Growing up, a number of my friends had omas and opas (German grandmothers and grandfathers) and though my paternal grandmother was eligible to be an oma, after all she had married my very German grandfather, once he died, she dropped all oma-pretentions.
The mother of six, she grew a garden and raised das kaninchen or rabbits in the backyard of their big city house. The rabbits always mysteriously ran away the very day the family had rabbit for dinner, something my aunts and uncles figured out as they grew older. Dinner, my mother said, was always at 5 p.m., the time my grandfather returned home from his job as a civil engineer where he designed big equipment for making tankers. My grandfather sat down to eat, not at 4:59 p.m. or 5:01 p.m. Dinner was at 5 and that’s when he sat down and she put the food in front of him He fulfilled the typical German stereotype for rigidity.
All this is probably the reason why my grandmother never fulfilled the typical role of oma after her children were grown and my grandfather had died. Instead of cooking Sunday dinners for all the grandkids (and there were a ton of us) my grandmother went on cruises and she took up smoking and beer something I learned when I walked into her living room one day and discovered her with a can of beer and a lit cigarette. And she was 85!
When I ran next door (she had moved from the big house with two floors and large backyard–you know the one where all the rabbits were able to escape from after grandfather died next door to where our family lived) to tell my mom the audacious news.
My mother just shrugged. “Your grandfather was very strict,” she said. “She’s just enjoying things she never got to do.”
I had a Romanian grandmother who could have been an oma, but she was instead a bunicuta (think booncutah when trying to pronounce it) who taught me how to cook. But it was all Romanian food, not German.
So when I came across “Just Like Oma’s,” Gerhil Fulson’s website about German cookery and her cookbook German Meals at Oma’s: Traditional Dishes for the Home, it seemed like the perfect way to learn to cook the dishes that my oma would have if my grandmother was a real oma not one waiting to board a cruise ship to take another trip.
Fulson’s cookbook is divided into regions of Germany and I’ve included recipes from Baden-Wurttemberg where krustenbraten or roast pig is a popular dish, Schleswig-Holstein for Gestovte Kartoffeln (creamed potatoes) and Bayern for Krautflecken mit Speck–cabbage, noodles and bacon. The book also has Fulson’s takes on each of recipes, photos of all the recipes and Oma’s Ecke or Grandma’s Corner where she shares tips on cooking each dish.
These are the dishes my Grandmother Briska would have taught me to make if she hadn’t traded in cooking for a different golden years’ life.
Krautflecken mit Speck
(Cabbage, Noodles and Bacon)
For some people, including me, combining cabbage and noodles may seem strange. However, mix in some onion, butter, seasonings and perhaps some bacon, and that strange combination becomes a wonderful meal. Smoked sausage is a natural accompaniment for this.
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups diced onions
3 ounces lean bacon, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 pounds green cabbage, coarsely shredded
1 cup beef or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
8-ounce package wide egg noodles
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
1 to 2 tablespoons pure white vinegar, optional
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon fat is rendered and the onions are translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cabbage. Sauté for about 5 minutes, letting some of the cabbage brown. Stir in the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan and simmer for 25 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure that the liquid has not evaporated, adding extra broth or water if needed.
While the cabbage is cooking, prepare the egg noodles in a medium saucepan according to the package instructions, until just tender. Drain the noodles, cover the saucepan and set it aside.
When the cabbage is tender, add the caraway seeds and season the cabbage with salt and pepper. Stir in the vinegar (if using). Add the noodles and gently stir the mixture together.
Serve garnished with the parsley.
Originally, this was considered arme-leute-essen (poor people’s food) —a simple dish that was inexpensive and super simple to make. You can elevate this dish to an elegant status by mixing in 1 cup of full-fat sour cream just before the noodles are stirred into the cabbage mixture.
The recipe as written is all that is needed for a nice light lunch. However, there are many variations you can make. Use savoy cabbage for a milder flavor. Add diced ham and grated cheese to make this a more substantial meal. Include marjoram as a seasoning. Garnish with caramelized onion rings. Add some diced tomatoes. Toss in some smoked sausage. So many variations are possible.
For the Schleswig-Holsteiners, gestovte implies a sauce made with butter and flour. This recipe, however, uses cream—and not just plain cream, but heavy cream! There’s no need for flour to thicken the potatoes, since they provide their own starch, making this a really easy dish to prepare. It’s a perfect accompaniment for a simple meal of sausage, hamburgers or schnitzel. Actually, it’s perfect for any meat that doesn’t have gravy, since the cream in this one is rich enough.
13⁄4 pounds red or Yukon gold potatoes
11⁄4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
Freshly grated nutmeg, optional
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover them with water and bring them to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on their size. Do not overcook the potatoes. Drain and cool the potatoes slightly under cold running water.
Once they are just cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1⁄2-inch thick slices. Put the slices into the saucepan and add the cream. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the cream to a simmer, stirring gently to keep it from settling on the bottom and burning. While you’re stirring, the starch from the potatoes is released and mixes with the cream, making a wonderfully creamy sauce. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Once the sauce is thick enough, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the chopped parsley.
Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and nutmeg (if using). Pour the potatoes into a serving dish and serve.
It’s important that you do not use starchy potatoes, such as russets. They’ll fall apart during the cooking process and you will end up with mashed potatoes. That’s not the texture you want here.
There are several ways to achieve crackling on a pork roast, but I find this one the easiest. It yields perfectly crisp crackling gracing the top of each slice of this wonderfully moist roast accompanied by a savory gravy. Best of all, this is actually quite a simple method for an extraordinary meal. Another name for this is schweinsbraten, simply meaning “pork roast,” but the krustenbraten is more descriptive with the crispy kruste, or crust, that really is one of the reasons this dish is so loved.
Precooking the rind in the liquid for the first hour makes the rind soft and easy to cut through. When it’s cut parallel to the grain and then in the opposite direction, it provides an easy guide for cutting the slices once it’s roasted. Each piece ends up with a row of crispy crackling
2 large carrots, thickly sliced
1 large leek, thickly sliced
2 large onions, thickly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 cups hot beef broth, plus more as needed
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder with rind/fat cap (see Oma’s Ecke)
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the carrots, leek, onions and garlic in a 9 x 13–inch roasting pan. Pour the broth into the roasting pan and stir to mix in the garlic. Rub the pork shoulder with the oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Place it in the roasting pan rind-side down so that the rind is submerged in the broth. Roast in the oven for 1 hour.
Remove the roast from the oven and reduce the heat to 325°F. Using a sharp knife, score through the rind (being careful not to cut into the meat) in 1-inch wide strips, in both directions. Place the meat, rind-side up, in the roasting pan so that the rind is not submerged in the liquid. Sprinkle the rind with additional salt and roast for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat is at least 160°F, adding water as needed to keep the veggies from burning. If the rind is not crispy after this time, raise the temperature to 450°F and roast for about 10 minutes. If needed, put it under the broiler to speed up the crisping, watching carefully that it does not burn.
Remove the pork shoulder from the roasting pan and set it aside to rest. Strain the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, pressing out as much liquid as possible from the veggies. Use a gravy separator if you wish to remove the fat. Add extra beef broth or water to make 2 cups of liquid. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and thicken with just enough cornstarch slurry to make a gravy. Cook for about 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the roast pork, sliced, with the gravy on the side.
The roasting time at 325°F is really dependent on the shape of the roast. A short and fat roast will take a bit longer than a long and skinny one. Also, every oven is different and may not be showing the proper temperature. That’s why it’s always important to check the internal temperature to make sure the roast is properly cooked.
Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Focus, The Herald Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.