I Like Big Butts And I Cannot Lie

The above verse from Sir Mix-a-lot’s song titled Baby Got Back was not referring to Pig Butts.   And the term pig butt has nothing to do with the rump end either, it refers to the shoulder.    For the pig, the song should be renamed Baby Got Front. The rump is where the ham comes from, but the butt is in the front part of the pig.    Pork Shoulder is considered the best pork cut with which to make goetta, and there are a variety of confusing terms out there.   In general it can be referred to as a pork butt, shoulder butt, shoulder roast, or country roast.    But the cut is from the top of the shoulder socket to the spine and is a weave of muscles, fat, sinew, connective tissue and bone.    It falls apart easily when cooked, making it the most popular cut for pulled pork as well.

Like reference to the Sir Mix-a-lot song, the term butt has led to some pretty creative marketing and branding of competition barbeque teams and restaurants and their  slogans.   Recent winners at Memphis in May include Nutt’s N Butts and Deez Butts.   Restaurant names like Big Butts, Rubbin’ Butts, Smokin’ Butts dot the barbeque landscape.   It offers endless opportunities for  restaurant slogans, too, like “No One Can Touch our Butts” and “You Can Smell Our Butts for Miles.”  

Depending on what bones you leave in the shoulder cut, and what you do to it, there are a number of other more specific terms like Boston butt, Milwaukee butt, the callie or picnic butt, and the cottage butt or cottage ham.    It’s important as a Cincinnati meat customer or goetta maker you know what you’re getting from a meat label, so I thought I’d distinguish between them all.

You can buy a whole pork shoulder at some grocery stores, but more commonly you’ll find the shoulder cut into two pieces. The upper part is called the Boston butt (sometimes called “blade roast”), and it comes from right behind the pig’s neck and typically contains a small piece of the shoulder blade, but the neck bones and rib bones are removed.

If you leave the neck and few ribs in the shoulder cut, with the shoulder blade left in it’s called a Milwaukee style butt.    The Milwaukee butt has been around since at least 1912.

So why is it called a Boston Butt?   One food writer claimed it came from colonial times when pork was shipped in barrels called butts to other areas of the country.    But colonial pork production centered around Virginia and the Carolinas, not New England.  Then it came to Cincinnati Porkopolis in the 1830s and then to Chicago by the Civil War.   And there are no references to the Boston Butt before the Civil War.

The term actually originated in the late 1800s as railroads were turning meat packing from a regional to a national industry.   Butchers in different parts of the U.S. had slightly different ways of carving up pigs and cows, so they lent their city’s name to the cut.   That’s why we have New York Strip Steaks and St. Louis Ribs.

Pork shoulder originally had other regional names describing other cuts in the 1890s, that don’t survive today.   There was the New York shoulder, which had the shank cut off above the knee, trimmed close and smooth and square at the butt – or thick, shoulder end.  A California ham, which was not a ham at all – but was a butt – was well rounded at the butt and trimmed as near the shape of a ham as possible.    There was also a passing reference to a New Orleans cut of pork shoulder in the 1910s.  

The lower part is called the picnic or callie butt (also “arm roast”) and includes the narrower portion of the rest of the leg down to the hock, with the shank attached. The picnic is also a good choice for making pulled pork thanks to its fattiness. That extra fat provides flavor and juiciness without drying out the meat during low-and-slow cooking.   This also makes it a good cut for goetta, which needs the fat to gel after cooking to act as a glue for the oats.

Cottage butt is strictly a Cincinnati thing, like goetta. It’s a smoked single muscle from the Boston butt which Cincinnatians, like my mom, cook in a pressure cooker with potatoes, green beans and sweet onions.    This is also what’s known as a cottage ham within the butcher shops bounded by Interstate 275.

So, if you like big butts like I do, it’s important to know what part of it you’re getting by the name on the label!

Creative Curated Covid Cocktails From Both Sides of the River

Molly Wellman demonstrating the Japanese Cocktail on her weekly series Five O’Clocktails

Oh.my.God! I have to say Covid has really amped up the creativity from our cocktail mavens on both sides of the river – well at least a couple of them. Two local mixologists in particular are really taking it up a notch, offering take home cocktails with a story and knocking it out of the park. They’ve both been so fun with it that I have to give them both serious credit. The are Molly Wellman of Japp’s in Over-the-Rhine and Mark Ramler of Jerry’s Jug House in Newport, Kentucky.

Mark as Molly and Molly as Molly – Halloween 2019 at Jerry’s Jug House in Newport, KY.

They’re actually friends, and last year at this time for Halloween, they WERE each other. Or rather Mark dressed as Molly at Jerry’s and the resemblance was freaky remarkable. It’s probably the wide Cheshire cat grin they both share. Or maybe it’s really the “Yes, and…” fun attitude to which they both subscribe. They’re both staunch students of local history and avid preservationists. Mark is an architect and in addition to Jerry’s, he’s preserved many great historic structures in NKY, and even documented the history of his home town Camp Springs in a book. Molly has restored Japp’s into one of Cincy’s best OTR bars, displaying artifacts from when Japp’s was a hair accessory shop. She’s also a member of and hosted a troupe of geeks called Standup History, who mix standup comedy and drunken history for a unique entertainment experience.

Mark in front of Jerry’s Jug House, the last Jug House standing in Northern Kentucky.

