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Bam Potato (90)

On our recent trip to Bamberg, I stopped by the ObstMarkt in the middle of a plaza in the heart of the Old City (the literal translation is “fruit market”, though vegetables are sold there as well). I wanted to see what types of products might be available in the winter months. There was a wider variety than I expected (at least compared with the farmers’ markets I am accustomed to in my neck of the woods), and I realized that this type of outdoor food market is a combination of a farmers’ market as I know it (one which only sells locally-grown products) and a good-quality produce shop (which sells imported items). As seems to be the norm at German markets, every item had its origin noted on the little price card that sticks out of its crate, and much of the produce seemed to come from other European countries – France, Spain, etc. But in late November, some of the only local items available were these tiny potatoes. They’re so local, in fact, that they are from Bamberg itself!

The Bamberger Hörnla (Bamberg Potato) is a tiny potato with a long history.  A small, slender, finger-shaped potato with a thin skin and a waxy, yellow interior, it has been registered by the European Union as a “regional specialty” (the plant, as well as the potato!). In the same way that the name “Champagne” may not be applied to sparkling wine unless the grapes were grown in a specific region of France, in order for a potato to be named a Bamberger Hörnla it must be grown in the Franconian region of Germany. Because it is a low-yield crop, as well as a delicate one, it is not lucrative for farmers to grow. Thus, it is only produced on a small scale, often in home gardens for personal use. This potato is not exported and is generally only available for purchase at local markets.

Bam Potato (81)Bam Potato (89)

While Bamberg has a very long agricultural tradition, I only learned recently the full extent of its history as an urban farming city. According to the Slow Food organization — which created a presidium in Bamberg dedicated in 2009 to the Bamberger Hörnla potato (meaning it’s a protected species) — there was a “garden quarter” (Gärtnerviertel) in the Old City dating back to the 14th century. By the middle of the 19th century, there were about 500 urban farmhouses (one third of all the buildings in the city). Each of these had a garden plot of about 1,000 square meters (approximately 1/4 acre) in their backyard where vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and grape vines were grown.  Considering my own involvement with, and passion for, supporting local agriculture I am kind of amazed to learn of this agricultural tradition in one of my familial hometowns — the one where both my grandfather and mother were born. It gives me a feeling of continuity. It also throws a different light on imagining the types of fruits and vegetables my great-grandmother may have used in her cooking — both those purchased on her regular shopping trips to this same market that I visited (which perhaps was selling some items that had been growing only a few blocks from her home!), as well as things that grew in her own backyard. While our family were not farmers (they owned a factory that manufactured men’s clothing in Bamberg), they had a large yard that lay between the factory and their apartment building. The garden was a point of pride for the family, a place where they grew fruit trees and roses, among other things.

Bam Potato in steamer (97)I purchased a small sackful of Bamberger Hörnla from a stand at the market. The purveyor made a special point of telling me to cook them with their skins on, and if I wanted to peel them to do so after they were cool enough to handle. It is traditional to use these tasty little potatoes for a potato salad that is dressed with broth and vinaigrette. But since I only had a small amount of them, I decided to make a simple dish of steamed potatoes with butter and parsley.

Bam Potato cooked (14)Bam Potato cooked (06)

A recipe is hardly needed for this dish, but here are the simple steps. The amounts are variable, but figure on approximately one pound of potatoes for four people, with about one tablespoon of butter, one or two handfuls of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Steamed Potatoes with Butter + Parsley  

Potatoes (any will do, but waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold, red skinned, or new potatoes work well)

Butter, cut into thin pats (at room temperature)

Parsley, chopped

Salt and Pepper

1) Scrub the potatoes. Leave whole, or, if large, cut in half or quarters (trying to keep the pieces the same size).

2) Steam the potatoes in a steamer basket for 10-15 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh.

3) (Optional: If desired, peel potatoes when they are cool enough to handle, but still warm.)

3) Put potatoes in a serving dish. Add pats of butter, salt, pepper, and parsley. Toss gently. Serve

Bam Potato cooked (17)

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Herta Bloch, 2013, NYC

Herta Bloch — who we wrote about in our last post HERE — knew practically everyone in the German-Jewish community of Washington Heights in NYC between the 1940s through the mid-1990s, because during those years so many people shopped at Bloch & Falk, the store she owned with her husband Alfred. They came to buy the German-style cold cuts and sausages (Aufschnitt and Wurst) that were made exclusively of beef or veal (as opposed to the de rigueur pork of most German meat products). All of their products were made and smoked on-site in the back room: kosher salami, ring sausage, pastrami, smoked tongue, corned beef, the ubiquitous cervelat (a hard salami) and many other assorted meats.

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Vintage images of Bloch & Falk store, Washington Heights, NYC Photos courtesy of Herta Bloch

My grandparents, as well as most of their friends and family, shopped at Bloch & Falk. After Oma and Opa moved to New Jersey in the 1950s, they continued to make the short journey back over the Hudson River to shop at Bloch & Falk on a regular basis for the provisions they ate on a daily basis. The store was on Broadway and 173rd Street and was an easy stop en route to or from New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge. I don’t think their refrigerator was often without a stash of cured meats wrapped in white, waxy butcher’s paper. After Opa died, my uncle Andy would often stop in there to shop for Oma, until the store went out of business in the 1990s.

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Vintage images of Bloch & Falk store, Washington Heights, NYC. Photos courtesy of Herta Bloch

Today the type of food Bloch & Falk produced has almost completely disappeared. Sausages and cold cuts with that unique blend of both German and Jewish qualities barely exist anymore — and if so, probably not with the superior quality of B&F, where everything was made by hand, in-house and in small batches. We were surprised to discover, quite by accident, a beef ring sausage for sale at the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt (a large, indoor market with many stalls of food purveyors) in 2011. My mother spotted it first: Rindwurst (beef sausage) written in blue writing on a package in the glass case of a meat vendor we were walking past. Since it is unusual to see beef, instead of the usual pork, sausages in Germany, she inquired of the purveyor and learned that the company — Gref Völsings,  a local sausage company in Frankfurt that has been in business since 1894 — originally made these sausages specifically for their Jewish customers starting about 100 years ago, and has continued making them ever since. My mom bought a vacuum sealed package of the Rindwurst to bring home to Boston. There, she made the same traditional lentil soup that both her mother and grandmother made when she was a kid, using the smoked Ringwurst from Bloch & Falk to impart a smoky, meaty flavor to the soup. To her great surprise, she said it tasted very, very much the same as the Ringwurst from her childhood!

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People who remember the store and their products still lament the loss of Bloch & Falk. To this day, people write comments on blogs and internet chat rooms about their Wurst and Aufschnitt in yearning tones. Herta shrugs off the suggestion that someone, somewhere might make a similar product. “Ah, it would be much too expensive to do it the way Alfred made it. And besides, no one knows how to do it.” Yet, Herta perhaps isn’t fully aware of the growing artisanal food movement, one where people are willing to seek out — and spend more — for quality, hand-made products. Perhaps this is the type of product that would allow two seemingly distant food worlds — one of Old World traditions and the other of modern tastes rediscovering those same Old World traditions, to successfully meet up.

We wonder: would there be a market today for these types of sausages and cold cuts that have all but become extinct? What are your thoughts? We would like to hear from you!

–Sonya

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Krokerle 

Ours is a story of continuity and discontinuity – a story of community and people within that community. For me (Gaby), the story takes place in a visually stunning setting, one in which the cliffs of the Palisades of New Jersey tumble straight down to the Hudson River with the iconic George Washington Bridge spanning the scene. In my mind’s eye, I can also see the blue lights of Bill Miller’s Riviera, a nightclub that clung to the top of the cliff directly across from my apartment building in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, until it closed in 1953. The lights screamed out (it is easy to get dramatic with memory) and illuminated the night sky. My apartment building was a few doors down the hill from Herta’s — though I didn’t meet her until many years later — and I walked this hill twice a day every day of my childhood, because we came home for lunch from grammar school in those days. That view is burned into my brain so much so that the imagery has entered my artwork. It is always a wild trip to return here, where all the buildings and streets remain the same.

