Cooking at the Cove: My immigrant German grandmother’s recipes

Connect with us

Corned beef and sauerkraut soup with apple cake for dessert – from my German heritage. Karen Schneider / For the Forecaster

I didn’t know my German grandmother well since I only spent three summers with her in my entire life. She and my grandfather lived on their horse ranch in Wing, North Dakota, 1,500 miles away from us.

The last time I was in her farmhouse kitchen was in 1969 when I was 14. My dad had hitched our new StarCraft Pop-up to the Pontiac Catalina and we had driven from upstate New York to the family homestead where my immigrant grandparents had raised 11 children, hundreds of horses and dozens of farm animals of all sorts.

Karen Schneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at [email protected]

Today as I flicked through my recipe card file, I came upon grandmother’s instructions for apple cake and I took a moment to remember her, wearing a flowered house dress and stained apron, her long, gray hair plaited into a braid that wreathed her head. I recall that last summer with her when she spent every day, all day working in the humble kitchen, showing off her new “Frigidaire” and the recent upgrade to the plumbing.

Grandmother lived in a perpetual state of rapt appreciation, marveling over the delicate smoothness of the eggs I brought in from the henhouse, the cool tang of the buttermilk, the ripeness of the muskmelons, and the sun glinting on my hair as I sat on the counter swinging my bare legs – all in a language I didn’t understand.

The kitchen she presided over was plain and narrow, devoid of any décor, with many windows and a long table that seated 12. The meals prepared for us were simple and wholesome, made gorgeous by the jewel colors of garden produce – leaf lettuce, melons, radishes, cucumbers, green beans and sliced tomatoes.

A hearty soup with the day’s rye bread, thickly buttered, was served as a precursor to the enormous noon meal. Pans of apple cake or peach kuchen were baked every morning after the bread came out of the oven. Cut into hefty squares, these delights were devoured throughout the day with cold milk or hot coffee.

The instructions I have for the cucumber-radish salad and apple cake were written out in my back-slanted cursive as I watched her. Grandmother carefully printed her name at the bottom of the recipe cards. Katerina Schneider knew very little English, yet during the summer of ’69, she taught me that preparing food for loved ones is a language everyone understands.

Corned Beef and Sauerkraut Soup

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup onion, diced

1/3 cup carrot, diced

1/3 cup celery, diced

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

6 cups beef stock (preferably homemade)

1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, drained and rinsed

2 bay leaves

3/4 teaspoon thyme

Freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons brown sugar

12 ounces cooked corned beef, chopped

4 slices buttered rye bread

1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese, grated

In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir flour into pot. Add remaining ingredients, except bread and cheese, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves.

When soup is ready to serve, toast the bread under the broiler, flip and sprinkle with cheese. Return to broiler until cheese is melted. Ladle soup into serving bowls and place toast on top.

Yield: 4 servings

Cucumber-Radish Salad

3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

5-7 radishes, thinly sliced

3/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Fresh dill, to taste

Place cucumbers in a colander, stir in salt, and drain for an hour. Pat off any extra moisture with paper towels.

Transfer cucumbers to a bowl and add radishes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Yield: 4 servings

Apple Cake

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups apples, peeled and finely diced

1 cup walnuts, chopped and combined with 1 tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar for cake top

Heavy cream or hard sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×9-inch baking pan. Whisk together flour, baking soda and spices. In a separate bowl, cream sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Then add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in apples and walnuts/flour. Spoon batter into pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake for 40 minutes or until cake tests done. Best served warm. A pour of cream or hard sauce is nice!

Yield: 9 servings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *