Uncle Joe Siefert: Cincinnati’s Most Colorful Ives Grape Grower



Historians love a character and I found one in Uncle Joe Siefert, an German immigrant who was one of our most interesting growers of the Ives Grape.   If there were a German Page 6  of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Uncle Joe would be in it every week.  People would have asked “What did Uncle Joe do this weekend?”   If there was a party people would ask, “Was Uncle Joe there?’   Joe was a big man – and by big I mean over 300 pounds – and a Renaissance man.   He was a civic-minded, family man who served in public office, a philanthropist and fundraiser, a joiner of clubs and organizations, a winegrower and winemaker, and a good friend and a hardy partier.

The cool thing about Joe in relation to Cincinnati wine is that he exhibits both the early days of it, and the latter days.     Although Joseph Seifert (1810-1894) grew up in Baden-Wurtemburg wine country in the town of Ettinburg, in Waldburg, about 6 miles from the Rhine River, he wasn’t a winemaker by trade.   His dad had been a gunsmith, but died at an early age and Joe was apprenticed to a stone mason at age 11.    A few years later he was drafted into the army, where he served 3 years, before escaping to the U.S.   He landed in Baltimore, then walked to Pittsburgh, then to Wheeling, Virginia (no West at that time) and then to Cincinnati where he arrived with only $4 in his pocket.   That same day Joe got a job as a mason, and a year later he had his own contracting company with over 150 German stonemasons working for him.  It was during this contracting that he earned the nicknames “Uncle Joe” and “Honest Old Joe.”


We see the amazing lager cellars and beer tunnels of our city and wonder what type of men built these amazing structures before power tools and backhoes.    It was Uncle Joe and his crews of sturdy Germanic men.    Starting in 1847, Joe and his crew built some amazing structures in Cincinnati including Nicholas Longworth’s Wine House on the hill leading up to Mt. Adams.  The extensive structure had three subbasement cellars and was four stories tall above ground.    Joe also built the first pretzel oven in the city, the old Mayor’s Office at Hammond and 4th streets, the first three gas tanks for the city, the Little Miami Train Depot, and many other buildings.

Joe and his wife Elizabeth Brossner and their ten children lived in Cincinnati’s 10th ward on 12th street.   But they also owned a 65 acre farm in the northwest Cincinnati’s Germanic farm hamlet of Weisenburgh, which would be renamed Monfort Heights.    Many other German winegrowers like Charles Reemelin, had a house in the city and a farm in the West Side.   The Siefert’s farm was at the corner of Burnt School Road (later renamed Cheviot Road) and Lincoln Avenue.   On this farm, Joe had a vineyard of Catawba, Ives, Concord, and Minor’s seedling grapes, and a grove of plum trees imported from Germany.   When he hosted the Cincinnati winemakers Association at his Monfort Heights farm in 1871, they commented how healthy his vines, especially his Catawbas looked that season.   This is significant since most of the Catawba growers in Cincinnati had experienced major rot and failure in 1863 and many gave up or pulled up their Catawbas for other grapes.    So, this indicates Joe had a pretty good working knowledge of grape growing.   The fact that he was growing Ives, Concord and Minor’s seedling grapes, which were newer more resistant grapes appropriate for weird Cincinnati weather, also indicates he was tuned into the times and was in-it-to-win-it in local winemaking.     The majority of other Ives growers were in Indian Hill, Madisonville, and Plainville on the East Side of Cincinnati, so Joe was the furthest grower of Ives in Greater Cincinnati.

When Nicholas Longworth told Joe he would give away the best farm in Cincinnati to whomever came up with a pesticide to cure mold on plum trees , his son Charles, also a big man weighing in at over 300 pounds, began experimenting to find the cure.   He spent 12 years perfecting a cure for this curcullo, which included syringing the trees with a drugged liquid and dusting the foliage via a poled-sieve with superphospahte.    He would write a pamphlet about this method.   But Charles would inherit the best and most prolific farm in Cincinnati, anyway, his father’s which he would work on over 65 years.

Joe was famous for a cocktail he invented which he called “lemonade without water.”   It was a sweetened combination of lemon juice, lemon peel and his own house made Ives wine as the “water” which he apparently carried around with him to events and shared with whomever would drink it with him.    This was mentioned in Cincinnati papers more than just a couple of times.  Maybe this was the secret tonic for Joe’s longevity as he lived to be 80 in a time where the average lifespan of a man was much fewer years.  Joe was a carrier of German ‘gemutlichkeit’ wherever he went.   Making Ives wine was tricky because the grapes turned purple five weeks before they were actually ripe enough for wine.   If you picked them too early and made wine, the result would be super sour and acidic.   When you waited the proper time they made a mild but flavorful acidic white wine similar to a German Riesling, that could be fortified or sweetened.

Uncle Joe really served his community.   During the Civil War when poor men were being drafted against their will, he raised $11,000 in a day to save the men in his ward who needed to work to support their families.     But during the Kirby Smith raid he was Captain for a local volunteer militia company.

Uncle Joe Seifert has a long list of other civil service.   He was City Councilman for the 10th ward for nine years and was suggested to run for mayor because of his popularity.   He was a member of the Humane Society, the Director for Longview Asylum for 7 years, a member of the Soldier’s Relief Fund, President of the German Pioneer Society,  member of the City Infirmary Board and the Chairman of the sewage commission.  He was an active member of St. James Catholic Church in White Oak, where he was buried, of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society and the American Winegrowers Association, formed in Cincinnati.

Another interesting story appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1884.   It appears Joe’s house was right across the street from a bordello run by three local Germanic prostitutes, Lena Meyer, Emma Kister, and Sophia Lister.


He and his family are buried under a monument written in German script and the anchor symbol of the Sacred Heart in St. James White Oak’s German cemetery section.


Don’t Mess with Moxie – America’s Oldest Soda Brand


The Moxie Man, created as mascot by the Moxie Cola Company in the 1910s, when it outsold Coca-Cola.

As a product manager, I live in the world of brand equity.   I am right in the middle of a new product branding project.    I have been lucky in my career to have a few brand creations and industry terms that have stuck and created such equity.  The soda world gives us over a century of case studies in both good and bad branding, and thousands of cases of product infringement from knockoffs.   Coca-Cola, who has the world’s largest marketing spend, has case studies in all of the above – most notably the New Coke debacle.

American sodas were an industry that began largely in the South during Reconstruction.  But the oldest continually operating cola brand Moxie, (second oldest soft drink brand to Vernor’s Ginger Ale) is a Yankee invention.   And although it’s brand equity today is fairly small and not known to most outside its cult following of the northeast, it at one time outsold Coca-Cola, and is probably the most unique flavored soda in the U.S.


Augustin Thompson, a native of Maine and Civil War veteran – created Moxie in 1876 – about ten years before Coke – as a restorative tonic in Lowell, Massachusetts.   Most soft drinks were made originally as health tonics by doctors and pharmacists, and thus why sodas are still referred to this day in New England as tonics.   This unique pop was patented as Moxie Nerve Food and claimed to aid digestion and cure things like insomnia and ED.   Thompson was a medical doctor who brewed up a mixture of Gentian root extract, cinchona, sassafras, caramel and other flavorings.   The gentian root – a South American medicinal – gives the soda its signature bitter aftertaste that some love and some despise.   It’s been compared to Dr. Pepper, burnt rubber, rust and battery acid.   Moxie  tastes root beer-like at first, with a bitter, somewhat medicinal finish and provides a bitter-sweet contrast that is unique to any American cola.

Thompson expanded his Nerve Food to a beverage soft drink and bottled it in 1884 – the date still printed on every Moxie container.  Thompson brought Moxie to the St. Louis World Fair in 1904 where it was a huge it.  After Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed, Moxie Nerve Food became simply Moxie and no more health claims were allowed.    The 1906 act also made Coca-Cola remove all traces of cocaine.

Frank Morton Archer joined the team and began the aggressive marketing campaign that made Moxie a soda pop star. He sent eight-foot model bottles around the country pulled by horses or trucks, and they visited more than 40,000 towns. The drivers were nicknamed Moxie Men.   In 1916, Archer came up with an advertising idea that he called the Moxie Horsemobile: He mounted a dummy horse onto a car chassis and fixed the controls to enable the driver to sit in the saddle and operate the automobile. Everywhere they went, crowds appeared and followed the Moxie Man in the “Moxiemobile”. Within four years of the invention of the Moxiemobile, Moxie was outselling Coca-Cola. Even to this day, the Moxie Man appears on every Moxie label.

Moxie’s advertising played up the drink’s bitterness. They said “It’s the drink for those who are at all particular” and “What this country needs is plenty of Moxie”. The name began to be imitated by Proxie, Noxall, Modox, Rixie, Noxie, No-Tox, and Toxie soft drink companies. Frank Archer added a Moxie Song, celebrity endorsements, and more advertising and the company grew.

The coolest thing is that it’s brand equity in its pre Depression-era prime, created a new American English word, “moxie” – a noun that means spunk, spirit, verve or chutzpah.   It was used to describe the character the Great Gatsby .   It has cemented itself in New England’s  pop culture.   There is an annual Moxie Chugging Contest in July, and Moxie festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine, where it is also the Official State Drink.   It was the favorite soft drink of President Calvin Coolidge, who toasted his presidency with Moxie cola – what a brand endorsement!


President Calvin Coolidge toasting and endorsing Moxie during his presidency.


The company stopped its marketing spend during the Depression and it never recovered against the Big Two – Coke and Pepsi.   It was marketed as a drink alongside the iconic dishes of New England like lobster sandwiches and steamed clams.  And, Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams endorsed the product, and the company even made a Ted’s Root Beer, named after him for a while in the 1950s.

Chefs love Moxie as an ingredient.   It has long been used to make Moxie Beans, a take on the Boston Baked Bean.   It’s bitter aftertaste makes it great to cut through fats and thus a glaze on meats like shortribs, pork belly, and chicken wings.    Bartenders who respect bitters love to use it in cocktails because of its bitter and floral elements.   It even makes the most unique ice cream float.

After the first diet cola, was introduced in 1959, Moxie became one of the first to introduce its sugar-free Diet Moxie in 1962.   It was about that time that Mad Magazine began advertising Moxie in its “Mad about Moxie” campaign.


Coca-Cola bought the brand in 2018 from Atlanta, Georgia NuGrape and it put New Englanders in an uproar.     They all feared that Coke would change the formula and they campaigned, “Don’t Mess with Moxie.”   But why would Coca-Cola mess with such a rich history and deep brand equity?   They have much more important brand wars to fight with Pepsi!


Architectural Remnants of The West End’s Tim Austin Champ Steakburger


One of the frustrating things about food writing is that there is not a huge paper history trail of African-American owned restaurants. Many catered to their small segregated neighborhoods, and never made the news of the large mainstream newspapers. That relegates research to interviews and oral histories and many of those have been lost too. But these restaurants were important community centers for the neighborhoods they served They were meeting places, refuge and cafeteria. In many cases the proprietors of these businesses served as de facto parents, grandparents or big brothers and sisters to the younger members of the community


Remnants of one of those restaurants are displayed in the West End of Cincinnati. A sign hangs from a boarded up building that apparently used to be one of these small community barbecue restaurants. Along with Coca-Cola, the sign advertises Mom Bell’s Kitchen and its signature menu item – barbecue. It hangs above the cast iron storefront of an 1890s Italianate building. In the transom window spaces of that storefront are hand painted signs of some of the popular menu items.

One of those items is called the Tim Austin Champ’s Steak Burger. The sign shows a hearty patty on a sesame seed bun with melted cheddar cheese, onions, tomato pickles and lettuce. Two boxing gloves hang from either side of the burger image, letting us know what kind of champ Austin was.

Tim Austin celebrates winning

Tim Austin, known as the “Cincinnati Kid” was a boxer who grew up in the neighborhood and had an outstanding career as a boxer with 113 wins and only 9 losses. His successes in his boxing career were a message to the youth of the community that you could become successful if you put hard work and focus to something. And this message was cemented when his success turned into a popular neighborhood hamburger.

Austin’s first title was the Golden Gloves National Champion as a flyweight in 1990, which he followed up with in 1991. He represented the US in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he received the bronze medal after being defeated Cuban flyweight, Raul Gonzalez. He won the International Boxing Federation’s Bantam weight Champion title in 1997 by Mbulelo Botile, and defended that title against nine boxers until his defeat in 2003. Austin retired from boxing, but became a coach at the golden Gloves Gym in Cincinnati.

Tim Austin had been trained and guided early on at the Queen City Gym on Findlay, supported and started by our Pizza King Buddy LaRosa, who boxed for a short time before playing football at Roger Bacon High School.

