In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller & Jay Gage
The heritage of the Germans from Russia is an important part of
our northern plains culture. The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
at the NDSU Libraries in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and
to former Dakotans. Readers' responses for future columns are encouraged.
Guest writer Jay Gage, curator of heritage exhibits, shares comments
that snuggle into "comfort food" flash-backs during these chilly
Dakota winter days.
Grandma Ottilia's Soup
Recent discussion from our computer Internet surfers ask: What
floats in soup? "Suppe und Borscht on eine schtick!" (Borscht soup
on a stick!). On these winter nights fragrant soup and borscht visions
glow dancing in our heads while savored memories linger on our dining
palates. Soup warmed us from winter chills and sniffles, comforted
the sick, and readily embraced all appetites. Alas, Gro▀mutter Ottilia's
soup said so!
Chicken broth reigns universal, splendidly arrayed in egg-noodles,
batter dumplings, chewy rice, ribbles, and tasty vegetables. Chicken
noodle soup was distinctively spiced with exotic cinnamon, to "chanticleer"
over the pfefferkraut, celery greens, chopped parsley, whole allspice
and bay leaf. Traditionally, noon-time dinner was a hot meal featuring
potatoes and noodles; evening supper offered hot tea for this cold
meal, with perhaps hot soup in winter. "Heiss mit suppe" (hot with
soup) shows a pageant of culinary prowess from our diligent housewife.
Chicken noodle soup remains a perpetual favorite with cinnamon spice.
Kumpst Borscht (chicken borscht) spot-lights crowing cockerel swimming
in garden vegetable fanfare.
Famous Borscht Soup
Borscht, the classic ethnic German vegetable soup, uses beef or
pork stock base with a hardy fare of carrots, turnips, white cabbage,
parsnips, rutabagas, celery root, and daikon radish. However, this
savory soup rarely used red beets and sour cream, as does Russian
Borscht. Many German cooks pride to feature tomatoes in this soup.
Green borscht celebrated a ham base with garden greens of romaine/cos
lettuce, spinach, beet greens, swiss chard, green onions, green
string beans, green sweet pepper, eggplant, radishes, and new potatoes.
Fresh dillweed, parsley, and summer savory mint provided a sensory
paradise. Pungent white vinegar and sour cream were ever-present
Russian borscht, red root soup, featured grated red beets with
sour cream or cottage cheese curd. Chopped beef brisket with flavorful
soup bone joined tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabagas.
Dill seed or toasted caraway seed were herbal spices to schmooze
with chopped onion and daikon radish. Enterprising diners slurped
this soup through condiments of white vinegar and sour cream, common
for many Russian tables.
Bean soup, traditionally uses white vinegar as condiment. However,
"mavericks" on the Dakota prairies can be regionally identified
with distinctive addictions, from "plenteous ketchup" to Dijon mustard
floating in their bean soup. Writer Ron Vossler shares such anecdotal
dining at Ressler's Cafe in historic Bismarck.
Bessarabian bean soup was a more elaborate affair, using white
northern beans "neutralized" from gastric distress, thanks to baking
soda. The cured ham broth jump-started lentils, potatoes, carrots,
chopped onion and summer savory. In Beulah, Vi Schielke researched
that "pfefferkraut" (summer savory) was a special Sommerfeld family
tradition for soups from Paris, Bessarabia. White vinegar, black
pepper, allspice, and bay leaf provided firm flavors. A golden paste
of flour and butter "roux" was toasted into a nutty taste, to provide
bean soup with a finishing touch.
Knoepfla and Nudeln
Historian Shirley Fischer Arends mentions further culinary diversity
in her 1984 study, The Central Dakota Germans: Their History,
Language and Culture. Eierstich Suppe is egg-drop chicken broth.
Krumele Suppe features dough crumbs dancing in chicken broth. Schupfnudeln
are batter dumplings for broth soups. Knoepfla is chewy dough, scissor-cut
into small triangles, boiled and saute browned for cream soups,
or to garnish sauerkraut.
For other soup alternatives, Maultaschen, a Wuerttemberger `ravioli',
floating in broth soups, as well as horse-radish flavored soups
(for winter health) have yet to be shared in detail.
Have you re-discovered your "comfort food" heritage? As Grossmutter
Ottilia assured us young children, whenever you arrive within a
German kitchen's heart, the hot soup and hospitality is already
Share Your Memories
Jay Gage has shared these surviving foodways. His grandfather
proudly related memories of daikon radishes used in soup traditions
from Leipzig, Bessarabia. His great-grandmother Gottliebina (Stolz)
Kempf was Bessarabian German settling in McIntosh County. He is
curator of the NDSU Libraries' traveling exhibit, "The Kempf Family:
Germans from Russia Weavers on the Dakota Prairies", on display
at the Pioneer Heritage Center, Icelandic State Park, at Cavalier
from February 16 to March 31, 1997.
Memories are revived in two wonderful articles that appear in
the 1997 winter issue of North Dakota Horizons: "Journey
to the Homeland" by Ron Vossler and "Strasburg's Historic Church:
Sts. Peter & Paul" by Jim Coomber and Sheldon Green.
Won't you tell us your childhood memories about German-Russian
foods and recipes. We are a research center and your contributions
will provide broader insight for the Germans from Russia Heritage
Collection and for future "In Touch with Prairie Living" columns.
Share your memories by contacting Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries,
PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416 E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu)