Food & Folkways: Heirloom Memories From Europe, South Russia
& the Great Plains
Review by Ingeborg W. Smith, Western Springs, Illinois
I have a whole bookcase full of cookbooks, some of them in German,
but no cookbook quite like this one. It is not just a compendium
of recipes, but it is historical, emphasizing the food traditions
of the Germans who were invited to Russia by Catherine the Great.
Many of these people re-emigrated from Russia to the Great Plains
of the New World but kept their old folkways.
Some people use cookbooks as bedtime reading and this one lends
itself to this use, perhaps because it has fewer recipes than the
standard book of this kind, and contains more background information.
It is probably one of very few such volumes that contains a bibliography.
There are also a glossary and a list of "Sources and Resources."
German Food & Folkways is the result
of four years of research and data-gathering and one year of writing
by Rose Marie H. Gueldner, an educator, historian, writer and businesswoman,
and a descendant of Germans from Russia. It is not your standard
cookbook, but a history of the Germans from Russia, where they came
from, how they got to Russia, and how the German food traditions
were changed by conditions in Russia, especially the climate and
the short growing season, which produced an emphasis on root vegetables
We learn that Frederick II was instrumental in adding the potato
to the German diet during the food shortages in the 1700's, that
peanut butter was introduced as a health food at the
1904 St. Louis Exposition, plus a host of other interesting facts.
As a descendant of both North and South Germans, I expected to
find a few more familiar dishes. My mother made her egg noodles
from scratch and I was familiar with brains, heart and tongue, all
found in this book, but strudel as a main dish stuffed with cabbage
and cooked on top of meat and potatoes did not remind me of Apfelstrudel
I grew up with. Happily, desserts, bread and Kuchen will each be
the subject of other books by Ms. Gueldner.
The beginning of each chapter repeats the cover design, a collection
of items used in the kitchen, a butter churn, a pail, a meat grinder,
rolling pin, foaming beer stein, eggs, beets, etc. Drawings of individual
foods grace various pages. Several maps are included. There is even
a chapter on mealtime prayers. Ms. Gueldner promotes good organic
ingredients and healthful eating.
Each chapter starts with a general discussion and then proceeds
to the recipes, which may include further discussion. Ms. Gueldner's
recipe for Farmyard Roast Goose reminded me of the Christmas goose
I roasted four years ago. This goose, the smallest one I could order
at my local market, weighed 10 pounds, and cost $40.00, and served
three, with no leftovers at all. Geese had more meat on them when
I was young. Ms. Gueldner's recipe uses an 8 to 12 lb. goose and
expects it to produce 4 to 18 servings. She suggests serving this
fowl with potato dumplings, applesauce or red cabbage, for which
no recipes are forthcoming.
The section on beverages includes a page on water and the former
necessary chore of hauling it to the fields as well as pumping it
for the house. In Jimmy Carter's memoir of his boyhood, An
Hour Before Daylight, he comments that the easiest
way to bring water to the fields was in the form of watermelon.
That's the spirit, Jimmy!
I enjoyed reading this book and got a few tips on how to improve
my own cooking. I also learned a little German dialect--that anyone
would call a potato (Kartoffel) Grumbeere or Grumbara, some sort
of berry is certainly new to me.
While I find that the quotation on the back cover attributed to
Brother Placid Gross, OSB, Folklorist: "This book is the crowning
achievement of all cookbooks", to be an exaggeration, I believe
that more to the point is Dr. Timothy F. Kloberdanz's conclusion:
"Although there are German-Russian cookbooks currently on the
market, this one is quite unusual because of the way it interweaves
background history, ethnic heritage, and so many mouth-watering
Old Country recipes." I concur.
Our appreciation is extended to Ingeborg W. Smith for
review of this book.