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Strong Family Ties: Germans Don't Dine -- They eat

Tobin, Paulette. "Strong Family Ties: Germans Don't Dine -- They eat." Grand Forks Herald, 22 August 1999.


The history of the Germans from Russia includes 200 years of migration from Germany to the steppes of Russia to the American Midwest and that's meant some lean times for this food-loving ethnic group.

On the other hand, it's also given the Germans plenty of practice at preparing delicious, hearty food even when the cupboard was pretty bare.

It's amazing what a good German cook can do with flour and potatoes. There's spatzle, dampnoodla, kartoffel and knepla, strudels, stirum and nudeln.

Give her a little cottage cheese and onion and she can cook you some kaseknephla. With a little meat and cabbage she can whip up fleischkuchle or a stuffed bread pocket called a runza, which literally translated means fat belly or "paunch."

Then there are bread and rolls, kuchen topped with thick cream custard and fruit, keachla (fried bread), schnetke and plachinta (pumpkin pastries).

Nearly every German community and/or church congregation from Menno, S.D., to Selz, N.D., has published an ethnic cookbook and many are excellent. But one of the best is "Sei Unser Gast," a collection of German Russian, German and Russian recipes published by the North Star Chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in Bloomington, Minn.

The recipes are wide-ranging and easy to understand. But what I really liked was how the authors included the history of many of the foods and how and when they were traditionally made and served.

The cookbook's title, literally "Be Our Guest," is from a table prayer familiar to many German families in the Dakotas. My grandfather, Gustav Haupt, used to pray it every time he sat down to dinner with us: "Komm, Herr Jesu, sei unser Gast, und segne alles, was du uns aus Gnade bescheret hast." "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and bless all that you through your grace have bestowed on us."

"Sei Unser Gast" was published to raise money for North Star Chapter activities and to acquaint people with German Russian cookery. But most important, the group wanted to document German Russian cuisine and food ways so that present and future generations could enjoy it.

To someone like me, who grew up in a Germans-from-Russia family in Eureka, S.D., it still seems funny to read about German Russian cuisine. As my mother used to say: "We're German. We don't dine - we eat." Not that these recipes aren't worthy of fine dining. The chapter on soups, including wonderful rivel soup and borscht, a beet soup the Germans adopted from the Ukrainians, is especially interesting. There's also roast duck with sauerkraut stuffing, hasenpfeffer, halupsi (pigs in the blankets), and pheasant fricasse.

Then there are the recipes like this one for chicken and noodles, which includes these instructions:

"If you happen to butcher the old hen yourself, save the feet. Scald them extra hard, then peel the scales off and remove the toenails with pliers. Cook the feet with the hen and the broth will have an extra dose of gelatin. Remove the feet from the broth when the hen is cooked. Grandma would eat the feet when they were nice and tender but then she'd also clean and cook the head with the rest of the bird. She'd eat the comb, split the skull and give the nugget of brain to whichever grandchild was lucky enough to be sitting next to her."

In my family we never ate chicken heads. I have seen people clean the heads and watching them use a paring knife to pop out the eyeballs pretty much cured me of wanting to try them.

Some of our family and friends considered chicken feet a real delicacy and one of my jobs during butchering was to cut off the toenails with a big knife. My parents usually froze the feet and saved them for winter, when we would cook them and feed them to our dogs.

In addition to entrees, side dishes, baked goods, pickles and salads, this cookbook will tell you how to make chamomile tea, wild currant wine and lye soap just like Grandma did.

Copies of "Sei Unser Gast" are available at $11.95 for one to four copies, $10.95 for five to nine copies and $9.95 for 10 or more, plus postage. Write to: Cookbook orders, North Star Chapter, 175 Spring Valley Drive, Bloomington, Minn. 55420-5537. Here are a couple sample recipes.

    Mom's Borscht

    3 quarts water
    1 pound soup meat or 1 large soup bone
    2 bay leaves
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 large onion sliced
    cup butter
    3 large carrots diced
    1 small head cabbage, shredded
    2 beets, diced, or 1 small can diced beets (optional)
    1 can tomatoes
    cup rice
    2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
    1 cup sour cream

In a large kettle, bring to a boil the water, soup bone or soup meat, bay leaves and salt. Cover and cook gently for 2 hours.

While meat is cooking, cook onion in butter in a large fry pan. Add other vegetables (use a small or large can of tomatoes, depending on your taste) to onion and simmer 1 hour. When meat is tender, remove meat from broth and strain broth. Return broth to kettle with the meat and cooked vegetables and simmer 11/2 hours. Add rice, then potatoes 10 minutes later. Cook until done. Add sour cream, bring soup to a boil and serve. (Peas, green beans, celery or corn may be added, if desired.) Serves 8.

    Keachla

    1 cup sugar
    1 cup skim milk
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon cream
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    Pinch of salt
    About 4 cups flour
    Hot oil for deep frying
    Sugar to sprinkle

Make dough by mixing sugar, skim milk, eggs, cream, and baking powder salt and flour, so dough doesn't drop off the mixing spoon and it can be rolled out good and thin. Cut rolled-out dough into 4-by-8-inch pieces. Cut 2 or 3 slits in each piece and fry in deep fat. Sprinkled with sugar or leave plain. In many German homes these were traditional on Ascension Day.

    Spareribs with kraut and fingernoodles

    Pork spareribs
    Large can sauerkraut
    Milk
    2 cups flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 slightly beaten egg

Season pork spareribs with salt and pepper. Put in a large kettle, cover with water and simmer for 1 hour, or until almost tender. Add a large can of sauerkraut and simmer 15 to 20 minutes more.

Make the fingernoodle dough by mixing enough milk with 2 flour, salt and egg to make stiff dough. Pinch off a small piece of the dough and roll it between your hands until it is about 2 inches long and looks like a finger. Repeat until you've used all the dough. Place the fingernoodles on top of the simmering meat and sauerkraut and cover tightly. Cook 15 minutes before removing the lid.

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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