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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

Last month I spent time in the gorgeous old neighborhood of Lichterfelde in Berlin. Very substantial three story buildings erected by a thriving bourgeoisie in the first decade of the 20th century.  I was there to conduct a mediation training with my colleagues and friends Dirk and Ljubjana at their institute Inmedio. One of the evenings the trainers, some friends, and mediation trainees gathered for a “Fireside Chat” – an evening event they hold regularly. That evening I was making a presentation about our German-Jewish food project, a topic that loosely fits into one of the themes that preoccupies the Institute, the theme of dialogue. Speaking to a young German audience about the food culture of Jews who were historically German becomes an exploration of the interconnectedness between German-Jews and Germans. Dialogue is built into this conversation.

[ left: Gaby speaking with the group; right: Ljubjana and Gaby [photos courtesy: Cynthia Petrigh]

Germany has done a good job of teaching the Holocaust, perhaps too good. Sitting before me was a group of progressive people, all pursuing socially aware professions, whose vision of a Jewish person is inextricably connected with genocide committed by their ancestors. Most of them do not personally know any Jews. I was telling them that, although the Jewish community disappeared from Germany, a minority of us survived elsewhere, scattered across the globe. In my case, it was the 20,000 member German-Jewish community of Washington Heights in Manhattan where I grew up – which was large enough to continue the food culture of the old country. In addition, there were thousands more  refugees from German-speaking Europe scattered around the New York area, with concentrations in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Queens.

left: Gaby slicing and serving Berches; right: eating Berches  [photos courtesy Cynthia Petrigh]

I showed a Power Point presentation of images of German-Jewish life in New York in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. And I spoke about the food, touching upon Jewish food traditions such as Kosher law and special dishes for Shabbos and holidays. And also about German dishes that were tweaked to conform to Jewish law. Today, Jewish food in Germany is represented by Jews who have settled there post-war – primarily from Eastern Europe – whose food is quite different from that of the Jews of Germany before the war. I was speaking not only about Jewish cooking, but specifically German-Jewish Cooking. This was something that was hard for them to wrap their heads around because it virtually stopped existing in Germany after the war. That is one of the main reasons why Sonya and I are working on this project, to bring recognition of this food tradition and its culture back into the world.

I had baked two loaves of Berches the day before in Dirk and Ljubjana’s large kitchen overlooking the wooded garden (Berches is the German-Jewish version of Challah – a braided ceremonial bread made without eggs, often including potatoes in the dough). The bread was to be served with other foods as part of a cold buffet after my presentation.  But before we began eating, I decided to make a traditional Friday night prayer over the bread. I said the brucha and then tore some of the bread into small pieces and handed it out to everyone. I wanted to emphasize the blessed nature of this bread, whose very name Berches is said to derive from the Hebrew word for blessing, Baruch. I explained that this bread was not only eaten during Jewish holidays, but also every single week during Shabbos. Then I sliced the bread and we all ate it with the accompanying spread of cheeses, cold cuts, hummus, guacamole, olives and grapes. Everyone thought the Berches was delicious and I received many “thank you’s” at the end of the evening for introducing people to this forgotten taste and tradition.

Note: unfortunately I did not get any close-up photos of the Berches I made in Berlin. The shot above is of a Berches I made in October in a bread pan – it is unbraided, but made of the same dough.

-Gaby

We had a wonderful time at Golden Earthworm Organic Farm during their Harvest Festival recently, an annual event they host for their 2,000 CSA (community supported agriculture) members. One of the main points of becoming a member of a CSA – in addition to supporting a local farm and getting fresh, seasonal produce – is having a personal connection with the farmers who grow your food. Events such as this one offer a chance to walk in the fields and see exactly where your vegetables are grown. And, a chance to chat with the farmers – to ask them questions, give them feedback and just have a few laughs. We had been invited by Matthew Kurek and Maggie Wood, who run the farm along with James Russo, to come give a cooking demo of some of our recipes. After receiving a long list from the farm of which vegetables would be available, we decided to make two dishes: Kohlrabi en roux (kohlrabi in white sauce) and Krautsalat (or cabbage slaw).


© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

We arrived at the farm on a warm, windy Sunday afternoon and found a big, green pile of freshly harvested vegetables waiting for us. And a bunch of CSA members who were ready to chat, watch us cook and eat! We got busy prepping the kohlrabi – removing the stalks and leaves, then peeling and slicing the bulbs.

© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

After chopping some parsley to add to the dish, we cooked the kohlrabi until tender, then made a roux, a white sauce made with butter and flour and vegetable broth. Kohlrabi often appears in stores, at markets and in CSA boxes without its stalks and leaves, but these had their leaves intact so we decided to use them in the dish. After tossing the cooked kohlrabi with the chopped parsley, we combined them with the roux, and served it up on little fluted paper plates.

© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

The day was so busy and fun – and went by so quickly – we unfortunately didn’t get any photos of the plated food (The photo below of the finished dish is actually from a few weeks ago, when I made it at home). Luckily, we ran into photographer Jaime Jimenez, a fellow member of my CSA in Queens, Farm Spotwho was visiting the farm with his family and who offered to shoot some photos for us. Thanks, Jaime!

Kohlrabi seems to be a vegetable that people regularly refer to as being one of the most difficult to cook with – or rather, the one people are most confused about because they are unfamiliar with it. So we were especially delighted to see that everyone loved this recipe. Everyone – from little children to grandmothers – polished off their sample. Most asked for seconds, some asked for thirds. It’s that good.

Kohlrabi en Roux  serves 4-6 as a side dish

Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family and has a subtle, somewhat sweet flavor, similar to Brussels sprouts. Ideally, the kohlrabi will be tender. It is best to use medium-sized bulbs, rather than very large or very small ones. The outside skin must be peeled, either before or after cooking. Here we use the bulbs and the green leaves and discard the stems (though they may be reserved for another use, such as making a stock). This recipe is cooked in the German style with a light roux, or white sauce. We use a light vegetable broth for the liquid, rather than milk or cream, in order to allow the lovely, delicate taste of the kohlrabi to shine through.

2 cups vegetable broth (or 1½ teaspoons vegetable bouillon paste, such as “Better Than Bouillon”, and 2 cups water)

1 bunch (3 or 4 medium) kohlrabi

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour may be substituted)

salt + white pepper to taste

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine

1) Making the Broth: If using bouillon paste, boil the 2 cups water in a medium-sized saucepan. Remove from heat and add the bouillon, stirring to dissolve. If using vegetable broth, skip to step #2.

2) Preparing the kohlrabi: Wash the kohlrabi. Trim off the stems from the tops of the bulbs and cut off the green leaves. Discard the stems (or save them for a future soup stock), and chop the leaves into ¼” slices. Set aside. Peel the kohlrabi bulbs, removing all the hard outer part. Slice the bulbs into ¼” slices.

3) Cooking the kohlrabi:  Bring the broth to a boil. Add the sliced kohlrabi bulbs and leaves, lower heat, cover and simmer about 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and drain, reserving the liquid.

4) Making the white sauce: In a second pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Lower heat and add the flour, whisking to blend. When the mixture is smooth, slowly add the broth, stirring all the while to keep the sauce smooth. Keep adding liquid until you have reached the desired consistency.  Add salt and white pepper to taste, and the parsley and mix. Finally, add the drained vegetables. Serve immediately (or keep warm on a very low flame until ready to serve).

We are pleased to announce that we will be doing a tasting of some of our recipes of German-Jewish food that will be paired with a tasting of German wines! This event will take place at the lovely neighborhood wine shop Table Wine in Jackson Heights (Queens), New York City. Very easy to reach by subway (or by car) if you are in the NYC area.

GERMAN-JEWISH FOOD & GERMAN WINE TASTING

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20TH, 2012

4-7PM

 at

TABLE WINE

79-14 37th Avenue (between 79th + 80th Streets)

Jackson Heights, NY 11372

(718) 478-9463

Click here for subway directions and a map of the neighborhood. If you are in the area please stop by to taste what we’ve cooked up, peruse the marvelous selection of wines and spirits in the shop and say hello. We’d love to meet you!

L’Shana Tova.

What do we remember about the German-Jewish Rosh Hashanah meal? I don’t remember anything about apple with honey in my household when I was growing up. Or potato kugel. I do remember soup with matzoh balls, and roasted meat of one kind or another, and cole slaw and nudel kugel.

Nudel kugel can be called noodle pudding, because that’s what it really is, and in talking to my cousin Ann today we decided that our grandmother may have called it nudel auflauf. I say may have because, if truth be told, our memories have been diluted by divergences and cross-cultural influences, all of which get incorporated over the decades into our cooking habits and even our language. In my case I have added numerous Jewish holiday dishes from my Ukrainian mother–in-law and from the more widespread ‘American’ Jewish repertoire – which gets me back to the kugel/auflauf. My ‘American’ version includes dairy foods such as sour cream, cottage cheese and lots of eggs. But Ann and I remembered the more spartan and delicious auflauf of our Oma Emma, and it had only a few eggs, some white raisins and perhaps thinly sliced apples and a touch of sugar. Yes it had a modicum of sweetness, but was more interested in being a tender accompaniment to the roasted meat than being a sweet and rich centerpiece.

Let’s move on to dessert. Memory does not fail us when it comes to plum cake.  The most ubiquitous of German cakes or tarts is as Jewish as it is German. Everyone in Europe has always been so enthralled with the small purple summer fruits when they come in season. And here on the East Coast of the United States we also await the short season for Italian plums. I usually bake at least one plum cake every September, maybe two.  I use the short dough known in German as muerberteig, whereas some bakers prefer to make their plum cake on a yeast dough base, the hefenteig. The latter is often made in an elongated rectangular shape. Ours is always round, in an 8 or 9 inch pan. Plum cake is sweet and sour and fruity and ours has a light jelly glaze added on top. It is a harvest food, but also a bright way to inaugurate a New Year.

We are rushing to put the finishing touches on tonight’s holiday dinner and don’t have time to post the recipe – but we will post it soon! In the meantime, here is a wonderful piece posted today by Jess on Sweet Amandine about a gorgeous plum cake made with a hefenteig dough. The recipe is adapted from the brand new book My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef

Sonya and I are wishing you a sweet and happy New Year!

            [Raspberry patch in my backyard, 2012]

Stephen Rossmer (my father, Sonya’s grandfather) yearned for various things from his Bamberg homeland, which he left as a refugee at the age of 33. The yearning was driven by the loss of his parents who were killed in April, 1942 outside of Lublin, Poland where they had been transported by the Nazis. The garden of their home in Bamberg, shared by two generations of Rossmers who lived in the same building, held special meaning for him. In the mid-1950’s he bought a house in Englewood, New Jersey with a small garden. The house even had timber-framing (fachwerk) with dark brown wood and light buff colored stucco forming irregular triangles. This form of construction was reminiscent of the historic houses in Bamberg.

[Red currants growing in a Munich backyard, 2011]

The square, suburban sized backyard, surrounded by a white picket fence, had nice plantings of rhododendron, magnolia and dogwood trees, and between the “rhodies” were several tall pine trees. I was excited to have this small patch of earth and I began learning about gardening, planting small annuals at the edges of the manicured borders. Before long, my father decided he wanted to grow currants and gooseberries. These two berry variants are common in Germany, and he was thrilled to be able to grow his own. Fresh currants, and especially gooseberries, were very uncommonly sold in the produce stores in the New York area. After a year or two, small crops of jewel-like berries were visible under the kitchen window against the brick back wall of the house. They were easy to pick and good to eat. I recall the berries getting sugared, but not too heavily. They were sweet enough and rather pithy. That is, each had a vigorous and unique tang. Sometimes the currants were served with raspberries, a very common mingling. Before long, my father found out that his berry bushes were illegal. It must have been quite a blow. He did not know that these plants, both gooseberry and currant, but most especially black currant, can carry a blister rust (cronartium pibicola) that is fatal to White Pine trees.

[Left, berries for sale at farmers’ market in Berlin, 2011; Right, red currants, 2011]

In fact, that is why these berries were so scarce in the States. Once he found out about the problem, my father dug up and got rid of his delightful crop plants. He never looked back. Being a good American meant more to him than even these wonderful berries. Today, there are hybridized disease-resistant ribes nigrum, or black currant varieties, and red currants and gooseberries are permitted in most parts of New Jersey. This ‘berry-love’ was not lost on me. In fact, along one side of the house in Englewood, there were a few somewhat straggly raspberry bushes, acquired by my parents from their (German-Jewish) dentist’s property in rural New Jersey. These bushes were tenacious and productive. I moved my first transplants in the 60’s to upstate New York, where I was then living. They have travelled with me as I have moved to Brookline, Richmond, and Medford – all in Massachusetts – in the years since. In Richmond, they grew into a sizable rural raspberry patch and one summer the delectable berries were sold to several restaurants and bakeries in the Berkshires. In my current garden in Medford, this summer – after a non-winter produced a very early, super-abundant crop — I made my usual 8 jars of jam and had enough berries left to make raspberry sauce, eat fresh berries for a couple of weeks, and still have a pint in the freezer. Ancestral berry love continues strong.

— Gaby

The morning coffee was made in this coffee pot at my grandparents’ house. It is a coffee pot/maker, with four different components, all white porcelain. A cylindrical filter sits on top of the pot, into which the coffee (coarsely ground) is added. On top of that, sits another piece –  a shallow cup with a few small holes punched around the perimeter into which the hot water is poured. The small holes allow the water to drip slowly over the coffee grounds. When the coffee is finished being brewed, the filter and water disperser are removed and replaced with a top that has a little acorn-shaped knob. The coffee is then ready to be served from the pot.

IMG_1420_opt (1)IMG_1414_optIMG_1413_optIMG_1418_opt

My grandparents had several of these pots, in varying sizes. I’m not sure when they got them (wedding presents, perhaps?), but they brought them when they emigrated to this country in 1939 so they’re probably from the mid-30s. They brought a lot of things – aka stuff – with them, household items and clothes and more, all packed into crates for the ocean voyage. It’s odd to think of people bringing large amounts of their personal belongings (including huge pieces of furniture) when they are fleeing from a place with their lives in danger. But that is what happened. And now, in our family at least, we still have a lot of these things. The kitchen things – cookware and dishes and the like – are for the most part such beautiful, well-made and functional objects that my mother and I each use many of these items in our respective kitchens on a daily basis. This coffee pot is but one example. (My mother has one of the smaller ones).

Surprisingly, I just discovered that the company who made these pots, Walküre Porzellan, is still in business and continues to make this exact same model, the Karlsbader, today.

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