Cooking Helps Women Maintain Their German-Russian Heritage

Phill, Dimitria T.. "Cooking Helps Women Maintain Their German-Russian Heritage." Star Tribune, 27 September 1998, sec. E2.

From left, Carol Halverson, Jeanette Aipperspach Jasmer, Betty Lackman Fiske, Bernelda Kallenberger Becker and Jackie Dohn Maas feast on German-Russian foods that help keep their heritage alive.
Carol Halverson is in the business of preserving family history. People hire her to help them record their memories. She videotapes grandmas telling stories, or special events such as weddings and anniversaries.

But when Halverson wanted to sustain her German-Russian heritage, she didn't take out her video recorder. She scheduled a supper.

"The power of food in maintaining an ethnic group is still a mystery to me, but it's very powerful," said Halverson, who lives in St. Louis park with her two daughters. "Even when I was in the Ukraine this summer, once the hostess served her homemade bread and pickles, it was like I was back at home in my grandmother's kitchen."

Twenty years ago Halverson helped found the Minnesota chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. Just last fall, she invited women from the chapter to her home for dinner. She named the group Verrückte Frauen, which is German for "crazy women," because she said that sometimes coping with a city life that clashes with her roots makes her a little nutty.

"We are women who have moved into urban centers, but we descend from women who worked the land," said Halverson. "We no longer have small-village life to help us stay connected, but we have inherited an enduring pioneering spirit. At the meetings, we share stories from our youth. We read poetry by a German-Russian woman. It's a lot of laughing and giggling."

So far there are 17 women in Verrückte Frauen who look forward to the potlucks Halverson holds at her home on the third Sunday of each month. The menu consists of German-Russian comfort food that brings back memories of the large family gatherings the women left behind with girlhood.

"We center the sisterhood around food because culturally, food is the last to die and, culturally, food keeps us alive," said Halverson. "If anything is going to keep our ethnicity alive, it's food. There isn't any one of us that doesn't find comfort in the food of our ancestors."

Halverson said that her ancestors were people who resettled twice, first from Germany to Russia between the 18th and the 19th centuries, and then from Russia to the United States between the 19th and 20th centuries. Their food has German elements, such as dumplings and sauerkraut, and Russian influences, such as pickles and borscht.

Cucumber salad, cabbage rolls, meat and potato pie, dumplings and kuchen are some of the German-Russian foods that appear at Verrückte Frauen potluck dinners. The women prepare family recipes, or something from "Sei Unser Gast (Be Our Guest)," a cookbook compiled by the Minnesota chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.

Traditional recipes do more than feed us, said Halverson. She and her daughters prepare recipes from the cookbook to connect with each other and their culture. Not all of the women in Verrückte Frauen have their mothers and sisters near, so Halverson suggested that the group meet in her kitchen to prepare borscht, strudel or kuchen.

"Sisterhood is our mission," she said. "Having that extended family that living in urban centers doesn't allow."

Gurkensalat (Cucumber salad) *
This cucumber salad recipe comes from the cookbook "Sei Unser Gast." To order a cookbook, see the following GRHC website page -

3 young cucumbers
1 onion
2 tsp. salt
5 tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. white or cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 ice cubes

Slice cucumbers and onion crosswise, 1/8-inch thick. Layer slices in large shallow bowl, sprinkling salt between each layer. Let stand 1 hour or longer. Place cucumbers and onion in sieve and drain thoroughly. Transfer cucumbers and onion to serving bowl and sprinkle with sugar.

Pour vinegar over all. Season to taste with pepper. Add ice cubes and let stand 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve. Makes 5 cups.

* Recipe has been tested

Reprinted with permission of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller