Everlasting Yeast – Ewiger Yeast: The Food Culture of the Germans from Russia in Emmons County, Logan County and McIntosh County, North Dakota.

Review by Bernelda Becker, North Star Chapter of the Germans from Russia of Minnesota of the Germans from Russia North Star Chapter Newsletter, Volume 38, Number 3, September, 2013, page 2.

Balcom, Sue. Everlasting Yeast – Ewiger Yeast: The Food Culture of the Germans from Russia in Emmons County, Logan County and McIntosh County, North Dakota. Tri-County Tourism Alliance, Napoleon, North Dakota, 2013.

My mother baked bread. My grandmother baked bread. All the mamas I knew baked bread. To this day I enjoy my toast burned just a bit—it reminds me of the slightly burned crusts on the loaves when they touched the kitchen range oven wall when the oven got just a bit too hot. Maybe mother put a few too many cobs or too much mischt in the kitchen range that day. Maybe the yeast—yes, that everlasting yeast—had worked a bit too well and the loaves got extra large and fluffy.

Often, when I came home from country school, the aroma of bread, fresh from the oven filled the kitchen. Mother would pick up a warm loaf, hold it up to her chest with one arm, and with the serrated knife in the other, she would slice towards her body to give me a fresh slice. She didn’t know what a bread board was. Oh, how good that slice tasted, slathered with her home-churned butter and the wild plum jam she had made from the shelter-belt plums.

Such were my nostalgic memories as I turned the pages of this beautiful new book subtitled The FOOD CULTURE of the Germans from Russia in Emmons County, Logan County and McIntosh County North Dakota. I’m German from Russia too, but I lived in McPherson County, South Dakota. We all seemed to have come to the Dakotas from South Russia, bringing with us the blended food culture of Germany and Russia. The knowledge, the make-do ability, and the work ethic these immigrants brought with them has lingered on even to this day.

Glance through the Contents. There’s a lot more to our culture than bread. However, the bread often made Survival possible on those lonely homesteads, especially when clouds of locusts darkened the sky, or hail ruined what crop might have survived the lack of rain at the proper time. Or look at Chicken, ducks, geese and eggs, why, even the ladies that lived in the small towns had their flocks of fowl—not only for food, but for eggs to sell, and for feathers to make those wonderful pillows and feather ticks.

Oh, how wonderful it felt when I snuggled down under the feather tick on a cold winter night, with the hot water bottle at my feet. On and on, the interesting chapters remind us of how it was before we could run to the nearest super-market. As I perused the ingredient stained hand-printed recipes throughout the book, I decided there were as many recipes for the various dishes, such as Fleischkuechle,as there were cooks.

The chapter titled Butchering and sausage stuffing showed that the men, too, played a large part in seeing that there was food on the table to feed their large families. Of course, they raised the crops. But I couldn’t help but compare the men doing the butchering to our present culture where men now are the ones who fire up the grill for their ‘brats.’ They are still into sausage!

And finally, near the end of the book is Carol Just’s story of Maggie’s Café, A Wishek anchor for 58 years. Yes, the time came when these hard-working people could visit a restaurant that served their kind of food when they made their trips to town. Maggie started with a pastry shop. She had a way with pie—fifteen hundred pies a year. Can’t you just hear “Let’s go have a cup of coffee and a piece of pie,” in that Schwabish accent? I’m sure it might have been a common expression among the Wishek fol during Maggie’s Café’s 58 years.

Permission of Bernelda Becker.

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