Wassermelone Finale

Electronic mail message by Gwen Schock Cowherd, January 2011

My favorite meal at Grandma Mehlhaff’s house was fricasseed chicken with onions (huhna rahmdungis), mashed potatoes, cream gravy, bread dressing made with eggs and onions, fresh or canned garden vegetables (cucumber salad was my favorite), creamed rice with raisins, dill pickles, pickled beets, homemade bread with apple butter, molasses cookies with powdered sugar frosting, and lemon jello (my grandfather was diabetic and it was the only sweet he would eat). In winter mid-afternoons, my uncle would fetch fresh cream from the dairy cream cans and grandma would cook up a big kettle of fudge!

Just before we would leave for home, grandma would ask my uncle to lug wassermelones (watermelons) out of brining barrels in the cellar. (The cellar, eerie and dark, smelled musty and had a dirt floor. Its’ creaky lift-up door was located in the kitchen pantry.) Dripping whole slippery wassermelones were placed on the oil-clothed kitchen table and sliced while my mother hastily swung around a dish rag soaking up escaping pink juice and grandma chased acrobating black slimy seeds. There was much talk about the wassermelones. Were they too salty? Too sour? Had they brined long enough? It seemed like I was the only one who preferred the fresh taste of sweet summer melons. When the wassermelones were eaten and the scrapes put in a metal slop pail and readied for the pigs, it was time to head for home. My childhood visits to the farm almost always concluded with a wassermelone finale, no matter what the season.

Sour Watermelons
Submitted by Mrs. Henry Lindemann, Eureka, SD
German-Russian Pioneer Cook Book, First Printing, 1975

Wash watermelons and line a 30 gallon barrel with dill. Fill with watermelon. Top with dill. Mix 1 ½ cup sugar, 1 cup vinegar, 6 pounds salt. Add to watermelons with lots of red peppers and garlic. Fill barrel with water. Weigh the melons down with a board and a good sized rock so all melons are under water.

Brined Watermelons
SEI UNSER GAST, North Star Chapter of Minnesota, First Printing 2000

No doubt about it, the German Russians were watermelon crazy, probably because few other fruits could be grown due to the rigorous climate. When watermelons were in season, they ate watermelon daily. When the first frost threatened, they brined melons so they could eat watermelon through the winter.

Small, firm watermelons, such as Sugar Baby or other small varieties are best for brining. You can use immature melons as well as slightly underripe ones.

Wash the melons well. Then layer them in a very large earthenware crock or wooden barrel, putting stems of dill and grape leaves between each layer. Fill the crock with salt water (use 1 cup canning salt for every three gallons of water). Put a wooden lid on the crock or barrel and weigh it down with a well washed rock. The watermelons should be ready to eat in four to six weeks.

Huhna Rahmdungis (Creamed Chicken)
Submitted by Katherine Welder
Food ‘N Customs – Recipes of the Black Sea Germans
Published by the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, Bismarck, ND, First Printing 1988

1 fresh chicken, cut up                                   1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon shortening                                  ½ cup cream
2 tablespoons flour                                          salt and pepper to taste

Fry onion in shortening in large pan. Add cut up chicken (just butchered springers are the best for this). Let fry a bit and then add some water and salt and pepper and let cook until tender. Add about 2 tablespoons flour to cream and add to chicken. When heated, serve with mashed potatoes. Dunk fresh bread into the gravy.

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