St. Louis “Chile”

 

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St. Louis’ Chili Mac.

St. Louis and Cincinnati have a lot of food commonalities.     On the pastry side, St. Louis has a gooey butter coffee cake, while Cincinnati has its cheese crowns.        St. Louis has its own style of pizza, with its own type of cheese, called provel. Cincinnati has LaRosa’s pizza .     And, when it comes to chili – or chile, as they spell it in St Louis – they have their own too, and they serve it on spaghetti, calling it chili mac.

St. Louis Chile is perhaps a bit older than Cincinnati’s.     But unfortunately theirs is fading out, while Cincinnati’s is going strong, fueled by the two big chains Skyline and Gold Star.     St. Louis chili was founded by two brothers (like Cincinnati’s Macedonian Kiradjieff brothers), Otis Truman Hodge (1872-1942) and his younger brother Mervin C. Hodge (1879-1952) around 1904, when Otis operated a food stand at St. Louis’ 1904 World’s Fair.     He shortly thereafter opened Hodge’s Chili and Lunch Room at 814 Pine Street.

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Otis Truman Hodge (founder of St. Louis Chile) and wife Miriam.

St. Louis Chile does not have a Macedonian or Greek heritage, like Cincinnati chili.   John Eirten, great nephew of the founder, by marriage, says the predominant spice in their chili is cumin, and they use a fatty, more coarse ground meat, than Cincinnati chili does.     It is also served in a few more creative ways than Cincinnati chili.     St. Louis has chili topped spaghetti that they call Chile mac, and chili topped hot dogs, but they also have chili topped tamales called “tamale in”, something called the “Slinger” (a chili topped hamburger, hash brown, and fried egg mashup), and “Chili mac ala mode”, which is spaghetti, fried eggs and chili.      A “top one” is a chili mac topped with a tamale.      Two chili topped tamales is called a “21”.   St. Louis’ much heartier variations morphed out of the diner culture, rather than Cincinnati’s chili parlor culture, and thus the addition of fried eggs, hash browns, and burgers.

 

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By 1930 there were 17 locations of O.T. Hodge’s Chile Parlors around St. Louis, between the River and Jefferson Avenue.   They, like the original Cincinnati Empress Parlor, spawned several others, but not anywhere near as many as Cincinnati’s 250 parlors.       The atmosphere at an O.T. Hodge’s was the same as a Cincinnati chili parlor– a stool flanked counter and steam table with a few tables and chairs.  And, you could find anyone from a judge to a laborer sitting side by side.

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The last O.T. Hodge’s sadly closed in 2013, but Big Ed’s Chili Mac, which is also owned by a Hodge relative, John Eirten, is hanging on. Cincinnati’s last two Empress Chili Parlors, in Bridgetown and Alexandria are also barely holding on.   Many people still have nostalgia for these longtime chili parlors, but changing demographics and economics of the neighborhoods caused many to close.

Harry Brunsen (1918-1998), husband of Otis’s daughter Ruth, was the last one to own an O.T. Hodge chili parlor.   Early on a relative of Otis’s split and founded the company that would can and supply frozen bricks of chili. That business is still around today and supplies the chili that many diners use to top their many varietals of the St. Louis Slinger.

Bubbles – The Cincinnati Wine, Marketed as a Cider, and Sold as an Ale

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The original Bubbles can to the left, and the new can.

 

The craft brew industry has brought some great new innovation in beers and fermented alcoholic drinks, some that blur the lines between categories.    Unfortunately these blurry, boozy new craft drinks have to be categorized by state law to be taxed correctly.     That causes some confusion and problems, like what has recently happened with Rhinegeist’s new Rose Cider they call Bubbles.  It’s  bit of a unicorn in the craft brewing world.

Bubbles is primarily a cider – fermented with apples, but also with added peach and cranberry juice to give it that rose pinkish tone for visual affect and subtle flavor adder.    However innovative and delicious the addition of the fruit juices make it, by Ohio Revised code, they also make it a wine, especially if the fruit juices are used in the ferment.   That means that instead of the 24 cents per gallon tax, it now gets a 32 cents per gallon tax and would drive the price up and out of the increasingly popular cider market.

So, a collector’s item can has been created.  At release the original Bubbles can said “Bubbles –  Rose Cider with Peach and Cranberry.”      That was until the state inspector saw it and now the can reads “Bubbles – Rose Ale.”    I was at Amerasian Restaurant in Covington, Kentucky, last night and had a Bubbles with the original can – I should have kept it for posterity!   Our server gushed at how much she loves Bubbles, when I ordered it.

This type of innovation of crossing lines between categories should be encouraged.     These old Ohio codes, some pre-Prohibition, don’t reflect this brave new world of the craft brew.    And, this exact experimentation of the last several hundred years, adding a little bit of this, a little bit of that, is how all the wonderful categories we enjoy today were developed.

Now Rhinegeist have  made bubbles into an ale – I’m not exactly sure, how – but that means it actually gets less tax than a cider (now 16 cents per gallon vs. 24 cents)  even though on Rhinegeist’s website, they market it as a cider in their “Cidergeist” group of three ciders.    By they Ohio Revised code definition, to be levied as a beer (of which category an ale falls under) the beverage has to be brewed with a malt substance like barley, corn, rice, or wheat.     Now that’s innovation!   Cheers to Rhinegeist for making a superb winey-cider available for the price of a beer!

Nicholas Longworth, the Cincinnati  Father of American Wine would be proud.   He sold a crappy fortified, fizzy Catawba wine as a champagne and won a ribbon in France for it !!

A Tale of Two Chili Powders

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It’s the day after I was first quoted as saying “bullshit” in print,  for an interview with Munchies Magazine.   I was passionately defending my beloved Cincinnati Chili.   My expletive was in reference to all the naysayers from Texas who claim that Cincinnati has absolutely no claim to chili.   Well, they have a little history lesson coming to them.

Cincinnati is in fact the birthplace of American chili powder.   Of course, the spice of ground dried chilis was first invented hundreds of years ago by the Chili Queens of what is now Mexico for their chili.    But the Queen City gave birth to the man who invented the modern blend of chili powder that ALL Texans and chili makers, even Cincinnati chili markers, use.

And oh yes, Texan chili historians will claim their own as the inventor.   Texas historians claim that he was a Czech-German immigrant named Wilhem Gebhardt who landed in New Braunfels, the land of kolachis and jetronice (a cousin of goetta).    He is purported to have invented chili powder in 1896.   Gebhardt operated a café in the back of what was called Miller’s saloon.     He invented a way to pulverize dried chilis into a powder that he called Tampico Dust, and then quickly renamed Gebhardt’s Eagle Chili Powder.   Well that’s all fine and good, but it was probably more like paprika (a mild chili) because of his Eastern European origin, than modern chili powder.

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Rewind nearly three decades earlier to bustling Cincinnati.   DeWitt Clinton Pendery (1848-1924)  was itching to move west and  join his two brothers at their successful dry goods business in Ft. Worth, Texas, blocks from the courthouse.       All  of DeWitt Clinton Pendery’s siblings were born in Cincinnati – Nellie,  Anne, Thomas, Semiramis (love that name), Eugene, and Frank.        DeWitt in 1870 took one bumpy ass stagecoach ride from Cincinnati to Ft. Worth, Texas, and joined his brothers in the trade.    He arrived in the center of town and was nearly laughed back on the stagecoach because of his Yankee attire of his tall Cincinnati – made silk tophat and long frock coat.     Legend has it that in true Wild West form, someone shot a bullet and grazed Pendery’s tophat in jest.

Pendery had developed an interest in spices.  As a sideline to the dry goods business he began selling a spice blend of ground chilis, cumin, oregano, and other spices that he called Chiltomaline.     The fifth generation of the Pendery family , Clint Haggerty, claims he started selling the chili powder at least around 1885, probably earlier, and cafes, restaurants, and citizens loved it.      Sorry Gebhardt, that beats your late-to-the-game 1896 – copycat!!     The Pendery family still sells the original Chiltomaline formula, along with hundreds of other spices from their catalogue and store.

Pendery’s family legacy in Cincinnati can be read through famous streetnames.   You see, Dewitt was born in Cincinnati in 1848 to Ludlow DeMun Pendery and Catherine Sheppard.   Ludlow Pendery’s parents were Alexander Pendery and Mary Ludlow, born in Cincinnati in 1791 to John Ludlow and Susan Demun.     Now the names should start getting familiar.    Mary Ludlow’s uncle Israel Ludlow, came to Cincinnati (or more accurately Ft. Washington, at the time)  after the Revolutionary War, to survey the Symmes Purchase, out of which the City of Cincinnati was carved.     By the 1870s when DeWitt Clinton Pendery left for Ft. Worth, there were many large spice companies in Cincinnati, where he could have been exposed to spice blends.

So chili and chili powder really do come to the core of Cincinnati.   We could even say we taught Texans how to make their chili, or at least how to make their chili powder.   Take that Deadspin!

 

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The Memorial in Oakwood Cemetery in Ft. Worth Texas, to Cincinnati born, Chili Powder inventor, DeWitt Clinton Pendery.

My Hat Is Bigger Than Yours – Ohio Amish Sausage

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It’s that time when all the great farmers’ markets open and we get to use fresh locally grown produce again.      Sundays this time of year were made to drive out of the city limits and get lost in the country to find any one of the many farmstands or markets.

Ohio has the largest population of Amish in the world.   And Holmes County, with its 18,000 Amish leads that statistic.    It’s interesting that the Amish are nicknamed the Pennsylvania Dutch, but Ohio houses the majority of them.   Well, at least Pennsylvania was where they started before moving west.

There are many Amish stores in Ohio in the 26 Ohio counties that house them.   I was turned on to one by a coworker.  It’s  called Steiner’s Country Market between Eaton and New Hope, Ohio.  It’s actually not Amish run, because there are no Amish in Eaton, Ohio,   It’s run by the Brethren that live in Preble County, Ohio.   They’re like Amish Lite (which oddly also sounds like a beer)  because they dress like Amish, but have no problems owning SUVs and big farm equipment.   The non-Amish farmers in Preble County can’t stand them because they get religious tax exemption for some of their farming business expenses, and the non-Brethren don’t.

The store is just what you would expect – lots of supposedly Ohio Amish made products, like Mrs. Miller’s jellies, made in Fredricksburg, Ohio.      There are other products labelled Amish made  from Ohio and Pennsylvania.    I was amused by one brand , Jake and Amos, that had a cartooney logo of two long-bearded straw hat-wearing Amish brothers .   It’s labelled as using Amish STYLE recipes – but like most of the products in the store being marketed as Amish, they’re made in a factory like the rest of our canned and jarred grocery products.   The store had an entire aisle of wholesale old fashioned candies, pickled vegetables, and pies.   I took home some jellies but was unimpressed  with them.  I wanted to taste real fruit, but they were mostly fake-flavored, over-pectined gels.    The one good thing about the store was their extensive meat counter, on which the German-accented butcher gave me the background.

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Then I found out about Ohio’s true Amish product – Trail Bologna – made in the small town of Trail, Ohio.     It is a uniquely spiced all beef bologna sausage, available available in the standard smoked, cheddar, and hot pepper, in both ring and larger diameter sandwich size.  It was invented in 1912, by a butcher, Michael Troyer, and is being made now, available nationwide by the fourth generation, Ken and Kevin Troyer.

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The Troyer Amish are known to be one of the most conservative sects of Amish in the U.S.    In addition to the normal Amish no-no’s the Troyer Amish prohibit carpeting, upholstered furniture, and even linoleum!   Can you imagine that Church discussion when the new linoleum product was discussed for its evil?!    Their ancestor, bishop Elias Amos Troyer, split from the Swartzentruber Amish in Holmes county Ohio and started his own church over issues of ex communication and hat brims!      Seriously, they split because the men thought a wider hat brim was more holy.

My hat is bigger than yours!!

Don’t Get Salty or Caustic with Me!!

