Consider What It Means to be German American in Cincinnati

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The tracht or traditional dress of Germans from the region of Westphalia in northwestern Germany.   Note the lack of lederhosen and dirndl.

I’m going to say it.   We’ve jumped the shark with Oktoberfest in America and regrettably in Cincinnati.   Every festival between the end of July and end of October is called Oktoberfest.   And it’s a formula .    Lager beer, brats, sauerkraut, cream puffs, and strudel.  If you’re lucky you’ll see schnitzel or sauerbraten dinners.     And goetta is the only authentic food in the mix, but then it’s put in sliders and egg rolls, and all  authenticity is taken away.     Embracing German as ONLY Bavarian is like an African-American not understanding the significance of red pop at Juneteenth.      We’re diluting our own Germanic history.    We pretend to celebrate our Germanic ancestry by presenting it all Bavarian.   Cincinnati Oktoberfest downtown might be the biggest in the U.S., but its the least authentic.    Donauschwaben’s and Kolping Society’s are the only authentic ones left.

We should take a cue from the Greek Americans of Cincinnati.   The Panegyri Greek Festival at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas is more than gyros and baklava.    There are over ten other pastries for sale other than baklava.   And each food booth has a sign describing what it is and its origin.    There’s even a cultural hall with exhibits that explains the history of the Greek people.   I think that is fantastic cultural preservation.

There are maybe more regional foods in Germany than in America.   What about including in our local festivals other Germanic foods like pickled herring, maltaschen (Swabian ravioli), frikadellen (north German meatballs), Gruetzwurst (grain sausages), German kale, spargel (white asparagus), schnapps and some of the thousands of regional dishes.      This is not to mention the beautiful world of regional German breads and pastries that are simply not represented by cream puffs or cherry strudel.

Liederhosen and lager.   Two decades after World War II, when we started having German Days again, the image of the drinking, polka dancing Bavarian in cute lederhosen and dirndl was the most acceptable image for Americans who fought and lost loved ones against the Germans.   As a result, we lost the celebration of the diversity of regional Germanism.   There was no Germany when most of our ancestors arrived in Cincinnati.   They were subjects of the King of Hanover, the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, or the Prince of Saxe-Coburg and others.

My relatives for example were subject to the Grossherzog of Mecklenburg and the Freiherr Maltzahn in Penzlin, an hour north of Berlin by train.   They had never seen schnitzel or lederhosen.   Their tracht was long coats and boots with fur hats.    The women wore embroidered skull caps and the girls wore what now could be described as huge jo-jo bows on their heads.   They drank more schnapps than beer, and pickled herring (matjes) and souljanka (fish soup) or Mecklenburger gruetzwurst.    Their Christmas gift bringers were Father Frost (not Santa or St. Nick) and the Snow Maiden.

There is thankfully, a small but growing revival of traditional and authentic regional German festivals in Greater Cincinnati.   A small group has brought back Santa’s evil twin, Krampus at Christkindlmarkts around town.   We can only hope for a Krampuslauf  (Krampus parade) for this year.   There’s now a Hubertsmesse or mass for St. Hubertus in Hamilton celebrated with a stuffed stag head like the Jaegermeister brand logo.   Donauschwaben celebrates the Kirchwieh, a festival for the dedication of a Catholic church with a specific mass and dance.   A new group of living historians called the Ninth Ohio is bringing back the history of German American involvement in the Civil War.   What about bringing back the Volksfests of pre World War I Cincinnati, where all the cultural dances and foods of the various regions of Germany were celebrated.    The Cincinnati Turnverein produced these Volkfests at Music Hall for nearly four decades.

There are also a growing number of small businesses staying true to traditional regional foods.    Tuba Baking in Covington is producing amazing laugenbrezels (traditional lye dipped pretzels).    Lubecker is makes the best schnitzel in Cincinnati and an awesome curry sauce.     More are popping up.  I’d rather see these foods at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, than a jambalaya booth.

It’s not that I don’t love the Bavarians or that I don’t enjoy wearing my lederhosen in public.   It’s not that I don’t respect the local cultural melting pot that created the Cincinnati Brat or that made goetta, a poor man’s food,  into a pop icon.  But we have the ability to bring more authenticity and history into our celebrations of German heritage, especially as internet and record digitization makes us understand more deeply who our Germanic ancestors were.    Why not make our festivals just a bit more authentic so that we don’t forget what our ancestors loved and left to create the wonderful lives that we now have in America.

 

 

From Carriages to Condiments: The REAL Story of Woeber Mustard

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We’re lucky to have a wonderful local Germanic mustard company in the Woeber Company of Springfield.   Their spicy mustard is a favorite of mine, and two of their brands have a legacy of being served alongside Cincinnati brats at Crosley Field and Great American Ballpark.  The company says one of those brands, Mr. Mustard, the one served at Crosley field and Great American, is turning 70 this year.   It’s actually turning 82!   They acquired it in 2008, but it was started by Cincinnati Company Frank’s Tea and Spice Company who also started Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

The company also says the founder was Carl Woeber, who immigrated from Germany in 1905 with a handful of family secret recipes to Springfield.    Well – both facts in that statement are ahem, not true.    Carl Woeber was born in Davenport, Iowa, and it was his father Aloysius Joseph Woeber who started the company.      The company story is a neat packaged one easy to tell for marketing purposes, but the true story is even more interesting.

Carl Woeber’s German family story actually starts in Cincinnati in 1840, when his great grandfather Aloysius Woeber, a Catholic blacksmith from Rhineish-Bavaria, came to Cincinnati in the earliest wave of Germanic immigrants.   They landed in Baltimore and came via Pittsburgh, like many of the Rhinish Bavarian immigrants.  He brought three sons Amandus, Gallen, and Adam, who he apprenticed in the blacksmith trade, his wife, and a daughter Lena.    They were members of the first German Catholic church in Cincinnati, Holy Trinity, where Amandus’s two daughters Mary and Margaret were baptized.    Remember Amandus, he’s where the mustard line emerges.

 

The original Woeber Carriage Works building left (1854) and right (1880) in Davenport, Iowa.

In 1853 Aloysius Sr. decides to uproot his family from Cincinnati and move West to the German town of Davenport, Iowa.   His three sons start the Woeber Carriage Works and build a stone factory that still exists today.    Aloysius Sr. dies in 1862, his wife in 1872.

In 1867, Amandus, the oldest brother bankrolls Adam to start a satellite carriage works, the A. Woeber Carriage works in Denver, Colorado Territory taking with him some workers and later, brother Gallen and his family.    The initial works was on 11th Street between Wazee and Walnut Streets.

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A Woeber carriage made in Colorado.

The Woeber brothers built everything from clunky ore wagons to the finest of carriages prized by Denver’s elite, but apparently their specialty was commercial wagons, including the ore wagons, delivery vans and wagons, and later, omnibuses. After Gallus died, in 1875, his son Charles William (c.1859-1888) became associated with the business.  Charles Woeber started building cars for railways about 1883 when  Woeber Brothers were contracted to build one of the most famous horse drawn trolleys in Colorado for the Southside Investment Company, the Cherrelyn Horse Car.  In 1884  they delivered six diminutive horse cars to the Denver City Railway Company for use on its Broadway extension.    Then in about 1890 they built a new plant to build streetcars, which Adam’s son Rudolph ran. Between 1898 and 1913, Woeber built all the cars owned by the Denver City Tramway Company. They also built cars for street railways in Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, Grand Junction, Pueblo and Trinidad, Colorado, as well as Salt Lake City Utah, Butte Montana, Galveston Texas and Salinas Kansas.

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A loving family portrait of Amandus Woeber’s brood in Davenport, Iowa.   Sebastian is in back to the left, Aloysius to the right.

Aloysius’ two oldest sisters Mary and Margaret were entrepreneurs and operated a dress making business in downtown Davenport.   It seems Sebastian was the favored brother amongst his sisters.    Every sibling is embracing or touching another except our Aloysius.   Note in the family photo above how fancy all the girls dresses are and that their mother is the only one with an elaborately embroidered brocade.    It’s also interesting to see that the only sister who seems not to be wearing a tight corset is the one in the center holding what looks like a Bible!