Ever since the pandemic started, Molly was doing a near daily facebook live show she branded Five O’Clocktails, from her own kitchen, where she makes an historic drink for us and presents the cool story behind it. Recently, after bars have been allowed to be open, she’s continued with a once-a-week version of the show, but sells personal kits so you can make the cocktail yourself with her house made bitters and simple syrups. It’s brilliant – its like dinner, drinks and a show all in one, from the safety of your home. So, even if you’re not ready to go out to the bars, you still enjoy the Molly experience at home. I love the ingenuity.

Jerry’s Jug House’s brilliant “You Gonna Card Me on ‘EBN Day” take-home cocktail

Mark has been making branded take home cocktails from Jerry’s that come in plastic IV bags – get it? infuse with booze – and a cool regional and comical story. It’s not unlike my sister who invented the syringe jello shot in pharmacy school. His last two branded drinks have tripped.me.OUT!! For “Newport Christmas” aka the Labor Day WEBN Fireworks, he sold a neon green drink called, “You Gonna Card Me On ‘EBN Day!” This Friday, he is selling a version of Ron Ron Juice from the reality TV series Jersey Shore. I’m def getting some this Friday. Ron Ron Juice is the signature vodka drink of one of the many pumped up, cocky Jersey Shore Guidos in the show, Ronny. Its a vodka drink with watermelon, cherry, and cranberry. You can get it with takeout meatballs, just like an Italian Sunday Dinner like they had on the show. Again, brilliant – it’s just like dinner, drinks and a show – if you watch Jersey Shore reruns.

The Ron Ron Juice cocktail from Jerry’s Jug House.

Now I LOVE the Jersey Shore Show. Even though Midwestern, I made regular trips to the Jersey Shore in college to visit friends going to Villanova, and loved the Jersey Shore attitude and culture. I also bonded with one of my earliest marketing colleagues over this show a decade ago. I bought her a beaded Jersey Shore Fist Pump crop top on a business trip that she proudly wore for Halloween that year as Snookie, one of the wildest members of the show.

So if you’re not following on Facebook either Molly’s Five O’Clocktails, or Mark’s IV Bag drinks of the weeks at Jerry’s you gotta – they’re both one of the only things keeping me sane in this weirdest of years!

Cincinnati Farm-to-Table 1880s Style

My third great grandparents Johann and Catharina Weismann Brosey and their Fairfield Township farm.

If there’s anything this pandemic lockdown has taught many is how to make due with what we have. Many have planted gardens, made their own bread, and cooked dishes they never thought they’d make. I’ve cooked more than I’ve ever cooked in my life and made things like membrillo quince paste, steak sauce, and kalwa struedel. I bet that in a survey of the area we’d find that home production of goetta has significantly increased. It almost feels as if we’ve all been homesteading or subsistence farming.

Well that may be a gross exaggeration. If we really think back to what our ancestors had to do for subsistence farming in a largely agrarian society, most of us probably wouldn’t have hacked it. I recently came upon a tool that I had never heard of called the Agricultural Census. Ohio had one for many decades and luckily I was able to find the 1880 census of my third great grandparents – Johann and Catharina Weismann Brosey. They lived on a farm with 25 acres of improved land in Fairfield Township right off of what is now 129, halfway between downtown Hamilton and Liberty Center. Although their farmhouse is not there, the old brick schoolhouse (now a private residence) at 7793 Morris Road that was once on their farm, still stands across from the Victory Pentecostal Tabernacle church complex. The other cool thing is that I also found a lithograph of their farm and their photos in a Butler County atlas!

The 1870s brick schoolhouse that stands on the site of the farm of my Brosey ancestors in Fairfield Township.

John and Catherine were both of southwestern Germanic stock. John Brosey was son of Joseph Brosey, an immigrant from Switzerland on the border of Baden Wurtemburg. Joseph came to Cincinnati very early as what was called a Dreisiger – those impoverished southwest German and Swiss immigrants who immigrated in the 1830s. Many came as Redemptionists or indentured servants, too poor to pay their passage across the Atlantic. He had started in the west side of downtown Cincinnati, making candles from the widely available animal tallow from the slaughterhouses around his small factory. Michael Werk, also a Dreissiger immigrant from Alsace, near the border of Baden Wuertemburg, and also like many others, got his start as a small time immigrant candle maker near my ancestor. But he was a bit more entrepreneurial and successful than my ancestor. Joseph Brosey abandoned candle making and the soot infested city for west side farming. John’s mother, Anna Baermann, was brought from near Freiburg in southwest Germany, with her six other siblings to Cincinnati’s West Side by her father, John Baermann. He had been lured to Cincy by Nicholas Longworth to plant and tend his vineyards in Delhi. Catharina Weismann Brosey, John’s wife, was born in southwest Germany and came with her parents in the 1840s, settling in the White Oak (then Creedville) German Catholic community around St. James Catholic Church.

The 1880 Ohio Agricultural census was very detailed and told what products each farming family made, the acreage in cultivation, and details of their livestock. Johann and Catharina had 2 milk cows, four horses, and six Poland china hogs. Although neither Johann or Catharina were from northwestern Germanic goetta country, but being of Swiss and Baden Wuertemburg heritage, they would have likely used their pork to make some great sausages native to both of those areas. Man would I like to go back in time and eat a dinner at their table!

What stood out for me was how much butter they made – 250 pounds! That’s a lot of churning, but then they Broseys had a lot of mouths to feed – about 10 children. That’s also a lot of farm hands, but despite that they also hired out 15 weeks of hired farm labor at a cost of $75.

Of their fields in planting they had 4 acres of buckwheat from which they reaped 60 bushels, 3 acres of oats from which they reaped 75 bushels , 4 acres of corn, 3 acres of potatoes from which they reaped 300 bushels, and 3 acres of hay. What they also had 3 acres of that none of their other farm neighbors had was rye, from which they reaped 50 bushels. This speaks to the importance of roggenbrot or rye bread in their Germanic household, and its devotion in my family, five generations later. There is nothing my father celebrates more than a good loaf of rye bread for toast with goetta or for a good Limburger cheese sandwich.

The agricultural census also had columns to account for orchards, vineyards, market goods, bees & honey production, forest products, sugar, sorghum and maple, fiber products made using hemp or flax, sheep and lamb and wool products made and shear volume. I wonder if that’s where this term comes from – the “shear volume” of something.

About the mid 1880s is seems John got sick and was no longer fit for farm life, perhaps some sort of dementia as his mother had developed. Catharina sold the farm and successfully invested in real estate in downtown Hamilton, building a suburb in the German neighborhood north of Main Street, where there is still a Brosey Street. My branch, my 2X great grandfather Charles Brosey, moved to the city – Newport, Kentucky – where he joined other Germanic immigrants in the huge clothing industry and even owned a pants company that supplied to the American army in World War I.

So although we’ve been doing with less and making more on our own at home these days, we are still lucky with modern conveniences that our agrarian ancestors did not have.

How The Munich Oktoberfest Kindl Came to Cincinnati

An 1882 Group photo of workers at the Gambrinus Brewery in Over-the-Rhine.

There’s a photo in Mecklenburg Gardens that has baffled me for years.   It’s in the main dining room on the left wall of the hallway that leads to the restrooms.    It’s an 1882 group photo of the Gambrinus Brewing Company on the occasion of a keg tapping of their new beer.    It has all the great elements of a pre Prohibition brewery employee group pic.   It shows them holding mugs of beer, it shows the kegs with the Star of David, the symbol of the first brewer, and it shows them holding the tools of their trade.    In the center is a banner that reads in German, “Hopfen und Malt, Gott Erhalts,” which translates, not so poetically, to hops and malt, God preserves.

What has baffled me is the little girl in the center, in silk gown, and starred hat holding a tray of the two beers.   Who is she?  Is she a familiar character to brewers and what does she mean or symbolize?     She’s not some early representation of our current Bockfest Sausage Queen, which the Dowager Queen Jaclyn Cox wrote the book on.    She’s not King Barbarossa’s daughter.   We do know that she is in life, Anna Barbara Boss, later Krucker (1860-1943),  the daughter of Gambrinus President Christian Boss.

She looks sort of like an angel.   Is she to brewers what the German Kristkindl is to the Christmas season?   The Kristkindl is the long blonde haired girl angel who opens the Christmas Season in Germany at all the Kristkindlmarkts.    And Kristkindl in English means the Christ Child.   Yes, she’s Jesus in drag.    It’s a thing Germans for some unexplainable reason like to do – feminize their folk characters.

The Munich Coopers’ Union doing their Schafflertanz at Oktoberfest 2019.

Well it wasn’t until I watched a YouTube video of the Munich Coopers’ Union do their traditional Oktoberfest Schafflertanz, where they hold massive boxwood garlands and intertwine with each other, that I had an aha moment.   Opening the dance was a pretty blonde girl in a black hooded monk’s robe with a large yellow stripe down the center.     Who was this?  I was intrigued.

It turns out she is another feminized male folk character, called the Munchner Kindl – not the electronic book reading platform.  And who can blame the citizens of Munich for feminizing the monk. A pretty blonde is always more interesting than a fat monk. She’s an elected character, supposed to represent the Monk in the Munich city coat of arms or wappen.    And over the years, since the 1600s, she morphed into a little girl who holds a book and sometimes a group of radishes – the sort of natural anti-acid Germans munch alongside their lagers.    She, like the Kristkindl is for the Nuremburg Christmas Market, is the official mascot for Munich’s Oktoberfest.   Since the 1950s she has been leading the Oktoberfest traditional costume parade on horseback onto the Munich Weisn, the Oktoberfest festival grounds.   A girl is elected each year to play this prestigious role by the Festring association and must be born in Munich and have both parents and grandparents who are also native Munchners.

The Monk on the City Coat of Arms of Munich which the Munchner Kindl is based upon.

Yes, I thought, this is it!   The girl in the Gambrinus brew workers picture is some version of the Munich Kindl.   Granted she doesn’t look like the traditional Munchner Kindl.   She doesn’t have the black cloak, but she does have on a dress and cap and is carrying the first bottled beers.   Maybe she’s some hyper-regional version of this from Rheinish Bavara, from the town of Winzeln, where Gambrinus owner Christian Boss (originally Baas) was born.     It’s actually closer to wine country than Bavarian beer brewing country.    She’s sort of the Genius des Biers – the Angel of OTR.

A postcard from Munich Oktoberfest showing a lineup of Kindls.

