Cincinnati’s Best Latkes and Did Cincy Jews Invent the Cherry Cordial?

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This Sunday for  faithful Jews marks the beginning of the lighting of the menorah for Hanukkah.     Along with that comes the spinning of the dreidel, and the making of many delightful delicacies, including the potato latke.

How did the Jews become latke experts?   In the late 1700s Eastern Europe was plagued by repeated crop failures.    To stave of massive starvation, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great ordered farmers to plant potatoes instead of grains because potatoes grow faster and are hardier to severe weather conditions.     Czar Nicholas I continued to enforce this decree and by 1850, the potato was literally entrenched in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Jewish shtetls.    The Jews of Eastern Europe, who were for the most part poor and hungry, became experts in potato cookery, inventing dishes like the potato knish, and the latke, originally known as the kartoffelpfannkuchen – say that 3 times fast.    It was originally fried in schmaltz, or chicken fat, which must have been super-delicious.   But Proctor & Gamble ruined the schmaltz-fried Jewish cookery when they released kosher Crisco, but I digress.

Now Cincinnati should have the best latkes in the country.  In 1889, Cincinnati’s Bloch Publishing (the oldest Jewish Printing house in America) printed the first Jewish American cookbook, Aunt Babette’s Cookbook:  Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the American Household, which included a latke recipe.     Aunt Babette was sort of a fictional Jewish Betty Crocker.   Printing Company owner, Edward Bloch’s sister Theresa, was married to none other than Cincinnati’s Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the greatest pioneer of reform Judaism in America.    His papers Die Deborah and the Israelite (the oldest American Jewish newspaper)  gave Bloch Publishing more than enough work to fill their presses.

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The Bloch’s were Jewish immigrants from Grafenried, in the area of then Pilzen, Bohemia.   Along with traditional Jewish recipes, the cookbook also contained several recipes for treif (non-Kosher) ingredients such as pork, oysters, and shellfish.    Through this and other ways, the cookbook reflected its roots in the assimilationist tendencies of the 19th-century Reform Jewish movement.   It was an effort to  diffuse the anti-Semitism of the time by educating curious Christian housewives, who might browse the book, about the connections and similarities between the Jewish and Christian holidays, despite their huge theological differences.

Aunt Babette’s first cookbook was followed in 1893 by Aunt Babette’s Home Confectionery (which sells online now for several thousand dollars).      This book included recipes “for popular candies simple enough for even a child to make.”   They included marshmallow, butter taffy, tutti frutti candy, and one for cherries in cream, which may be the grandmother of the chocolate cherry cordial.   The cherry cordial was introduced in about 1904 in Cincinnati by Jewish owned – Isaac Wienreich –  Dolly Varden Chocolates, which was in business from about 1900 to 1926.    Did Aunt Babette inspire Herr Weinreich’s cherry cordials?   It seems very plausible.

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The original Dolly Varden Cherry Cordial recipe from book of employee Rob Kissel, 1904.

There are only a few places in Cincinnati to get a real potato latke.     Apparently Kinneret Cafe on Plainfield Road makes the best.   Shapiro’s Deli in Blue Ash have gotten bad reviews for their latkes.     Many associate Izzy’s with the latke, as they were originally Jewish owned, now owned by a Catholic family who worked for Izzy.      But their potato pancakes, which are the size of a catcher’s mitt, can not really be called true latkes.   Latkes are much thinner, crisper, and lighter than Izzy’s pancakes – bite-sized and small enough for a dollop of sour cream, a small sliver of smoked salmon and a caper or two.   And, they don’t require taking Lipitor.

Barberton Ohio Serbian-American Fried Chicken

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Recently, I find out about another immigrant food, Barberton Fried Chicken, that has sustained northern Ohioans for over 80 years. My high school friend Natalie, who owns a farm just south of there in Canal Fulton, both of which are southwest of Akron, turned me on to this regional delicacy. It holds popular rank amongst our other beloved Ohio immigrant foods – Henry County Prettles, the pulled chicken sandwich, the Spanish Hot dog, Cincinnati goetta, Auglaize county German grits, Cincinnati Chili, the pierogi, the sauerkraut ball – the list goes on. Our Ohio immigrants have given us great gifts and helped build our strong economy.

Nashville has its hot chicken, and the South certainly has its variety of fried chicken. But even John Edge, the prolific writer of Southern food as editor at Garden & Gun, host of the TV show TrueSouth, and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, thinks there’s something special about Barberton Fried Chicken. It doesn’t need 11 secret herbs and spices like Kentucky Fried, or only 8 count (both sides of breast, wings, thighs, drumsticks). It has a dipping sauce and two sides that come with.

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A former Barberton native, Ronald Koltnow, has recently written a book about it, Barberton Fried Chicken: An Ohio Original, with my publisher History Press, and I’m dying to read it! His grandparents were Ukranian Jews who immigrated for factory jobs to the industrial Midwest. Even they went off Kosher (Barberton chicken is fried in lard) to regularly eat the super delicious Serbian-American fried chicken.

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Barberton fried chicken is always fresh, never frozen, and cooked to order, so expect to wait. Its breading is not spiced, but fried to red-golden crispiness in lard. The spice comes from the dipping sauce, called djuvece, which consists of tomato, rice, and Hungarian hot peppers. The current owners say the original dipping sauce was a lot hotter, but it’s been toned down over the years to suit tastes. It sounds more like a dirty rice, but it’s more of a relish, and some customers prefer to dip their French fries or fried potatoes in the rice. Either way, the rice was added as a cheap filler, again in the Depression era waste-not culture. The second side its always served with is a sweet, vinegary cole slaw called kupus salata.

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Barberton’s Fried Chicken hot dipping sauce, known as djuvece in Serbia.

The interesting thing to me is that there is a connection to our Cincinnati Chili. Barberton fried chicken started in 1933 at the farmhouse restaurant, Belgrade Gardens, of Serbian immigrants Manjolo “Mike” and Smilka Topalsky. Both had immigrated with their families to Barberton around 1905 from the area of Belgrade, in then Yugoslavia. The current Serbian province abuts the current state of Macedonia near where our Cincinnati Chili pioneers hailed. Although they spoke different languages – the Serbians spoke Slovenian according to the census, and the Cincinnati Chili pioneers spoke Macedonian / Bulgarian.   But the bottom line is that they would have shared cultures, especially food, since they were all under the Turkish Ottoman empire before the Balkan wars. If the Kiradjieffs were a bit further north, they’d have been Kiradjskis, if the Topalskys would have been a bit south they’d have been Topaloffs.

The Barberton Serbian community centers around the Saints Peter and Paul Serbian Orthodox Church, like our Cincinnati Chili pioneers lives centered around the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. Oddly enough, before serving the Barberton Fried Chicken at their restaurant, Smilka Topalsky served chili. It would be interesting to see if the recipe had spices similar to our Cincinnati Chili with the cinnamon-y Turkish Baharat spice blend.

Its food of necessity of the Depression. So, Milka cut the chicken into six instead of our current four piece cuts – dividing the drum into leg and drummettes, and adding the usually discarded “back”, which is actually the ribs. The back was John Edge’s fave. He took a bucket home on the plane back to Mississippi to write about it.

Soon, the Barberton community opened up other chicken houses. Helen DeVore, who worked at Belgrade Gardens, opend Hopocan Gardens in 1946. The Pavkov family opened White House in 1950. In 1955 the Milich family opened Milich’s Village Inn.

The Food Network and other foodies have made the pilgrimage to Barberton and given it national renown. Today there are four Barberton Chicken houses that can be visited to taste this delicious Ohio immigrant food. I know a summer road trip that I’ll be taking this year!

The Number of Small Stripes is the Calling Card of the Candy Cane Maker

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A block of three small striped Doscher candy being winnowed down to candy cane diameter.

It’s that time of the year again where we’ll see boxes of candy canes lining the shelves.   Every year there’s a new weird flavor being introduced into the mass produced ones.  I’ve seen pickle, wasabi, and chicken gravy flavors this year.  But just like choosing your craft beer, you should know there are only a few makers who make candy canes completely by hand.  That means no mechanical help in pulling the sugar.   Craft makers use their own strength to pull the amber colored cooked sugar  on a wall mounted taffy hook, mixing in the red color,  and the flavor, which only goes in the white part.   We’re lucky to have one such craft candy cane maker, Dosher Candies, who has been making them the same way, and with the same machinery, nearly as long as they’ve been in business since 1870.   And I think Doscher’s are the best, shiniest and crunchiest on the market.

You may have never noticed, but craft candy canes have small stripes in between two large stripes.    Back in the day when every candy company made their own candy canes, the number of small stripes was the calling card of where it came from.  Some might have only one small stripe, while others, trying to show off, would have five and six small stripes in between each.    The more stripes a candy cane has, the more technique is involved and the harder they are to make.

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A three stripe candy cane block being inserted into the roller at Disney World.

Each stripe must be hand lain on the white block as its still warm, but less warm than the white block onto which it sticks.    The candy cane maker has to pull the white portion until the amber color becomes aerated to the right amount to give it a white sheen, all while mixing the flavors, like peppermint oil in.  Doscher’s has a vacuum machine that takes air out of the hot sugar before it is pulled and may be the secret to their signature crunch.   The maker also has to take out the right amount of white and color with red for the stripes.  Then the pattern they lay on must be consistent so the stripes are evenly spaced.    It’s a lost art that only a handful of makers across the country still perform, and you can watch them being made at Doscher’s.

Most candy makers use the three small stripes between two large stripes.  There is a story that whomever first started the three small stripes, who nobody can name, did it to symbolize the Holy Trinity, and used red to symbolize the blood of Christ.  This is most probably a delightful story a minister or priest used to illustrate for children.   Our Doscher’s uses this standard three small stripes between two large pattern.

Hammond’s Candy, in Denver, Colorado, which has over thirty flavors of candy canes, uses two small stripes between the large stripes.  Spangler Candy right here in Ohio uses four small stripes between two large.    Logan’s Candy in Ontario makes canes with five small stripes, the highest number of small stripes I have been able to find.

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Logan’s in Ontario demonstrating the making of their five small striped candy canes.

So this Christmas, if you haven’t already buy a box of Doscher’s hand made candy canes and taste the difference.

Our Thanksgiving Table Tells Tidbits of Regional History

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Last night we celebrated our large family Thanksgiving. Over the last decade or so, our
Thanksgiving has evolved to usually the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Hockey and soccer tournaments, as well as other sides of family Thanksgivings have been the culprit of this rescheduling. But what’s important is that we have a time when everyone can be together.

When I arrived with Grandma’s recipe oyster stuffing, my parents were huddled in the corner of my sister’s kitchen carving the smoked turkey. My sister was putting casseroles in her modern two zone oven, which my grandmothers would have killed to have.   I was bragging that I had my refrigerator ice maker connected that morning and would now have automated ice cubes for the first time in my life.

This meal was truly a group effort – everyone brought something to the table. There were eight sides in total along with the turkey, three pies and four total desserts. Some dishes were new to my sister’s inlaws, and to us, so it was a great fusion of two families. But as I thought about the bountiful spread, I realized each dish tells a story of regional and national history.

My sister’s mother-in-law Martha brought her well-loved green been casserole.    It is that mid century holiday dish created in 1955 by former Campbell’s soup Home Economics Department employee, Dorcas Reilly, to sell more cans of Creamed Mushroom Soup. Mrs. Reilly passed away this year at 94 years old. It was created from ingredients most Americans at the time had in their pantry and refrigerator– condensed soup, green beans, milk and canned fried onions. To many it’s just not the holidays without this dish. But Campbell’s is having a hard time these days. Millennials buy fresh, and the concept of buying condensed soup laden with sodium and other additives, and having to dilute it, does not compute. Campbell’s is in the process of reviewing all their soup ingredients and upgrading to the new norms of fresh and clean additives.

The oyster dressing that I brought is my maternal Grandmother’s recipe. Grandma made it for our Thanksgiving as far back as I can remember. Known also as Oyster Pie, it reflects the time when Cincinnati had numerous oyster houses all over downtown Cincinnati. There were so many oysters transported from Baltimore to Cincinnati before the Civil War that the stagecoach line from there to here was called the Oyster Line. The longest running Cincinnati Oyster house was Central Oyster House on 4th street, which operated from 1893 to 1974. Grandma and Grandpa and my parents used to talk about these wonderful oyster houses a lot.

One of our favorite dishes is my same Grandmother’s giblet stuffing recipe, that Ina Garten corrects us, is actually a savory bread pudding. This uses a gravy made from giblets and the neck of the turkey to flavor the dried bread crumbs. This dish reflects the days when Cincinnatians, like my Great Grandfather, who worked for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, would bring home live turkeys from their employers on the Cincinnati buses and streetcars. My Great Aunt Flora, his daughter worked for Proctor & Gamble, who handed out live turkeys to their nearly 600 employees from 1890 to about 1920. The turkey would be slaughtered in the backyard and every bit of it including the neck and giblets, would be used in the Thanksgiving meal. This was the first year actually that we didn’t share in eating the turkey neck before the meal, as my sister and brother-in-law purchased a super-delicious pre-smoked turkey.

There’s the corn pudding my mother makes, which is a recipe from the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. We went there on a vacation once to see the outdoor drama, The Stephen Foster Story, who was the Rock Star of antebellum America.   Foster  spent time working in Cincinnati, and wrote such American classics as Oh! Susanna, and My Old Kentucky Home.

There’s the strawberry bread recipe of my Aunt Betty’s, the oldest sibling and only sister of my Dad. Strawberries are certainly not in season in late Fall, but thanks to Clarence Birdseye, and later, General Foods, the technology of flash freezing veggies and fruits made it possible to use out of season varieties all year long. Companies, like Birdseye, produced cookbooks to help home economists use their frozen products. My Dad’s first job after he and mom married was with a division of Birdseye foods. The company had just released a new non dairy frozen whipped topping called Cool Whip, that Dad remembered selling like hot cakes to the retail chain distributors.

This year, my sister made homemade cranberry sauce. But what we usually have is the jiggly, polarizing, canned variety that my niece calls Canberries. Only about 26% of Americans make their own cranberry sauce. I am a huge fan of Canberries, but I’m always game to taste a new variety of homemade. My Grandmother used to make a mid century jello salad of canberries and pineapple, with a whipped topping and toasted pecans that was amazing. The two toned green jello salad with trapped canned pear halves used to make an appearance at our Thanksgiving table as well.

Finally, amongst a variety of sodas and liquors, Fresca, the grapefruit citrus soda, was at the drinks station. This was the favorite of my Grandpa Woellert, who later in life developed diabetes. It was actually the only soft drink he and millions of other diabetics could drink, because it was the first and only sugar free drink in America, when it was released by Coca-Cola in 1966. Originally flavored with cyclamates, which were banned by the FDA only three years later, it was then flavored with saccharin, and then Nutrasweet’s Aspartame, and finally Ace K (acesulfame potassium).

So, if you go through your family’s standard dishes, there are certainly wonderful histories that come along.

My Father’s Sandwiches

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I was at an event recently that sparked a childhood food memory. On the appetizer table, the hosts had graciously put food tags on each plate so people knew what they were sampling. A friend of mine came back to our table and said, “Dann, there is something on the table with a German-sounding name you need to translate for us.” It was a heaping plate of braunschweiger spread, or what us multi-generational Cincinnatians know it as – Bavarian Party Dip. For those of us watching our cholesterol, braunschweiger, or fatty chicken liver pate, is a bit outside of a normal staple, but I’ll always indulge when it steps into my chow path.
Most people talk about family recipes coming from the maternal line of their mom and grandmothers. But in my family there are several foods that come through the paternal line. One, that is now lamentably lost, was my Grandpa Woellert’s recipe for German Eierlikor, or German Eggnog. Now gone Aunts and Uncles, praised it as if it were the Holy Host. It was, in fact a connection to our paternal village in Germany, where Eierlikor is more common than lager. The other foods instilled by my paternal line are my father’s sandwiches. Early on as kids, my father gifted us an appreciation and the methods to prepare two of his favorite sandwiches – the smelly but delicious Limburger Cheese & Onion, and super-fatty Braunschweiger & Mayo.
But before I talk about the virtues of these sandwiches I have to talk about my father’s palate. My father has not had any professional culinary training. He’s not a pastry chef or a food stylist. But he is probably what is known in the food industry as a super taster. He developed or already has a particularly keen palate to detect spice levels and flavors in food. My father has a particular zen for listening to his palate and improving that which doesn’t hit the sweet spot. Much to my mother’s frustration, he was always adding more spice to her food at the table. But he likes what he likes.
He is indeed a pumpkin pie snob, and can detect trace levels of clove, and mace vs. nutmeg in the pies. He scoffs at contemporary makers who over-cinnamon the pies, and don’t balance the mace, ginger, cloves and cinnamon, like he says, my Grandfather’s (his father-in-law) pumpkin pie did beautifully. Pie tasting and discussion was something he bonded with Grandpa. He also appreciates sour and fishy umami, passing on his love for sardines and pickled herring. This was another connection to our paternal home village in northern Germany near the Baltic. The weird set of three creamed herring dips – white, brown, and red – at our early family Christmas celebrations was super-weird to us kids.
Not only does my father search out the best taste, he also has his own ideas of preparation of food. It always embarrassed us as kids when we’d go out to Frisch’s and Dad would order a Brawny Lad, which is a burger on rye bun with a slice of onion, but ask to have Swiss cheese and tartar sauce added, like the Swiss Miss sandwich had. It was like that scene when Harry Met Sally, where it takes her over two minutes to order a salad and apple pie a la mode. Any sauce must be on the side and her instructions on what to do with or without ice cream renders Harry silent for the first time in the movie.
My father also has a very specific way he orders his Skyline chili. He watches his carbs now, so he doesn’t go for the spaghetti of a three way, but makes sort of his own chili salad, ordered in three separate items. It’s very confusing, but the waitresses at his normal Skyline location know exactly what he means when he orders. They should have a name for it like the Roger-Way, and add it to the menu as a Keto diet item. I could go ad infinitum of the other weird things my father does in restaurants, like sprinkling parmesan cheese in his beer at pizza joints.
So, getting back to the sandwiches. The limburger cheese sandwich MUST be on rye bread. And not just any rye bread. Since Rubel’s is no longer available – the Holy Grail of Cincinnati rye breads in Dad’s opinion – he is always on a search for the best rye bread, which he says should include caraway, not just on the crust but the inside. The onion must be sliced thin, and implanted on the sandwich in full cross section, not in small pieces. No more than three slices of limburger cheese should go on the sandwich, and it should be warm, but not so hot that the cheese melts. That is achieved with a light toast of the rye bread, but not too toasted that its burnt, charred or out-crunches the crunch of the sweet Vidalia onion inside. My father’s sandwich does not call for any mustard or anything else. Its simplicity features the lovely taste of the limburger cheese. And the sandwich must be eaten while still warm. Oh, and I almost forgot, a sprinkling of black pepper on the onion before closing the sandwich.

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The second sandwich, the Braunschweiger & Mayo, can and usually is made with white bread. It can also be made on rye bread, but white is preferred. The bread must be lightly toasted, but not too toasted. That’s to help with the spreading of the particularly dense Cincinnati Braunschweiger. If you don’t lightly toast white bread, the density of the spread will damage the bread. Nowadays local meat markets sell braunschweiger presliced in ¼ slices, that can simply be mashed onto the bread, rather than spread. The bread should be cooled before spreading. You don’t want to warm the creamy braunschweiger. It should be spread at a thickness of about a quarter of an inch or maybe more. Then a sprinkling of salt and a light layer of mayo on top, before closing and cutting diagonally. Germans would add something pickled in between to help cut and digest the fattiness of the braunschweiger, but not in our sandwich.
Although not a part of my regular dietary routine, these two sandwiches will always be a reminder of my Dad and my childhood, and a connection to Cincinnati.

George Ast: The Cincinnati Candy Company That Spawned Three Mayors

George Ast Candy Company tins from the Schimpf Candy Museum.

Last Thursday was an event that I look forward to every year. It’s the Celebrity Genealogy Fundraiser for the Hyde Park Senior Center. My friend Mary has reserved a group table for some friends the last several years. My friend Deb Cyprich of the Hamilton County Genealogical Society emcees the event and does a majority of the research. It’s very much like Henry Louis Gates’ show Finding Your Roots on PBS and it’s amazing what stories they dig up.

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So this year the celebrity was former mayor Charlie Luken and his family, including his 92 year old mother, Shirley. The event almost didn’t happen if it weren’t for my cat like reflexes. My friend Amy was making a B-line to a plate of chocolate brownies at the dessert table before the event started. And, on her way she almost bowled over Dame Luken, the former First Lady of Cincinnati. Thankfully, I was there to stop what could have been a terrible collision and most probably a trip to the emergency room.

“She was in my blind spot!” Amy said, after she apologized to Dame Luken.

“Would you have felt good about your brownie if you bowled her over and she had broken her hip?” I asked.

“I still would have eaten the brownies. And, I would have made it look like you did it!” Amy said. The reality of friends you’ve known for over 25 years.

So Deb went through some great stories of Charlie’s paternal line. Then she got to Charlie’s maternal line. She traced his mother Shirley Ast Luken to her grandfather, George Ast. That name sounded very familiar to me. And then Deb brought up some pictures from my Cincinnati Candy book of the George Ast Candy Company, crediting my research on the candy company. The Schimpf Candy Museum in Indiana has two of their candy tins from the early 1900s,which they let me photograph for the book. One was a small tin of their fruit tablets, and another was a large tin with a smiling young girl, maybe one of the Ast daughters.

