In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries
in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and former Dakotans. In
various ways, it affirms that the heritage of the Germans from Russia
is an important part of the northern plains culture. In this month's
column, we focus on the traditions of canning garden vegetables
in the fall. Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, grew up in a German-Russian
home in Mercer County, ND. Her parents immigrated from the village
of Glueckstal, South Russia, in the late 1800s. Cora visited Glueckstal
in May, 1997. She shares her memories.
Pioneer Parents and Ancestors
Many Germans from Russia, who immigrated to the Dakotas in the
late 1800s and early 1900s, came to their new prairie home with
little more than their faith in God. Our pioneer parents and ancestors
brought with them a strength of character into this rough frontier
where they settled to establish a new home in a new land. Times
were often very hard but they persevered through harsh winters,
crop failures and loneliness.
For the housewives, life became a real challenge. They had to
feed their families quite often with only meager provisions. They
read their Bibles and prayed for help. They found comfort and encouragement
in the verse of Proverbs 30:8. They prayed: "Remove for me
vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with
food convenient for me."
With these thoughts, they preserved native fruits and wild berries.
They picked choke cherries, plums, buffalo berries and June berries,
making jellies, jams and sauces. They cooked meals from grains and
vegetables that they were able to raise. They flavored them with
herbs grown from the seeds brought from their former homes in Russia.
They came from a land where fruits and vegetables grew abundantly.
These women were adept in the knowledge of food preservation. They
canned vegetables, pickled cucumbers and watermelon, often in large
crocks, and stored potatoes, carrots and beets in cool root cellars
built by the men.
Making Sauerkraut and Canned Meat
Husbands often helped to make cabbage into sauerkraut. They grated
fresh cabbage with kraut cutters into large stoneware crocks, salted
before adding bay leaves and allspice, then tamped it firmly with
a heavy wooden stomper. Into this they grated some onions and often
stuffed some green peppers with some of the shredded cabbage and
buried them in the kraut. Sometimes apples were also buried in the
mixture to add a fruity flavor.
When the kraut was tamped and stomped sufficiently, a large plate
or wooden board was placed as a top press weighted down with a heavy,
well-scrubbed rock. A large cotton cloth was tied over the crock,
before the crock was stored in the root cellar to ferment and turn
sour. During long winters, this sauerkraut provided many tasty and
nutritious meals when cooked with pork and served over mashed potatoes,
or served with dumplings. Poultry and red meat were often canned
in glass jars. Pork was cured in salt brines and smoked. Sausages
were spiced and smoked, although sometimes canned for longer preservation.
A New Miracle, Refrigerators and Freezers
What a day of joy it was when, after many years of grueling efforts
to preserve food, electricity came to the farms. Refrigerators and
freezers became a household necessity. Now the housewives were liberated
from the struggle to preserve food. These German-Russian pioneers,
along with other ethnic neighbors, finally saw a light at the end
of the tunnel. They were free, and their faith moved them to recall,
in thankfulness, the promises of God: "The Lord shall command
the blessings upon you in your storehouses, and in all that you
undertake, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your
God gives you." Deut. 28:8
Information on the Germans from Russia
We invite readers to share memories of canning in the fall. Review
the GRHC website at http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc or contact
Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599
(Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu).