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Bernadine Lang Kuhn

Making German Kuchen

Kammerdiener, Faith. "Making German Kuchen." Owatonna People's Press, 2 December 2001.


OWATONNA -- Bernadine Lang Kuhn is a Kuchen connoisseur. She carries on the tradition of German-Russian ancestors making a German coffee cake filled with fruit for dessert after brunch or midafternoon snack introducing it to Owatonna from her ancestral home in Napoleon, N.D. Kuhn's family delicacy is featured on a North Dakota State University Germans from Russia Heritage video collection called "Recipes from Grandma's Kitchen: Germans from Russia Food Preparations & Traditions", Volume 1.

The video won't be available to order from the North Dakota State University Libraries until February. But Kuhn gave a sneak preview of what is on that video. She gave a Kuchen demonstration Wednesday in her kitchen on Hilltop Avenue. Kuchen is made from a sweet bread dough. Eggs, water, shortening, sugar, flour and yeast are combined together making a soft dough. Kuhn rolls out the dough on a floured surface, places it into a 9-inch cake and forms it to the bottom of the pan. She places seven pans in the 150-degree oven letting the dough rise. Kuchen is the German word for "cake." While she works Kuhn shares tidbits about her German-Russian heritage.

The recipe comes from her mother, Louise Gums Lang. Lang's mother passed it down to her and she passed it down to Kuhn. She said Kuchen was primarily made for weddings because the ingredients were expensive to buy on the steppes found near the Black Sea. Sugar and fruit were also hard to come by because of war rationing. During the Depression, German immigrants in America would fill Kuchen with onions and cottage cheese - items available on most Midwestern farms. Kuhn's mother used to make her coffee cake with onions. "We made it more often as a dessert," Kuhn said recalling her childhood days. Kuhn makes her Kuchen filling it with cherry, blueberries and prunes. Prunes are the No. 1 fruit used. She also experiments with apple and strawberry. A custard sauce made from eggs and heavy whipping cream.

Last June, Kuhn took some of her prune and cherry Kuchen to Bismark, N.D. along on a lunch appointment with Michael Miller, a bibliographer who creates documentaries on Germans from Russia in June. After watching a few of Miller's earlier videos on Germans from Russia heritage, Kuhn wanted to meet Miller. Miller made two other videos one telling how the Germans emigrated to Russia after Catherine the Great married a Russian Czar opening up land for settlement. Some of those Germans later emigrated to the United States.

The second video talks about cultural food. Miller plans on making more videos if "Recipes from Grandma's Kitchen" is successful. He said he would like to make one on canning and one of food from the Volga region. "With folklore, the food ways are the most popular," Miller said as a reason why his videos focus on cooking. He featured Kuhn in his latest video along with other North Dakota women creating German foods like pheasant paprikash soup, dessert strudel and schupfnoodla with chicken. During October, Kuhn made Kuchen in her sister's kitchen in North Dakota with a video crew filming the whole bake off. After adding blueberries to one pan, cherries to another one and onions to another pan, Kuhn spoons on the custard sauce and sprinkles on cinnamon and sugar. She puts the pans back in the oven for 20 minutes. Then checks to see is the cake is done with the "jiggle test wiggling the pan back and fort to see if the custard is set.

Kuchen is now more a Christmas tradition than a wedding tradition in Kuhn's home. Instead of taking six hours to make, Kuhn has learned ways to cut the time down by nearly half using speedier methods. She uses quick rising yeast and put her dough in the oven to make it rise faster. On her parents North Dakota farm near Napoleon, Kuhn grew up helping her mother make the Kuchen. She didn't make it on her own until she married Roger J. Kuhn in 1965. Kuhn makes Kuchen for her two children, Brenda DeNio and John Kuhn. Kuhn talked about her family history which surrounds many of the German foods she prepares.

Kuhn's parents, Theodore and Louise Gums Lang farmed in Kidder County, in rural Tappen, North Dakota. The farm was homesteaded by Christian and Christina Rott Roesch Roesler in 1906. Christian and Christina Roesler were Glueckstal, South Russia immigrants. They immigrated to the United States in 1905 on the Kaiser Wilhelm a passenger ship. Kuhn's grandmother, Rosina Roesch Lang, born in 1897, came to America as a young child at 8 years of age. She immigrated with her parents Christian and Christina Roesler. Kuhn's grandfather, Frederich Lang, 14, immigrated to the United States on 1907 on a freighter ship with his parents. Karl and Elizabeth Humann Lang immigrated from Friedenstal, South Russia. Karl and Elizabeth homesteaded also homesteaded in rural Tappen. Kuhn's maternal grandparents, Phillip and Elizabeth Maier Gums immigrated from Gueldendorf, South Russia in 1910. They homesteaded in Logan County near Napoleon, N.D. Kuhn's mother, Louise Gums Lang was the second child born to Phillip and Elizabeth Gums in America. Kuhn is also the second oldest in her family.

Reprinted with permission of the Owatonna People's Press.

Note:

The videotape, "Recipes from Grandma's Kitchen: Germans from Russia Food Preparations & Traditions", is available at the following website: library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/tapes/gmaskitchen.html

See Bernadine Lang Kuhn preparing Kuchen including photographs at this website page: library.ndsu.edu/grhc/outreach/documentaries/foodways7.html

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
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Director: Michael M. Miller
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