George Ast started his candy company in Cincinnati around 1900. They manufactured the St. Clair brand of hard candies, including a very popular horehound flavor. George was very active in the local Cincinnati Confectionery Association, and was very instrumental in the 1916 Candy Day in Cincinnati, which would be the precursor for Sweetest Day. When George died in 1923, the company passed along to his two sons Charles and Frank.

Charles was Shirley’s father. Shirley married Tom Luken, an up and coming politician who became Democratic Mayor of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1972. He influenced his older brother, James Luken, to also serve as mayor, which he did as a Democrat, from 1976 to 1977. Then, after Tom and Shirley’s son, Charlie graduated from Chase College of Law at UC, and served time on Cincinnati City Council, he became the first strong publicly elected mayor (before that, City Council elected the mayor). Charlie would serve several terms from 1984-1991, and again in from 1999-2005, when he would lead our city out of the horrible downtown riots in 2001, after the police shooting of unarmed,Timothy Thomas. Charlie was also a public figure as a newscaster on our local WLWT channel between terms as mayor. So what a cool story that a local candy maker, who helped to form the holiday of Sweetest Day, spawned three Cincinnati Mayors.

The funny thing was that I had found a great photo from the 1916 candy day when George Ast and a group of local candy makers presented a giant sucker to the Cincinnati City administration in jest, not knowing that George’s future son-in-law, and great grandson would be part of that administration.

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After the end of the program several other folks came up to me and said they were related to Cincinnati Candy makers. One was a descendant of the Mullane Company family. Another’s grandfather published the National Confectioners Journal, and another, the father of the Naked Cowboy, was related to the Fawn Confectionery Company. So, there’s apparently less than three degrees of separation in Cincinnati to a candy company!

 

 

 

Shillito’s Seven Hills Sandwich

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A close approximation of the Shillito’s Seven Hills Sandwich.

 

It has long been disputed which of the many hills are the Seven of Cincinnati. One of the earliest references lists 10. The Cincinnati Library has tired of how many times it gets asked this question, so recently answered for certain saying – “there are three ridges that surround the basin of the City of Cincinnati with a lot of different names!”

There’s also strong debate when the subject of the old Shillito’s Seven Hills Sandwich comes up of what it is NOT. It is most certainly not a sloppy joe or Manwich. It is also not a barbecue sandwich. What it seems to be closest to is a seasoned loosemeat sandwich, similar to the Maid Rite sandwich from Iowa, where the loosemeat was invented in the 1930s.   But, at the coffeeshop on the first floor of the Shillito’s department store at 7th and Race Streets, where it was served, they described it as a loose cheeseburger or a saucy ground beef sandwich. There’s also argument as to where exactly in the department store it was served. While some maintain that it was also served at the Shillito’s Tea Room, there are no menus that list it as an item at the tearoom. Since the café’s closure in the 80s, recipes have been reproduced in many different publications and local cookbooks.     The ones that include ketchup are vehemently denied as not authentic by loyal fans.

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The Seven Hills Sandwich was a loose ground beef that was seasoned with spices and cooked in bouillon, then scooped onto a cheddar bun, served plain or with a scoop of melted American cheese. It was not tomatoey like a barbecue sandwich and there were no visible onions or green peppers in the meat. The chunks of meat were larger balls, unlike a sloppy joe. Apparently the magic was the cheddar bun it was served on. These are hard to find today at local bakeries, but sometimes Servatti’s brings them back for a limited time. Kids got a plastic toothpick with a clown on top stabbed into their Seven Hills Sandwich.

The seasoning mix that made the sandwich was also sold at Shillito’s so the deliciousness could be made at home. But that company that made the spices is long out of business and the secret spice blend no longer available. Apparently for the diehard recipe rehabbers, a packet of Lipton’s beefy Onion soup mix , with added ground black pepper, comes close to the original spice blend.

The sandwich evokes Cincinnati’s Golden era of downtown shopping.   It was a time when suburbanites would make a day of it, especially during the holidays, get dressed to the nines, take a bus downtown and walk to and from the many department stores downtown. Most of the department stores like McAlpins, Pogues, and Mabely and Carew, had restaurants and tea rooms where you could take a break for lunch in between shopping and enjoy items like the Seven Hills Sandwich.    I remember the awesome Shillito’s Elves displays at Christmas.     A portion of that display was restored by a local Boy Scout troop and displayed up until last year, at a vacant storefront in downtown Mariemont.

I don’t know who has the secret to the spice blend, but there seems to be a niche market of fans that would love to buy the spice packet and recreate their younger days.