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We realize we’ve been absent from these parts for quite a few months…it turns out that the many (many!) steps of writing a book take a lot of time. The cover of our soon-to-be-published cookbook is above (photo: Sonya Gropman, food styling: Catrine Kelty). To say that we are excited is a bit of an understatement, we are very thrilled.

For info on where to buy the book, visit our book page.

We will be doing many book events all over the country, starting on the east coast in September in New York City and Boston. These will include readings, talks, cooking classes, special restaurant menus, etc. and almost all will include book signings. See a listing on our events page and be sure to check back, as we’ll be updating it as we add new events. We hope to see you in person at some point soon!

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)

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.

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”.

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