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Has Cincinnati become the national mecca of the soft pretzel?   It seems like the Queen City is well on its way, with all the recent entrants to the market.   In the last two years, four brand new business specializing in soft Bavarian style pretzels have opened in Greater Cincinnati.    And that doesn’t include the local bakeries that make their own pretzels, knots, and twists.     These new entrants aren’t your run-of-the-mill festival pretzel that is frozen, reheated, salted and sat under a heat lamp for hours.   These are hand-kneaded and hand-rolled and many even use the authentic German methods of preparation.

 

In an earlier post, I told the history of the man who brought the bretzel to Cincinnati – Mr. E. F. Kurfiss.   His bretzel was the traditional Baden-Wurtemburg, lye-dipped soft pretzel, with a fat belly and thinner arms.    Today we expect our pretzels today to have a consistent diameter.   If they’re not we think them deformed and odd.

 

The standard festival hot pretzel in the U.S. morphed from another version of the pretzel, the Lititz Pretzel. In 1884, Greater Cincinnati lists Michael Grau (1834-1923), an immigrant from Thungen, Germany, as the “Baker of the Only Genuine Lititz Steamed Bretzel.”   Thungen is between the Baden-Wurtemburg /Palatinate region and Upper Bavaria – Germany’s bretzel baking regions.     Grau started his bretzel bakery in 1868 on Monmouth Street, Newport, Kentucky’s central business district.     He made his pretzels in a less caustic mix than the lye of the Baden-Wurtemburg version Kurfiss brought.   The problem is that the less caustic mix doesn’t break down the gluten proteins in the dough to amino acids that can be caramelized through the Maillard reaction that takes place in baking.

 

For years Servatii has been known for their huge three and six pound soft pretzels that are served with beer cheese dip for large parties.   They still make the largest soft pretzel in the Greater Cincinnati area. They have the typical salted version and a sesame seed version.   Their Bavarian pretzel recipe was carried from Muenster, Germany, by founder, Wilhelm Gottenbusch in 1963 when he started the first Servatii’s in Hyde Park.

 

Pretzel Baron, founded in 2015, is an extension of the Servatii’s family, and sells retail packed Bavarian soft preztels.   In January of this year, Valora Group acquired Pretzel Baron for an undisclosed amount. Valora is a Swiss-based independent retail company that runs a retail network of more than 2,500 convenience and food service outlets in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and France. The company also is a world leader in pretzel products, operating a bakery-products value chain.

 

Then there’s Bretzel OTR which opened a few years ago at 14th Street near Vine. They started in Columbus, Ohio, but saw the expanding Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, with its Germanic history as a growth market.   Bretzel makes 40 different flavors of hand rolled Bavarian style pretzels – flavors from spinach-asiago to orange-thyme.

 

A lowkey German themed bar in Covington, Wunderbar, bakes its own oversized soft pretzels.   They can be found at the bar, and at Braxton Brewery in Covington as well.

 

Now Bellevue, Kentucky has its own local pretzelry, the Pretzel Place.   It’s in the former space of Twisted Sister, another pretzel bakery, and new owners Beth and Brad, are using the same recipes for pretzels and pretzel knots as Twisted Sister.   They have something called the Pumpkin Spice Dessert Pretzel Knot that’s definitely on my radar!

 

Now if someone could come up with a sourdough caraway rye soft pretzel, I would be in heaven!

Spargelzeit – It’s White Asparagus Time!!

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There’s a small farm just north of Hamilton that I pass everyday.     Every year in late April, a sign goes up at that farm to get your order in for asparagus.    They grow the typical green asparagus, but it always reminds me of that wonderful German time called ‘Spargelzeit.’    That means it’s white asparagus time.    Spargel is the beloved white asparagus that is harvested in early spring and revered as a super seasonal dish in Germany.

A childhood friend of mine who now lives in Swabia in Germany posted a dinner with spargel on Facebook yesterday that made me craving it. too

I’ve been in northern Germany several times during Spargelzeit and love the way they serve it.   Its cooked to a tender consistency, covered in a creamy Hollandaise sauce, and sprinkled with fresh chopped parley or herbs.   It’s usually accompanied by a regional potato dumpling and some sort of cured ham rolls.

The village where my grandpa’s mother Carolina, was from in Westphalia, Germany(Oppenwehe) has a Spargelfest around this time every year, and they elect a Spargelkoeningin or Spargel Queen and even have a huge Spargel parade through the small town – what fun, huh?    In fact there are several areas and cities in GErmany from the north to Bavaria in the south that have Spargel Day parades and elect a Spargel Queen.

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How cool to devote so much honor to a seasonal vegetable, but I feel like this is something we should be doing more of in the age of processed everything.

Three cheers for Spargel – “ziga zaga ziga zaga oi oi oi!!”

Judith Anderson, the Betty Crocker of Kroger’s Country Club Brand

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Food brands have been flooded with what advertisers call “Identification Characters” since the Industrial Revolution. They’re those fictional faces that appear on the boxes, like Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, Uncle Ben, and Mrs. Paul.   I know, I’m sorry to break the news that there never was a real Betty Crocker.   These characters act as brand ambassadors that humanize an otherwise faceless corporation and make the product seem more accessible. They tell us their fish sticks are made from real fish, and we believe them.   The convince us to use their mix because the pancakes come out lighter and fluffier than other mixes.

They’re different from cartooney characters like the Jolly Green Giant, or the newly upgraded and sexed-up Mr. Clean.   We believe that they are real people.

A few of these brand icons, like Orville Redenbacher and Chef Boyardee were actually real people. Ettore Boiardi, for example, was an Italian-American immigrant born in 1897, who passed through Ellis Island in 1913, and built a food empire that he sold for many millions in 1946.

Legend has it that the African-American chef  “Rastus” on the Cream of Wheat box  is the actual image of the butler of paper baron Peter Thomson at his Laurel Court Mansion in College Hill.    That’s the house where the Archbishop of Cincinnati used to live, and where real pizza king, Buddy LaRosa lived for a short while too.

Aunt Jemima is probably the oldest of these fictional ID characters.   She’s also the one whose image has changed the most over time, while causing the most controversy.     She has morphed from a post-Civil War tignon-bandana-wearing Mamie to a tight-quaffed, string-of-pearls-wearing, working Grandmother.

These characters have played themselves on TV commercials, in print ads, and some even travelled the country doing food demonstrations for their respective corporations.   In the 1910s through the 1950s Bisquick had a fleet of travelling Aunt Jemima’s performing in character at local fairs and showing the versatility of their company’s products.    One of our local Findlay Market vendors, Aunt Flora (Katrina Mincy), known for her cobblers, had a great aunt, Flora Saunders, who was one of those travelling Aunt Jemima’s.

Our local Dorsel’s Pinhead Oats had its own ID Character, Dottie Dorsel, named after the founder’s youngest daughter, Dorothea.   She ‘authored’ the Dottie Dorsel Cookbook, which presented different recipes, besides goetta, which could be made from pinhead oats and Dorsel’s other products like cornmeal.   Dottie has gone from a slim German-American housewife to a light-skinned African American chef.

Kroger had an interesting ID character too to promote their in-store Country Club brand.   Her name was Judith Anderson, and she was ‘Manager of the Kroger Housewives Service Department.’     I’ve found only one image of her, showing a delightfully bobbed middle class housewife in her mid to late twenties, smartly dressed and sporting a string of pearls.   She produced all sorts of small pamphlets promoting creative uses of the store brand products, each opening with a personal letter from Judith.

Don’t know what to do with that Country Club Marshmallow fluff?   No problem!   Judith could tell you how to whip up a dessert that was sure to impress your ladies’ tea group.     Want to find a product that was versatile and economic for kid’s meals?   Again, no problem –  Judith had over twenty recipes to use that Country Club Peanut Butter.

Kroger-shopping housewives could write to receive Ms. Anderson’s pamphlets in the mail every week.     From 1926-1930, Judith was the voice of Kroger, with her own cooking program on WLW radio, airing from 4:30 – 5 PM Eastern.  Kroger customers from St. Louis to Portsmouth could hear her talking through her recipes and offering family dietary advice into the Depression.

Nowadays most brands use celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse to promote their products, rather than these fictional ID characters.