For National Chili Dog Day – Two West Virginia Cousins: The Slaw Dog and the Chili Pepperoni Roll

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Today, Thursday July 30, is National Chili Dog Day.    And who can think of anything more American-iconic than the chili dog, also known by its more historic name, the coney.   While  you won’t find coneys or chili dogs anywhere else in the world, we have Greek immigrants from the Balkan Wars to thank for their invention.    And they built upon a German immigrant invention of the hot dog, or Frankfurter.    The coney or chili dog is named after the all American amusement park of Coney Island in New York City, where the Greek immigrants landed under the torch of Lady Liberty, who proclaims in the harbor, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free – and here, have a coney!”

It’s hard to say who the first Greek immigrant was that decided to put saltsa kima or Greek meat sauced spiced with the Baharat spices of their homeland onto a bunned hot dog.   But all the Greeks who came through New York saw the coney and took it to the cities they settled – as far west as Tulsa, Oklahoma, and made it their own.    Thankfully, our Brothers Kiradjieff –  Argiro, Athanas, and Ivan – immigrants from Macedonia, stopped here in Cincinnati at a burlesque theatre –  and with ingenuity and good customer service, invented our beloved cheese coney to go with a peek-a-boo and a hoochie-coo.

I’m a chopped  onion, mustard, tabasco, and melted sharp cheddar cheese coney guy myself.      But I’m also a fan of Dixie Chili’s Alligator Coney that slides a pickle spear into the bun to spoon with the hotdog – genius!   And I like the habanero cheddar cheese Skyline brings out periodically.   I’m a fan of Gold Star’s weird Oktoberfest coney with brat and sauerkraut.   I think it’s a tasty nod to the Germanic immigrants who invented our hot dog.    I’m even a fan of the central Kentucky chili bun (see a prior blog) which has no dog at all and is what Skyline calls a phoney coney and some call a nude coney.   I particularly like it alongside an ice cold Ale-8 soda.

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The West Virginia Slaw Dog

But two even weirder coneys or chili dogs were invented by other immigrants in West Virginia.    The first is the West Virginia Slaw dog of Northern West Virginia.   It was supposedly created in Charleston, West Virginia, in the 1930s at the Stopette Drive-in.  It quickly caught on in the Depression era and spread to dedicated hot dog stands, drive-ins, bars, delis and old fashioned dairy bars (what we call creamy whips in Cincinnati).  In its original form the Slaw Dog has  chopped onions, mustard, a thicker, heartier Greek-inspired coney sauce, which they, like us in Cincinnati, just call chili, and finely chopped creamy cole slaw.

There’s a slaw line that starts 20 miles south on Route 22  from Cumberland, Maryland into West Virginia where the traditional coney becomes the slaw dog.

The West Virginia Slaw dog has traveled south out of state.   The more south you travel and the hotter the climate, there is a switch from creamy mayo-based coleslaw to the tangier vinegar-based slaws of the southern BBQ culture.   Southern BBQ slaw has more tooth and more tang.  Similar slaw dogs can be found from Alabama through Georgia (like at Nu-Way) to the Carolinas, with differing regional cole slaws.   North Carolina slaw has ketchup, hot peppers, and lots of vinegar.    Savannah Georgia has its own ketchup-based red slaw too.

IMG_3937The West Virginia Chili sauce topped Pepperoni Roll.

The second weird chili dog comes from Marion County, West Virginia, and is the chili-topped pepperoni roll.   The pepperoni roll is actually an Italian immigrant innovation -invented around the turn of the 20th century as a convenient one-handed , lunch-pail stable snack for coal miners.     Although it was an anonymous Nona who first invented it, commercial credit is largely given to Guiseppe Argiro, a Calabrian immigrant who founded People’s Bakery in Fairmount, West Virginia.  Instead of a hot dog, the Pepperoni Roll takes an Italian salami stick and bakes it into a sweet, soft bread roll.   Think of it as a Calabrese pig-in-a-blanket.   The brilliance of the pepperoni roll is that the grease from the fat in the pepperoni bleeds into the bread as it bakes, creating a delicious interior, red fatty bread core.    So some places started slitting open the pepperoni roll like a coney, topping them with chili sauce and maybe pickled red peppers and gooey cheese sauce (never shredded or solid cheese), and a new Italian ‘coney’ was born.

So happy National Coney Day -whatever your particular preference.   We won’t judge, just indulge!

