Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"German" Food?

Posted by guest blogger Jill

Upon moving to Seattle, it didn’t take long for me to develop quite a jonesing for some home cooked food. About a year ago I did a quick Google search for German restaurants, found some names, and went to the one closest to my home. After blindly diving into this place (which shall remain nameless) I left quite disappointed. I certainly wasn’t expecting the food to taste as good as my grandma’s, but I naively assumed it would resemble it. Later I did a much more thorough search—reading the menus, seeing the dishes and what ingredients they entailed—and I discovered that they were all the same. This feeling of disappointment was not due to the quality of food, but rather what the food actually was—bratwursts, sauerkraut, pickles, pâtés, and mustard with EVERYTHING. This is nothing like the food I grew up with.

I’m German-Russian, meaning my ancestors immigrated to Russia but never became immersed in their culture. They kept their own recipes, and, as the food changed in Germany, theirs stayed the same. This explains why I did not grow up dunking sausage links in yellow muck, but there’s more…

My grandmother is a fabulous cook. As far as I was concerned she brought Germany to the table every Sunday with entrees like “Boreka,” “Cheese Buttons,” “Cream Noodles” “Chicken and Dumplings,” German Potato Salad,” “Kuchla,” “Strudel,” “Knoephla,” and “Kuchen.” Even as a young child I noticed a pattern of what we were eating—meat, potatoes, dough, and often times cream. I noticed, but I didn’t give it a second thought. Most of the people in that community have a similar heritage; perhaps there were alterations within the recipes, but the same overall concept. And it wasn’t just my hometown, but several of the surrounding towns as well. We all ate the same things, so I had nothing to compare my family’s food to, and no reason to think that German food was different anywhere else.

This casual state of mind followed me to Seattle. My knowledge and interest in food exploded as soon as I started working in restaurants and dating a chef, and I began to fall in love with the craft of the culinary profession as I slowly started to eat my way around the city. Until I lived in a major city, I was unaware of the culinary world. I was and still am trying so many new things, and the overwhelming variety of cultures and styles that are involved with the way food is made kept me away from the food of my childhood for some time. When it occured to me that I should find German food in Seattle I didn’t even give it a second thought; I simply entered that restaurant ready to dine on grandma-like dishes and some good beer.

So why such a drastic difference? The combination of working in restaurants and going to school has really helped me to think this out. In class my cohort, professor, and I have discussed extensively the “whys” behind “what” we eat, how our nation thinks about food, and the actions and processes within how this food is sold and presented to us. These discussions have obviously gone in several directions with several opinions, but I am going to dwell on just one--the choices that people make about what they eat are sometimes a financially based choice, whether they like it or not. I’m not going to pretend that I know what “eating right” is (for both ethical and health related reasons) or that even if I could afford any diet of choice, that I would make all the “right” choices. I CAN say that it is expensive for me to shop organically, that the reason I don’t usually buy meat is mostly because of the price, that I have given up certain foods due to morals, that not all restaurants buy according to their morals but because of the anticipated questions of those consuming the food, and that if pushed I would probably get into a fight with a vegan (for the first 18 years of my life I knew the source and treatment of all of my meat—my father and my uncles.)

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point that what we eat is a big topic, and the list of whys is even bigger. But I digress, and return to the topic of finance. So back to my dwelling—what can one afford? The fact that my grandma’s food has only three ingredients (meat, potato, dough) has another explanation—there was no money. In Russia the dishes rarely even included meat; if they had any livestock they sold it. Once in the states, cattle were eventually able to provide sustenance. (This is not complete fact, but it is the generally consistent information that has passed through my family.)

So I will now offer my grandmother’s recipe, and conclude with a comment about my hometown. There a unique quality to the food I grew up with. It began in Germany partly due to poverty, moved to Russia and remained the same as Germany shifted, then moved to America (largely in the Dakotas) and has kept this originality. The intimacy, sense of community, and sharing of ancestry within a small town can all be quite impressive. All food issues aside, this is part of my culture, and it is ALL delicious. Here is the recipe, exactly as my mother emailed it to me:

Fleischkuechla – Deep Fried Meat Cakes – Boreka

The first name is German – fleisch means meat and kuechla means dough

The last one is how Grandma thought it would be spelled for what the Dewalds call it. I have never known anybody else to call it this. She doesn’t know if it is a Russian thing or Catholic?!?

This recipe came from Aunt Jennie (this is Edmund and Ralph’s mother) which was passed on to me from Grandma Annie.

1 lb. ground beef1 lb. ground pork1 onion – cut fine Salt and pepper

2 ½ cups flour2 tablespoons salt in 3 cups cold waterMix into a stiff dough – let dough rest a few hoursCut into small portionsRoll into a small round portion like a pan cakeFill with meat and chose with a saucerFry in deep hot fat until brown on both sides – drain on a paper towel

As I told you on the phone, the dough dishes were very popular because people were poor. They were labor intense but cheap. Actually this recipe is not one of the cheaper ones since it has meat.

Hope this helps you. If you need to know more, Dad or Grandma would be a better source since they actually grew up with the German food.

Take care of you - Love you – MOM

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