In 1849, John Michael Asel and Margaret Barbara Mueller emigrated from Bavaria to the United States. After marriage in New York, they moved to the Muenchberg (Munichburg) area of Jefferson City, where other Germans were settling. They built a log cabin at the corner of Madison and Ashley streets that stood until the late 1960s. During the early years, the Asels befriended Indians camping on the south side of town with Barbara’s home-baked bread and John’s cured meats. They became charter members of Central Evangelical Church (now Central United Church of Christ) when the congregation organized in 1857.
In 1852, when Jefferson City had a population of about one thousand, John Asel established a meat market on High Street. According to a 1964 article in the Jefferson City News and Tribune, his first ovens and smokehouse were fueled by giant logs pulled as driftwood from the Missouri River. The slaughterhouse was along the river just downstream from where the bridge is now. In winter, ice cut from the Missouri River was stacked in a huge icehouse. During the Civil War, the Asel meat market sold sausage sandwiches to soldiers stationed in the city.
As Jefferson City grew after the war, the Asel meat market prospered not only among the large number of German immigrants but also among the city population in general. It gained a strong reputation for fresh and cured meats, especially for its smoked, cooked sausage made from recipes brought from Bavaria.
John Asel died in 1873 and Barbara in 1891, but several of their eight children continued in the meat business. In addition to the main High Street market, which had different locations on High Street, other Asel meat markets were at the corner of West Main and Bolivar and in Washington, Missouri. Among the advertised items in 1915 were pork ham roast, boiling beef, Porterhouse steak, sugar cured bellies, dry salt meat, smoked spareribs, fancy country hams, calf liver, sweetbreads, and homemade bockwurst every Saturday.
In 1915, John and Barbara’s son Christ (Christopher) Asel went into partnership with William Hott to establish the Crescent Meat Market in the commercial heart of Munichburg at 110 E. Dunklin (now a parking lot just east of the ECCO Lounge). A smokehouse was behind the store. A 1915 newspaper article described it as “clean as a pin and finished in oak, marble and plate glass,” with an enameled refrigerator. They carried a full line of meats, lard, and sausage, and the two proprietors were noted for their courtesy. Christ’s son Ralph was a butcher apprentice in the market.
On June 1, 1931, William Hott and Ralph Asel relocated the meat market to a new building at 711 Madison Street, on land that had been in the Asel family since John and Barbara built their log cabin around 1850. William Hott retired in 1940, but Ralph Asel continued to operate the meat market alone under the name of “Hott & Asel” for another twenty-four years. It is this location, on Madison Street, that is so well remembered by Southsiders as the place to go to get their meat, especially the famous Hott & Asel garlic baloney.
Until 1964, a small creek ran behind the Madison Street store and went underground at the intersection of Madison and Dunklin. The wooded land around the creek was “the jungle” to Ralph’s nephews, Bill and Tom Asel, who lived nearby, at the corner of Ashley and Madison. Ralph Asel had no children, and Bill and Tom recall their Uncle Ralph awakening them early in the morning, before school, to chop cloves of fresh garlic and to chop wood for smoking the famous baloney. The boys also tied the sausage links while holding their hands in “salty, briney water that really toughened up our hands.” The smokehouse was just behind the market, along the creek, and the entire Munichburg neighborhood could tell, from the powerful aroma, when Ralph Asel was making fresh baloney. To the locals, “good eatin’” was Hott & Asel baloney, soda crackers, and a bottle of Moerschel’s beer from the Capital City Brewery.
The store was plain and immaculately clean. A single display case surmounted with a large scale was the central fixture. Behind it was a butcher table for cutting and packaging meats and a table where Mrs. Asel would knit and answer the telephone. A lattice-topped partition framed the opening to a large, walk-in refrigerator behind which was a workroom for butchering. Neighborhood boys remember the store by the antlers on the walls and the sawdust on the floor. Women, who did most of the grocery shopping then, remember the friendliness and candid humor of Ralph and his wife, Milburn.
When he retired in 1964, Ralph told the News and Tribune that he and Mrs. Asel were finally going to take their honeymoon trip: “We probably will go to Florida, Cuba, Paris—and other Missouri towns.”
Ralph Asel closed his business on June 30, 1964, ending 102 years of Asel meat markets in Jefferson City. He sold the building to Milo Walz, who cleared and filled the land behind the building, put the creek underground, and build a hardware store with a concrete parking lot. (See the historic photos on this post.)
Old timers recall snacking on Hott & Asel baloney, soda crackers, and beer after a baseball game or in the middle of the day. Though Jefferson City residents could no longer buy their favorite baloney after 1964, the recipes were not lost. One of the recipes was passed on from Ralph Asel to Johnny Wilbers, a butcher who worked at a grocery store on Monroe Street. Johnny Wilbers then passed the recipe on to his son, Dick Wilbers. In 2004, Dick operated Johnny’s Butcher Shop & Bar-B-Que off Route B, where Viet’s Pub and Grill is in 2018. With Dick Wilbers’s cooperation, and the meat processing services of Swiss Meat and Sausage Company near Hermann, Missouri, the Old Munichburg Association was able to bring back Ralph Asel’s Hott & Asel baloney in 2004. We sold 400 pounds of it in one-pound rings at Oktoberfest, so festival attendees could recreate the pleasures of the past. Dick Wilbers passed away in January 2011.
Early in 2005, another garlic baloney recipe was discovered in a book published by William Hott in 1912. His Secrets of Meat Curing and Sausage Making included another variation of the baloney fondly referred to as Hott & Asel Baloney. So in 2005, the Old Munichburg Association again hired the Swiss Meat & Sausage Company to produce a limited quantity of garlic baloney, this time using the Hott recipe. The association sold 1-lb. rings of the baloney at Oktoberfest for $7 each or 3 for $20. We also made 1/4-lb. sausage packages, which we sold as part of an "Oktoberfest Snack-Pack" in good old-fashioned white paper sacks, along with crackers and samples of Munichburg member Jo Meyer's Mama Jo's Gourmet Honey Mustard. It was fun to offer this unique baloney relished by generations of Jefferson City residents.
Updating this story in 2018, we’d like to note that our friends at Swiss Meat and Sausage Company, which produced the association’s recipes for Hott & Asel baloney, sell 8 ounce chubs of their Rhine Valley German Style Bologna that is a LOT like the Hott & Asel recipe. It’s fully cooked, though it must be refrigerated or kept frozen. If you haven’t been to their shop, about eleven miles south of Hermann on MO 19, you should go there sometime. Lots of deals on some tasty meats! If you can’t make it there personally, remember that they can ship anywhere in the continental United States! (Christmas is coming . . . !)
And if you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, consider sending a contribution to the Old Munichburg Association, for helping keep these memories alive.