Frenchies: The 50s Penny Candy in West Side Story, Based on a Nougat from the Rhone Alps

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I have been catching up on some old classic movies recently.   Last weekend I watched one of my fifties faves, West Side Story.    I hadn’t realized how much product placement there is in the movie.    Near the beginning of the movie, Tony is seen restocking Doc’s Candy store with Coca-Cola, Tootsie Rolls, and what is perhaps local Cincinnati candy company’s Mueller Licorice Logs.    Later there’s a scene in the front of the candy store, that reveals another candy – something called Frenchies made by the Langis company.  I had never heard of this candy, and I was intrigued, so I did some sweet sleuthing.

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Tony stocking Doc’s Candy Store in West Side Story.

The funny thing is that George Chakiris, a Greek from Norwood, played a Puerto Rican in the Academy Award winning role of Bernardo, the leader of  the Sharks.  And his family is from a Cincinnati Greek legacy candy company.   His grandfather owned Grecian Gardens in Norwood, a soda fountain, bar and candy shop not far from the original Aglamesis Brothers, before they moved to their current location in Oakley square.   Perhaps they too made a version of the Frenchie.     George is still very alive at 85 and making jewelry in California.

So back to the Frenchie.   I found out the more commonly known version of this was what Brach’s called the Jelly Nougat.  It was a chewy white taffy like square with bits of colored jellies dispersed inside.    They also made a mint flavored version at Christmas called the Christmas Tree nougat.   It is round and the edges look like a round candy cane mint, with a green jelly Christmas tree in the center.    In a 2018 poll of 13,000 candy lovers by the National Confectioners Association, the Christmas Tree nougat was voted America’s second least favorite Christmas candy, behind the Reindeer Candy Corn – Krampus’ Earwax, as I like to call it.

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The Frenchie was made by a Greek owned candy company in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, started in 1916 by the Langis family. They operated as a lunch and wholesale candy supplier until closure in 1992 by third generation Dino Langis. And while the Frenchie recipe was definitely Greek made, it might have landed in America with a much earlier and different immigrant group, the Pennsylvania Dutch.  The jelly nougat is still a very popular penny candy made by many of the Amish candy companies today.

The jelly nougat or Frenchie is based on a nougat invented in the town of Montelimar, the Rhone Alps region of southeastern France.    It was made it into pop culture in the 1968 Beatles tune Savoy Truffle as one of the chocolate flavors.   The traditional nougatine recipe consists of mixing lavender honey with water and sugar, pouring the syrup into whipped egg whites, and finally adding crushed pistachios and almonds, and  a touch of vanilla. After having cooked the almond nougat preparation in authentic large copper pots (au bain marie), the nougatiers spread the paste onto marble slabs and let it cool before cutting into squares.

So the Montelimar nougat texture is closer to a meringue, instead of the hard, shelf stable taffy that will pull your fillings out in America. We’ve really bastardized the nougat in our country from its ancestral form.   Even the softer, whipped version of the nougat in American candy bars is not made with sugar, but rather uses sucrose and corn syrup, then aerated hydrolyzed soya protein or gelatin, instead of egg whites. Americans have a love affair with our weird non-nougat nougatine in bars like the Goo Goo Cluster (1912), Zero (1920), Baby Ruth (1921), Milky Way (1923), Charleston Chew (1925), Snickers (1930), Payday (1932), 3 Musketeers (1932) and many others.   These candy bars developed during the Depression were marketed as cheap meal replacements.

It is believed that the idea of mixing almonds and honey dates back to the Greeks (appropriate to our story) who had been producing the “Nôgalon” in Marseille to replace the Romans’ “Nux Gatum” or “Nougu” made with walnuts. That could explain the name of the Montélimar candies, “nougat” derived from the Latin word for walnut, “nux”.    Think of the nougat as the world’s first energy bar.

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Authentic Montelimar nougat.

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The Montelimar nougat is said to have been invented by agronomist  Olivier de Serres who had planted some almond trees in Rhône-Alpes in the late 16th century.  Official documents of the town of Montelimar indeed proved that almond nougat candies were gifted to important dignitaries like Philippe V d’Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, who visited the Rhône-Alpes region in 1701 and received the confection as a gift.

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Emile Loubet, the French President who made Montelimar nougat world famous.

The success of Montélimar nougat is mainly due to Montélimar’s mayor, Emile Loubet, who was later elected President of France (1899–1906). During this period, he undertook a huge campaign promoting the nougat. He offered nougats to all crowned royalty in France, as well as to foreign Presidents coming to the Élysée Palace. Through these efforts, the reputation of nougat became international and probably the time period it made into the American penny candy lexicon as the jelly nougat.

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French nougatiers.

In 1993, the federation for the Nougatiers applied for Nougat de Montélimar to be designated a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). The application was granted in February 2003. To be qualified as “Montelimar nougat”, the candy must be made out with 28% of peeled almonds, 16% Lavander honey and 2% pistachio nuts.   The Nougatier is such an honored local profession that they are memorialized in the Christmas nativity figures called Santons de Provence.  The annual production of Montelimar nougat is around 4,500 tons, and the Nougat industry employs about 300 workers.

Outside of the U.S., there are three main types of nougat: white nougat; brown nougat; and German nougat. White nougat is Montelimar nougat as described above. Brown nougat is made in a very similar fashion as white nougat, except generally without the egg whites and brown nougat usually uses caramelized sugar, making it a lot thicker than white nougat. Finally, German nougat, also known as “Viennese Nougat”, is generally made with only sugar, chocolate, and almonds.

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Doc’s Candy Store played a pivotal role in West Side story and for product placement.

Given the racial tension in West Side Story, I wonder if placing a candy called “Frenchies” was deliberate to play into that.    During the 1950s, France was in what was called the Fourth Republic, and despite political dysfunction, the Fourth Republic saw great economic growth and rebuilding of its social institutions and industries following World War II.   This was largely due to assistance by the United States provided through the Marshall Plan.      It also led to eventual Franco-German cooperation that would lead to the formation of the European Union.   Was the Frenchies candy placement some sort of discreet message of the set designers of America’s post war dominance or just a fave of one of them?    I’d like to think one of the young recent graduate set goofs was trying to make a prophetic political statement.

 

 

 

Meranda-Nixon Winery is Nailing the Norton in Ulysses S. Grant Country

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Five vintages of Meranda-Nixon’s Norton wines.

Our summer travel this year has been hit hard by the pandemic.     Traveling on a plane is not the safest place to be and many states have issued travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines to Ohioans who travel.   So as we try to understand our temporary and maybe our new normals, road trips are the best way to get in those summer breaks and vacations.

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The Meranda family

One great  local day trip  is a trip to Meranda-Nixon Winery in Ripley, Ohio.     Here you can live their mission – to sip, relax, and repeat – while also taking in some phenomenal local historical sites.  I visited Seth and Maura Meranda this past Saturday to taste their four years of Norton grape wines.     They are an estate winery and one of the few in Ohio who grow the Norton.     They’re totally family run and operated, with help from their four children and several classmates of theirs.

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You’re greeted by their oldest Norton vineyard as you pull into their tasting room and restaurant on Laycock Road in Ripley, Ohio.   It’s under an hour drive, which can be done going out Routes 32 to 68 – which allows you a stop at Jungle Jim’s Market in Eastgate.  That’s the route I took to pick up some Moxie cola and Pickapeppa Hot Sauce.   There are also several farmers markets along 32.  Or, you can go Route 52 along the scenic Ohio River, which will take you past some of the wine mansions and cellars from Clermont and Brown Counties’ moment in our local wine industry.

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Meranda-Nixon’s newest Norton vineyard.

The Norton is a special grape.    It was one of the native varieties in the 1860s proven to be more hardy to black rot, mildew and phyloxera, than our beloved Catawba.   It’s a native American grape cultivated and brought to the market in the 1840s by a Virginian, Dr. Daniel Drake Norton. He had lost his second wife and nearly suicidal, took to grape growing to pull him out of his depression.  And it makes one of the most unique and deeply flavored red wines to this day – giving dark fruits like blackberry, plum, black cherry, cranberry, with subtle spiciness and other notes like tobacoo, leather, and coffee.       Unlike the Catawba and Concord, which are now largely grown north in the shorter growing season regions of the Lake Eire Islands, lakefronted Pennsylvania, and upper New York, the Norton only grows well down here in the Ohio River Valley and near St. Louis, Missouri.