Christian Boss came to Cincinnati in 1832 with his family, and married a Wuertemburger (again from Germanic wine country  not beer country) in Cincy in 1850.   He operated the Gambrinus company from 1858 to 1907, and his son rounded out the last 12 years before Prohibition took them down.   But Christian gave money and time to many German-Cincinnatian educational and cultural organizations, so preserving his Germanic heritage was important to him.

An early ad by Cincinnati’s John Hauck Brewing Co., using the Munchner Kindl.

John Hauck used the image of the Munchner Kindl in his early advertising too – perhaps to release fall lagers around the Oktoberfest season.   And the Munchner Kindl was also atop the Grammer’s sign in OTR. So, the imagery was known in Cincinnati and used by some of the Cincinnati Germanic brewers.

And so, Anna Barbara Boss, in her 1882 costume represents a sort of hyper-regional Rhenish-Bavarian, modified OTR-Cincinnati version of the Munchner Kindl.   Cheers to her and this years weird remote at-home Oktoberfest.   Maybe someone should dress as the Kindl and facebook-live a ride on horseback through the vacant streets of OTR to assure us there will be an in-person Oktoberfest next year!

A Nashville Hot Goo Goo Cluster: One Chef Festival Not Cancelled This Summer

In Nashville, summer extends to the end of September.     And that’s the case for its famous Goo Goo Summer Chef Series, one of my favorite chef collabs in the country.  For this event, which last from July through September, a small group of local Nashville chefs is chosen to collaborate with Goo Goo Cluster Shop Pastry Chef Mike Colon, to create what’s called a Premium Goo Goo Cluster reflecting the cuisine, style or background of the chef.   The series released on July 8, and they are about to release the last of their six Premium Goo Goos from Chef David Tieman of Five Points Pizza. The flavors rotate throughout the series and a new flavor releases every two weeks, available for purchase at least four weeks.     These wonderful creations are available on the website and at the Goo Goo Cluster Store downtown. A portion of the sales goes to a great cause – the Nashville Food Project – which grows, cooks, and shares food with other non-profits to stop hunger in Nashville.   They’ve been doing this series about six years since they opened the Goo Goo Cluster store in 2014.   

About two years ago, my sister carried back some premium Goo Goos for our family to taste from a Nashville girls weekend.   I’m a huge fan of the Goo Goo Cluster, which although a round cluster, is considered America’s first candy bar, born in 1912 at Nashville’s Standard Candy Company.   The original Goo Goo Cluster is a roundish mound of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts, and real milk chocolate.      They make a riff on the original that has a Cheerwine Soda flavored nougat, which sounds amazing to me. It’s the only candy ever advertised at the Grand Ole Opry.    I love the collaboration they do with these Premium Goo Goo flavors and what it means to the community.   I think Cincinnati could do a similar collaboration with say Doshers to make chef inspired French Chew flavors. How Graeter’s has not partnered with Doshers to make a Raspberry Chocolate Chip French Chew or Camp Washington to make a Cincinnati Chili French Chew is beyond me

The Tikki LIkki Premium Goo Goo Clusters

To be a Goo Goo Cluster it must contain four elements – a marshmallowy nougat of some sort, a caramelly or creamy element, a crunchy or nutty element, and the whole thing must be coated in some sort of chocolate.   Even with these guidelines it’s amazing what creativity these chefs weave into their confections.   The first in the series was called the Chikki Likki by Vivek Surti (James Beard Runner up for best chef of the southeast) of Tailor Nashville, a South Asian Indian restaurant.   Chikki is a traditional Indian sweet brittle made from nuts and jaggery/sugar. The Chikki Likki is an irresistible combo of rose & strawberry marshmallow, pistachio Chikki, cardamom & orange blossom caramel in dark chocolate.

The Local Yocal Premium Goo Goo Cluster

Next was the Local Yocal by Skylar Bush of Edible Nashville Magazine. For Edible Nashville Magazine’s Executive Chef, it’s about connecting culture and people. In his Goo Goo confection, Skylar was able to recreate the flavors and feeling of his travel to Southeast Asia and the Middle East in a local way. He chose Nashville-made Bae’s Matcha Butter and sesame as well as regional favorites, Willa’s Shortbread crumbles, for texture. All wrapped in an alluring ruby chocolate shell, Skylar brings uncommon ingredients together in a way that is delicious and intriguing. Local Yokel(ish) is made of Matcha Butter Ganache, Willa’s Honey Lemon Shortbread, Halva Nougat in Ruby Chocolate with a Black Sesame Seed base. New to Ruby chocolate? It’s neither bitter, milky or sweet, but tastes like smooth fresh berry fruitiness.

The Flocking Banana Premium Goo Goo Cluster

Available now from Chef Brian Riggenback of the Mockingbird is the Flocking Banana.   His Flocking Bananas confection is a riff on one of the most popular desserts from his restaurant. The banana chocolate cream pie gets its wings as a Premium Goo Goo filled with honey and vanilla roasted peanut nougat, peanut butter crunchies, and banana cream ganache, all covered in dark chocolate with a cacao nib and sea salt sprinkle base.

The Ninahot Premium Goo Goo Cluster

Also available is the Ninahot Premium Goo Goo.   Growing up as a refugee kid, Nina Singto’s most memorable moments were spent with her grandmother bonding over Thai chili peppers. Her grandma would plant in spring so by the summer Nina could help harvest and sell them in the neighborhood. Now, as chef and owner of Thai Esaine all the years of eating and serving spicy food have given her culinary renown. The Ninahot Premium Goo Goo merges basil milk chocolate ganache, Rice Krispies, and a fiery chili caramel that would make her grandmother proud. 

The Cool Heat Premium Goo Goo Cluster

And what would a Nashville chef collab be without a Nashville Hot flavor.   That’s exactly what Chef Aqui Hines Goo Goo creation promises.  If you ask her about her all-time favorite cookie, it’s undoubtedly a Girl Scout Thin Mint! During Girl Scout selling season, she’ll buy up at least 20 boxes to store in the freezer and enjoy all year long. As owner of 400 Degrees Hot Chicken, she has a way of taking her favorites and mixing heat into the equation. The Cool Heat Premium Goo Goo is just that—cayenne white chocolate ganache, chocolate cookie,Rice Krispies, and mint nougat in milk chocolate. It soothes you with the mint then ends with a kick of cayenne, because according to Hines (the queen of heat), if it’s not hot, it ain’t right!

The announcement in the next few days for the last Premium Goo Goo from Chef David Tieman of Five Points Pizza should be interesting.   If I were making a pizza inspired Goo Goo I’d probably include Nduja, caraway crunch brittle and a peccarino cheese nougat.   Or maybe he’ll go in a Hawaiian Pizza direction with pineapple, macadamia and vanilla nougat. If I were making my own premium Goo Goo – it would be a Moxie Soda nougat, Rye whiskey caramel with cashews, and a Cincinnati chili spiced chocolate coating.     I wish I were closer – I’d love to try the Tikki Likki and the Cool Heat and maybe the Local Yocal. Hell I’d try all of them. 

Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream Is Now the Defacto German Pastry Cream of Southwest Ohio

One thing can be said of Cincinnatians and our beloved food brands. We take and elevate them, even personify them, to pop icon status. Graeter’s has done a “graet job” (see what I did there?) over the last several years in opening culinary swing doors for their ice cream, particularly one of its most popular flavors – Black Raspberry Chip.

An expat friend of mine named Pat, who now lives in New Mexico, lamented to me yesterday how there is no Strawberry Chip Ice Cream in Santa Fe. We Graeter-obsessed Greater Cincinnatians take for granted that all fruity flavored ice creams should have luscious randomly shaped chunks of chocolate embedded within. In addition to basic vanilla Chocolate Chip, Graeter’s regularly offers Double Chocolate, Black Raspberry, Buckeye Blitz, Coconut, Cookie Dough, Mint, Mocha, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Coconut Almond Chip, and Toffee flavor “Chip” ice creams and seasonally Cherry Chocolate Chip, Strawberry Chocolate Chip and Peach Chocolate Chip. You can see why we expect up to 2″ diameter chips of Peter’s chocolate in our ice cream.

About 50 years ago, when other ice cream companies started adding ground chocolate to ice cream Will Graeter decided to add chocolate to their ice creams according to fourth generation Rich Graeter (also known as “Chip”). Because they use the French Pot method they could pour in their liquid chocolate thus forming the randomly sized nuggets we all enjoy.  Since this chocolate melts at about the same rate as the ice cream it truly melts in your mouth but still offers that chocolate crunch. Graeter’s uses Peter’s Chocolates, founded in 1875 and the first company to make milk chocolate, because of its superior flavor and lower melting point.

Graeter’s just announced they are partnering with Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in Columbus to include their Black Raspberry Chip Ice cream inside Schmidt’s super sized Cream Puffs for their September specialty cream puff in celebration of the Oktoberfest season. While we’re not celebrating the festival in person, we can still enjoy the flavors of Oktoberfest, and thanks to Graeter’s, with a chilly twist.

Clearly this shows Graeter’s evil plot to take over the German Oktoberfest pastry market with their ice cream. If I were a bakery supply house that sold fruit fillings or pastry cream I’d be worried. That’s because last year, they infiltrated another Cincinnati Germanic Oktoberfest pastry – the paczki filled donut. Graeter’s partnered with Busken bakery to fill their paczki shell with their Black Raspberry Chip ice cream AND Goetta in their Halo line of donuts. They even created a small fleet of refrigerated food trucks to dispense this new confection. Is it a donut, is it a mini ice cream cake? What Germanic Cincinnatian could resist. I wonder what Oprah thinks.

Graeter’s had already laid the groundwork for this pastry takeover. The Chip Wheelie, with their ice cream wedged between two chocolate chip cookies, had assured us that it was ok to pair ice cream with pastry.

So what’s next in Busken’s strategy – a Black Raspberry Chip filled laugenbretzel at Tuba Baking Company in Covington? A Black Raspberry Chip and goetta filled struedel? A Black Forest Cake with Black Raspberry Chip butter cream iced layers? They wouldn’t dare come for our Schnecken, would they? Must we now refer to Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream as German Pastry Cream? I’m not sure what’s in our ice cream filled pastry future, but Graeter’s sure has some other tricks up their sleeves.

HBO’s Perry Mason is a Virtual Culinary Tour of Early Los Angeles

Perry Mason and cohort eating at Boo Koo Burgers

I recently started watching HBO’s Perry Mason series.   It’s a remake of the 1950s classic that I grew up watching and that my parents still watch in syndicated rerun.   The first season presents a virtual culinary history tour of Los Angeles.   This food etymologist is giddy that authentic food history is being preserved and included in new film.   And it’s a trend that’s becoming more common in newly created shows and films.   The series is spectacular, set in 1932 in Depression and Prohibition era Los Angeles.    The characters do a lot of eating (and drinking) in between stake outs, court cases, and investigations.   And the production team could have chosen to use generic diners and restaurants.   Instead they’ve recreated Los Angeles iconic haunts like Ptomaine Tommy’s, where the chili size was invented; Boo Koo Burgers, a walk up burger hut common in Depression southern California; and Phillippe’s, where the French Dip Sandwich was born.

