Doughty [Doughy] German Soup Regaining Past Favor

Christianson, Randy. “Doughty German Soup Regaining Past Favor.” Bismarck Tribune, 16 February 1982, 10B.

Dough is German-Russian soul food.

“It seemed that everybody made a dough dish for dinner,” according to Wilhelmina “Minnie” Geiger of rural Mandan, who teaches an adult education course in German cooking through the Mandan public schools.

Of Germans who immigrated to this area from Russia, Geiger said, “They were poor people and they had to make things with what they had.”

Almost all had eggs and flour, the two absolute necessities for dough, she said. “I think they were really inventive people. Instead of sitting around eating flour and bread, they learned to invent all these dishes.”

“Most of it was just dough,” she added.

But therein lies the appeal of knoepfle soup.

Knoepfle, also known as noeffle, nueffla, noefle , niffle , knoefle, knepfla, knipf and ·by other spellings, but most often pronounced “nifla,” is the name given to the very basic noodles or dumplings that have been a staple of the diet of many Germans from Russia since, at the very least the middle of the 1800s.

Knoepfle at its most basic is just these dumplings cooked with a hearty vegetable or chicken broth. There are a few variations and elaborations, but all the varieties this writer has sampled look alike - murky yellow.

Knoepfle soup is not the most prepossessing dish you’ll see. If one were to think of food as being sexy, knoepfle soup would be the rough equivalent of Sophie Tucker.

But, like Mom used to say as you stared at your bowl of Cream of Wheat, ‘Don’t look at it, just eat; it’ll stick to your ribs.’

According to Geiger, knoepfle soup was especially important during winters on the farm or ranch, when it provided both nutrition and quick lasting warmth.

While it was never in any immediate danger of extinction, knoepfle soup began to appear more rarely on the dinner table as times changed.

“I think they were tired of them (knoepfles),” Geiger said. “As they became more affluent, they would go into more potatoes and meat.”

But it’s apparent to any cafehopper that knoepfle is making a big comeback in the Bismarck-Mandan area and throughout the German and Germans-from-Russia strongholds in the state.

Whereas for most of the 1970s it was featured at - as far as could be determined - only two restaurants in the Bismarck-Mandan area, it now is on the menu of more than a dozen, either daily or as one of several “soups du jour.”

The majority of area restaurants that have added knoepfle soup did so since last fall. There is no apparent reason why it has so suddenly burst upon the culinary scene, though it seems every new restaurant to add the soup to its menu contributed to a chain reaction of interest.

“It seems like everybody likes it,” Geiger said. Newcomers, like a British friend of hers, have found “it grows on you.”

“Where it used to be a staple, now it’s a treat.”

The renaissance of knoepfle soup also may have inspired a sense of competition among some restaurants.

The manager of one restaurant that has featured knoepfle soup for some years refused to speak about it on the suspicion that someone wanted only to steal the recipe, presumably for use in a competing restaurant.

In general, knoepfle soup recipes aren’t difficult to find. The problem seems to lie in successfully following them.

Doug Bitz, manager of Mandan’s Bonanza Sirloin Pit, seems to think knoepfle soup would be a nifty - or should it be “knoepfty” - addition to his menu.

Bitz had one of his employees take Geiger’s cooking class so he has someone capable of whipping up a batch whenever he chooses to feature it.

After the employee’s first stab at preparing the brew, Bitz said, “Boy, did we laugh.

“We threw the dumplings against the wall,” he said, “and they didn’t even bounce.”

“I guess the best way to make it is do it, taste it, and do it again.”

Bitz said he intends to include potatoes, which are the most popular of the optional ingredients in knoepfle soup.

Geiger said that chicken, either as a base for the broth or as meat, also is a common addition. Some people also flavor the soup with onions, dill weed, bay leaf or parsley.

And those who find the soup is too thin or too bland or too low in calories may well add sweet or sour cream to the broth.

“Everybody’s been more interested in going the old way,” Geiger said, by way of explaining the craze over knoepfle soup.

Young people who did no[t] have knoepfle soup in the past like it because it’s different and because circumstances don’t force them to consume it almost daily, she said.

And, she said, of those who grew up with it and had almost forgotten it, “They remember, ‘Hey, that wasn’t bad at all.’”

Tribune Photo by Ted Quanrud. Waitress Renae Hornbacher dishes up a bowl of knoepfle soup at Ron’s Family Restaurant in Bismarck.

Reprinted with permission of the Bismarck Tribune.

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