Sunday, December 20, 2009

Spice(d) Round

and other Nashville Christmas Traditions

Miss Jane Thomas wrote in Old Days In Nashville,
"A big dinner was always prepared for Christmas. A nice stuffed ham, a big fat turkey nicely roasted, spice round, and pickles and jellies of every kind, and every winter vegetable, and always a plum pudding with rich wine sauce, boiled custard, with whipped cream on it, fruit-cake, pound-cake, sponge-cake, apples, raisins and nuts, and wine, or cordial, and sweet cider, composed a part of most of the dinner. They had such dinners all Christmas week. The young people in the neighborhood would come together and have dances and exchange gifts. The young men would give handsome books to the young ladies, and they would knit the young men pairs of gloves, or give them something that they had made themselves. At night they used to bake apples and put them in sweet cider and ginger-cakes for refreshments. They would play all kinds of games."
In Journey to Nashville, Alfred Leland Crabb told a story steeped in the rich history of Middle Tennessee . He knew his characters as if he had walked with them. He brought them to life and instilled in many, a love of local history. Food was often a focal point in his books. Crabb's research uncovered just what sort of meal would have been served at various dinners over the first one hundred years of Nashville's existence.

Crabb sets the first big meal shared by the pioneer settlers on Christmas Day of 1799. As the scene begins to unfold at dawn on Christmas morning, we watch through Crabb's eyes. A group of hunters are returning to camp. They were carrying "one of the largest bears any of them had ever seen…." Some of the men were sent ahead to build a roasting pit and light a fire, while others set about to dress the bear and get the meat ready for cooking. The meat was put on spits above wood that had burned to coals, over which was placed lengths of hickory wood. Salt and red pepper was found among the supplies and used as a rub for the meat. Several men take turns making sure the meat cooked properly and does not burn. One man had spied an herb known as "life everlasting" and gathered an armload, to make tea to accompany the meal. After many hours the bear meat was close to done. It was time to make the tea. Men laid stones in the fire and let them heat. A wooden keg was filled with water from a nearby spring. The life everlasting was placed in a second keg. Soon the hot stones were placed into the water and soon it began boil. The boiling water was poured over the herb in the second kettle. Large skillets of corn were being heated on the fire. The meat had been removed from the fire and was being sliced. The men walked up with their tin or wooden plates and were given a slice of meat, and a ladle of corn. Each man dipped his cup into the keg for tea, in which more hot rocks had been placed to keep the tea warm. There was enough meat and corn to fill the bellies of all the men and tea to warm them.
Harriet Arnow in Flowering of the Cumberland, tells us
"The Christmas season was marked by firecrackers, general jollity, and above all feasting-turkeys dressed with oysters, baked hams, plum puddings with rich wine sauce, and sillibub*. Country people seldom had the last two or even oysters but there were roasted geese and hams, plates of high stack-pies and cakes of all description, and shotguns and anvil blasts added to the firecrackers." *(Sillibub One quart of rich cream beat until frothy, grate one half nutmeg over it, add wine or rum.)
Nashville in the 1890's by William Waller shares this memory,
December 23, 1898, Christmas dinner menus from the Maxell House, Duncan, Tulane hotels …printed in Nashville American. And this, December 23, 1899. Christmas prices at the market house quoted; turkeys, 10 to 12 cents a pound; prime beef, 25 cents; potatoes 20 cents per peck; partridges, 15 cents each. Dinner at the Tulane, included Green Sea Turtle soup, Turkey with Chestnut Dressing, Sweet Breads, Frozen Eggnog and Mince Meat Pie.

* * * * * * * * * *

Nashville Union and American, December 1868

The following essay appeared in "Our Food Heritage" Community Study Series, Nashville City Schools, originally published 1948, updated and republished 1976, Bicentennial Committee, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Transcribed by Debie Cox.

A traditional food during the Christmas season in Nashville is Spice Round, a delicacy especially typical of Middle Tennessee.

There are several firms today that make Spice Round, one of which is the Jacobs Packing Company. Mr. William Jacobs who founded the firm came originally from Whittenburg, Germany. In 1865, at the end of the war, he received his discharge from the army and returned to Nashville, In 1870, he opened a stall in the old Market House. In the 1872 City Directory he is listed as one of the city's butchers.

Mr. George Jacobs tells us that the Jacobs Packing Company packs about 30-40 thousand pounds of Spice Round every season. His recipe came from Hart and Hensley, a packing house established by two Englishmen at lst Avenue and Madison. They packed only in the winter months. The city directory of 1872 lists them as one of two pork packers in the city and gives their location as 725 Market Street.

According to Mr. Jacobs the Maxwell House had Hart and Hensley's Spice Round on the menu around 1865. On the Maxwell House Christmas menu for 1879 there is listed "Hart and Hensley's Spice Round of Beef, en Sockle, Ornamented" and also "Hart and Hensley's (new) C.C.C. Hams."

Another firm whose name has long been a familiar one in the city as a packer of this delicious food is Alex Warner and Son . Today, the firm is operated by two grandsons of the founder of the firm.

The first Warner started in the meat business in Nashville about 1850. The great grandfather of the present owners having come over the-mountains from North Carolina after emigrating from Germany. He had six sons and one daughter who were also in the business with him.

One of the sons, Alex Warner, had married a Swiss miss from the settlement called Little Switzerland which was centered at Tenth Avenue, South and Caruthers Avenue, the present site of Waverly-Belmont School. In 1867, he established his own business at what is now 17th and Heiman Streets. Its large windmill was a landmark in the fast growing city. It was there Mr. Warner originated his famous recipe which is as yet a closely guarded secret by his two grandsons. There are only two people who have the recipe and it is kept under lock and key in the vault at the present location of the firm at 1609 Charlotte Avenue.

Mr. Howell Warner is of the opinion that his grandfather originated the recipe for Spice Round along the idea of the Boar's Head so famous in England. However, according to Mr. Warner there were other German families--the Jacobs, the Fehrs, and the Powers--who had settled in Nashville and had gone into the meat business. They were a closely knit group and possibly discussed together a method to cure and preserve beef.
Mr. Howell Warner says that the famous recipe was developed from necessity. In September of each year the butchers would get a long run on beef round. To take care of the over supply, the rounds were put in brine and as there were no refrigerators, stored in the potato cellar. Then in October at "hog-killing time," there was a run on pork resulting in a surplus of fat from the back-strip. So even in the early days of our city there were surpluses but, thanks to the ingeniousness of our frugal ancestors, the surplus resulted in new and different food treats.

Spice Round is made out of a round steak, not necessarily the choicest piece of beef, cut about ten times as large as a normal steak. The spices were ground in an old coffee grinder, the same method used today, the surplus fat larded throughout the spiced beef with horns, the same sized ones used today. The original recipe called for salt petre, sugar and-salt; however, a commercial curing agent is used today, the basis of which is sodium nitrate. The rounds are then cured, not in the old potato cellar, but in modern refrigerators, from two to three weeks.

The first Spice Rounds were given by Mr. Warner to his friends and customers in boarding houses, restaurants and hotels at Christmas time. Word of mouth advertising spread the praises of this unusual delicacy and people began to try to buy them for their Christmas dinner. This same type advertising has continued until now. The rounds are shipped regularly to Honolulu, England, Austria, Alaska, Canada and practically every state in the forty-eight.

One day the present operators of the business received a call from a prominent lady in the city who had just returned from an extensive trip to Europe. In Vienna, she had been visiting friends and had dined in the most famous restaurants of the city. One evening before attending the opera they decided to dine in the friend's home. To the surprise and enjoyment of the Nashville lady, the piece de resistance at the dinner was a Spice Round cured by Alex Warner and Son in her own home town.

* * * * * * * * * *
In the City Directory of 1872 the following advertisement appeared.
Hart and Hensley
Pork Packers
General Commission Merchants and Curers of the Celebrated CCC Hams
Bulk meats, bacon, lard, flour, etc.
Our Specialties
CCC Hams -- CCC Breakfast Bacon
"Rolled Spiced Beef" and the celebrated pastry lard in all the various sized packages.
Warehouse and Office #72 South Market Street
Pork House - Corner, Front and Madison Street
There was also in this directory a list of butchers in the city some of whose descendants are still making outstanding contributions to the food tastes of our city.

Coe, Adams - Stall #1 Market House
Coleman and Doubleday
Corbett, J. K.
Frith, J. H.
Grizzard, W. T.
Hagey, W.
Hagie, Charles
Hoff, George & John
Hoffman, A. J.
Houser, F. G.
Hawkins, Joseph
Jacob, W. M.
Johnston, L. H.
Kubu, T.
Laitenberger, C.
Laitenberger, C. C.
Linger, C.
Lopp, L. Lopp, Louis
Majors, W. T.
Miller, A.
Murphy, John
Park, Samuel
Power, C. P.
Price, C.
Scheirich, L.
Schutt, J.
Warner, Charles
Warner, L. A.
Warner, W. M.-Stall Central Market
Warner, W. M.-25 Market House
Warren, J. G.-Central Market
Hart & Hensley-725 Market St.
Phillips, Hooper & Co.-56 S. Market

A recipe, with photos, for spice round, from the Wood Family blog. Reviving Spiced Round

This article was transcribed by Debie Cox and published on June 2, 2001
The article was submitted for publication in the Nashville Retropect December, 2009 issue, by Debie Cox. Article was revised by Debie Cox July 2013. Copyright 2001 and 2013.

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  1. Your link on "Reviving Spiced Round" is blank. Any chance that you could revive it??

    1. The blog seems to be diabled. Here is a link to the parent website. The story was filed under The Project Kitchen blog on the Wood Family website. Hopefully it will be back up soon.

    2. The Wood Family website is working fine now.