Cooking Helps Women Maintain Their German-Russian
Phill, Dimitria T.. "Cooking Helps Women Maintain Their German-Russian Heritage." Star Tribune, 27 September 1998, sec. E2.
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.
|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.
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
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
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
"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
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
* Recipe has been tested
Reprinted with permission of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis,