasted nearly a decade.


It was about the late 1930s that Rodda invented the Marshmallow Peep. Originally it was piped out by hand by female candy makers and originally each had two little wings. Because of their delicacy and lack of shelf stability, it is thought that they were only made seasonally for Easter and for the local market, rather than distributed like Rodda’s other candy. Sam Born bought the company in the 1950s, automated the Peep process, and clipped the original wings offs each chic and brought it into the national candy spotlight.
Putman continued on with his business, making enough money to build a mansion in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, on Mt. Pleasant Lane for his two spinster sisters. But his family was not done with their Zion connection. In August, 1911, his wife, Margaret Ward Putman, decided she wanted to help get Zion out of bankruptcy and take over the Church from Voliva. Several newspapers blazoned the headline “Woman to Burnish Zion: Mrs. Robert Putman of Cincinnati Opens Coffers that Dowiesm May Shine – Installed as a Priestess. The new figure who is expected to assume a position of leadership is Mrs. Robert Putman, a wealthy Cincinnati society woman, who has become so imbued with the teachings of Zionism that she is sad to have renounced a high social position and a host of friends to take up work as a leader of Zionists at Zion City.” She was going to use her money to return Zion to its Dowie Days of glory. She was also noted as the founder of the Cincinnati Zionist congregation. But Voliva was not going to let a woman take over his
The Putmans shared a tragedy with the Dowie’s. They both lost their only daughters young. Putman’s daughter Margaret died as an infant, and they never had any more children. Mrs. Putman rented a house in Zion and moved there to set up shop, but was unsuccessful in overthrowing Voliva. She died in 1922 in Zion, and her husband passed there too in 1928, but both were carted back to be buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Their nephew Thomas Lykins took over their candy business in Cincinnati, continuing the tradition of making the famous opera creams. By this time, Papas, Bissingers, and a host of other Cincinnati candy companies had pirated the recipe (and purchased a Ball Cream Beater) and were making opera creams. The Putman brand is now owned by the Papas company, which still makes their branded opera creams. Papas, unfortunately, falsely takes credit for its invention –another stolen opera cream story!!
Zion today is a no longer a religious community and the original candy factory is no longer standing, having been demolished in the 1980s. Halal and Mexican groceries dot the outside of the town, and farms on the outskirts still supply beef for the area’s famous beef bacon. Dowie’s Shiloh house has been restored and now houses the Zion Historical Society. I visited the Shiloh house in February and got a rare after hours tour from the guide. I filled her in on the Rodda and Putman candy stories, and saw some of the candy artifacts of Rodda’s time running the factory. After Rodda left, the Zion Candy factory and bakery reopened in a few years and became famous for their Fig Pie Candy Bar and Fig Newton Cookies. There is still a bakery in Zion that makes the Zion brand fig newtons, along with Zion Dutch apple newtons, both of which are delicious. They’re available around Zion at Piggly Wiggly markets, the last legacy of the Rodda’s Zion Candy industry.

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One photograph on the second floor of the Shiloh house shows evidence that Rodda might have known how to make the opera cream from his association with Putman in Cincinnati, and taught his candy workers in Zion how to make them during his tenure there. An early shot of the inside of the Zion candy factory shows a worker operating what looks like a ball cream beater, the same piece of equipment that makes the filling for our opera creams. But they called them Dove Brand Cream Chocolates, because, after all, Zion was a religious town, and the opera was just too secular.
Oddly enough, there is also evidence that Cincinnati had a distribution center for the Zion Dove Brand Chocolates and other products made in Zion. In the 1890s there were hundreds of neighborhood social beneficial organizations called, in German, Raucher Casinos, or Smoking Casinos, that met several times a month as a sort of social insurance agency. They smoked their porcelain German pipes, drank German immigrant beer, gambled on cards, (all prohibited in Zion) and donated a monthly due for sick pay and a death benefit before corporations offered sick leave, workers compensation and insurance. Of the many of these organizations that were incorporated in Cincinnati in the early 1900s was one called the Dove Brands Smoking Casino.

How the Opera Creams Are Made

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Fawn Candy’s ball cream beater making the Opera Cream filling.

 

In Cincinnati, Easter is the prime time for our beloved Opera Cream. They come in the form of eggs, elongated bon bons, and even crosses. But aside from the common geometrical shapes, most cream-center chocolates don’t use molds or irregular shapes. That’s why you’ve never seen an opera cream bunny or unicorn.

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Robert Hiner Putman, a candy maker from Tolesboro, Kentucky, near Maysville, who transplanted himself to Ft. Thomas, and his business to Cincinnati, is credited for inventing our opera cream some time in the 1910s. He and his wife operated two candy stores in downtown, and one at the Fair, a major Gilded Age department store in downtown Cincinnati. Putman’s innovation was adding rich, sweet cream into the standard fondant ‘creamed’ fillings used in French-style chocolate bon bons. Creamed fondants were basically emulsified fondants of cooled, molten sugar, none with actual cream in them, only sugar, water, and flavoring.

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Convenient for Cincinnati candy makers, a Dayton, Ohio , company invented what is called the Ball Cream Beater, the machine that all makers of Opera Creams use to make the delicious filling inside the chocolate coating. It was designed to make any creamed fondant type of filling for chocolate bon bons from maple cream to mint creams to pineapple creams. The “Dayton Beater” as it’s called, was patented in 1905. All the advertisements for it in the Confectioner’s Association trade journals proclaim “Every Candy maker must own one.” And for sure, anyone that makes opera creams needs one.
The ball cream beater is a water-jacketed, horizontal, round mixer that is designed to cream a cooling molten mass of sugar and other ingredients into a candy center for use in chocolates. Oddly enough, it’s the same type of machine used to emulsify pork to make our Cincinnati Brats.

 

It’s a huge and heavy piece of equipment that once it’s installed, is rarely removed. The now defunct Sam’s Candy in Covington still has their original 1910s Ball Cream beater in the basement of what was once the soda fountain and candy store at street level. Fawn candy has theirs in the basement of their original Westwood candy factory.

Sam’s Ball Cream Beater in Covington, Kentucky (left) and Fawn’s in Westwood (right).
It is so important a piece of candy making history that our Smithsonian National Museum of American history has a Dayton Ball Cream Beater catalogue in their collection.
Instructions for how to use a ball cream beater are given in the Up to date Candy Teacher in 1921 by Charles Apell. Although there’s no recipe for opera cream ‘fondant’ – it’s the same basic procedure, with the ingredients of our opera cream being a bit different. After melting the sugar and cream together, and the mixer poured with cold water, the candy is poured onto the table of the Ball Cream Beater. When it stops bubbling, cold water is poured on top to prevent a sugar crust forming on top that would give the resulting fondant a grainy texture. Then the water cooling jacket is turned on until an impression can be made in the surface of the candy. Then the water is turned off, and the mixer turned on to ‘cream’ it into fondant. Once creamed, it is cut into it’s desired shape, and placed in tubs to be either dipped in chocolate or put on a chocolate enrober.

Now nearly every candy company in Greater Cincinnati makes its own Opera Creams.   You can find them from Papas, Schneider’s in Bellevue, Sweet Tooth in Newport, Esther Price, Aglamesis, Graeters, Fawn, and others.     And Easter is the time to taste all the lovely varieties!

 

 

The Legacy of Fawn’s Irish Potato Candy

Cincinnati is known to be a city largely made up of German immigrant-descended stock.  This weekend, however, will see the frolicking of another immigrant group – the  local leprechauns –   at Cincinnati’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and all the commensurate festivities.   The 1920s wooden carved statue of St. Patrick will be ‘stolen’ from the German Catholic Immaculata Church High atop Mt. Adams by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in a procession of bagpipe music. It will then be paraded through the streets of Cincinnati at the parade. This custom has been in place since the Irish Catholic Holy Cross Parish (formed in 1873) merged with the German Catholic Immaculata Parish (formed in 1860) in 1970. As a reminder of their parish’s Irish heritage they asked to bring their statue with them to their newly adopted church. Today the original and now very fragile wooden statue stays at Immaculata, and another statue is used in its place.

The stealing of the St. Patrick statue from Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Like the Germans arriving at the same time in Cincinnati, the Irish were not treated well by the Anglican majority. There was a fear of the Irish taking their jobs, even though none of the English were willing to dig the Ohio & Eire Canal as the Irish were (sound familiar?).  Signs around town, “Irish Need Not Apply” were common.
Another custom, at least for West Siders of Irish heritage, is the eating of Potato Candy from Fawn Candies in Westwood. Now this Irish Potato candy has neither potato in it, nor is it from Ireland. It’s actually a coconut cream fondant center, sometimes with nuts, rolled in cinnamon to look like a potato. It reminds the Irish-Americans of their reason for immigrating in the 1840s and 1850s in the midst of the tragic Irish Potato Famine. Some might joke that the fondant should be ‘flavored’ with Jameson or another Irish whiskey.
And, although this candy is little known in Cincinnati – Fawn seems to be the only local candy maker producing it – it has a long legacy in Philadelphia, where it is widely popular in late February and early March. Oh Ryan’s, based in Philadelphia, has been making the candy in one pound boxes since 1989. And others, like Pennsylvania General Store, ships them to transplanted Philadelphians. A company in San Francisco, See’s Candies, has made their version of Irish Potato Candy since 1978, using a divinity-like nougat filling. Sometimes, people sneak a penny in one of the candies, like the plastic baby in a New Orleans King Cake. The finder becomes the lucky child, if they don’t choke on it first!

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The candy is said to have been made by Irish immigrants over a century ago, say experts like 154-year old Shane Candy Company, whose founder Edward Shane was an Irish immigrant, whose family arrived because of the Great Potato Famine. But no documentation of the candy’s birth or the inventor is to be found. Most likely, the invention was more out of necessity because of the lull in the candy season between Valentine’s Day and Easter. Philadelphia in the early 1900s was the candy capital of the U.S. There were hundreds of candy makers in the city of Brotherly Love. The fondant type filling was already being used in chocolate bon bons, and rolling them in cinnamon made a unique new candy that could be marketed to Philadelphia’s large Irish immigrant community.
So, if you want to honor our city’s Hibernian Heritage, make sure you pick up a bag of Fawn’s Irish Potato Candy, at the Rookwood Hyde Park or Westwood stores before they run out!

The Hummingbird Egg: The Most Elusive of Easter Candies

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Recently I spoke to a captive audience at the Taft Museum of Art about the history of the Cincinnati Candy industry. A woman in the audience asked if I knew anything about the Hummingbird Egg. She couldn’t remember what Cincinnati candy company made them, but she said they were her favorite Easter candy and lamented in not being able to find them anymore. She and her sisters looked forward to finding them in their Easter baskets.
A scan of the newspapers show that Hummingbird Eggs were carried locally by several companies from at least the 1950s through the 1980s. The McAlpins Candy store in Kenwood carried them in the 50s and 60s at Easter, as did Albers Groceries. Busken Bakery and Becksmith distributed them up until the late 80s, when they stopped being seen around town. Murray Brothers Candy in Norwood also carried them into the 1980s.
Candy catalogues from local candy companies in the early 1900s locally and nationally show a variety of sizes and names of jelly easter eggs. Today’s standard ½” sized jelly bean was certainly not the norm in the early days of jelly eggs. There were many varieties of larger sized eggs. There were also a variety of small non-jelly eggs, like my favorite the malted milk Robin Eggs, and a variety of sizes of chocolate covered marshmallow eggs.

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Jelly beans and their cousins belong to a family of candy known as pan-coated. They are usually a soft center that’s covered in a hard shell which is sprayed as a liquid into a rotating pan coater. It’s the same machinery that coats our pharmaceutical pills. One of the Union Terminal murals shows workers pan coating pills in one of these at Marion Merrell Dow in Reading, Ohio. They take a lot of energy to run, and the smaller the item being coated, the harder they are to keep from sticking together and getting a consistent coating. There were several early candy manufacturers in Cincinnati that specialized in pan coated goods, like Reinhart in Newton, at Third and Walnut Streets near the Ohio River.

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Kroger even made their own jelly beans at their Springdale candy plant, which was the second largest candy plant in the U.S. behind Brachs, until they closed in the 1980s.
I don’t remember the Hummingbird Eggs from the Easters of my youth, but they apparently have quite a cult following. They are much smaller than a typical jelly bean, about an eighth of an inch in diameter. They were hard shelled and had a cream center – some describing them as like an opera cream center, and some like a candy corn. They came in pale pastel colors and milder fruity flavors than the typical jelly bean – like grape and cherry – although some people are adamant that they are NOT a jelly bean – and resemble more of the structure of a red hot candy.
Many pleas from ardent fans to Brach’s Candy have been made online, but to my knowledge they have not been resurrected by anyone for Easter.