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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).

Raspberries have a special place in the food traditions of central Europe. One of the most common uses for them is in syrup form. Today, one can readily buy tall bottles of raspberry syrup, as well as currant and other fruit syrups that mostly come from Balkan countries such as Slovenia or Croatia. When I was growing up in Washington Heights, the immigrant German-Jewish community had its own provider of this glorious sweet, which in our house was mixed with water to make a fresh and divine soft drink. Mrs. Bauer’s raspberry syrup came in a rather short bottle and it was considerably more concentrated than what appears today. One generous teaspoon of the thick, deep red syrup would flavor a whole glass of water or seltzer and emit a heavenly aroma of raspberry. It was a staple of my childhood diet, a yummy accompaniment to any meal. Of course, raspberry syrup can also be added to iced tea or lemonade. Or, to a glass of white wine to make a Kir (or sparkling wine for a Kir Royale) – or any other cocktail, for that matter. In Berlin, it is often added to Berliner Weisse, a regionally brewed wheat beer.

Now that Mrs. Bauer’s is long gone and I have found nothing as good on the market to replace it (and since I have a massive raspberry crop this year after the warm winter), I am making my own syrup. In addition to using it to flavor drinks, it can also be drizzled over any number of foods – pancakes, waffles, yoghurt, pudding or ice cream.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a supply of fresh raspberries you can pick yourself, all the better.  Here is the recipe:

Raspberry Syrup (Himbeersaft)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 cups raspberries

1) Combine the water and the sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Lower heat and simmer for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2) Meanwhile, put the raspberries in a heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly and pour into sieve that has been set over a bowl. With the back of a tablespoon or a wooden spoon, press the berries to extract all the juice. Let it sit for another 15 minutes and press again. You should have about 1 cup of juice.

3) Add the raspberry juice to the syrup.

4) Return the raspberry syrup to the stove, bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until syrup thickens and becomes more concentrated. Cool.

5) Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator, or freeze.

I received a lovely bunch of fresh summer savory in my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box recently. In German it goes by the name Bohnenkraut, which literally means “bean herb”. It is traditionally paired with all kinds of beans, both fresh and dried. After setting the little bouquet of green herbs in a small juice glass filled with water for a day or so (the better to admire the tiny white flowers), I made a simple batch of green beans with Bohnenkraut. The bold flavor of this herb (somewhat similar to thyme) was a marvelous pairing with the beans, it literally was a “summer savory”.

I recently noticed that a good New York rye bread with caraway seeds is much tastier and crisper than a plain white New York rye bread. (Does anyone know why?) It got me thinking about caraway seeds. They are an important flavor addition to many German dishes and therefore also to German-Jewish food.

When I was growing up in Washington Heights, my mother made sautéed potatoes with great regularity – probably three or four times a week. I have to assume that this practice arrived on these shores with her, and that is what she was used to cooking in Germany. Like most of my mother’s food, it was simple and delicious, relying on ingredients that make themselves easily known. She used a black enameled fry pan with tapered sides brought over when they immigrated in 1939. The pan would get a large dab of Crisco or butter, or both; the pan was heated and the previously steamed potatoes were then sliced and laid into the hot fat. The aroma of the butter signaled that these delightful potatoes were on the menu. If I was doing homework on the living room floor, I would head through the swinging door to the kitchen and check out the pan, maybe snitching a slice of potato.

Mom tended to fry hotter than I do, so her potatoes usually had some darker and lighter spots, including some very crisp portions. She would add salt and caraway seeds somewhere during the cooking process. The seeds dotted the potatoes, making a very noticeable pattern which is appropriate because the caraway taste is a very distinctive characteristic of this dish.

In Germany, caraway seeds are also often added to cabbage dishes and to sauerkraut, things I also remember from my childhood. Why, I wonder, is caraway, which is called kümmel in German, so popular? This spice, like so many, has a long history winding from one continent and millennium to the next. Think Stone Age, and Egyptians burying the seeds with their dead. It is related to other spices such as fennel, coriander and anise seed and this whole family of flavorings is considered to be carminative, which means they are soothing to the digestive system. It probably does so well in North-Central Europe because it grows well there, which I think is not the case with fennel and the others. It probably also has a calming effect when eating some rather heavy, difficult-to-digest foods.

Here is a recipe for my version of my mother Erna’s roasted potatoes. I’ve swapped out her Crisco for vegetable oil, but they remain essentially as I remember them from my youth: both crispy and soft, slightly salty and filled with heady caraway notes. They are a wonderful accompaniment to just about any meal, but work especially well with schnitzel, roast chicken, or any type of wurst.

Pan-roasted Potatoes with Caraway Seeds  [serves 4 as a side dish]

1 ½ pounds thin-skinned, waxy potatoes, peeled and cut in half (if using organic, may leave the skins on)

2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil (or 1 tablespoon oil + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter)

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1) Steam or boil the potatoes until barely tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from pot. When cool enough to handle, slice into ½ inch thick pieces.

2) Heat the oil (and butter, if using) in a large fry pan. Layer potatoes into the pan and cook on medium heat. Turn frequently so they will brown evenly. When they begin to brown, scatter the caraway seeds and salt over the potatoes and toss. Cook another minute or two. The potatoes should be gently browned around the edges. Eat hot.

Growing up, I often ate the food of my two Jewish grandmothers (and my grandfather, but that’s another story). I loved eating at both households, though their foods were very different. I’m not sure when it was exactly, but at a certain point I realized that the food at Oma and Opa’s house, (Erna and Stephen Rossmer, my maternal, German-Jewish grandparents), was quite different than that at Nana and Zaidy’s (Ida and Max Gropman, my paternal, Eastern-European Jewish grandparents). Their food was unique, unlike most of the food eaten by other Jewish families I knew. True, there was matzoh ball soup at both houses, but even the broth they sat in differed: chicken soup vs. beef soup. I wrote about my Oma’s beef soup – a beef broth, really – for The Jew & The Carrot, the food blog of The Jewish Daily ForwardYou can read the article here (including the recipe for Beef Soup with Noodles). But matzoh balls are pretty much where the similarities both begin and end. I gradually realized that Oma and Opa’s food represented a special cuisine, one which was not well-known and was in fact over-looked.

Both of my grandparents’ families resided in Germany for many generations. When I asked my grandfather to make me a family tree for a school project, he was able to trace our family history back hundreds of years – as far back as the late 1600s on my grandmother’s side. That was when the paper trail ended, but surely they’d been there longer than that. Many other Jews had also been in Germany (and in nearby German-speaking Austria, Czechoslovakia and Alsace) for that length of time, meaning German-Jewish communities were quite solidly established – as were their food traditions

As is generally the case, the cuisine of Jews in Germany reflected the food that was available to them both geographically and culturally. German-Jewish food was essentially German food with a twist – a twist to adapt dishes to conform to kosher law. This may have meant replacing dairy ingredients with non-dairy ingredients, or cooking a dish in a slow oven overnight on Fridays in observation of Sabbath rules. But in general, the ingredients remained the same as those used by non-Jewish neighbors – the same vegetables, fruits, grains, and to a large degree, the same meats. But a cuisine is more than the sum of its parts, more than just a collection of recipes and ingredients. It is a shared experience and a shared history. It was this realization that inspired us – my mother Gabrielle and I – to investigate this topic. We decided to research this food and to reach out to others who grew up eating it – and perhaps still eat it today – as a way to preserve, share and document this foodway.

We would like to hear from you – to try your recipes and hear about your family’s meals! We welcome your comments, questions, stories or recipes.

While we are writing this blog in English, feel free to write to us in German and we will translate (Sie können in Deutsch gern schreiben. Wir werden übersetzen.).

We look forward to hearing from you!

– Sonya

Photos, from top: Beef Soup with Noodles; Bamberg, Germany, 2011 (left: landscape, right: green walnuts on tree); our cousin Ann, gathering walnuts in Munich, mid-1930s.

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