The Miamisburg Hamburger Wagon – Born of the Flood of 1913

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Sherman “Cocky” Porter serving his hamburgers in the 1913 flood-drenched streets of Miamisburg, Ohio.

In Cincinnati we hear about the devastating Flood of 1937. But for the Miami Valley around Dayton, Ohio, the most devastating was the Great Flood of 1913, which busted the banks of the Great Miami River and caused countless damage to the river towns that flanked its banks. One of those was the thriving community of Miamisburg. As devastating as the flood was to Miamisburg, one great local institution came out of it that’s still in existence today – the Hamburger Wagon.

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As most of Miamisburg was under water, the Red Cross set up a tent city for the refugees on high ground at the top of Mound Hill. One enterprising 27-year old Miamisburg resident, Sherman “Cocky” Porter, saw potential, and volunteered to help provide food for the flood victims and relief workers. Porter lived with his wife Nina, and two sons Will and James on Sugar Street. Porter knew that whatever food he made had to be warm to cut through the cold March winds, and available in large quantities to feed the hundreds of displaced victims. Hamburger were just the answer. Using a favorite family recipe, Porter began serving up hot, tasty hamburgers to everyone in the camp for many days. These sandwiches were a huge hit and were extremely popular throughout the community.

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As the floods receeded, and the tent city closed, Miamisburg returned to normal life, and Cocky went back to his job as a wheelmaker at the Enterprise Buggy Company on Pearl Street, north of the railroad tracks. But the residents didn’t forget the burger that comforted them through their time of great need. Residents loved the little “Porter Burgers” and requested him to cook them up again. Demand increased and Porter finally agreed to start selling burgers on Saturdays. He made a wagon at the Enterprise Company, based on a milk delivery truck, and began parking it at Market Square at Main and Central Avenues in downtown Miamisburg six days a week.

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The Enterprise Carriage Works in Miamisburg, where the Hamburger Wagon was made.
Porter became famous for his booming cat call to potential customers: “Pickle in the middle and onion on top makes your belly go flippity-flop.” The Porter family owned the wagon until 1968 when Porter’s grandson sold it to Claude Jestice, a runaway from the Frigidaire Plant nearby. His twin brother Clyde helped him run the business. Gary and Judy Ladd Jestice were the next owners through the 1980s. It’s been owned by only six people in its 105 year existence. The current owner, Jack Sperry, bought it in 2008, with the intent to preserve and enhance it’s legacy. He coined the slogan, “No stinkin’ cheeses and no sloppy sauces.” The wagon was rebuilt in 1980 by Mike Hunter of Miamisburg’s Woodcraft, on the original design.
The roughly two ounces of meat hold a secret recipe of meat and spices, topped with pickles, onions, salt and pepper. That Porter family recipe is as guarded as the original Coca-Cola formula and KFC’s original blend of herbs and spices. Some say the secret is sausage in the meat. They’re flash fried in an oversized cast iron skillet and have a crispy outer edge. They recycle unused grease from day to day, which certainly adds to the signature flavor.
Only recently has the wagon added chips and drinks.   At one time you could get Miamisburg-made Wagner’s Potato Chips, but that company closed.    And, it was ranked one of the top 100 hamburgers in the United States by the book “Hamburger America.”

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The business is so popular – selling an estimated 1000 sliders a day – in 2011, Tim and Lisa Gibbs in neighboring West Carrollton decided to get a piece of the action and opened Gibbs Olde Time Hamburgers in an historic wagon on East Dixie Drive. In addition to sliders with onion and pickle like the Porter Burgers, they serve chili dogs, deep fried southern slaw dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches.
It’s worth a Saturday early afternoon day trip to Miamisburg for a bite of American burger nostalgia

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William Howard Taft and His Favorite Foods

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I look forward to our annual Fringe Festival, produced by the Know Theater in Over-the-Rhine.   This past Friday night I saw the opening of an interesting piece called Billy: The Haunting of William Howard Taft. The show was a hilarious comedy about President Taft on a visit to Atlanta as President-elect, and being haunted by the ghost of the possum he ate that night. The show reminded me of the odd food tastes of our President, and of Americans of the early last century.
The show was based on a true historical event. President-Elect Taft was the guest of 650 on January 15, 1909, in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Banquet. The menu was composed mainly of famous Southern Delicacies, like Brunswick Stew, and Persimmon Beer. But, at Taft’s request, a dish of “possum and taters” – baked possum on a bed of sweet potatoes, was added to the menu. Taft said of the meal, “Well I certainly like possum… I ate very heartily of it last night, and it did not disturb in the slightest my digestion or my sleep.”      Taft was presented that night with a stuffed possum, with the hopes that it would replace the Teddy Bear, the mascot of his predecessor President Theodore Roosevelt.   Thankfully that did not happen.

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At the same time, I’ve been watching a BBC Series, called Lords and Ladles on Netflix. The show hosts 17th and 18th century meals in Irish Castles. The meals are elaborate and showcase dishes with cuts of meat that at the time were considered delicacy or fine cuts, but today would be considered plain disgusting. These are things like sweetbreads – the thymus and pancreas of the animal (although they’re on a comeback in some high end restaurants), beef palates (yes, the roof of a the mouth of a cow), brains, and even pork and beef testicles.     Long before our farm-to-table movement, all parts of the animals were being used, even by the elites.
We, myself included, would scoff being served possum at a banquet. I have always been extremely freaked out by the possum, and associate it as road kill and a nuisance animal. But, it wasn’t so weird as a main dish in the last century, being served alongside wild game at elite banquets and upscale hotels across the country. And, it was a favorite of our 27th President. Only those in the Appalachian regions still extol the value of possum, including it in stews, pot pies, and even chili. Think about that – a possum Cincinnati chili.

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In addition to the possum, our own William Howard Taft was also a fan of turtle soup, and ate it regularly at home, and requested it at public dinners. And, this was not the mock turtle soup we Cincinnatians eat today put out by local Worthmore Soups, it was the actual terrapin meat turtle soup. Today, with many turtle species on the endangered list, these real turtle soups are not available, but they were extremely popular in Taft’s time.

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Of course, Taft was also a steak and potatoes man, and his eating habits were what got him the event he was more well-known for than his possum-obsession – getting his 300 plus pound body stuck in the bathtub at the White House. But this story does have a happy ending.  Oddly enough, at the urging of his beloved wife, Nellie, Taft was able to lose 70 pounds on a low carb diet, long before Dr. Atkins made it a national trend.   Our current President and his obsession with fried fast food should take heed.

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Long before Oprah and Weight Watchers, the before and after pics of President Taft and his low-carb diet.

I Suggest a “Worchexit” to Keep Our Dishes American

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The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex flaunting English Lea & Perrins Sauce at the wedding.

 

We may have won the Revolution, and the War of 1812, but the English have been invading the U.S. in a very discreet but powerful way since 1839. And New York Business man John Duncan, is the Benedict Arnold responsible for this secret mutiny. He’s the man who first started importing a brown sauce made by English Chemists John Lea and William Perrins, originally for a retired English Lord, who governed India.
We’ve avoided calling our cookies “biscuits’, we’ve avoided calling cakes “Puddings”, and you won’t find mushy peas on very many U.S. menus, nor will you find Americans eating Marmite with breakfast. But the English have succeeded in getting us addicted to their ubiquitous brown Worchesteshire sauce. They’ve secretly plotted to have it put in nearly every American dish from soup to stew. It’s in some of our most beloved American cocktails and dishes. It’s in our Bloody Mary – even though invented in Paris, its name was changed from the Red Snapper in the U.S. It’s in the deviled egg, which shows up at summer picnics and family events across the country. It’s in our most American of barbeque sauces. It’s even – God forbid – in Cincinnati chili!! How could the Macedonians allowed for this English travesty!
So now that the British have brexited out of the European Union, they force another union on us with the marriage of Prince Harry and Megan Markle. OH yeah, we should all be SOOO happy that one of our most beautiful actresses has been taken out of commission now to be the Real Housewife of England’s Ginger Prince. She is no longer allowed to offer an American hug, eat shellfish, or play the Game of Monopoly! How un-American is that? If the Royal couple visits New Orleans, she won’t be allowed to participate in a crawfish boil. If they visit Maryland – Megan can’t indulge in a crab cake. If they visit Gulf Shores or Florida, they can’t even taste shrimp. But she could have a Bloody Mary, or barbeque ribs, because of the English ‘brown poison’ that’s in their formulae.

The British have been laughing behind our backs for centuries.   I mean what is even the correct pronunciation of the evil brown sauce?    They named it after one of the longest cities in Britain, and don’t even pronounce all the letters in its name!  What the heck happened to the “chest” in the middle?    And, they’ve certainly been confusing us with their fussy table settings.   What American knows the difference between a shrimp fork and an oyster fork?

They’re even trying to endear us to their culture by forcing their TV shows on us, like Shameless and the Great British Baking Show.     Paul Hollywood thinks he’s so suave with his baking prowess.
They’ve even done something terribly sinister with the American version of Lee & Perrins – they removed the Malt vinegar, replacing it with distilled white vinegar, and put three times the amount of sugar and salt in our version to clog our arteries and raise our blood pressure. Although the Lee & Perrins brand has been owned by American Heinz since 2005, I bet if you peel the onion layers far enough you’ll find a connection to British nobility.

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On 21 May 2009 Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Heinz Beanz factory in Kitt Green near Wigan to mark the 50th Anniversary of the official opening of the factory. The Queen also opened a new packing operation.
But now that Megan’s signed the register, the English can now say, “Oh you think you’re SOO American with your Barbecue sauce made with our English Worchestershire.” It’s almost as if they’ve been laying the groundwork for having their now Duke and Duchess of Sussex live in the U.S., which they’re rumored to be considering. We can’t really stage a “Worchexit”, removing all English Worchestershire from our beloved American foods. It’s really too late for that. The English probably even colluded with the Japanese to create the current buzz around Umami – the new fifth taste in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Now that all brown fish sauces like Worchestershire are associated with Umami, our celebrity chefs won’t allow for it to be let go. Umami is all they can talk about on Chopped and America’s Next Top Chef.

And how fussy are the list of ingredients in Worchestershire?  It has two types of vinegar – malt and spirit, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, onions, garlic, tamarind, cloves, and probably lemon, pickles, pepper and soy (there’s the Japanese collusion right there!).
Ok I admit, I do have English ancestry on my mother’s side, but we don’t talk about it much. My Grandfather’s ancestors came from a coastal part of Suffolk, called Horsey-next-the-sea, which even is the origin of another English sauce I’m addicted to, Horsey sauce. So what is an American to do to ? Can we agree to rename Worchestershire something more American like Liberty Brown and stop this British invasion right here?

 

The Inventor of the Pringle’s Can and My Role in Abdominal Cramping and Loose Stools


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A recent article in Gastro Obscura hailed the inventor of the Pringles can, Cincinnatian Fredric John Bauer. He happens to be buried in Arlington Memorial Gardens in Mt. Healthy, near where my paternal grandparents and several aunts and uncles also lie in rest. Bauer invented the iconic snack tube in 1966, and was so proud of his invention, that he had his ashes interred in one of those tubes – I’m not sure which flavor, though.
The article made me think of an early career connection I had to Pringles and their tube. One of my favorite career gigs was as a mixing design engineer for Chemineer in Vandalia, Ohio. It was my first gig, as a fresh graduate of UC’s Chemical Engineering Program. It was great experience and exposure to a variety of industries. I was young, green and hungry to see the world of chemicals. I developed mixing systems that mixed together the ingredients in products like Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and Baxter Health latex ‘finger cots’ – use your imagination on what those are used for.
One of the most interesting mixing designs that I completed was for the tank farm that mixed the Olestra products at P & G in St. Bernard, Ohio. I designed several mixers from our newly acquired ProChem line for these tanks. The product line started as a rugged line for the mining industry. The mixers I designed for P & G were to be mounted on the side of the large several thousand gallon tanks.
After I left that first job, I went to a work as a process engineer at a chemicals plant right across from the Olestra Plant. I had the opportunity to see that plant being built and my designs installed. And I passed them every morning on my way into work.
Olestra was the fruits of an accidental discovery by P & G engineers in 1968 of a fat that didn’t absorb into the body. It was derived from sucrose and could bond with six, seven or eight fatty acids, greater than the three fatty acids on the Triglyceride molecule of the dietary fat used in snack foods. What that meant was that the large Olestra molecule was too big and irregular to move through the wall of the intestine and be absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result it became a fat substitute for high-fat snack foods like potato chips and Pringles, after its FDA approval in 1996, which was right at the time I designed the mixing systems. The only problem, everyone found out, was the side effects on the gastrointestinal system. You see Olestra caused at the very least abdominal cramping, and at its full effect – caused loose stools or ‘anal leakage.’ The FDA required all snacks like Pringles and Frito Lay Wow! Chips with Olestra to head this warning visibly on the outside of their packaging. And, as you might imagine, this didn’t make the product very popular, especially since most folks felt the full side effects. I tried the Olestra products myself and I was a full-side effects consumer. Why would anyone in their right mind sacrifice incontinence for a high-fat snack food?    No delicious snack food is worth these side effects.   I guess they do taste better than Metamucil.   Olestra also inhibited the absorption of some vitamins – notably A, D, E, and K.

