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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

 

As Bostonians (Sonya grew up here, though now lives in NYC; Gaby grew up in NYC and has lived in Boston most of her adult life), we – and our family and friends – are all safe, and hopefully you and yours are, too. We have been saddened, shocked, and awed by the violent events of the past week, which took place so close to home.

 

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If you would like to make a donation, The One Fund Boston was formed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to assist those most affected by the events of April 15, 2013.

We have been a bit quiet around here recently, but we have several posts coming up very soon on sausages and other things!

[Foto above is of the Boston skyline taken from the T (subway) by Sonya a few months ago.]

-Sonya and Gaby

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

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

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