Electronic mail message by Gwen Schock Cowherd, January 2011

Photograph submitted by Gwen Schock Cowherd.

Have you ever wondered what early immigrant Germans from Russia mothers fed their babies besides breast milk? There were not many choices. There was no Gerber baby food in miniature glass jars, no whirling blenders, no trendy baby/toddler organic puree cookbooks, and no magazine articles on how to hide veggies in children’s food. What a mother did possess was creativity, love, prayer, and basic farm products to sustain the baby until their baby teeth appeared and hopefully then after. The infant mortality rate was high. In 1880, 246 out of 1,000 children died within the first year of life in America. Today the figure is 7 out of 1,000. .1

German Russian memoirist Alfred Opp reminisces in “Child Rearing – Love, Words and Rod”:

“Oma Opp heated up some milk and browned a bit of flour. She added the browned flour to the warm milk along with a bit of sugar. Oma had used this formula on her babies, and now she used it on me. She sat down on a chair and took me on her lap to feed me. First she put a spoonful of formula in her mouth until it was the perfect temperature, then she put the formula back into the spoon and then into my mouth. I ate well and soon was so full that I fell into a long, deep sleep.” The satisfying custard Alfred Opp describes is called “Kinderbrei”.

Others tell of mothers chewing meat and transferring it to their baby’s mouth. Mothers’ teeth were the blenders of that time. If a mother’s milk didn’t provide adequate nourishment, she became dependent upon a wet nurse or using a bottle. There was no vitamin-fortified formula to purchase.


2 tablespoons butter (optional)
4 cups milk
3 tablespoons flour                 
½ tsp. salt

Set 1/2 cup milk aside. Heat rest of milk. Mix flour with cold milk and slowly add to hot milk. Add salt. Stir until thick. Pour into small dishes and serve with sugar and cream.

This recipe is from Food ‘N Customs – Recipes of the Black Sea Germans, page 129, published by the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, Bismarck, North Dakota

1. Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Indicator Brief-Reducing the Infant Mortality Rate, July 2003

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