We are introduced to Phillippe’s when character E.B. Jonathon is being interviewed by the LA Times and is asked where he eats when he’s not lawyering.   He says, “I’m quite fond of the French Dip at Phillipe’s.”   Like many other great dishes, the French Dip sandwich was invented by accident.     Phillippe Mathieu opened his restaurant in LA in 1908.  IN 1918, while making a sandwich for a cop, he accidentally dropped the sliced French roll into a pan of meat drippings.   The cop said he’d still take the sandwich.   The next day he brought in a group of cops all wanting their sandwiches dipped in the beef drippings, and the sandwich soon became the house specialty.

Today, Philippe’s “French Dipped Sandwich” consists of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a fresh baked French roll dipped in the natural gravy of the roasts. Guests can add Swiss, Cheddar, American, Monterey Jack or Blue. And as condiment accompanying the sandwich are a choice of tart, tangy cole slaw, homemade potato and macaroni salads, hard boiled eggs pickled in beet juice and spices, large Kosher style, sour dill or sweet pickles, black olives and hot yellow chili peppers. Philippe’s still prepares and serves close to 300 pounds of pigs feet every week.   Additionally, Phillippe’s is also famous for their brand of hot mustard.

The outside of Boo Koo Burgers in Perry Mason – note how chile is spelled.

Mason and his cohort, Pete Strickland, grab a burger at a walk up burger hut in LA called Boo Koo Burgers in another episode.    Mason gets an undressed burger and Pete gets what looks like a chili dog.    Not a lot is known about Boo Koo, other than that they were also a popular burger hut in Texas in the 1930s.   They were a no frills, walk up, eat at the counter burger joint.   There were hundreds of these no frills burger shacks that popped up during the Depression.  Also appropriate is that they do not have fries as a side with their burgers.   French Fries in American fast food burger cuisine were not common until the food shortages during World War II, which made White Castle popularize the cheap and readily available side dish to customers to offset the shrinking size of their burgers.

Mason eating at Ptomaine Tommy’s
Mason at Ptomaine Tommy’s with the Chili size since 1913 ad behind him

Lastly, Mason and Della Barr eat at a super-authentically recreated Ptomaine Tommy’s, where Della introduces Mason to a Harvard-educated lawyer for some advice.     A sign on the door blazons “The Original Size, since 1913” and the red florid font of Ptomaine Tommy’s.    Ptomaine Tommy was Tommy DeForest.   He started with a food cart he called his Ptomaine Tabernacle, which was a Depression era , self effacing description of a greasy spoon joint that used inferior meats.  Ptomaine is a type of amino compound formed from the rotting or putrefication of meats.

Tommy started his chili parlor in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of LA in 1913 and it operated until 1958.   But his invention, the chili size is now a regional food popular at many diners around LA.   Even Bob’s Big Boy in LA has a chili size on its menu.   It is basically an open faced hamburger smothered in house chili, cheddar cheese and chopped onions.   It got the term ‘size’ by the size of the ladle used to add the chili.   He had a large ladle for serving bowls of his chili, and a smaller, hamburger size for the hamburger.   It’s LA’s version of a meat-on-meat threeway.  I look forward to seeing more food history in the upcoming seasons of Perry Mason.

How Atari Ruined the Taste of American Pitted Fruits

The super juicy and sweet Santa Rosa plum, a disappearing icon of pre-Silicon Valley Santa Rosa Valley.

The Silicon Valley we know today was very different before Atari moved in as one of the first tech companies in 1972 in Sunnydale, California.    The area was largely agricultural, filled with orchards of pitted fruits of cherries, apricots and plums.   About 80% of the orchards were for plums that were made into California prunes.     Before it was Silicon Valley, it was called the Valley of Heart’s Delight, because of all of its flowering fruit trees

A flowering plum orchard in Silicon Valley when it was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delights.

There was good reason for so many orchards.   The Santa Clara Valley has an advantage over other fruit-growing regions because of its geography, tucked away from the coast, but not too far from it.   It has warmth, but it also has mildness, especially at night. After a hot day, fruit trees need to rest. A lot of times in the Central Valley, where most pitted fruits for the American market are now grown, it’ll go up to 100 degrees during the day and go down to about 85 at night.   In the Santa Clara Valley, the day temperatures are cooler and the night temperatures are cooler, too. That means the fruit can stay on the tree longer, and the longer the fruit stays on the trees, the more sugar it develops. The flesh is firmer, and juicier. “Tree-ripened,” as it turns out, is not just an advertising slogan. Delicious varieties of plums, like the small Santa Rosa plum, and the Japanese variety Blenheim apricot became the fruit the Valley became known for worldwide

Until Atari came to the Santa Rosa Valley, it was the largest fruit-producing and packing region in the world, with 39 canneries.  Del Monte and Sunsweet are two brands which originated in the Valley. Various fruit cooperatives were formed in the area to deal with economic issues, including The California Fruit Union (founded in 1883) and the Santa Clara County Fruit Exchange (founded in 1892). Water was supplied from an artesan aquifer and when the water table dropped, wells were pumped. Many orchards were small with housing and fruit growing in a dispersed pattern. By the 1920s and 1930s, the agricultural and horticultural industries were doing well in the valley and included 18 canneries, 13 dried-fruit packing houses, and 12 fresh-fruit and vegetable shipping firms, and they were shipping internationally.    But that all stopped when land became more valuable for development with the tech boom.

The need for workers greatly exceeded the local population and in the nineteenth century, Chinese and Japanese immigrants met that need. Toward the end of the nineteenth century many Italians and other immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe came to the valley and worked in the orchards and canneries. During the 20th century there were Filipino immigrants.   Mexicans became the dominant agricultural workforce through the Bracero Program (1942-1964) which was a bi-national effort that brought Mexican guest workers, known as braceros, to fill in agricultural labor shortages caused by World War II.     It was these Braceros who are responsible for popularizing the burrito in Mexican American cuisine, because this is what they were fed at the end of their day. With no Bracero program, there would be no Chipotle.

Tasty though they are, though, these delicate Santa Rosa fruits are expensive. They bruise easily, and need to be sold and consumed right away.  As fruit farms were displaced by Tech Firms, they had to move from the Santa Clara Valley to the Central Valley.   The fruit varieties had to be more heat tolerant and more prolific than the delicate, sweet, smaller fruits that could survive in the Santa Clara Valley.  From an economic perspective, the Central Valley to the north wins on every score, not just because the land is cheaper.

That means most of the varieties you see in the markets today are ones that do well in the Central Valley’s heat. So the Blenheim apricot, for example, a delicate creature that thrived for decades in the temperate Santa Clara Valley, has given way to the heartier,  blander Patterson.    Although they’re not as sweet and delicious, they are durable, and productive, yielding 20 tons to the acre versus the ten you get with the Blenheim apricot.

The tech boom began by Atari in 1972 and fueled in the 80s caused the area’s many small orchards to give way to drive-throughs and strip malls amid campuses housing titans of high-tech industry: Lockheed Martin, Yahoo!, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn.

Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari in Sunnyvale, California.

Nolan Bushnell, who some refer to as the Godfather of video games,  created Atari in 1972, the first silicon valley company in Sunnyvale.  He and his co-founders were in their 20s and wanted to create an “Age of Aquarius” company where the work ethic was work hard play hard – paving the way for the ethos of Silicon valley and creating the template for tech companies that came in and displaced the many fruit farms.  They recruited folks saying they could wear whatever they wanted, come in to work whenever they wanted, do whatever they wanted, as long as their output was good.    Bushnell said he could get any engineer in the valley with this explanation.    There were lots of tales of board meetings in hot tubs, pot smoking in the hallways, and lots of hooking up.    And they made a lot of money – They built their empire by making hit arcade games like Asteroids and Defender, industry defining game consoles and computers

One of their first games, Pong inspired Tomohiro Nishkado in Japan to create the iconic game Space Invaders.   His characters of alien crabs, octopuses and squid were also inspired not by sushi, but by War of the Worlds.    Atari licensed Pacman, created by another Japanese game designer, Toru Iwatani, after seeing the shape a pizza made when he took the first slice.

Many residents of the area still have fruit trees in their backyards, and a common one is the plum. These are often the Santa Rosa or the native varieties that grow wild in the area.

One of the last Silicon Valley orchards is at Orchard Heritage Park in Sunnyvale, California.    It has been owned by three generations of the Olson family since 1899.   Like many of the other orchard families, they lease the original orchard land to a strip mall in Sunnyvale.

Olson said that the market for dried apricots is narrow, especially for the Blenheim apricots that the orchard grows. Olson claims that Blenheim apricots are the sweetest and “best tasting” apricots, but are going extinct as they are the most tedious to care for — it costs around seven dollars to raise one pound of apricots.  As a result, most apricots in the United States are imported from the Middle East. Olson said less than 700 tons of apricots were grown in-state last year.  Especially with families on budgets, you can get cheap dried apricots from Turkey at Costco in big bags and small farms like Olson’s family just can’t do that

Urbanization and shelf life stability is a common story in the ruining  of our once tastier and more delicious American produce.   If we just valued our food supply chains more – which we’ve certainly seen the affects of in this Pandemic –  maybe we’d have healthier and tastier foods.    Little did I know the fun games I played on my Atari 2600 as a kid caused our pitted fruits to taste like cardboard.

A Pastry Blossom Mashup: Tuba’s Laugenkrautkrapfen and LaRosa’s Rondos

Tuba Baking’s Laugenkrautkrapfen or LKK.

There’s a new savory pastry trend in Greater Cincinnati and I want to be the first to document it. It’s called a pastry blossom – a rolled, sliced, savory-filled pastry that when baked, turns into a delicious flowering blossom. The two leading examples are Tuba Baking’s laugenkrautkrapfen, and LaRosa’s Rondo. Both are delicious and both come with a dippin’ sauce – LaRosa’s being their sweet San Marzano marinara sauce, and Tuba’s being a superb senfrahmsosse or mustard cream sauce. One comes from Italian roots, the other from German-Swabian roots. One is basically a rolled up pizza, and the other is a rolled up pretzel. I love that Tuba is using an authentic German cognate word to describe theirs, although for purposes of simplicity I think I’m going to refer to it as the LKK.

Tuba’s Laugenkrautkrapfen mit senfrahmsoße uses their signature lye brushed Swabian pretzel or bretzel dough, filled with sauerkraut and ham and served with mustard cream dipping sauce. The original is made with pasta sheets filled with Black Forest ham and sauerkraut and cooked in a pot with broth. Tuba decided since “krapfen” (donuts) is in the name they’d try it with their sourdough pretzel dough and roll it up with real schwarzwalder schinken (Black Forest ham) and real fermented caraway kraut from The Pickled Pig in Walnut Hills. Then they brush the sides with lye to initiate the Maillard Reaction, which crisps the outside and leaves the inside of the dough chewy. They then bake it off and serve it with the lovely mustard cream sauce. Stay tuned, I’m told they’re also working on a vegetarian option too. I love them and think they should be served at every German festival in Greater Cincinnati.

LaRosa’s Rondos.

Now LaRosa’s Rondos are not to be taken for granted. They start out with a delicious pizza dough – brushed on the outside with a garlic pesto butter, and then filled with (midwestern, not original New York Italian) provolone cheese and either pepperoni or spinach and served with the sweet tomatoey signature LaRosa marinara we all know and love.

What it comes down to in the judging of both of these pastry blossoms is whether or not you like a rolled pizza or a rolled pretzel better. Both have a delicious crispy outside and delicious savory inside. And do you like a tomatoey dippin’ sauce or a bright mustardy dippin’ sauce? I leave that up to you, but I love both and hope to see more mashups of the pastry blossom showing up around town.

Liederkranz: The Singing Cheese That Has a More Famous Cousin

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If you’ve ever been to German festival in Greater Cincinnati, you’ve probably seen a booth that offers Limburger cheese sandwiches.   It’s typically sold warm between two slices of good German rye bread, with a slice of raw white onion.   People of German heritage love this smelly cheese.   It’s the Germanic version of Durian fruit – smells funky, tastes delicious.     There’s even reference in the history of the Ohio 9th Civil War Regiment (mustered in Over-the-Rhine of German immigrants) that their suttler Frank Linck (a former brewer) brought them Limburger cheese, and their Anglo-American compatriots complained of its smell.

Back in the 1890s, importing European Limburger cheese was problematic – it often spoiled in transport, without commercial refrigeration.   But in 1891, a Swiss immigrant named Emil Frey, working for the Monroe Cheese Company in New York, invented a domestic, and milder version of Limburger cheese, or what the Germanic immigrants in the Hudson Valley called Bismark Schlosskase.     Frey’s father had been a dairy farmer and cheese maker in Switzerland.

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Emil Frey, the Swiss immigrant who invented Liederkranz and Velveeta cheeses.

It used a slightly different bacterial culture for smear ripening than Limburger, which made it easily spreadable, with the same dirty gym socks smell.   It is a cow’s milk cheese, with an edible pale yellow-orange tan crust, and a semisoft, pale interior  distinct aroma that can turn unpleasantly ammonia-like if aged incorrectly.     Think of Liederkranz as the Germanic version of Philly Cream Cheese, only smellier.

Liederkranz offered a domestic, creamy pungent cheese that scratched the itch for Limburger and other smelly Germanic cheeses.   Germanic immigrants were delighted.  Adolph Tode, the owner of the Monroe Cheese company and a New York deli, test marketed the new cheese with his friends at the New York Liederkranz, or German singing society, and they literally sang its praises.   And, so as the legend goes, the company decided to name the cheese after the society.

The cheese became a huge hit and one with great ‘dis-stink-tion’ around the nation in Germanic settled areas, like Cincinnati.   It was packed in small wooden boxes with vent holes, which wafted the smell out and about.     Author W. H. Auden and T.S. Elliot became cult fans of the cheese. It was served locally in sandwiches and in cheese plates (what we now call charcuterie boards) at such high end places as Glenn Schmidt’s Playtorium (a notable mob hangout in Newport, Kentucky, now Jeff Ruby’s The Syndicate).

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Liederkranz cheese slowly disappeared over the course of the 20th century. In the 1920s, Tode sold the Monroe Cheese company, and the business, which relocated to Van Wert, Ohio, changed hands several more times.  Inspectors discovered bacterial contamination in a batch of Liederkrantz in 1985, and production ceased.

Not to be stopped by just one innovation, Emil Frey in 1918 invented another, more famous cheese that has become the American Cheese, one that is the go-to for grilled cheese sandwiches.   It was named Velveeta to evoke its velvety texture.     Frey had been tasked by the company execs to come up with a cheese that used scraps from other cheeses or damaged cheeses that couldn’t be sold.    It’s brilliance is that incorporating the milk whey with the curd create a creamy, easily meltable cheese that melts without clumps.   A separate company, the Velveeta Cheese Company incorporated in 1923 and took off with the brand.

In the mid-2000s, DCI Cheese Co., based in Richfield, Wisconsin, took ownership of the extinct cheese. Using cultures developed by the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, they reintroduced Liederkranz to the market in 2010.    It can now be fairly easily found at Kroger and Jungle Jim’s.   With commercial refrigeration and preservatives, importing cheese is effortless today,  but Liederkranz remains a relic from a time when attempts to replicate the flavors of Europe led to new and delicious American delights.