One of the things about the Greek community in Southwest Ohio is their strong influence in the food culture of the area. The Macedonian-Greeks founded the Cincinnati Chili industry. The Spartan-Greeks dominated the Ice Cream and Candy business – ala Papas Opera Creams and Aglamesis Ice Cream.
Middletown too had a large Greek population, with its steel mills that provided good stable jobs to newly arrived Balkan immigrants. The Revelos Brothers of Elite Confectionery in Middletown taught many Cincinnati Greek candy families the craft.
There was one Middletown restaurant, called the Liberty Restaurant or Liberty Chili Parlor that served Cincinnati style Greek chili until recently. The restaurant was founded in 1925 by newly arrived Crete immigrants Gus Anthony Valen (1898-1976) (originally Valenike) and his bride Irene Tekakis. They had so much demand at their restaurant from the steel mill and factories in Middletown, they would butcher their own animals in the basement and use every bit to serve their customers.
Later in the game, they would develop their own Greek style chili, and serve it Cincinnati style in 3 ways, 4 ways and cheese coneys. Even though there was connection between Cincy and Middletown’s Greeks, and Empress was founded several years earlier in 1922, it’s not known how the Cincinnati chili recipe and whose recipe made it to the Liberty.
But one other thing the Liberty Chili parlor was known for was their raisin pie, probably a recipe carried over in the head of Irene Tekakis Valen. And it may have been served ala mode alongside a scoop of Elite Ice Cream, made locally by the Greek Revelos brothers.
Gus Valen and his wife were founding members of the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Middletown, for whom Gus was a President. Like the St. Nicholas/Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, they hold an annual Panegyri Festival. He also served as president of the local AHEPA chapter, and sold war bonds during World War II, as many patriotic Greeks did. There were three Liberty Chili Parlors at the time in Southwest Ohio – one in Middletown, one in Northside, and one across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky. The Greeks wanted to show how committed they were to their newly adopted country.
Gus’s daughter Despina married James Sakelos of Cincinnati, whose family ran the Sakelos Confectionery, one of the many Greek family owned candy shops in the city.
A few years ago a Middletown native posted the below recipe for Raisin Pie, that has been verified as the raisin pie recipe of Liberty Chili from a relative of the Valens:
Granny’s Old-Fashioned Raisin Pie
2 1/2 cups raisins
1 ½ cup of water and ½ cup of dark rum as per granny
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 double unbaked pie crust for 9 inch pie pan
Combine raisins and water and boil for 5 minutes.
( I poured the boiling water and rum mixture over the raisins in a covered dish and let the raisins soak up this wonderful boozie mixture for several hours then reheated and continued to next step)
Blend sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt.
Add to raisin liquid and cook, stirring until clear.
Remove from heat.
Stir in vinegar and butter. Cool slightly. Turn into pastry-lined pan.
Cover with top pastry cut several vents in top. vcm: brush with egg wash
Bake at 425 F about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
Makes 1 pie (8 servings).
Vivian Combs Moon