Rose Marie Gueldner stirring up ideas for her next book.

Gueldner authors historical cookbook, An endless project

Herald Press, Harvey, North Dakota, April 6, 2002

By Mark Phillips

Rose Marie Gueldner recently finished her self-described "endless project": an historical German cookbook, German Food & Folkways. Or, more specifically, a cookbook emphasizing recipes of Germans from Russia.

Originally from Anamoose, she lived in California and Germany and spent five years researching and writing the book.

"I wanted to do a family genealogy. I thought it would be nice to record the recipes from my family," said Gueldner. She looked at books with recipes from German-Russian extraction, but could find none. "I was looking for on the library shelves."

"I read hundreds of books for this," she said. "German and Russian history. The book has an extensive bibliography. The Harvey library was very helpful when I first moved back."

With a great interest in the past, she weaves history throughout the book, mentioning the people, their habits, customs and backgrounds. She focuses on the group of Germans who immigrated to Russia."Many of them settled here in Wells and McHenry County."

Gueldner traced many recipes as far back as medieval Europe when butter was introduced. "Originally the Germans used mostly barley rye. When did wheat come in? Those who went to southern Russia, Ukraine, began to raise wheat. They made that area the breadbasket of Europe and exported it all over the region. When they settled, they became grain farmers and made the plains of the United States the breadbasket of the world," she said.

"Was I ever discouraged during the five years I worked on it? Every day," she said. "But it's been wonderful, exciting. I have over 400 recipes. Every recipe has an English title and a sub-title in German." One of her Frustrations was the many German dialects. Grandmothers had the recipes in their heads and the daughter wrote down the recipes phonetically, resulting in as many as 12 different spellings for the same word.

One of Gueldner's favorite dishes is stuffed cabbage, or "Holubsti". Translated, it means "little doves". The cabbage leaves are filled, rolled and tucked under. "They appear to be little doves in the sauce," she said. "It was charming to find the translation of the word. It is a labor intensive dish, so it was reserved for special events."

According to Gueldner, most cuisines trickle down from the aristocrats first and eventually come down to the common people. Because of this, she included a number of recipes that are just from the monasteries and rulers' courts. Because there were over 1,000 Germanys before the present state there were many courts, palaces and monasteries to choose from. "These are more elaborate recipes," she said.

The exception to the rule is the potato. It was introduced by Frederick the Great of Prussia in the 1620s who ordered his people to plant and eat them as a deterrent to famine. Because the people thought of the potato as poisonous, it was a long and painful introduction. Frederick enforced his orders by threatening to cut off the nose and ears of any who refused. Not surprisingly, this was effective, and the potato was a staple of the German diet by the mid eighteenth century. Now, playing a central role in german cuisine, the potato is used in main dishes, breads, stuffing, soups and stews. "It is hard not to think of potatoes when you think of German cooking" said Gueldner.

The cookbook emphasizes what Gueldner calls "peasant cooking." "It is simple, with honest flavors. Not embellished or highly seasoned, but not bland, either. Their eating habits followed the seasons. They ate vegetables when the gardens were ripe and chicken, pork or beef at butchering time. Eventually, in this country, they started canning."

Now into its third printing, the cookbook has done very well, having sold out its first and second printings. It is published by the North Dakota State University's Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, which is a special division of their library. The book is sold through NDSU's library and bookstore, and on their website. It can also be found at Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton bookstores.

"This book isn't just for the student of history or cooks," she said. "It's for the general reader." She recently received a note from a reader in Minnesota who bought the book for himself and now is buying copies as gifts for his children and grandchildren. "I was flattered because he is a non-cook, and not that interested in history."

Did she leave anything out of the book? "Yes," she said, "It has everything except breads. It began to get too long and I wanted to keep it to a manageable size. Maybe bread recipes will be a book by itself."

Reprinted with permission of the Harvey Herald Press.

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