Cincinnati had been a boxing town since the 1880s, popularized by the Cincinnati Turners, a German sport and social club who taught boxing as a form of physical exercise and sponsored fights. One of the Cumminsville Turner physical instructors, August Gulow, Jr., became the fitness instructor for the Cincinnati Police force and taught them boxing as a means of self defense. Boxing matches were staged at public places like Pike’s Opera House and the Chester Park Clubhouse in Winton Place. And, boxing was probably the first racially integrated sport in Cincinnati and in the U.S.

There’s little information on who Mom Bell was and how long her restaurant served the Over-the-Rhine and West End neighborhoods. But clearly at the time in the 1990s when it was open, Tim Austin was a figure of whom the neighborhood was proud. This is the only known hamburger in Greater Cincinnati named after a champion boxer.

Ohio’s Connection to Two Living Aunt Jemimas


One of the several travelling Aunt Jemimas who promoted the brand on the road.

Yesterday, PepsiCo, the parent company of Quaker Oats, announced that after 131 years, the name Aunt Jemima and her brand logo are retiring along with the slave mammy stereotype they represent. The company announced the move Wednesday morning that the syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and logo. “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” the company said in a press release.

I remember the Aunt Jemima breakfast club as a kid.  I also remember the mammies in checkered gingham made from old bottles that both of my grandmothers used as caddies for their sewing accessories.

The image of Aunt Jemima has been changed in the past. Her current image, without the traditional slave tignon, turban-like head wrap, is supposed to embody a ‘working grandmother.’ The problem is that the name still evokes a racial stereotype. The Aunt Jemima character was based on Nancy Green who was a “storyteller, cook and missionary worker.” Slaveholding families referred to their older female slaves as Aunts or Anties. The actual name Aunt Jemima comes from the American minstrel show tradition, where she was a character. Ad entrepreneur James Webb Young, aided by celebrated illustrator N.C. Wyeth, skillfully tapped into nostalgic 1920s perceptions of the South as a culture of white leisure and black labor. Aunt Jemima’s ready-mixed products offered middle-class housewives the next best thing to a black servant: a “slave in a box” that conjured up romantic images of not only the food but also the social hierarchy of the plantation South.

In his book, Slave in a Box, M.M. Manring addresses the question of why the troubling figure of Aunt Jemima has endured in American culture. Manring traces the evolution of the mammy from her roots in the Old South slave reality and mythology, through reinterpretations during Reconstruction and in minstrel shows and turn-of-the-century advertisements, to Aunt Jemima’s symbolic role in the Civil Rights movement and her present incarnation as a “working grandmother.”

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America. The new name and logo will be unveiled in the fall.


Another racially provocative brand, Uncle Ben’s rice owned by Mars, yesterday also announced they are also planning to change the rice maker’s “brand identity.”  He too was given a recent makeover, removing his service uniform and taking him from servant to grandfather.   But again his image evokes an “Uncle Tom,”  an African-American wielding to a white oppressor.     Slave owning families referred to their older male slaves as Uncle.   Other stereotypical slave-uncle characters are Uncle Remus in Disney’s Song of the South, and Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s groundbreaking novel.

In a statement on its website Wednesday, Mars wrote that “now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.” “We don’t yet know what the exact changes and timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities,” Mars added.

Uncle Ben, the elderly African-American man dressed in a bowtie, has donned the side of product packaging since 1946. He is said to have been a Chicago maître d’hotel named Frank Brown. And according to Mars, the fictitious character of Uncle Ben was an African-American rice grower, based on the Gullah – Geechee slaves of Low Country Carolinas, who were imported against their will from West Africa.


Rastus, the African-American Chef character who has appeared on the Cream of Wheat Cereal since 1893 is not being retired. According to the company, he is based on Frank L. White, a Chicago chef. Local lore says that his image is based on the chef who worked for the wealthy paper baron Peter G. Thomson at his huge College Hill Mansion, Laurel Court, which was based on Marie Antoinette’s Petite Trianon palace in France. The character of Rastus, like Aunt Jemima traces its roots to a character in the American minstrel tradition.

Although Aunt Jemima was a fictional character, she wasn’t just a face on a box. She was played by actual women, who travelled around the country for the company who owned the brand, portraying the older mammy, speaking in what was stereotyped as broken slave English, but was really the Gullah language, a combined language of the various African nations from where slaves were first imported, and the English of their owners.

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Katrina Mincy’s Great Aunt Flora Saunders (a portrayer of Aunt Jemima) and Mincy.

Our local cobbler icon, Aunt Flora – Katrina Mincy – has a connection to one of these traveling Aunt Jemima’s. Having previously operated Aunt Flora’s Cobbler House and Down Home Diner at Findlay Market, Aunt Flora has built quite a following in Greater Cincinnati. Her recipes have been in her family for generations. They were initially the recipes of her Great Aunt Flora Saunders, from whom she takes her name. Mincy’s Great Aunt Flora was famous for being one of the travelling Aunt Jemimas in the 1940s, making publicity appearances on the brand’s behalf.  And it seems Great Aunt Flora was also quite an amazing cook. Aunt Flora Saunders was born in 1883, lived in Covington, Tennessee, and was in middle age when she took the job as a traveling Aunt Jemima.

Another of these traveling Aunt Jemima’s during the 1950s was Brown County, Ohio, native Rose Washington Riles (1901-1969). She was one of Brown County’s most noted but least known natives. Rosa was born in 1901 as Rosa Washington near Red Oak, Ohio, in Brown County. She was one of several children of Robert and Julie (Holliday) Washington and a grand-daughter of George and Phoeba Washington, all of whom, like her, are buried in the Red Oak Presbyterian Graveyard, along the Ripley-Russellville Pike – Route 62/68. She was employed as a cook in the home of a Quaker Oats executive and went out for pancake demonstrations at her employer’s request. This was following the death of Nancy Green in 1923, the first Aunt Jemima. The portrait of Rosa Washington showed a smiling, laughing, good-humored face that brought instant thoughts of high stacked pancakes, dripping in melted butter and maple syrup.

Rosa rose to fame because of her jovial personality, which won fans while she toured the United States annually giving her demonstrations. She often would do demonstrations close to home in Ripley and Georgetown, Ohio. In the beginning of Rosa Washington’s career as Aunt Jemima, the pancake mix was packaged and sold in one pound covered cardboard cartons. At that period her portrait covered one entire side of the carton. Later redesigning of the packages reduced her portrait to a silver-dollar sized medallion in the upper left corner of the side of the box. During these on-the-road demonstrations, Aunt Jemima also promoted Log Cabin Syrup and Ball’s Milk.

Today, a collection of Aunt Jemima souvenirs that were created as ad gimmicks can be found at the Red Oak Church, the collection of Glen Woods of Russellville, Ohio. In honor of Rosa, an annual pancake breakfast is held at the church. The proceeds are used for the upkeep of the old part of the cemetery next to the church. Rosa’s daughter, Mrs. Ruth Sugg, who lives in Cincinnati, travels from home to Red Oak every Memorial Day and Christmas to place flowers on the graves of her mother, her brothers and her grandparents and great-grand-parents.

Other portrayers of Aunt Jemima were Ethel Ernestine Harper (1903-1979) in the 1950s; Edith Wilson, who portrayed her on radio and TV from 1948-1966; and Lillian Herbert Richard (1891-1956).      While the travelling Aunt Jemima gave these women better than normal livelihoods, it was at the expense of perpetuating a national racist stereotype that still infuses our collective culture.




Wilmington, Ohio: The Birthplace of the Banana Split



Another great food festival has been cancelled this summer.   It’s the Banana Split Festival, and it’s been happening every June in Wilmington, Ohio, since 1995 to honor the creator of the banana split.    It usually attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Clinton County, Ohio, just to the north of Hamilton County.     There are vintage cars, cornhole competitions and of course a banana split eating contest – hold the brain freeze.


Ernest Hazard’s Wilmington store and soda fountain ca 1907, which advertises in the upper left mirror the Banana Split.


Ohio’s photographic proof that the Banana Split was invented here.

The story goes that in the winter of 1907, Ernest R. Hazard, who owned a store and soda fountain called Hazard’s was not seeing much business.    He devised the idea to have a contest for a new ice cream concoction to draw in college students from nearby Wilmington College.    He decided to enter his own contest, and low and behold, his concoction, the banana split won and became super-popular, despite negative feedback from Hazard’s cousin, Clifton.     Negative-Nellie Clifton had said the name was absurd and wouldn’t sell.

The original banana split abided by the rule of threes – except for the banana itself.  It consisted of a banana split down the center, with three scoops of vanilla ice cream, three sauces – strawberry jam, chocolate sauce, and pineapple sauce, and finally three toppings – chopped nuts, whipped cream and three maraschino cherries.    It was not documented what type of nuts, but I would would gander a guess of  pecans.    We may never know the original nut that topped our state’s beloved ice cream sundae.

Growing up I was led to believe by Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in TriCounty that the banana split actually had three different ice creams- chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, AND had multi-colored sprinkles.     But as I find out, that was not true to its original Ohio form.

Now there’s a contention with Latrobe, PA, that THEIR local pharmacist and soda jerk, David Evan Strickler, invented the banana split in 1904 at Tassel Pharmacy.  But I wanna see their proof.   We have a great historic photo of the inside of Hazard’s soda fountain, which in the upper left hand corner shows a mirrored sign advertising the Banana Split.  The soda jerks and workers look friendly enough, but the stools, I have to admit look like uncomfortable tractor seats.   Maybe they were designed that way to promote quick turnaround and no lingerers at the soda fountain.

I think the difference of three years, shaky documentation, bad memory, and our photographic proof, firmly place the invention of this all American dessert firmly in Wilmington, Ohio.


My Family Connection to Barq’s Red Pop


It wasn’t until I started writing about local food that I learned Barq’s Red Crème Soda was invented in Cincinnati. I had enjoyed it after soccer games at the Kolping Society fields and the Corpus Christi baseball concession stand. It was then too I learned that the term concession stand was based on the Cincinnati Hauck Brewery, who was allowed ‘concessions‘ to provide beer at the old Redlegs Stadium, initiating food vendors at sporting events. Barq’s ‘red pop’ made great pink cows when mixed with vanilla ice cream and gave you that distinctive vampirish blood red stained mouth. Most Cincy kids’ devotion to Barq’s red pop was fueled by commercials with Captain Windy during the Uncle Al Show. She showed us all how to enjoy a pink cow and to love Mama’s Cookies.


It also wasn’t until several years ago that I learned of my father’s family ties to the creator of Barq’s Red Crème Soda. Several years ago I received a letter from a woman I didn’t know who sent an Enquirer clipping of a wedding announcement and photo. She had tracked me down through this blog, recognized the last name and though I’d enjoy the photo. It was a photo of her friend from long ago, my Grandpa’s cousin, Lillie May “Lee” Woellert and her husband Lt. McCrea “Mac” Benedict from 1943 at their wedding in Santa Ana, California. He was training to be shipped out to England with the 844 AAF Unit.


The woman said she didn’t know how we were related. Well I did! Lillie was the sister to my “Pops” Cliff Woellert, who was my closest thing to a paternal grandfather, since my own, Fred Sr., had passed on the year I was born and I never knew him. I knew Lillie owned the original Woellert Bible brought over by our ancestors from Germany. Her parents were Arthur and Mabel Woellert, who my father fondly talked about from being with them and Lillie at the annual Woellert Family Meetup at McElvoy Park in College Hill. Cliff, who lived in New Jersey, with his lovely wife Dottie, filled me in on my paternal family history and corresponded with me for decades until his passing in 1997. We visited each other several times and enjoyed the connection immensely. When I visited them in college he sent me on a spiritual journey to NYC’s Chinatown to search for “the boy riding the water buffalo.”


But I had never heard of Mac Benedict. Lillie’s last name was Lake, and she had been married to Robert Lake. Mac Benedict and Lillie had been UC college sweethearts, and perhaps even Hughes High School sweethearts, both families growing up in Winton Place. Mac and Lillie were very involved in clubs and Greek life at UC. Lillie was an artist and graduated the same year – 1942 – as Mac, with a degree in Fine Arts. She was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, the Glee Club, Oratorio, and a color guard team called the Guidon. Mac was Mr. Campus – the Editor of the UC Cincinnatian, member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, Sigma Sigma Carnival, Ulex, Men’s Senate, YMCA Cabinet, Sophos, Liberal Arts Tribunal, Omicron Delta Kappa, and a Junior Advisor. Both worked on the Cincinnatian yearbook team together and Mac’s broad smiling mug was all over the yearbook.


Robert S. Tuttle, inventor of Barq’s Red Crème Soda, Lillie’s brother-in-law.

Lillie and Mac’s brother-in-law, Richard S. Tuttle, was married to Mac’s sister, Martha Benedict Tuttle. Richard, along with two partners, Albert Badanes, and Hugh Carmichael, had bought the local Barq’s Bottling Franchise in 1937, operating it at 520 East Fifth Street Downtown, which is now a parking lot by Sawyer Point. At the time, Barq’s Root Beer was unknown outside of the south, where it was founded in the 1890s by the French Barq Brothers – Eduard and Gaston. It’s French New Orleanian legacy is why the French ‘crème’ rather than the English ‘cream’ spelling was used. Sometime in those first few years, Richard Tuttle had added Red Dye # 40 to the amber Barq’s Crème Soda. The resulting Red Creme Soda took off so much that the headquarters in Biloxi, Mississppi, added the dye to their concentrate so that all national bottlers could market the new product. And the rest is history – generations of children have had red stained lips all summer.

Mac had worked for his brother-in-law at Barq’s during college at the 5th Street plant, while he and Lillie were engaged. Perhaps they enjoyed a pink cow with French Bauer ice cream at one of the many soda fountains around Clifton, Northside or Winton Place, where they lived and played. When Mac shipped out to California for training, the Enquirer noted that Barq’s threw him and three other cadets – Jack Murphy, Arch Holden, and Joe Barth – a sendoff party at the recreation room in the plant on September 28. There were 17 Barq’s employees total that were serving in the Armed forces. At least two others would join that number in 1944. But this was the last time the Barq’s team would ever enjoy the company of Mac Benedict.


Lillie went on to work for the Red Cross Hospitals in Taunton, Massachusetts, and Trenton, New Jersey, helping soldiers returning from the war.

Mac’s 844 AF squadron used the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. They would enter combat over Germany on May 20, 1944, with an attack on Oldenburg, Germany. The unit would then target sites in France as part of Operation Overlord in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. In July of 1944, the company began bombing strategic targets in Germany – factories, oil refineries, and airfields in cities of Ludwigshafen, Magdeburg, Brunswick, Saarbrucken and others. Then on July 13, 1944, Mac’s plane crashed at his home base after returning from a mission in Germany. He had flown 21 missions as a bomber navigator over central Europe. Lillie and his mother were relayed the sad news.


During the War Barq’s was one of the bottlers who used recycled bottles from a collection campaign with the local Boy Scouts, to conserve on materials during war shortages. And after war time shortages and inflation, they kept their prices level for local soft drinkers. Robert Tuttle continued to experiment with flavors with his chemist and introduced a lemon-lime to compete locally with Coca-Cola’s Fresca and Sprite, Pepsi’s Teem and Mountain Dew, 7Up and Squirt. His orange flavor was designed to take on 7UP’s big name Orange Crush. A grape flavor went up against Nehi’s Grape Soda. Barq’s even had a unique Fruit Punch flavor for a limited time that was meant to go up against local Over-the-Rhine bottler Wagner’s fruit flavored soft drinks. Their daughter Elizabeth got to taste all the experimental flavors as a young girl during their trials. Barq’s Root Beer went up against Canada Dry’s Dan’s Root Beer, and 7UP’s Frosty Root Beer. Barq’s would also start bottling for Vernor’s Ginger Ale and Vichy in the 1970s.

Martha and McCrea had suffered another great family tragedy when in October of 1928 their father Dr. Harris Benedict, UC Professor of Botany, and sister Jean, were killed in a head on collision with a streetcar at Ludlow and Lafayette Avenues in Clifton, one mile away from UC and Hughes High School, their intended destination. The top of their car was crushed and all four passengers, including siblings Ann and Harris, were thrown 15 feet out of the car.

Richard and Martha Tuttle had a son, McCrea Tuttle, named after his fallen uncle. In 1962, Richard moved the Barq’s bottling operations from 5th street to a new facility at 1444 Springlawn Avenue in Northside, near where he and the company officers grew up, and where the majority of the workers lived. He then bought out his two partners and became sole proprietor of the Barq’s franchise.


It was a turbulent time for the nation with Civil Rights, workers rights, women’s and LGBT liberation. The Barq’s workers had  organized under the Bottler’s Union and went on strike in 1960 with other local bottling workings for better wages. In 1962 they organized with the Teamsters, and in 1968 with the Local Brewery Workers Union. But tragedy would strike once again that year for the family, as Martha and Richard’s son Captain McCrea Tuttle would die when his jeep rolled over a land mine enroute to Hoi An Village on Mar 9, 1968, in Vietnam, less than two miles away from their destination.


Captain McCrea Tuttle.

Martha Benedict Tuttle had become so disheartened with the lack of respect by that generation for Vietnam veterans , that she became interested in patriotism and history. She organized the mission and fundraising to save her family’s house, the Betts House, in Cincinnati’s West End, the oldest standing brick house in Cincinnati. Through a mother, sister, and daughter’s grief, and generous funds from the Barq’s empire and lots of other generous Cincinnatians, Martha turned her tragedy into an historically preserved gift to our city. Martha and her sister-in-law Lillie Woellert shared a love of fine art, painting and preservation. Although Lillie remarried and had a family of her own, she never forgot her first love and his family, and was one of the early donors to the Betts House and was a sustaining donor all her life.

Robert Tuttle retired and sold his franchise operations in 1980 to Harry Dornhegger after a 43 year run in the local soft drink market. Dornhegger would close the plant in Northside in 1983, and the franchise operations would move to the Coca-Cola bottling plant, which is now part of Xavier University. Unfortunately, about five years ago, Coca-Cola discontinued their Barq’s Diet Red Crème Soda, so those of us sugar-sensitive folks can no longer enjoy a ‘red pop.’


“Bean Pie, My Brotha?” – The Story of the Most American Pie


When we think of the pie most associated with our African-American communities, we first go to the sweet potato pie, which is delicious and firmly embedded into the soul food cannon. But there’s one, a bit more obscure, the navy bean pie, that presents a unique window into the history of the struggle for civil rights in America. It is the ONLY true American Muslim food, created in this country. And, as Idris Braithwaite, owner of Abu’s Bakery in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) neighborhood of Brooklyn says, it’s more American than apple pie, which was invented in England.

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It’s connected to the Nation of Islam and the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. The Nation of Islam was started by Wallace Fard Muhammad, who came to Detroit in 1934 from Mecca. Fard taught an idiosyncratic version of Islam to blacks in Detroit, offering them a credo of moral and cultural superiority to their white oppressors. He mysteriously disappeared without a trace in 1934, and his successor was Elijah Muhammed.

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A portrait of one of America’s first African Muslims.

Some Americans have developed a fear of recent Muslim immigrants, tied to domestic terrorism, but American Muslims were actually here before America was born a nation . Most American Muslims were brought to America against their will as slaves. And, the navy bean pie ties into this history.


The Nation of Islam is based on rejecting anything birthed in the white society, surnames, clothing, and religion included. It was all about the creation of a black identity free from the ties of slavery. The Christian equivalent of the Nation of Islam was the New Negro Movement started in Harlem by Alaine Locke, a more outspoken advocacy of dignity and a refusal to submit quietly to the practices and laws of Jim Crow racial segregation. The Nation of Islam members chose to abandon Christianity for Islam and even refute their surnames given to them by slave owners and use an X instead. Most known of them was Malcolm X, (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, born Malcolm Little) an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement. He is best known for his staunch and controversial black racial advocacy, and for his time spent as a vocal spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

While he had been preaching about it for many decades prior, in 1967 Elijah Muhammed wrote the book, How to Eat To Live, which prescribed a healthy diet for American Muslims of low sugar, and non-processed foods, a notion way ahead of its time. It promoted a vegetarian non-meat diet, and even eating only one time a day, or every three days, if possible. The basis of this diet was to move away from anything connected to the slave diet. Elijah Muhammad emphasized that soul food was a means for the whites to both control and destroy the black population. The effects where high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity, all brought about by the sugar, salt and fat content in soul food. The navy bean became the only bean that was divinely approved to be eaten. Elijah also said, “Sweet potatoes are not good for any human to eat. They are good for hogs but not for you. “


So even while the navy bean pie was not mentioned in How to Eat to Live, it was designed as a replacement to the sweet potato pie. Navy bean pie is built on a whole wheat crust, with a filling of strained and mashed navy beans, butter, raw sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla cinnamon and nutmeg (but no pumpkin pie spices which would include cloves and ginger). It develops a mildly sweet, yellow custardy under-layer and a brown crusty top layer from the butter rising and browning in the oven. Some variations made in the U.S. are a chocolate bean pie. The coconut custard bean pie is the fave of Jabir, son of Elijah Muhammad.


Lana Shabazz, inventor of the navy bean pie, kissing Muhammad Ali.

Lana Shabazz the cook to Elijah Muhammad is said to have been the inventor of the pie. The recipe then went to Etha Sharid Muhammad – daughter of Elijah Muhammad, who began making it for others. Elijah’s son Jabir Muhammed started making the pie for grocers and calling them South Park Special, after the bakery he managed. Oddly enough, this name was devised as gastronomic diplomacy to disguise that it was a bean pie and get people to try it without the common prejudice against pureed beans as a dessert. And, after members began tasting it, they loved it and it took off. Members owning restaurants and bakeries became go-to places for the bean pie.

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By the 1960s the navy bean pie became a fund raiser for the nation of Islam. Men decked out in bowties and suits sold them on street corners in cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York. Asking, “Bean Pie my brotha?” the sellers provided to buyers an edition of the Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s newsletter.

The pie has made appearances in popular African American culture. Queen Latifah mentioned it in her rap Just Another Day. It made it on an episode of the 80s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Even fighter Muhammed Ali blamed the pie on his losing a famous heavyweight fight in 1971 against Joe Frazier because he couldn’t resist a few slices made by his personal cook, Lana Shabazz, who was also the cook for Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammed. It even recently appeared as a basket ingredient on Food Networks Chopped show. The American Muslim pop-blogger, the Halal Honky (the equivalent to Beverly Hills’ Fat Jew blogger) has talked extensively about the navy bean pie.


At the height of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, what if Hostess had come out with a Navy Bean Pie? Their marketing team could have come up with a cute navy bean character like Twinkie the Kid and Captain Cupcake. This Lester Legume could have been a window for kids into latent American racism and an ambassador for civil rights. White Americans typically get the gilded history about Martin Luther King Jr., and his I had a dream speech in gradeschool and high school. The other, less gilded parts, like the Selma Bridge March, lynchings, the Freedom Summer of ’64, and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, are not typically included in our standard history books. As a result, we don’t get an understanding of the affects of racism on the African American community. The navy bean pie could be that bridge to this understanding – “have a piece of pie with me and let me tell you a story.”

Chicago navy bean pie bakers found that the Chinese community like them because of their similarity to their sweet bean desserts. Other bakeries who make the pie are Home Boi Pies in Burlington NJ, and Abu’s in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. The African American Muslim community around Abu’s were hailed in the 80s for shutting down crack houses around their At-Taqwa mosque. Imani Muhammad is hailed as the Bean Pie Queen of Southside Chicago. Some suppliers call the navy bean pie soul food, to maybe disconnect from the Muslim connection. Elijah Muhammad would certainly have disagreed with this because the very nature of soul food in his opinion is a connection to slave cooking. They can be ordered online at Shaba’s Bakery, but their pies don’t have the crunch top and the yellowish custard bottom.


Supreme Bean Pie, baked in Chicago, is connected to the lineage of Elijah Muhammed and has the correct crispy top and yellow custardy bottom. It is the only true navy bean pie that can be obtained in Cincinnati through two distributors.


Gribenes and Schmalz – Cracklins and Chicken-Fat – The Convergence of Jewish and African American Neighborhoods


Gribenes and schmaltz or cracklins and chicken fat a shared Jewish/African American dish.

American Soul Food and American Kosher food have a lot in common. First and foremost, they are both of peoples who have been forced out of homes and forced into homes in very defined neighborhoods, known as ghettos. Like the Jewish, who have adopted foods from the areas they were both fleeing from, and forced into, African Americans have adopted Jewish foods in neighborhoods they shared and then inherited from former Jewish communities. This is seen in several dishes from the African American side and is evidenced in both New York City and Cincinnati.



Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster serves one of these dishes. It’s called Chicken Fat Challah with Cracklins and Onion. Cracklins, in this case are fried chicken skin, not the more typical African American cracklin, which is usually fried pork skin. Eli’s Barbecue in Cincinnati allows you to add pork ‘crispins’ on anything like their baked bean or cole slaw sides and their hot dogs. Pork skin was both cheaper and more readily available than chicken skin before the growth of corporate chicken farms in the 1960s. The Jewish term for this dish is gribenes and schmaltz.

Harlem is a neighborhood associated with African American culture. It is the birthplace of the New Negro and the wonderful Harlem Renaissance – a period of great musical, art, drama and literary creative productivity of African Americans. But originally it was a Jewish neighborhood, the stopping point for the New York Jewish diaspora as they moved from their original Lower East Side neighborhood to Brooklyn and elsewhere. The original Jewishness of Harlem can be seen on the cornerstone of the Mount Neboh Baptist Church that says is was built in 5668. Or the marble pediment leading to the baptismal pool at the Mount Livet Baptist Church, on which is inscribed the Old Testament verse: Jehovah is in his holy temple; be silent, before him, all the earth. You can also see it in the Star of David Medallions atop the Baptist Temple Church.

Cincinnati’s first Jewish neighborhood was the West End. One small remnant now exists – the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Cincinnati, known as the Chestnut Street Cemetery. It opened in 1821 and it’s less than a city block worth of stones written in Hebrew. Our other West End Jewish remnant was just torn down days ago by FC Cincinnati but its cornerstone, written in Hebrew, was preserved. It sat right behind Music Hall on John Street and was built as a synagogue in 1865 by the Congregation of Brotherly Love. It had recently been the African American congregation of Revelation Missionary Baptist Church. This last congregation was led by Civil Rights icon Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, who has a street named after him in Avondale.


As Cincinnati Jews moved out of the basin to the hilltop neighborhood of Avondale, their former neighborhoods and congregations, like the congregation of Brotherly Love, became African American communities and churches. But there was always a period of transition where Jewish and African Americans shared these neighborhoods, and that’s when the food sharing started. When the Jewish community moved from Avondale to Amberly Village and other northeastern Cincinnati Suburbs, their former synagogues became African American churches. Former Jewish delis and corner stores became African American corner barbecues and convenience stores.

Michael Twitty is an African-American author and historical culinary reenactor. In his book The Cooking Gene, he talks about the origins of Southern food and its root in slave cooking brought over from Africa. He also talks about the Great Migration and how it influenced barbecue culture and soul food cuisine in the North. His mother’s family was part of that migration, and his grandparents lived in Cincinnati’s West End in the 1950s. That was right before it was leveled for the Interstate 75 right of way, and in the spirit of Urban Renewal, meaning, pushing poor African Americans out. Twitty talks about his mother always having Jewish challah bread at their Sunday brunches after church. This was because when she grew up in Cincinnati’s West End, the Jewish bakeries of the neighborhood were the only ones open on Sundays (because Jewish sabbath is Saturday). So, after church they could get bread for their brunch meal from the Jewish bakeries. This tradition of challah at Sunday brunch continued in their family as they migrated further north, even when not required by necessity.

When we demolish historic neighborhoods we erase valuable history. But the food that endures can preserve this history and tell these stories, if we look hard enough.

Two Cincinnati Pies are Love Children of Blum’s San Francisco Coffee Toffee Pie


There are two cream pies available in Cincinnati that are based on the original Coffee Toffee Pie of Blum’s Pastry Shops in San Francisco. Those tasty pies are the Banoffee Pie from Bonbonerie in O’Bryanville, and Mecklenburg Pie at Mecklenburg Gardens.


Samuel Blum started Blum’s as a small candy shop in 1892 in downtown San Francisco. He passed the business to his son Jack, and then in 1934 Jack passed it along to his son-in-law, Franky Levy. Frank grew the business to a national supplier of deluxe candies and chocolates to department stores. He challenged his confectioners to create a new candy every day to update their old fashioned turn-of-the-last-century candies. Locally Pogue’s and Giddings Department stores were exclusive suppliers of Blum’s Candies in Cincinnati.

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The Hungry Monk, birthplace of Banoffi/Banoffee Pie in the UK.

It was Blum’s Cordon Bleu-trained pasty chef, Ernest Weils who formulated the iconic dessert recipes like their Koffee Krunch Cake and the Coffee Toffee Pie in the 1940s. The most well-loved Blum’s location was at Union Square in San Francisco. Blum’s was not only a regular stop for many shopping ladies, men, and families for coffee and a slice of the delicious Coffee Toffee Pie, but also had a great lunch menu with a terrific clubhouse sandwich, welsh rarebit, and sandwich condiment made from a sweet mix of peppers and onions. The dessert display were always over the top and the interior décor, like our Aglamesis, was shades of pink. The pie and the cake were so popular that other restaurants took the recipes and tweaked them regionally, like Mecklenburg Gardens, and they outlived the original Blum’s.


Bonbonerie’s Banoffee Pies.


A slice of UK Banoffee Pie.

Bonbonerie just announced on social media that they are making their Banoffee pies this week. The Banoffee is actually a mishmash of the words banana and toffee, which are the two combinations of this rich, creamy pie. The toffee is made from boiling an unopened can of condensed milk for the toffee and pouring over a crust of crushed digestive biscuits. The pie was actually created in England in 1972 by Nigel Mackenzie, the owner of The Hungry Monk Restaurant in Jevington, East Sussex, and his chef, Ian Dowding. The two had claimed to have tweaked the “unreliable” recipe of the Coffee Toffee Pie from Blum’s. After trying additions to the pie such as apple and mandarin oranges, they decided on bananas. The dessert became so popular it spread to other restaurants and now is a hugely popular dessert across the UK. It was Margaret Thatcher’s favorite dessert.


A dinner with the Sri Rudrananda Ashram that owned Mecklenburg Gardens in the 1970s the dark haired guy standing on the right is Chef Rob Fogel, inventor of Mecklenburg Pie.

Mecklenburg pie was born in 1975 at the hands of Chef Rob Fogel. He and business partner Scott Hanley bought the then decrepit Mecklenburg Gardens in February of 1975, completely renovating the old German icon. The two had met at IU in Bloomington, Indiana, while studying kundalini meditative yoga. Rob went on to study food in France, working at restaurants in New York and Chicago, before teaming up with Hanley under their Sri Rudrananda Ashram, whose members helped renovate and serve at the restaurant. The Ashram were responsible for getting the 1976 nomination of the property on the National Register of Historic Places. Fogel left the restaurant in 1978 to start his own restaurant, Edward’s on Eggleston, but he retained a five year consulting agreement to help maintain the menu. His parents Isadore and Miriam retained ownership of the property. Under Fogel’s consultancy the restaurant achieved a four star Michelin rating in 1979, but sold in 1983 to Charles Tappin, who operated it for only four months before closing.


Mecklenburg Pie’s first appearance in 1981 in the Cincinnati Enquirer, lower right.

The pie was first written about in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1977, when it was called “Pecan Bottom Chocolate Toffee Pie with Mocha Whipped Cream”, and its picture appeared in the Enquirer for the first time in 1981. With that big of a title, its name was soon shortened to just Mecklenburg Pie. Donna Covret, former food editor of Cincinnati Magazine, made thousands of these pies while working at Mecklenburg with the Ashram in the 1970s. She said, “Three bites of this sexed-up pie are enough for most sane people. One piece is not wholly unreasonable. We watched, agog, as customers devoured one, sometimes two slices, and then ordered a whole pie to go.”


The Ashram-owned Mecklenburg got notoriety in 1982 when the chef Dan Eynick’s family kidnapped him twice, submitting him to cult deprogramming from national and anti-cult activist expert Ted Patrick. The West Side Catholic Eynick family claimed that Scott Hanley, the Ashram’s leader and owner of Mecklenburg, brainwashed Dan Eynick into working long hours for little pay. Dan claimed that Catholicism just didn’t cut it for him and he had always been looking for a life philosophy with more depth.

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I learned from and practiced Sahaja kundalini yoga in 1997 with a group of some of the former Mecklenburg ashram who were practicing under the guidance of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi at the Society of Friends House near Xavier University. But they never shared the recipe for their pie with me. It’s probably best – that level of decadence wasn’t part of the yogi lifestyle and today I can just order a slice from Mecklenburg and not have to make it myself.

Monastic Art and Holy Peanut Butter in St. Meinrad Indiana

Peanut Brother brand Peanut Butter made by the Benedictine monks at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.

When you think about the past time of monks, you typically think of brewing, winemaking, or even breadmaking.   I mean it was monks who invented Trappist ale, Angelica wine, and the pretzel.    But peanut butter making?   There is one archabbey in the world whose monks make now four varieties of peanut butter, and its only a two and a half hour drive away in rural St. Meinrad, Indiana.   Not only is the nut butter made with lots of brotherly love, but it’s healthy – no sugar or preservatives added.

I took a daytrip there to visit their Monte Casino shrine, nestled on a hilltop on the far east part of the abbey property.    I came for the art, but stayed for the peanut butter.  German Cincinnati artist Gerhard Lamers was commissioned in 1931 by then Archabbot Ignatius Essers, and created a jewelbox, decorating the main altar with three murals of the life of Mary, and every square inch of the vaulted ceiling and walls.    This was the first local church Lamers painted and he used its themes of Mary to decorate Holy Family in Dayton (1939), the Archbishop’s Mansion in College Hill (1943) and Annunciation in Clifton (1953).

In 1871, a year after the shrine’s dedication, villagers of St. Meinrad prayed a novena there to the Virgin of Monte Casino, whose handcarved statue from Switzerland still stands over the altar.    The novena wiped out a typhoid epidemic that year, and praying for Mary’s intercession at the shrine is associated with other cures.   Now, a yearly pilgrimage is made to the shrine by local school children and others who also say the rosary for intercession.

Four varieties of delicious peanut butter can now be obtained at the Abbey gift shop.  Their Peanut Brother line consists of the original grind, which is not too chunky, but not creamy; an almond butter, a honey PB, made with honey from the hives the monks maintain on site; and a limited release, ‘chocolate nutter’, kind of like a monastic Nutella.   I brought back samples of all four.


Brothers at St. Meinrad sharing community and making their phenomenal peanut butter.

This holy peanut butter project started by accident at the abbey in early 2017 by three who were peanut butter superfans.   Father Thomas Gricoski suggested to Brothers Nathanial Szidik and Brother Kolbe Wolniakowski that they should try to make their own nut butter.  They were looking for a healthier version, without the sugar and additives of commercial brands. So they embarked on a journey to make their own, which became very popular amongst their other brothers.

Soon the brothers were putting it in their oatmeal, on top of chocolate donuts, or even going Elvis and putting it on top of a microwaved banana with a honey drizzle.   Brothers could even be seen walking the gorgeous grounds with a spoonful of peanut butter.   So, they thought, what the heck, let’s put a few jars in the gift shop and see what happens.    What happened was that people loved it and wanted more, so now they go through over 30 pounds a week at the store and online.

The first big sales event at the neighboring Ferdinand Christkindlmarkt in Fall of 2017 required them to make 1300 jars of the original grind, most of which they sold.     Innovation in the last year has introduced their three new products, choco, honey, and almond butters.     My guess is the chocolate one is going to be a big hit.


Archabbot Ignatius Evers, art patron and author of St. Meinrad Archabbey.


An example of Fr. Gregor DeWitt’s murals in Louisiana.

What I found out exploring the grounds was that Father Ignatius Esser also commissioned another great Dutch artist, Gregor DeWitt to paint a  mural of Christ’s resurrection inside the church at the abbey.   Because they’re protecting the aged monks, the abbey Church is not currently open for visitors.    DeWitt’s murals have a great unique style that some find offensive and others, like me, find amazing.    His murals in two Louisiana churches were super-controversial after World War II when he was commissioned to make them.   The nuns called his St. Mary Magdalene pornographic, with her tightly clad pelvis thrust forward towards Christ.

Father Esser wrote several books –  An Ancient Cure for Modern Ills (1932) and The Fatima Week Sermons (1949).   He also fostered the creation of monasteries on Sioux reservations in Montana.   It seems he was a creative who inspired his flock.   Perhaps it’s his influence and legacy that is behind all the peanut butter innovation at St. Meinrad.

The abbey is such a wonderful place to visit and I highly recommend it as a summer weekend getaway.   You can stay overnight at their guesthouse and enjoy the peanut butter for breakfast in your oatmeal, or you can go on one of their organized retreats.   The grounds are beautiful and there are numerous hiking trails around the shrine.  There’s also tennis courts, frisbee golf courts, and horses on site.     Go for the wonderful art and meditation, but stay for the peanut butter!