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Gaby visiting Washington Heights, 2013

In the here-and-now we cling to the mundane, and yet our tale is far from mundane.  We are visiting Herta Bloch, who had her 92nd birthday in June. She is almost a generation older than me (even though I am starting to feel like I belong to the oldest generation).  “What can you do about age? Accept it” she says. Charging around her beautiful apartment with a majestic view of the Hudson and George Washington Bridge, Herta is bright-eyed, cheerful and vibrant. Time has been good to her. We are here to learn how to bake Krokerle – a cookie that is unique to her German-Jewish family. It was baked by her mother and exists in Herta’s archive of family recipes.

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Herta Bloch, 2013

We are surprised – and find it hilarious – when Herta says: ‘I have never made these cookies before.” We came to learn from an old master, only to discover that it is her first time! In fact, we learn that the recipe skipped a generation, passing from grandmother to granddaughter — and it is Marion, Herta’s daughter, who bakes the Krokerle in the family. On second thought, we decide that this is great! It adds to the “living quality” of the food, that the old-timer is learning to bake her mother’s recipe for the first time.

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Herta’s German measuring cup that converts weight to volume

Herta carries within her the traditions and the food of the culture we are exploring, yet she is a thoroughly modern woman. As a young immigrant in New York City, she worked as a nanny for many years, often being exploited and overworked. She met her man, who then went off to war for three years. When he returned and they married, she worked in the kosher butcher and sausage shop they owned, Bloch & Falk, while also raising three children. More on the shop and sausages to come in another post, coming soon.                                                                                                                -Gaby

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Krokerle  Makes 45-65 cookies (adapted from Herta and Marion Bloch)

This recipe produces confections with a wonderful combination of chocolate, spice and a rich nutty flavor, but they are not overly rich as they don’t contain dairy or oil. The clove may be substituted with another spice if desired, such as nutmeg or cinnamon. One other note, the size of  the cookies is variable as desired, dropped either by the teaspoonful or tablespoonful. The Bloch family traditionally made Krokerle for Channukah, but they are delightful any time of year.

For Krokerle:

4 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground clove

¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons brandy (or whiskey)

8 ounces hazelnuts, skinned* and coarsely chopped *(see note below for instructions on skinning hazelnuts)

For Lemon Glaze:

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1)   Mix eggs and sugar with a whisk until light and foamy.

2)   In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together and add to egg and sugar mixture. Stir to combine. Add liquor and nuts, stir to combine.

3)   Drop by the spoonful (either teaspoon or tablespoon) onto greased cookie sheets and place about 2” apart.

4)   Bake 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

5)   While the Krokerle are baking, make the glaze: Combine the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice and stir until smooth. Add a drop of water if it is too thick.

6)   While the Krokerle are still warm, drizzle each one with a small spoonful of lemon glaze. Let cool.

Note: To skin hazelnuts: Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and toast in a 350° F for about 10 minutes, or until you start to smell them. Be careful not to let them burn. Immediately remove from oven and spread them on a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the corners of the towel over the top and let sit for a few minutes – the steam will help loosen the skins. Roll the nuts around in the towel, unwrap and most of the nuts will be skinless.

 

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image from aufschnitt.net

 

Boston being Boston, the Boston Globe’s food pages last month turned to Irish food traditions, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. In this article, Jane Dornbusch wrote about a butcher shop in the Irish-American neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston. What struck me most profoundly about the piece was how in many ways it could just as easily have been written about German-Jewish food traditions. It included aspects of Irish food that were unfamiliar to me, and the one that struck me first was the topic of sausage.

Dornbusch writes: “…the shop carries as many as 18 house-made varieties. Even on a dreary winter day, there are several types in the case: lamb, curried chicken, chicken with spinach and feta, Buffalo chicken, Italian sweet and hot, Guinness and leek.”

This same description could have been written about the German-Jewish butchers of Washington Heights when I was growing up in terms of the large variety of sausages available.

