I’d love to tell stories here about my German great grandma preparing all sorts of delicious Teutonic dishes with me at her side, helping her, but the truth is, she died before I was born. The one story I know about her cooking is that she used the same grease to make EVERYTHING. Yes, you heard me right. Think on that for a minute, and then get back to me on how developed a palate my forebears must have had.
This was my great grandma on my mom’s side, a cheerless, intimidating house of a woman who emigrated through Ellis Island in 1903. She had a pinched face and little round glasses, and terrified my mother by shaking a finger in her face and saying “Abba abba!” very threateningly, which can be a little unnerving when you’re small. I once asked my German prof why my grandmother was threatening my mother with Swedish band names, and her reply was that it’s kind of a “Hey kid, watch your step,” kind of thing.
Sadly, very few tales have been passed down to me of my grandma Mariele’s cooking, other than Dough Gobs, the affectionate name for something the family made during the holidays. But I digress.
I have only recently developed a true love of my German heritage. For most of my life, my mother pooh-poohed her German roots. Part of it was Nazi guilt, I guess. The rest was her rejection of a strict father who wanted children to be seen and not heard (and MADE her eat potato pancakes which she loathed), grandparents who were complete authoritarians, and who (I’ve been told) listened to Nazi broadcasts on shortwave before the war. When Hitler first took power, they thought he was a real swell guy. So there’s that.
Anyway, I’d had German food only once in my life, when I was around eight. After a night of mom getting her hair done at JCPenney, for some reason she decided to stop at a place just around the corner from Highland Mall, and we had German food. I was not impressed. I was a picky eater at that age, like many kids, and my impression was of sauerkraut and other sour things. Ick. I was a pasta gal. My parents spent some time in Italy before I was born, and spaghetti was a big thing at our house. German didn’t figure into it.
But I did take two years of German in college, and knew that one day I would travel there to use some of it. I hoped.
It took my beloved to bring me back around to the food. In addition to his Heinz 57 of English/Irish and Metis roots, he also had some Germans in the woodpile, and on a trip to Madison, Wisconsin years ago, he told me he wanted some German food. I was underwhelmed. But agreed to go to humor him. This is what love makes you capable of. We went to a place called the Essen Haus.
Going the safe route, I had sausage and potatoes or somesuch along with a Hefeweissen, but my beloved had me try some of his dish AND his sauerkraut. This was the nice crisp kind with the caraway seed in it, and my eyes were opened! From then on, I was willing to try more Prussian/Swabian/Bavarian goodness, and go at it I did. I’m 3/4 Kraut (from areas as diverse as Schleswig Holstein and Gladbeck, plus a few others), with only a bit of English and French thrown in for good measure. I began embracing those roots like a friend I hadn’t seen in years.
A move to Milwaukee in 2007 didn’t help those cravings one bit. In fact, it intensified them. If you’re German, Milwaukee is one of THE top ten best cities in America to enjoy your genealogy and all that goes with it. The food, the beer, the festivals…I get misty-eyed just thinking about it, and sad that we were only there for two years.
While at the bookstore one day, I found an amazing book chock full of old photos and history of Milwaukee, and recipes submitted by local folks (and local restaurants!) of delicious items I should have been eating all those years. Once in a while, hubby is tickled to find out that I’ve gotten a bug up my butt and simply must make some Kraut Cuisine.
Without further ado, I’ll share one of these, because it’s become one of my favorites. This is from a lady named Ingeborg Johnson, for:
Koenigsberger Klopse (Meatballs in Lemon Sauce)
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (I use extra lean)
1 large white onion, chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk (1% here)
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
8 cups water
3 beef bouillon cubes
5 peppercorns, whole
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 T. capers
1/2 cup cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup cold milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1. Combine meatball ingredients in a bowl, mixing by hand.
2. Shape the meat into two inch meatballs and set aside.
3. In a large pot, bring the water, beef bouillon, peppercorns, and bay leaf to a boil. Stir the mixture until bouillon cubes are dissolved.
4. Gently drop the meatballs into the sauce and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the meatballs rise to the top.
5. Remove the meatballs and keep them warm. Remove the peppercorns and the bay leaf and discard. Add the lemon juice, capers, and cornstarch to the pot.
6. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until it is slightly thickened. Remove 1 cup of the sauce and blend with 1/2 cup of the sour cream, then return it to the mixture.
7. Return the meatballs to the sauce and heat them thoroughly.
8. Serve Koenigsberger Klopse mit boiled potatoes or buttered noodles.
9. Or, if you’re Laini, make an entire bonanza to go with, including Wiener Schnitzel, Kartoffelsalat (that’s potato salad for the rest of y’all), Sauerkraut, Rouladen, Spatzle, and a Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake, and it looked awesome, believe me).
Mader’s. Still the Mecca of German cuisine in Milwaukee