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.
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.
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.
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.