Monday, January 2, 2012

Nie Joash Kooka oder Portzilke?

My ancestors were Low German Mennonites who came over from Southern Russia.  I'm proud of my heritage, and since I love to cook, it's a good thing.  There are so many terrific ethnic edibles that I was raised on (and have gotten my family hooked on too!) that I just can't do without.

The first is Nie Joash Kooka (that's the low German way to say New Year's Cookies--we always looked at people who called them Portzilke as putting on airs).  Sweet dough with raisins, deep fried in oil.  You can glaze them like a donut, but what we usually did is just dip them in a bowl of sugar as we ate them.  If you've never had em, come on over.  I'm making some today.  A little late, but better late than never. 

Then there's the whole veranike controversy.  First off, how to spell it?  with an e or an a on the end?  I'm open to both.  You roll out dough, cut it in circles, and fill it with a mix of dry cottage cheese (with an egg yolk for binding), salt, and pepper.  Seal it (yeah, sounds like a German wonton, haha) then gently place it in boiling water.  Some people stop there and serve it with ham and gravy.  I'm a purist.  I'll use ham if I have to, but it's really better with sausage made in my home town.  (Buhler sausage, folks.  GETCHA SOME.)  I also fry mine after boiling.  Some people have expressed horror at this, but it's the way I had them growing up, and I like the color and crispiness that it gives (so you're not just eating a mouthful of mush).  I also INSIST on using SOUR CREAM in the gravy.  It worked for my ancestors, and it works for me, plus it tastes just delicious.

Swiebach are close to my heart.  They're not the little wafers you buy for your baby to nom on.  They're double decker rolls, and as the saying goes, you don't need to put butter on them because there's already plenty of butter IN them.  I'm a heretic.  I still butter mine.  Lightly.

Bierocks are another sensitive subject.  My husband's family makes them, and thankfully, calls them Cabbage Biscuits.  They're just not BIEROCKS unless you make them with swiebach dough.  I've done a lot of experimenting with filling (usually hamburger, cabbage, and onion, with salt and pepper).  Cheese can be good in there, but I don't usually do it.  I tried using sauerkraut instead of plain cabbage and was very pleased with the result.  I figure it's still authentic.  And you really should eat these with sweet mustard (no, not honey mustard and not plain mustard).  Sweet German mustard really makes a difference.

Crullers are served with watermelon.  Period.

Anyone that has never had Mack Kuchen (poppy seed rolls) is missing out on something.  Imagine a dough like a danish, spread with poppy seed paste, then rolled, baked, and sliced.  You might not pass a drug test, but you won't care.

Moos is another wonderful invention.  Cherry Moos or Pluma Moos, yes please.  It's fruit soup.  Pluma Moos has soaked prunes and raisins in an anise-flavored base.  I tend to like my moos warm, but cold is great too. 

Let's not forget peppernuts (pfeffernusse is the high-falutin High German word).  You can put all kinds of frippery in there, like gumdrops or coconuts, but you'll find that all Mennonites worth their salt prefer just the plain hard ones. 

There's an art to making borscht.  It's not always the purple beet stuff you usually see.  My personal favorite is Summaborscht--ham, cabbage, tomatoes, and onions, but I will confess that adding some beet greens REALLY knocks the flavor out of the park!  Everybody has their own recipe, and on this one, that's good.  One of these days, I'm going to make Krutborscht--weed soup.  Dandelions and other edible greens . . .at least if I can find enough after I pick them all for the chickens.

Speaking of soups, my dad used to make Pigs In a Blanket.  Again, not what you're thinking.  He would mix ground beef with a handful or two of rice and make balls, which were then wrapped in steamed cabbage leaves (held shut with toothpicks) then simmered all day in tomato juice.  Being who I am, I tweaked it.  I now mix half beef with half sausage with either rice or crushed Cheese-its.  I use tomato juice, but I also usually add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, and garlic.  When you're ready to eat, you get a really big bowl (since soup bowls just aren't big enough), fish out a ball, take out the toothpicks, and ladle some of that tomatoey goodness over the top.  Cut it up and sprinkle with Tabasco sauce, and there's a fine meal.

The day I finally replicated my Grandma Martha's noodle soup was a triumph.  When I finally raise my own broilers and can make my own kielke (noodles), I'm gonna try again.  I think she'd be proud of me.

A lot of these fine delicacies involve lots of work and lots of time.  I don't know how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers did it--running a house with more kids than mine plus making all of this labor intensive food.  It saddens me that most of them are now just seen as delicacies, not staples.  Most people my age from my hometown have never made any of these wonderful edibles.  Most don't want to.

Look at me, even.  My family speaks Plautdietsch (Low German).  They usually used it when they didn't want me to know what they were talking about, so they never taught me.  I went to high school and learned Hochdeutsch (High German) so we can at least understand each other part of the time, but mine is so rusty that I'm not sure what I'm saying half the time. 

Treasure your heritage.  Ask your grandma to show you how to make her favorite recipe, and take notes.  Get the family involved.  Ask what your great-grandpa was like.  Put yourself in their shoes for just a moment.  Think about what it must have been like to be them, because if we don't know where we came from, how can we know where we're going?  Too many valuable cultures and traditions are falling by the wayside as we think we're making progress.  Smart phones are NOT as important as knowing your history, knowing your family, and making good food.

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