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image from aufschnitt.net

The butcher, Alan Gibson, is a native of Ireland who opened the Butcher Shop Market in 2009. He acknowledged that the Irish-American tradition of corned beef was unknown to him in Ireland, but that he, being a food purveyor in Boston, learned about corned beef in order to meet the demand of his customers. He prepares it the natural way, without preservatives, with a simple brine. The color of his corned beef is not the commonly seen red (which is chemically induced), but rather greyish.

The prevailing tradition here is not only the food itself, but also its preparation and adherence to historic standards of purity. This story felt familiar. I could relate – not only to the sausage part, but to the principle of simple food preparation without a whole lot of food industry commercializations. I thank Jane Dornbusch for this story which illuminated an aspect of our own story for me.

The pictures of sausages you see above and below are not Irish. In fact, they are not real sausages at all, but rather sewn and stuffed fabric! We recently discovered this shop owned by Silvia Wald, called Aufschnitt, that makes these “cuddly wursts” in Germany – in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin. She makes a variety of meaty stuffed items – from small sausage links to large beanbag chairs in the shape of a ham bone. And since they’re made from fabric and thread, they’re all vegetarian (and kosher)!

-Gaby

image from aufschnitt.net

We would like to let you know that we will be presenting a talk about German-Jewish cuisine in NYC next week, including a tasting of some of our recipes. We would love to see you there if you are in the area!

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What is German-Jewish Cuisine?  

A talk and food tasting 

 with

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman & Sonya Gropman

   Wednesday, March 6th at 6:30

The New School

55 West 13th St., 2nd floor (Dorothy Hirshon Suite)

 

sponsored by The New School Jewish Student Union


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What a pleasure to think back to that balmy autumn day on Long Island, while we shovel out of our two feet of snow here in Boston. This is a perfect time, when pretty much everything has closed down in the public world, to sit down and write up the cabbage segment of the two-part cooking demonstration we held at Golden Earthworm Organic Farm’s CSA Harvest Festival last October. You can read about the first part, preparing Kohlrabi in Roux (with a recipe included), here.

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We chose to make our Cabbage Slaw, a dish prepared during my childhood by my grandmother. I always loved it at the festive meals where it accompanied things like roasted duck. But we realized that it could easily be a stand-alone dish that people would enjoy snacking on during the farm’s afternoon event.

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This dish is neither a typical cole slaw (it does not contain mayonnaise), nor sauerkraut (it is not fermented), though it bears similarities to both. The characteristic feature of this recipe is that the cabbage, after having been shredded as finely as possible, is covered by boiling salted water and allowed to steep for at least one hour, causing it to wilt while maintaining much of its crunchiness. During the demo at the farm we poured off the water after a half-hour (simply because we were short on time) and had good results, though the extra soaking time certainly results in the cabbage having a more subdued – and pleasing – texture. After dressing the cabbage in a vinaigrette, it was ready to go – and go it did!!  Children and adults alike came back for seconds (and thirds!). We realized we aren’t alone in our penchant for this zesty slaw. Actually, it would be a great dish in this snowy weather. I think I will go make some now to eat along with the lamb shank that’s roasting in the oven.

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Cabbage Slaw (Krautsalat) serves 6-8 as a side dish

Although the original recipe for Krautsalat in my grandmother Emma’s handwritten cookbook included onion, she did not use them when she made it. Hers was a very mild salad that successfully accompanies any roasted meat, or even a myriad of vegetarian meals. Since I never made note of what she actually did, I have reproduced the taste and texture of her version based upon my childhood memories to create this recipe. This unique dish is surprisingly addictive – the cabbage, which is halfway between cooked and raw, retains a satisfying crunch that is made refreshing by the acidity of the dressing.

The cabbage is best if shredded quite fine into a large bowl. We use a mandolin – (pictured above, left, is my grandmother’s wooden mandolin that she brought Germany that I still use today) but you can also use a box grater on the long bladed side, or a food processor using the slicer attachment. -by Gabrielle                                                                                          

1 quart of water with 2 heaping teaspoons of salt

1 medium sized head of green cabbage

2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

salt and white pepper, to taste

1) Boil the water with the salt.

2) Prepare the cabbage: Shred the cabbage into a large heat-proof bowl.

3) Pour the boiling salted water over the shredded cabbage. Let it sit until the water cools, about an hour.

4) Pour off as much of the water as you can by pressing down with a plate that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the bowl, holding down the plate and inverting the bowl in the sink until all the water has poured off.

4) Make the dressing: Combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk. Pour this over the cabbage and toss.

5) The slaw will be ready to eat immediately, though the taste and texture will mellow and blend if allowed to stand for an hour or more.

photos, from top: cross section of a green cabbage; shredded cabbage; finished slaw in dish; whole head of green cabbage; Gabrielle (in red apron) shredding cabbage on mandolin while a farm visitor looks on.

mohnberches bamberg

Photo: Regina Hanemann

After our last post (about making Berches, Jewish ceremonial bread, in Berlin), we received a surprise in the form of the photo above. It was sent to us in an e-mail from Dr. Regina Hanemann, director of the municipal museums of Bamberg. It is a Mohnberches (Mohn = poppy seed) that she purchased at the Bäckerei Kerlinga family-run bakery in this small Bavarian city – which happens to be Gaby’s birthplace. What is surprising is that virtually nobody in Germany remembers what Berches is anymore, yet this bakery continues to make it, fully aware of its Jewish background. We do not know whether any of the Jews living in Bamberg today (most of whom are originally from Eastern Europe) buy this bread, which was specific to the Jews of Germany. Dr. Hanemann spoke with the baker, Herr Kerling, who said his father remembers baking it every week for his Jewish clientele. He also said that the dough is the same as the well-known Franconian roll Weckla, though the preparation is different. Dr. Hanemann described the bread as tasting good, though quite neutral, with a fine texture that was denser than other white breads. She also said the inside was very, very white (due to no eggs).

We are posting a recipe here for Berches which is adapted from Herta Bloch. The recipe offers the option of either making two smaller loaves in loaf pans, or forming one larger free-form loaf. Using the pans may be easier for a beginner – the loaves will be guaranteed to rise tall and the braided top will appear over the rim of the pan.

Berches makes 2 loaf pan-sized loaves, or one large free-form loaf. Adapted from Herta Bloch

2 pounds (7 cups) all-purpose flour + extra for bread board

¼ cup + 2 cups lukewarm water, more as needed

1   ¼- ounce package active dry yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ cup neutral oil (such as canola or safflower) + extra for greasing bowl and pan

1 medium white potato (such as russet), cooked, peeled, mashed, and cooled

4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1-2 tablespoons black poppy seeds

1) Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour.

2) Pour ¼ cup lukewarm water in the well. Add yeast and sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until it is bubbling.

3) Add the oil, mashed potato, and salt. With a wooden spoon (or your hands), start to mix the flour into the yeast mixture in the well. Gradually add warm water as needed to moisten the flour (being careful not to add too much, the dough should remain firm), while continuing to mix.

4) Remove dough from bowl and put on a floured bread board, or counter. Knead by hand until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is well-blended and smooth.

5) Wash and dry the bowl and grease lightly with oil. Return dough to bowl, cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and put in a warm spot. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

6) Punch down the dough in the bowl. Turn it out onto floured bread board, or counter, and knead until smooth.

7a) For loaf pans: Lightly oil two loaf pans. Cut dough in half. Using first half: cut into 3 equal parts, roll each part into a rope and braid the 3 ropes together. Place in oiled loaf pan. Repeat with other half.

[OR]

7b) For free-form loaf: Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Cut dough into 3 equal parts, roll each part into a rope of equal length. Pinch the ends of the three ropes together and braid the ropes together. Pinch the ends together, and tuck both ends of the braid under. Place loaves on cookie sheet.

8) Cover pans or loaf with moistened towel. Return to warm spot and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

9) Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush top of loaf/loaves with beaten egg and sprinkle evenly with the poppy seeds. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown and the bottom of the loaf makes a hollow sound when tapped with your finger.

10) Let cool on a rack. If using loaf pans, when cool enough to handle, turn loaves out and put on rack to finish cooling.

– Sonya

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