In a family of blacksmiths, cartwrights, and carriage makers, Aloysius Woeber wanted no part of it all.   He was one of two brothers and 10 sisters.    So it was probably important to his father Amandus to have both of his sons in business.   Although his brother Sebastian trained as a blacksmith and embraced the business, Aloysius didn’t even work for the Woeber Carriage Works alongside his uncles, cousins and other family members.    Clearly he had a passion for making mustard.    Imagine him creating mustards for the Woeber workers, family and friends to top their German sausages.   He was clearly a food artist, and perhaps not appreciated.    Where could he best display his mustard-making craft?

In 1905 Amandus Woeber dies and Aloysius, with his new inheritance, heads to Springfield, Ohio, with his wife and son, Carl, to start sell their own table condiments – mustard and horseradish products.   Why such a big move back East to Ohio, and Springfield, not Cincinnati, where they started?   Well, Springfield was a burgeoning manufacturing city, especially in the new automobile.   During the early 1900s, Springfield factories produced ten different types of automobiles. These included the Bramwell, Brenning, Foos, Frayer-Miller, Kelly Steam, Russell-Springfield and Westcott. Remaining true to this automotive tradition, the city’s largest employer today is Navistar International, a producer of buses and trucks.   Perhaps Aloysius had connections to one of these car manufacturers through the family business and heard about Springfield’s opportunities.

Aloysius Woeber dies in 1912, and his son Carl takes over the mustard business, growing it and passing it to his son.      The business has survived over 100 years and four family generations, expanded its brands, and even expanded into China.    Recently, French celebrity chef Eric Ripert, friend of Anthony Bourdain, lauded Woeber’s as his favorite American mustard.      But it all started in a small blacksmith and carriage shop in Cincinnati’s Germanic immigrant community.

The Balkan Salsa Family Tree

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A couple of Balkan eggplant salsas from Mariana’s Russian Deli in Montgomery that are part of the adjvar family tree.

About a year ago I met my first pureed veggie dip belonging to a large family of Balkan salsas.    It’s called Adjvar, and it’s your starting point for a whole new world of savory veggie salsas that are amazing.   I’ve been on a journey since then and have tasted numerous versions of it I’ve found locally.   Adjvar is the primary condiment of the Balkan world – in all the countries who use the Cyrillic alphabet – Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Russia, Armenia, and Georgia (a state of the former USSR, not where peaches are grown).   It’s basically their ketchup.    Topped on the national sausage of Serbia, czevapi, tucked inside a fresh roll, you might call it the Balkan Chili Dog.

I first found it on the shelves in the Macedonian section of Jungle Jim’s Market.    When I sampled it I fell in love.   It’s a delicious vegetable puree that starts with sweet peppers called Roga in the Balkans, and Bull’s Horn sweet peppers elsewhere.   The kind grown in the Balkans develop a flavor from the terroir that’s unparalleled elsewhere.  And there are numerous regional variations with onions, peppers, mushrooms, beets, and eggplant and a host of other spices.

One of the offshoots of adjvar that I fell in love with is one that uses eggplant as the predominant veggie.    It’s very similar to its Mediterranean cousin caponata, but it doesn’t contain capers like the Italian coponata or the Sicilian coponata that has green olives.    My sister served a Macedonian version of the eggplant salsa at a party recently and her Italian friend from New York said, “Oh this is like caponata!”   It’s also a cousin to Turkish/Labanese baba ganoush, but the eggplant is not smoked, and it usually has many other ingredients than just eggplant and garlic.

Some don’t like the texture of eggplant, but I am a huge fan.  I do find that these salsas are better when served colder than room temperature, as the polarizing texture of eggplant is more pronounced as it is warmer.

It’s called Kyopolou in Bulgaria and Turkey.  If it’s spicy its called Lutenicka.   Pindjur is the version from Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia.   Romania has its Zacuska, with eggplant, onions, tomato paste, roasted red peppers and a combo of mushrooms, carrots, or celery (apparently the Balkan trifecta).   In Georgia its called Badrijnis Khizilala if it has pomegranate, and if it has ground walnut its called Badrijnis Nigvzit.

I’ve found these delish Balkan eggplant salsas at a variety of places in Cincinnati.   CAM’s Asian Market in Sharonville carried the Garden Style brand, which has the descriptions in English.   Mariana’s Russian Deli at Harper’s Point in Montgomery carries the most varieties from  Russia, Croatia, Serbia, and Georgia.    They even have a version that’s predominantly mushrooms, which is another category I must explore.   But you are relegated to the pics of ingredients on the front label to figure out what kind it is, unless you have a master’s in Cyrillic.     And, Mariana’s English is not very good, so its a game of Scategories and Pictionary to figure out what you’re buying.   Luckily I have an open mind and a curious palate.  Dean’s Mediterranean in Findlay Market has a few of the Macedonian versions in a pinch.

It’s so good, I have eaten it straight out of the jar, but they’re also great baked on flatbreads or as a pizza, as chips and salsa, or as a meat accompaniment or on sandwiches.     I hope to become good enough to recognize what region each comes from by the taste variations.   For now, I’m enjoying the tasting journey!

 

Cincinnati’s Newest Wurst for Its Oldest Festival

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This weekend opens the German festival season.   Schutzenfest, Cincinnati’s oldest running festival opens tonight at 7 PM with a keg tapping at its headquarters, the Kolping Society grounds in Springfield Township.     Men in lederhosen will be carrying loaded rifles and steins of beer, and there will be good German music and great food.    And, Kolping has in my opinion the best selection of German import beers on tap in the city.   It’s all a recipe for a great time.

One of the new foods this year, in addition to three goetta items, is the WunderWurst, which sounds completely Wunderbar!   It’s the Schutzenwurst, made specially for Kolping by Wassler Meats on the West Side, stuffed  into a special toasted bun – resembling a spit-roasted Baumkucken – made by Servatii’s German bakery.    I spoke to Mike Wassler yesterday and he says the sausage is all pork, spiced with cayenne, paprika, marjoram and black pepper, stuffed into a natural casing.   For a limited time, you can get the Schutzenwurst at Wasslers outside of Kolping’s festival.

There is a long history of the Schutzenwurst in lower Baden and the northwestern Cantons of Switzerland.  Although there, it resembles the Swiss national sausage, Cervalat, which is both pork and beef, and not all pork like Wassler’s Schutzenwurst.  The Schutzenwurst of southwestern Germany resembles the St. Gallen Stumpen the most.   It is pork, beef, veal, and pork rind, with onion and spiced with pepper nutmeg, and ginger.   And wrapping a sausage in a pastry is a long traditional streetfood across Germany.

Call it a German pig-in-a-blanket, or another version of the Texas-Czeck koblasnik.     Whatever you call it, I’m interested in tasting it, while watching folks shoot up a carved wooden eagle.     Maybe they even have some curry ketchup around for a WunderWurst dipping sauce.  Now we just have to get Kolping to buy a Baumkucken spit roaster for next year so they can have both sweet and savory filled Baumkucken.

 

Two New Local Potato Chip Flavors I’m Into

Summer is the time where bowls of potato chips show up poolside and at cookouts and picnics.   In Cincinnati we’re blessed with two long term local potato chip companies, Grippos and Husman.  And, if you’re from the north near Dayton, you have a love affair with Mike Sells.     There’s a newer chip based in Over-the-Rhine called Hen of the Woods, but they’re manufactured in Indiana.

What a lot of people don’t know about Ohio potato chips is that Ohio is second only to Pennsylvania in its number of independent chip companies. As of 2017, Ohio has 9 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, and Mumford in Urbana (1932),  Both Herr’s and Frito Lay, which operate out of the state, have chip making plants in Ohio.

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I have to say I’m a bit behind in my local potato chip game, because the two new local flavors that I am in love with have both been out in the market for over a year.

Now enter Kroger’s house brand of potato chips into the mix.     They are private labeled by another company, because although Kroger has 38 plants throughout the country none of them is a potato chip plant, which requires special frying and processing equipment.    At a picnic this spring I was introduced to the flavor Prime Rib and Horseradish that they released in Fall of 2017.   Now I’ll say my expectations with a meat flavored chip were not high.  Most of the time artificial meat flavoring attempts are a big fail.   A perfect example are the pepperoni flavored combos, which have a neon red paste in the center with an unnatural taste.

But the Kroger chip is insanely good!    First you get a taste of mild horseradish, ,not a punch you in the nose, nostril–hair-burning hit like you can with horseradish.   That then fades into a nice savory meat flavor, like meat drippings or gravy, and ends on a mild oniony note.   They’re gluten free, trans fat free, and actually for their portion size have a fairly low carb count.    I highly recommend giving them a try at your next BBQ.

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The next flavor, which I was introduced to yesterday by a coworker are the new Carolina Classic Grippos BBQ chips.    While Grippos has introduced a few new snack products in the last decade, like their barbecue cheese nibs, they haven’t introduced a new potato chip in maybe 20 plus years, so this is groudbreaking and exciting!  The Carolina Classic chip was introduced in November 2018, and are made in Cincinnati at the Grippos plant on Colerain Avenue.   I have always loved the salty spicy and sweet Grippos Barbecue chip.   I’ve even used the dry salt spice in other cooking.   But this new chip takes the Grippos barbecue to a new level by adding vinegar to the mix, like the Carolina vinegar barbecue sauce.   It add a third note of tangy to the sweet and spicy, and it feels like they use less of the salty coating, which is a good thing.     My coworker agrees that the vinegar makes these easier to eat an entire bag at one sitting.

 

Haberstumpf Gardens: Steak, Schmierkase, and Shooting Ranges

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Over the weekend I was introduced to the best view of Cincinnati from the top of Mt. Echo Park in Price Hill.   It’s an amazing view that encompasses the entire bend in the river from Ludlow, Kentucky all the way up to Clifton and East Walnut Hills.   How I had never been here is beyond comprehension.   There’s a near duplicate pavilion as the one in Mt. Alms Park up the street from me.

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At the overlook is an historic sign with descriptions of early Price Hill sites.   It describes one:  “A popular beer garden once occupied the northeast corner of Glenway and Rutledge Avenues (in West Price Hill).   One of Haberstumpf Gardens’ most popular features was the shooting park in the rear, where marksman strove for title “King of the Schuetzenfest.”

I thought it was interesting for several reasons.  The first was that this weekend is Schutzenfest at Kolping Grove in Springfield Township, a festival dating back over 100 years through the Cincinnati Schutzenverein.     The second was that I had heard of Haberstumpf’s before in talking to Drew Rath, owner of Tuba Baking Company. It was the business of his great great grandfather, John H. Haberstumpf who operated it , with help from his son Andrew, from about the mid 1880s to its closure in 1928.

John Haberstumpf immigrated from Germany in the 1870s, married and got his feet wet operating a café in downtown Cincinnati in the 1000 block of Main Street.   Then in the late 1880s, he sold the elegant bar fixtures, and his inventory of wines, liquor and cigars and moved to a larger lot at the end of the Warsaw Avenue streetcar line – which came up from the Price Hill Incline – and Rutledge.    His resort included a bar and café with three bowling alleys, a dance hall, a beer garden – where many fraternal organizations and families held picnics, and an outdoor shooting range, whose gardens are still there, according to Google maps.     Elaborate Sunday concerts were led by German cornetist Herman Belstedt.

Price Hill was home to three shooting societies at the time – the Forester Shooting Club, and Price Hill Shooting Clubs 1, 2, and 3, that all competed against many other neighborhood shooting clubs around the turn of the last century.     So, in addition to the coveted Koenig of Schuetzenfest at the Cincinnati Schutzenverein, there was the same prestigious title at Haberstumpf’s Shooting Range.

German Kegel or nine pin bowling was also a popular sport at Haberstumpf’s.  Teams like the All Rights, Rough Riders, and the Independents of Haberstumpf’s competed against teams like the Westwood Silver Stars.

 

Bowlers from Haberstumpf’s competed for medals like the Highest Average Bowler in Hamilton County.

Last but certainly not least was the good German food served at Haberstumpf’s.   Many families and professional societies held their picnics here.    The small Serbian community of Cincinnati in the 1910s held their annual Jagnyetiji Rucsak, or sheep barbecue there.   Haberstumpf’s advertised their famous steak and chicken dinners, as well as their schmierkase or schmier cheese, a type of spreadable cheese similar to German quark, a cream cheese with the texture of ricotta.   It falls into what I’m finding is a growing historical lexicon of the German cheese dips of the West Side  – like the huttenkase mit schnitlock at Klawitter’s in Delhi.

The Difference Between Minster and Cincinnati Turtle Soup is in the Beer, And the Meat!

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I recently motored to Minster, Ohio, for a followup on grits – a first cousin to our goetta.   It’s just like goetta, only without onions.    It can now only be found at Wagner’s IGA in town.  Minster was originally called Stallotown, founded in 1832 by a group of Catholic German immigrants from the parish of Damme near Oldenburg – in the heart of goetta country – who came first to Cincinnati.

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The Wagner Family of Minster, Ohio, who make the oldest recipe of German grits.

Their twin spired church of St. Augustine in Minster was the second church built in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (which then encompassed five wilderness states).     You can see a very old religious image atop the altar- that of drinking stags – a symbol of the Creator.   This image is very common in church art in the area of Oldenburg and other churches in goetta country in northwestern Germany.     The same image exists at Holy Family in Dayton and St. William’s in Price Hill.    Both were decorated by Gerhard Lamers, a painter from Goetta Country in Northwestern Germany.

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The Drinking Stags image over the high altar at St. Augustine’s German Catholic Church in Minster, Ohio.

So, I went to the wonderful Minster Historical Society and had a chat with their amazing Executive Director, the hilarious and knowledgeable Mary Oldiges.   She’s originally a member of the Woehrmyer family, which owned a butcher shop and made one of the most beloved and missed versions of  Minster grits.   While talking grits I learned from Mary of another local German delicacy – Minster Turtle Soup.     They have a great display of their local Wooden Shoe Brewery in which they display an ad for Wooden Shoe Turtle Soup.

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The Woehrmyer family of Minster, Ohio, posing at a 1950s Schlachfest or Butchering, holding their blutwurst (blood sausage), summer sausage, hamhocks, grits, and Wooden Shoe Beer.  Courtesy of the Minster Historical Society.

Mary says that that secret to a good turtle soup is using a good German lager, like Wooden Shoe, which is sadly no longer made.     Wooden Shoe Turtle Soup used Wooden Shoe beer, but it was made by the Minster Canning Company, owned by Luke Beckman and Lewis Gast, from 1943 until they closed.    The pair also owned Beckman’s Turtle Soup, made in their Circleville, Ohio, canning facility, and canned and distributed Schnell’s Turtle Soup.   It was turtle soup that carried the business through the tough times of the Depression.     The Beckman and Gast Co. was the Minster version of our Worthmore and Stegner companies, the two largest makers of Cincinnati Mock Turtle Soup.  In the 1950s the Beckman and Gast Co. was the largest producer of turtle soup in the country.     In Cincinnati we made only mock turtle soup, with beef, so we were the largest producer of mock turtle soup in the country.    Mock Turtle soup in Cincy might have been the invention of thrifty meat packers to use everything but the mooo, because early versions of Mock Turtle Soup are said to have included beef brains.

Cincinnati mock turtle soup has a more sour and tangy flavor than Minster turtle soup, because instead of German lager beer, it uses a good apple cider vinegar as its acid.  It also uses a large amount of hard boiled eggs, chopped fine with the meat.

In Minster turtle soup was often called ‘Friday chili’.   That was because as a soup that used amphibious and thus ‘non-meat’ it could serve as a Friday fast food.    Cincinnati’s Mock Turtle Soup uses beef, so it could not be eaten on a Friday during the Lenten fast, or during the meatless Fridays of pre-Vatican II.

Minster Turtle Soup even comes with its own limerick:

I knew Wooden Shoe made beer,
But look at this label right here.
It says soup from turtle
Clears the meatless hurdle
And your Lent observance is clear.

If you’re into German food and German history, Minster, Ohio is a great day trip from Cincinnati.   The best time to go is the first weekend of October for their annual Oktoberfest.      Make sure you get to see the inside of the beautiful St. Augustine Church, buy some Minster Grits at Wagner’s IGA, and taste some Minster Turtle Soup, maybe at the festival or at the Wooden Shoe Inn.