THE GERMANS BROUGHT MORE THAN tenacity and thrift to Texas. They came equipped with a culture rich in a tradition of good food and good fellowship which has survived the onslaught of Indians, droughts and the Republican party. Today a visit to Fredericksburg or New Braunfels will reveal an intact German culture replete with restaurants unlike those found anywhere else in the state. And, unlike other Americanized cultures who reserve the old country cooking for feast days, Texas Germans cook German style daily. The basic ingredients are readily available in any supermarket and can provide an interesting change of pace.
Being primarily agrarian, Hill Country Germans spend a good portion of their time processing foods from their own gardens. They have not lost the art of canning. Although most of us wouldn’t know a pill bug from an earwig in the garden, we can incorporate the old country methods with fresh vegetables from the market and come up with interesting variety at our tables. One of the most striking elements of the German dinner is that it is bountiful. Tables groan with homemade breads, home preserved fruits, home canned vegetables and home butchered meats. We couldn’t eat that way all the time without bursting at the seams—but for a special occasion, it will provide a feeling of abundance which is well worth the effort.
A German dinner party given in a Dallas high-rise by a bachelor who likes to cook can be accomplished easily because most German dishes are prepared ahead, then served when the moment seems right. Texas-Germania might well become the tour de force for the single Texas epicure who has eaten in every fine restaurant and is ready to entertain at home.
One restaurant owner in Fredericksburg, recently transplanted from Corpus, tells of the time she phoned in an order to the grocer then asked him to read it back to her. He droned on in the meticulous, accurate way of a German merchant but she was jarred when he came to “vine winegar.” The use of vinegar in German cooking can be compared to the use of wine by the French. Acidity of both products breaks down fibers and tenderizes the food. Using vinegar instead of wine, however, demonstrates the absolute thrift, the save-everything attitude that the Germans have—even the wine which has soured is used. Add health-consciousness to the list of German cooking virtues, for adding vinegar to the meat bones releases calcium which can be utilized by the body. If you have wine which has gone sour, keep it. In fact, you can mix up several different left over wines in one bottle and have for yourself a good “vine winegar” for cooking.
And speaking of thrift, the Germans on our street even have fewer garbage cans! In fact, Texas Germans found in the Hill Country appear to be less affected by the rank consumerism of the mainstream of American life than any group around. Texas Germans know who they are and what they are about. This security has allowed them to preserve an old country culture so beautifully that one can easily see evidence of it in the present day cooking habits.
HOW-TO GERMAN BASICS
THE TEXAS GERMANS ARE WAY ahead of us in the natural foods revolution. Just now as we are becoming aware of harmful additives and refinements which increase the shelf life of foods but may decrease the life of the consumer, the German style of cooking seems even more valuable. Below are listed a few basic German dishes—all of which can be made from scratch, have no additives, high nutritive value, and most significantly—better taste. Cooking is largely a matter of habit and if one or more of the following appeals to your needs, you might incorporate it into your regular cooking routine.
One piece of equipment which appears regularly in German recipes is a crock. If you didn’t inherit one from your grandmother, you’ll be pleased to know that they’re still for sale at the hardware store, reasonably priced and very antique looking. I think a kitchen is warmer looking with the good looking tools of the trade displayed.
Stone Crock Sauerkraut
Wash and peel cabbages, removing outer leaves. (The number depends on the size of the crock. A #2—which means two gallon—will hold six heads). Remove core and shred. Place in stone crock in approximately three inch layers. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt for each gallon of shredded cabbage. Repeat layers until the crock is full. Press down as the salt wilts the cabbage so that it is packed in tight. Over the top layer, place a plate the size of the crock opening and place a ten pound weight on top (like a rock or brick—no metal). Cover with a tea towel and set in a cool, dark place (note that refrigeration is not called for). Leave in the dark place for nine days. Check and skim off any mildew daily. You may keep the kraut in the crock for several weeks. Or you can place it in sterilized pints and seal. Heat the kraut to boiling, fill the hot, sterile jars and fix the pre-sterilized rings and flats on tightly.
If you have never put food up in jars the best directions can be found in any Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It’s really quite simple—the primary requirement being sterile containers and a clean rim so that the jar will seal properly. You can hear the flats pop as the seal is formed. After the jars are cooled, if the flat is not inverted, it didn’t seal and should be refrigerated.
Germans are the champion pickle and relish makers of all time. One of the most delicious side dishes to serve with red meat is pear relish. You can get Kiefer pears or ugly, hard ones for this. The ones with the rosy cheeks cost too much.
Birnen Wuerze (Pear Relish)
1/2 bushel pears
6 bell peppers
6 hot peppers (small)
3 c. sugar
2 T. salt
12 large white onions