A Real Taste From the Home Warms the Heart – Growing up in a German-Russian Kitchen

Tandberg, Kathy. "A Real Taste From the Home Warms the Heart-Growing up in a German-Russian Kitchen." Hazen Star, 27 April 2006, 14 & 19. 

There’s nothing like a real taste of home to warm the heart.  Childhood favorite foods are something that carry us through times in life, whether for nourishment or comfort, there’s nothing like a taste of home.

For many generations, a childhood spent in Mercer County has often meant growing up in a German-Russian kitchen with foods that aren’t easily found elsewhere. 

Many of these ethnic dishes gained popularity over the years and have become a main menu item at local restaurants and local school cafeterias, like the popular fleischkuechla, a seasoned meat-filled pastry that is deep fried or oven baked.

Other German-Russian dishes show up on the occasional buffet, like stirum, knoephla, kraut knoephla, kuchen, plachinda, blachinda (pumpkin pastries), strudla and many more delicious foods.

Ida Voegele watches as her grandson Troy Mahl offers his son Josh his first taste of grandma’s strudla, a childhood German favorite of Troy.

It’s an experience that seems to never leave the true German palate.  At times this can be unfortunate because unless one learned to create such dishes in his or her own kitchen, the tastes of childhood often diminish when leaving home.

Unless, that is, they have a grandma like Ida Voegele.  Ida is one of Mercer County’s many German-Russian cooks who can still turn out delicious favorite dishes.

Ida has spent the majority of her 87 years cooking not only for her own family, but for Mercer County residents as well.  She is known for her good cooking at many lunch counters, including the Stockman’s Livestock Auction house, the bowling alley, Sleepy Hollow, the Red Fox restaurant and the Cozy Corner.

Several years ago she began running the local auction Chuck Wagon where, though she no longer runs it, she still manages to cook up her delicious burgers, fleischkuehla and ever famous apple bars.

“I guess I’ve cooked for almost every restaurant Beulah had over the years,” Ida said.

When Ida’s family, daughters Joyce, Judy or Peggy, and their children come home she knows all their childhood favorites and loves cooking up whatever her kids want.  The old saying you can’t keep an old cook out of the kitchen is perhaps true.  And grandmas like to see their kids eat.

“Now they don’t ask me to cook their favorites so much anymore because they feel sorry for me and say I cook too much.  They think I’m getting too old for cooking, but I still do it anyway because I really like it.  And they like it,” Ida said.

Holiday time is a favorite for Ida because not only is her house full, but her kitchen is as well.  It’s a time she can really cook up a storm for family and friends, something she will continue to do as long as she is able and her family enjoys it.

“They think I’m too old to cook but they had me make 32 kuchens this past Christmas,” Ida said with a laugh.

Ida says she likes helping her girls out when they need something special cooked.  It’s something that makes her feel good as well as enjoys.

Passing along family favorites is something Ida enjoys and she especially enjoys sharing her recipes with her grandchildren and hopes the recipes will one day pass along down the line to her great-great grandchildren.  After all, that’s how she learned to cook these special dishes, from recipes passed on down the line.     

“I learned to make most of it from my mother and then when I got married I learned some from Alex’s side,” Ida said.

When the grandkids come home Ida is sure to have favorites ready.  When someone is traveling in their direction, the grandkids often request grandma’s specialties.  And sometimes, she takes the favorites to them herself.

On a recent visit to grandson Troy Mohl’s home in Colorado, Ida spent a little time in the kitchen filling a couple requests from Troy’s childhood favorites.

First request from Troy was a batch of grandma’s special homemade hot mustard.

“It’s sweet yet so hot, but I like it and no one can make it like grandma can,” Troy said watching Ida whip up a batch from taste and memory, no recipe needed.

Then she began to make a batch of strudla, thin strips of pastry-like dough, rolled and stretched, then cut into three-inch strips.  When the dough was ready, she boiled potatoes, near the end placing the strudla strips on top of the potatoes and cooking the mixture down until it began to fry.     

“Then I season it, add ham or sausage, cook longer and serve,” Ida explained.

After preparing her strudla dough and letting it rest for a time, Ida rolls out the dough.

Another childhood favorite for Troy is grandma’s stirum – a pancake-like batter that is fried, stirring constantly, then chopped and flipped the whole time until it looks like brown pieces of fried corn, then served with maple syrup.

“I know what Troy likes.  And his favorites are sour cream twists and cinnamon fries,” Ida said as Troy nods at the memory of the few sweets he ate as a kid besides grandma’s homemade apple pie.

Troy said no one makes “them” like grandma.  Other childhood favorites include her schlitz kuechla, a sweet donut dough deep fried and dipped in sugar. 

“And she makes the best pigs in the blanket.  We have pigs in the blanket almost every time we go home.  I make it, too, but it’s not like Grandma’s.  It’s hard to make it like Grandma,” added Troy.

We all have memories of grandma and favorite foods.  Those who come from strong ethnic backgrounds like the Germans from Russia will carry their memories and heritage of special foods on.  Many Germans from Russia cookbooks are sold throughout the country with recipes that would be otherwise lost with Ida’s generation.

Ida has enjoyed teaching her daughters and grandsons the tricks of her cooking.  She is happy that her food is enjoyed, but said her cooking isn’t any more special than the other good cooks in the country.

But as everyone knows, grandma does it best.

“No one can make it like grandma can,” said Troy.

And there’s nothing like a real taste from home to warm the heart.

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.

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