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So, its popularity as a fat substitute dropped it off the snack food scene. But P & G had spent so much money on its research that they searched for other uses. It was investigated as a cosmetic additive, but now it’s used as an industrial lubricant.
So no offense, Mr. Bauer, you may have invented the Pringles can, but I enabled uncomfortable anal leakage for millions of snack brand consumers. I however, will not be buried in a Pringles can.

The Ohio Shredded Chicken Sandwich

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I am in love with summer regional festivals. It’s where we truly get to celebrate our regional American foods, some of which are getting harder and harder to find. One regional food native to the farmlands of Ohio is the Ohio Shredded Chicken sandwich – also called the sloppy chicken or hot pressed chicken sandwich. Chic-fil-A has spoiled us into thinking that all chicken sandwiches are perfectly shaped, tender patties, marinated in pickle juice, and served with a heaping side of deep fried waffle fries. But come with me back to the days when chickens were free range in Ohio, back before the turn of the last century.
Back then, chickens on the farm were only butchered when they stopped laying eggs. The Mega Poultry farms and fried chicken chains were not everywhere like they are today. Fried chicken was a Sunday dinner type of thing, expensive and a treat that wasn’t had during the week. By the time of infertility, the chickens were older and their meat tough. So, the only thing to do with the tough meat was to cook until tender and make basically, creamed chicken. Ingenious farm cooks, shredded the cooked meat, marinated them in cream, chicken bouillon or cream of chicken soup, and thickened with flour, Ritz crackers, or saltines and served on a hamburger bun.
Some hyper local recipes call for thickening the shredded chicken with local Ohio potato chips like Ballreich’s (Tiffin, Ohio) or Jones’ (Mansfield, Ohio). Others combine both cream of chicken with cream of celery soups.
They became the standard of church potlucks, school lunch menus, graduation parties, football and basketball concession stands, and drive-ins in central and northern Ohio – specifically the counties of Licking and adjoining Franklin counties. There is one official site, created by Tom and Donna Thorpe, which lists all the restaurants, root beer stands, creamy whips and drive-ins in central Ohio that serve this old delicacy – chickensandwich.info. They have been researching this regional food for over 16 years and say it’s available nowhere else outside Ohio. They moved to southern California and could not find their beloved shredded chicken sandwich.
Some meat markets serve their own take-home shredded chicken sandwich mixes – Roots Poultry in Fremont, Ohio, has the most version available, and Brinkman’s Turkey Farms in Findlay’s canned products can be found here in Cincinnati.

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The closest places to Cincinnati listed on the Thorpe’s list are Springfield and Gahanna, Ohio. One place the chicken sandwich can be had that is not on the Thorpe’s list is at the Shandon Strawberry Festival, happening Saturday, June 9, hosted by the Shandon Congregational Church in Butler County, Ohio. Shandon is an old Welsh farming community about 5 miles west of Ross, Ohio, filled with historic buildings and antiques shops. An antique tractor show accompanies the event, as well as an open house at the Shandon Historical Society and Museum. Don’t miss the event for the best local homemade strawberry ice cream and shortcake, and of course the beloved Ohio shredded chicken sandwich.

Mexican Chelas – My New Favorite Summer Beer Drinks

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A chela cubana before adding the beer.

I thought the Dutch and the Germans had the monopoly on ‘shandifying’ or adding weird things to their beers. They even have a name for it – “biermischgetranke” (beer mixed drinks). They like to add things like carbonated lemon soda, peach flavored lemonade, raspberry syrup, or woodruff syrup to typically light wheat beers.
But a recent trip to Mexico City has me thinking the Mexicans might have a leg up on their ‘chelas’ or beer drinks.

 
The Michelada is a typical beer mixed drink had all throughout Latin America. I had my first exposure to this on a business trip to Guatemala several years ago. It’s basically a bloody mary with beer and it’s really good!


But Mexico City has its own version that removes the clamato or tomato juice of the bloody mary mix and just uses the brown sauces. It’s called the Chela Cubana. It uses equal parts Maggi soy sauce, an “English Sauce” like the most popular Crosses and Blackwell English Sauce (like Worcestershire or A1), a few squirts of tabasco and Mexican lime juice (more similar to a key lime) in a tall salt rimmed glass. You can use any beer – dark or light. We tried it with Indio and Victoria.

 
The Chela Cubana may sound disgusting, but is actually very refreshing it has the umami of the soy/English sauce, a bit of tart and acid from the lime, and a bit of sweet, and just a little bit of spice from the tabasco.

 
I tried it at three places, but the best was at a local bodega called Hosteria La Bota – Café of the Boot, where we paired it with the local favorite dish, octopus in its own ink and a mushroom soup – all super-umami-y. We also had it paired with grilled fish and chorizo topped pizza.

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The refreshing chela la guanabana.
In addition to the savory chelas, the Mexicans also have fruity versions. These mix beer with fruits like guava and an interesting one called guanabana, that result in more of a mildly beer flavored fruit smoothy. I tried the one with guanabana for lunch and loved it. The guanabana is often called the soursop, a type of custard apple. When mixed with a beer it has a banana, custardy flavor that is super-refreshing.
I’ve already made my own and substituted the English sauce with Worcestershire, the tobasco with chipotle powder, and didn’t have any Mexican lime, and it was good, but nothing compared to what I had in Mexico City. I plan to experiment with formulations this summer.

Brazil’s German Immigrant Community and their Catharina Sour Beers – Coming to Cincy?

 

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In the southern part of Brazil, there is a strong German influence from colonial times. You’ll find as many German surnames there as you will in Cincinnati. German dialects – like Brazilian Hunsruckisch and East Pomeranian – are the second most spoken first languages in Brazil, after Portuguese. German immigrants made about 50% of the immigrants in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.

 
Traditional German beer styles are well recognized and popular. A rising craft brew scene is blossoming – causing the fusion of traditional German styles with the wide availability of tropical fruits, many of which are too fragile to be imported to the U.S.
This has created a local style known as the Catharina Sour recognized and described by the BJCP. They describe the style as a standard strength wheat ale that has been kettle soured and has fresh tropical fruit added. It is similar but not equal to a Berliner Weisse and used both what and Pilsner malts. It’s meant to be light and refreshing for warm weather, and is highly carbonated. The sour level is moderate but shouldn’t be so sharp as to overshadow the fruit. The recipes use a lactobacillus souring agent like Yakult 40 brand probiotic drink for the souring, in addition to an ale yeast.

 
Florida craft brewers have a similar style called the Florida Weisse, which is type of fruit beer, but fits the Berliner Weisse style more than the Catharina Sour.

 
There are several breweries in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina (after whom the sour category is named). Daerneys combines passionfruit and dragonfruit. Armada Cervejeira in Sao Jose has a tangerine sour. But the homebrewers also use guava and tamarind, wild raspberry, butia (a rainforest fruit), pineapple, and other local wild berries.

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So far none of the Cincinnati area breweries making sours like Streetside in Columbia-Tusculum, or Urban Artifact in Northside are making Catharina Sours. The only American-made Catharina Sour I know of is the Guava Sour by Adelbert’s Brewery in Austin, Texas, but I am on the lookout at Jungle Jim’s, The Party Source, and Market Wines for others.