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"We're German. We don't dine - we eat"

Book Review of Sei Unser Gast (Be Our Guest)

By Paulette Tobin, Grand Forks Herald Staff Writer


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 sounds funny to read about "German Russian cuisine." As my mother likes to say: "We're German. We don't dine - we eat." But I would say these recipes are worthy of being served anywhere. An especially fine chapter is the one on soups, including wonderful rivel soup and borscht, a beet soup the Germans adopted from the Ukrainians. There's also roast duck with sauerkraut stuffing, hasenpfeffer, halupsi (pigs in the blankets), and pheasant fricasse. A chicken and noodles recipe 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 witting next to her."

In my family we sometimes ate the chicken feet, but never the heads. Some people consider chicken feet a real delicacy, but we were more likely to freeze them after butchering and save them for winter, when we would cook them and feed them to our dogs. I have a feeling that admitted this is not going to endear me to the German traditionalists out there. In addition to entrees, this book will tell you how to make chamomile tea, wild currant wine and lye soap just like Grandma did.

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 teasoons salt
1 large onion sliced
1/4 cup butter
3 large carrots diced
1 small head cabbage, shredded
2 beets, diced, or 1 small can diced beets (optional)
1 can tomatoes
1/4 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
Salt, pinch
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. 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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