Many local growers raised Norton grapes and proved its good wines, but Longworth bad mouthed it, saying it was not as prolific as his one-hit-wonder Catawba, and doubted it would make a good wine.    Longworth and George Husmann of Hermann, Missouri, had a bitter argument in all the horticultural journals over the value of the Norton.     Husmann made fun of Longworth’s modus of putting all his eggs in the Catawba basket, and that he didn’t have an open mind to test other more hardy grapes.    Longworth passed away, but Husmann was recruited out to California to Talcoa Vineyards and laid the groundwork for the California Wine Industry.

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The immense variety of estate wines of Meranda-Nixon.

Seth, who graduated from Ohio State’s College of Agriculture, says the Norton takes longer to establish -5-7 years versus the 3-4 years of most varietals – either native Labrusca or European Viniferas.    He began planting his now 12 plus acres of vineyards in 2006 on his grandfather’s historic tobacco farm.    But once the Norton is established, it requires little maintenance and it makes a fabulously unique wine.  Norton grapes, which have a smaller bunch than Catawbas and other varietals, are planted in north-south rows, and leaf-pruned on the east side, which is a milder sun than the evening west side.     Nortons, for their berry size, have a lot of seeds, and if picked too early, the seeds will impart a bell pepper flavor to the wine.

Modern vineyard problems are Japanese beetles, which oddly love eating Norton leaves, are a recent pest, but Seth can solve that problem.    The Norton is also sensitive to herbicide drift from GMO farmers who spray the neighboring corn or soybeans.      The three night hunting dogs – who greeted me when I pulled into the vineyard – guard against coons, possums and deer from eating the ripe grapes.    And laser technology, which replaced neighbor-unfriendly CO2 cannons, keeps away the birds.

Seth and I walked the vineyards as Maura let the Nortons breathe for my tasting. He showed the high cordon position of the Norton and the Cawtawba grapes, and the lower V.S.P (vine shoot position) orientation of the European varietals they grow – Traminette, Chardonnay, Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon.     He works with his alma mater, Ohio State and keeps up with Cornell research on experimental grapes and says the once popular Traminette grape is being replaced by its new diva, the Pinotage, a South African native.

A local history teacher came in to the winery enjoy a froze on the patio, while Seth and I were talking wine history, and she added to the discussion.   She lived not far away on her husband’s family’s farm, which three generations ago was also a winery, growing native grapes.   Maura says froze – frozen rose – and their wine slushies are the gateway for younger non-wine drinkers to start a foray into wine drinking.   Their evening dinners, which integrate veggies grown on their farm, are a great way to enjoy their wines and take in the vineyard lifestyle.

I started my education on Meranda-Nixon’s Nortons with the 2014 I bought at Market Wines at Findlay Market in OTR.  I’ve shared it with friends used to the California fruit bomb reds and they loved it.   Maura says Europeans who visit always go away with their Nortons – because they’re a unique American wine that is unlike any European red.  The 2014 Norton to me has a blackberry and cranberry forward flavor, with slight elements of leather and a citrusy, lemongrass finish.    The 2015 Norton is full bodied with dark fruit and oak flavors.   I got a more jammy flavor with a more tart finish than the 2014.   The 2016 to me was more oak-forward than any of the others.   They describe it as deep red with raspberry aromas and hints of coffee and bittersweet chocolate.    The 2017 – for which they won a Gold Medal at the Mid America Wine Competition – has a plum flavor to me, while they describe it as a spicy black cherry.    I even got to taste their unreleased 2019 Norton, which is the same dark fruit flavor, but is smooth and light.    I love them all for different reasons – they all have subtle but noticeable flavor differences.   Seth says this year’s Norton crop is not as prolific as years past because of our droughty summer, so I look forward to seeing what unique wine it makes.

They make a wonderful estate Sparkling Catawba that is better than any prosecco I have tasted.   It’s not as sweet as a prosecco, nor as dry as most brut sparkling wines, which makes it a refreshing summer sparkling wine.   The also say it makes an amazing breakfast mimosa.    Sign me up please, along with maybe some crab eggs benedict.

There are few others around Cincinnati who make Norton wines.  Joe at Henke Winery in Westwood makes a fabulous Norton from grapes grown in Adams County.  And Kate McDonald of Skeleton Root in OTR makes a Norton that is currently aging.  The Merandas have sold their grapes and juice to neighboring Valley Vineyards and the Verona Vineyards Winery near Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.   But Meranda-Nixon is one of the only estate Norton’s made in Ohio.   The other is made in Vinton County, Ohio, past Portsmouth, Ohio, by La Petit Chevalier Vineyards.

The Norton was local boy, President Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite red wine.    He bought cases of it from Missouri vineyards to stock the White House cellars.   And he grew up in the area of the Meranda-Nixon winery.  The small cabin of his birthplace is on 52 in nearby Point Pleasant.   And his boyhood home is in Georgetown, only about 15 minutes away.   The house of the Doctor who delivered Grant is in downtown New Richmond, Ohio.   Grant’s parents, Jesse and Hannah Grant are buried in Spring Grove Cemetery back in Cincinnati.

If you want to enjoy the river recreation, there are about 3000 units for camping in and around Ripley, Ohio.   If you’re a fan of abolitionist history, there is the Rankin House Museum above the hill that overlooks the Ohio, and the John Parker House Museum, a free African-American who along with the Rankins provided assistance on the Underground Railroad.    There’s even a tobacco museum in Ripley in the 1850s Espey House, highlighting the variety of tobacco first cultivated there.

Just across the river by ferry is Augusta, Kentucky, which houses the historic and delicious Bee Hive Tavern – if you’re not eating the delicious steaks and salmon served by the Merandas at their inside or  patio dining overlooking the vineyard.   There’s also the Rosemary Clooney Museum in Augusta, which houses nearly the entire cast wardrobe of the holiday classic, A White Christmas.   And, if you’re a fan of bourbon you can taste a $100 bottle at the Old Pogue distillery.

So making a trip to Meranda-Nixon can be made into an amazing and delicious one day or overnight stay to take in the Ohio River and the historic sites in and around Ripley, Ohio.

 

Why the “Purple” Flavor is Different in the US and the UK

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In the US whenever we see a purple flavored candy we know and expect to taste that American grapey flavor characterized by the Concord grape used to make our jams, jellies, and grape juices.   That flavor is synthesized by the chemical methyl anthranilate (MANT).   But when Brits and Europeans and anyone with ties to the UK (like Australia and India) see purple, they know and expect a very different flavor – that of black currants.

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An example of this is the Skittles candy.    In the US, when you bite into a purple skittle, it will give you that known Concord grapey flavor.   But in the UK, and anywhere outside the US where you ‘taste the rainbow’ – that same color will give you that pop of black currant – which has been described as a flavor of raspberry and rose, an amped up blueberry, or a gooseberry, if you know what that tastes like.

Now the currant is a bit confusing in the UK.    The black currant is a berry that grows on a bush.   But when Brits just say currant, they actually mean a raisin – a dried seedless grape –  that derives its name from the area around Corinth in the Mediterranean where it was originally farmed.   This is the currant that on which was levied a tax that caused the British Civil War and King Charles I to lose his head – but that’s a whole other story.   And to be even more confusing, they call the seedless raisin the Sultana.  What we call Raisin Bran cereal here, they call Sultana Bran on their island.  Ay carumba – I’m so glad we Brexited their rule in 1776!  It falls into the same food categories where the Brits call fries chips, biscuits cookies, and chips crisps – why can’t those Brits just get it right!

The Concord Grape is a native vitus labrusca grape, and different from the European native wine grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are vitus vinifera.    Thanks to the Cincinnati Wine Industry before the Civil War and big capitalists like Nicholas Longworth, George Bogen, Johann Conrad Meier, and Michael Werk, all Cincinnatians who first grew our native Catawba Grape – the native grape flavor became our purple flavor.

Catawba grape flavor was everywhere in Cincinnati from the soda fountain to the wine garden.  Mullanes Candy and soda fountains throughout the city served up ice cream floats and phosphates from house made Catawba Grape and even the Ives Grape syrups.   The Ives grape was first cultivated in Indian Hills before the Civil War and still used to make wine.     The Catawba Flip, a whipped egg – ice cream phosphate was popular nationwide at the soda fountain.   Local groceries and homemakers made Catawba Catsup.

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A tiny, but pesky mite called phylloxera decimated the Catawba vineyards in the late 1850s in Cincinnati, and local grape growers started growing other grapes that showed more promise and resilience to our wonky river valley weather – the Norton, the Delaware, the Ives, and finally the Concord. Concord and native grape production moved from Cincinnati to the Lake Erie islands in Ohio, Erie County Pennsylvania, and the Finger Lakes region of New York.

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By 1896, there were several new flavors at the soda fountain including cherry and orange, but it was difficult to create a realistic grape flavor.  So grape syrups, like those used by Mullane’s started with a wine-based extract, usually from the Catawba, of which Cincinnati had an ample supply.  Eventually the Catawba grape lost its popularity to the robust flavor of the dark Concord grape.   Then as isolation of methyl anthralinate improved, bottlers were at long last able to make a tasty grape beverage.  By 1910  the grape flavor was in, and several brands appeared like – Grapine, Grape Julep, Grape Mist and Grape Smack.

By the Depression, grape flavored drinks were the best selling flavored soft drinks in America. This gave rise to a whole category of soft drinks that still exist today like Grapette, NuGrape and Nehi.

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Before the Concord became the de facto American grape flavor for soda and candy, there was a soft drink called Delaware Punch. It was created in 1913 by Thomas E Lyons, based on the flavor of the Delaware grape and other fruit flavors blended together.   The Delaware grape was first cultivated and brought to the wine market by George Campbell of Delaware, Ohio in 1849.  It was grown here in Cincinnati and made into award winning wines in the 1860s and 70s.    Delaware Punch is a non-carbonated, caffeine-free drink now owned by the Coca-Cola Company. Although it’s difficult to find today, it can mainly be found in the south – in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Local bakeries, like our pie baron Simon Hubig made an Ives grape pie and then moved to New Orleans where his pies have a cult following.     There was a cult-famous Concord Grape Pie made by Habig’s Restaurant (now closed) on the West side into this millenium.

57ff6465dd0895c5338b4a95  The effects of the white pine bluster ruse on pine tree bark.

But there was a time when our purple flavor did have a contender. In the late 1800s, US farmers grew around 7,400 acres of blackcurrants, gooseberries, and white currants, together known as Ribes species, with New York state leading production.    But then disaster struck.    It was found that a fungus called white pine bluster rust was found to spread to pine forests through the black currant.    Pine trees were the background of the huge American timber industry.   So the growing of black currants in the US was made illegal in the early 1900s and funded a program to eradicate them.

So contraband fruit and our local wine industry are responsible for the large chasm of flavor that exists between the US ‘purple’ and the UK ‘purple’ flavors.

 

 

 

The Neapolitan Coconut Bar is Coming Back to Greater Cincinnati

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Covington, Kentucky based Papas Candy Company is now making one of my fave old time candies – the tricolor Coconut Candy Slice.   Papas is a Greek family owned company that is more famous for their delicious opera creams.   Coconut is as polarizing to folks as is cilantro – but I love it!  It’s now available at 12 Walgreens in Campbell County Kentucky, and 2 in southeastern Indiana.   It’s a penny candy that dates back to the 1880s in America.    It’s a candy bar sized, slice of three flavors of mashed and cooked coconut – strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate.   Some argue that it’s monoflavored, rather than triflavored, but if you don’t eat it correctly – biting into one flavor at a time – you will  probably just get a morphed one note coconut burst.

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There are less than a dozen American candy companies that still make this historic candy today, but in the last five or so years, nostalgic candy from our past has seen a comeback within the confectionery industry.      The history is somewhat hazy and its inventor or originator company is hard to nail, but it seems to be an Italian-American concoction – like the tricolor Italian-American cookie from NYC  – out of the Victorian era candy companies in Chicago.    This was a time when coconut was still spelled cocoanut.   It’s a byproduct of the Neopolitan ice cream that Alpine Italian immigrants brought to America in the 1870s.

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The candy is known by several names – the coconut flag, Neapolitan coconut bar, coconut slices, or the tricolor coconut bar.    There’s even a long running watermelon flavored red, white and green coconut slice version, made by Candy Farm, a brand started and still owned by Dayton, Ohio, based Friesinger’s Candy.   Friesinger claims they’ve been making the original coconut slice since 1894, when German immigrant Johann Friesinger started the company in Dayton.     Friesinger started the company after a brief candy apprenticeship with a candy maker in Chicago, which is where he probably learned how to make the coconut slice.

The coconut slice was one of the original candies of the Brach’s company, founded in 1904.   But theirs was a small cube, bonbon shape and they called it the Neopolitan Sundae, after the Italian ice cream.    Unfortunately, this more well known version, was discontinued in 2012, much to its cult following’s dismay, when Brach’s was purchased by Chicago based Ferraro Pan Candies.    So Friesinger’s claim to the coconut slice candy is about a decade earlier than Brach’s.

Friesinger’s makes their Neopolitan Coconut Slice by hand, cooking each flavor separately, rolling and pressing each layer together and cutting them into bars by hand at their modern Springboro, Ohio, factory.

Atkinson Candy out of Texas – more famous for their Chic-O-Stick penny candy – also makes a long running version which they call the Rainbow Coconut Bar.   Reppert’s Candy makes one, as well as the tricolor watermelon version.   Blue Ribbon makes one  as does Kaufman’s. Tom’s vending.    A company called Tropical Treat makes a version that replaces the white vanilla layer with yellow banana flavored and a mango, pineapple/banana, and kiwi flavored version.     They’ve become popular also in Mexico and Latin America and a company called Maria’s makes a version in red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag.

So kudos to the yet to be named Italian immigrant candy maker who concocted this deliciously chewy and flavorful treat.  I am happy to see a second local candy maker enter the market.    And I have to do a taste-off of the Ohio vs Kentucky versions.

 

The Bomb Pop: America’s Most Patriotic Popsicle

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Did you know that the last Thursday in June is reserved as National Bomb Pop Day?   It’s true.   And there’s no more patriotic summer treat than the red, white and blue frozen popsicle – with flavors of sour cherry, lime and blue raspberry (does a blue raspberry even exist in nature?)  – in its distinctive six-finned, blunt-ended bomb-shaped mold.     For kids there’s nothing more American than staining your mouth blue, if you can get to the third and final color without passing out from brain freeze.

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While I appreciated the super strong flavors and cooling effect of the Bomb Pop, as a kid, I was more of a Scooter Crunch guy when the Mister Softee Ice Cream truck pulled up on my street, interrupting our games of kick-the-can.

The popsicle itself was invented in 1905, by an 11-year-old Frank Epperson  after accidentally leaving a mixture of powdered soda flavoring he had been toying around with out on his porch overnight. He awoke in the morning to find the mixture frozen overnight, with its mixing stick poking straight up from the center, calling it the “Epp-sicle.”   In 1923, a much older Emerson sold a more developed version of his signature treats on California’s Neptune Beach.  A year later  Emmerson’s Ice Pop was rebranded a popsicle.

As one would expect, Bomb Pops were invented on July 30, 1955, in the heat of the summer, by James S. Merritt and D.S. Abernethy in Kansas City, Missouri.   D. S. Abernethy is also responsible for the creation of another novelty bar, the Ninja Turtles bar.    When Merritt Foods shutdown in 1991, the Bomb Pop rights were sold to Wells Dairy in La Mars, Iowa, which is known as the city that churns out more ice cream than any other city in the world.    Wells makes the well known Blue Bunny brand of ice cream and is still owned by the Wells family.

Since it’s invention during the Cold War era, an arms race has been waged on our own soil with two other me-too contenders, the Rocket Pop and the Firecracker (owned by the Popsicle Company).     And millions of kids have since melted away the bomb, enjoying the tart, sour and sweet flavors.

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Wells has since grown the singular Bomb Pop into an entire line of tri-flavored treats.  A nearly equally famous fudge and banana version was then joined by a red and green watermelon variety.  Licensing deals with Jolly Rancher, Hawaiian Punch and Warheads candy resulted in other varieties.  Disney even sold a Buzz Lightyear version in its theme parks beginning in 2003. Merritt, and eventually Wells, had created a seemingly unstoppable armory of novelty bomb shaped desserts.

In 1971, Wells won a trademark for the Bomb Pop, protecting its intellectual property across a wide range of categories, covering “coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, rice, tapioca, sago, artificial coffee; flour and preparations made from cereals, bread, pastry and confectionery, ices; honey, treacle; yeast, baking-powder; salt, muster) (Bomb Pop mustard – really? ) ; vinegar, sauces (condiments); spices; ice.” Curiously, while ice is mentioned, the edible ices and ice creams filling categories were not in the text!

Bomb Pop Middles Hero

In May of this year, Well’s launched an extension to the Bomb Pop line called Middles – Bomb Pop shaped confections with a hard coating with a creamy ice cream center.   The four new flavors are Chocolate Caramel Sunday, Strawberry Raspberry Taffy, Chocolate Cream Sandwich, and S’mores, which I might have to try this summer!

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Bomb Pop mural formerly on the wall in the Northside Public Parking lot.