Spoonfuls of Germany is my book on German regional cuisine. First released in 2004, re-released nine years later as an expanded and updated edition. While working on the new edition I realized that there were still many more German recipes to discover and stories to tell so I started this blog.
Strawberry Vodka Mixer (Erdbeerlimes). Recipe at the bottom of blog post.
If you have been to Germany in the summertime you might have grown fond of what makes a German summer wunderbar: having a beer and a Bavarian Brotzeit at a biergarten or, if you are from Frankfurt like me, a glass of apple wine mixed with seltzer water called Gespritzter; a German barbecue (Grillabend); or scrumptious fruit desserts such as the classic red fruit pudding Rote Grütze, or the iconic spaghetti ice cream that you can find in virtually every ice cream parlor in Germany.
Thankfully a lot of these cravings, such as my newest favorite cocktail, Erdbeerlimes (recipe at the bottom of this post), can be satisfied in America.
As part of my participation in the The German-American Friendship Year, in February, I asked my readers to share photos of any German dishes they made on Instagram under the hashtag #AmericaCooksGerman. It brought together a nice collection of photos showcasing the diversity of Germany cuisine that you can view here.
Now it’s time for a summer edition of #AmericaCooksGerman. Food or drink, homemade or not, taken at a biergarten or German restaurant, hot, cold, or barbecued, fresh or canned, as long as it’s German or German-style and located in the United States, share away photos of your favorite German summer foods and drinks!
When sharing your photo(s) on Instagram, please indicate what’s in the photo and your location (city and state, or state only). And, very important, don’t forget to add the hashtag #AmericaCooksGermanand #WunderbarTogether (which is the hashtag of The Year of German-American Friendship). This is the only way your photos can be found.
If you are not on Instagram, and you cannot ask anyone else to post a photo on Instagram for you, you can email me your photo at spoonfulsofgermany[at] gmail [dot] com, or, if you are on Facebook, send me your photo via Facebook message and I will post the photo on Instagram for you. Please include the name you would like to appear with the photo, what the photo shows, and your location.
For inspiration I have compiled a list of my favorite German summer foods and with recipes below.
With a few exceptions the recipes for most of these dishes are on this blog, and some are in my German regional cookbook, which is available as an ebook here. Click on each image to find the recipe.
Homemade Currywurst KetchupSpundekäs Cheese SpreadBlueberry Soup with Caramelized Croutons
This North German specialty is one of my favorite chilled fruit soups, and one of the most refreshing things you can eat in the summer. Note that like most chilled fruit soups, it is only lightly sweetened and eaten as a first course, not a dessert. The recipe is in my book.
Schnitzel with Pepper Sauce and Mushrooms (Zigeunerschnitzel)
You can make this any time of the year round but I like it best with fresh red bell peppers and tomatoes.
Seven Herb Sauce
Frankfurt’s famous sauce loaded with fresh herbs. The recipe is in my book. Or, you can make your own Grüne Soße Mustard:
Cheesecake with Rote Grütze Topping
A twist on classic American cheesecake with a German topping.
German Cheesecake with Peaches
Classic German cheesecake, made with quark or Greek yogurt (a great substitute for quark) and fresh peaches.
Red Currants with Vanilla Custard
Spaghetti Ice Cream
Leaving your home country to settle elsewhere brings along a loss of your cultural references, no matter whether the move to a new country was voluntary or involuntary. There are two cultural references that will always stick with you, and you don’t want to let them go because they are part of who you are: language and food. That’s why I don’t find it surprising when immigrants who otherwise happily adapt to life in the new country, maintain their culinary traditions, and continue to speak their native language. I do.
As an immigrant to America, and as a gardener who grows red currants so I can make the classic German summer dessert Rote Grütze (red fruit pudding) every summer, I have always been charmed by the idea that it was immigrants who brought seeds of their favorite edibles to the New World in their pockets, or had them sown into the hem of their clothing, to have something that connects them to their past.
Schifferstadt Black Radish. Photo courtesy of William Woys Weaver.
However, I’ve recently learned that this is not how seeds moved across the Atlantic. There was a lively transatlantic seed trade between German and American seed companies in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is how most European seeds reached America.
The person who shattered that myth for me was William Woys Weaver, acclaimed food historian and author whose sixteen books on food and gardening have received many awards, the most recent being the 2019 Award of Excellence from the Council on Botanical & Horticultural Libraries for his book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening.
William spent part of his childhood in Chester County, Pennsylvania, under the cultural influence of his grandparents. His grandfather, who was born in Lancaster, spoke to him in Pennsylvania Dutch and told him folk tales in that language. His grandmother cooked Pennsylvania Dutch classics such as shoofly pie. By William’s own account, this made him an insider and at the same time gave him the distance of an outsider to write about Pennsylvania Dutch topics in a “balanced and unbiased way”.
The Weaver family – originally spelled Wäber – came to America from Switzerland in 1680, which makes William a 13th-generation American. German-speaking Swiss immigrants, together with Germans from the south of Germany (Palatinate, Bavaria and Swabia) and eastern France (Alsace) are the three groups that formed the Pennsylvania Dutch speaking communities. Much to William’s chagrin, the terms „Pennsylvania Dutch“ and „Amish“ are often used interchangeably while in fact the Amish are only 5 to 10 percent of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the majority are Lutherans.
Swabian Lazy Wife (Faule Frau) Pole Bean. Photo courtesy of William Woys Weaver.
Historically, agriculture was the main economy in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and to cater to that market, the D. Landreth Seed Company, founded in Philadelphia in 1784 and one of the oldest companies in America, published its seed catalogs not only in English but also in a German and Spanish edition – a remarkable example of early ethnic marketing. The German catalogs, often combined with an almanac, listed seeds tailored to the Pennsylvania climate, which, William says, also made them suitable for the upper Midwest and New England.
At the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, which was also the first World’s Fair on American soil, German seed companies sold their seeds – another interesting fact I learned from William.
Landreth Co. 1871 and 1879 German-language seed almanachs and catalogs. Photos courtesy of Nursery Catalogs Collection. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society McLean Library.
William truly has seeds in his genetic code. His grandfather H. Ralph Weaver, the same grandfather who had given him immersion into Pennsylvania Dutch, had started collecting seeds in 1932. While the main motive was to grow food for his family during the Great Depression, his work on the family genealogy had also triggered his interest in heirloom seeds that had been grown in Pennsylvania Dutch Country for generations. His garden included so many rare varieties that visitors flocked to it in the 1940s.
After his grandfather’s death in 1956, the seed collection was literally deep-frozen for about a decade until William, while in college, discovered it the bottom of his grandmother’s freezer. Many of the seeds were still viable and by the mid-1970s William was growing many of his grandfather’s heirloom varieties again in his own garden. He subsequently named the collection Roughwood Seed Collection after the Victorian house in which he lives.
Pinecone Potato (Rosa Tannenzapfen) Potato. Photo courtesy of William Woys Weaver.
Today the Roughwood Seed Collection contains more than 7,000 varieties of heritage seeds, including German specialties like Palatine June Bush Bean, which was a popular bush bean in the 1880s and 1890s, Schifferstadt Black Radish, Berliner Gelbe Lettuce, Früher Heinrich Peas and Swabian Lazy Wife (Faule Frau), as well as 40 different types of heirloom potatoes, including the famous fingerling potatoes Bamberger Hörnle.
The Roughwood Seed Collection is part of the Roughwood Table, a non-profit educational foundation devoted to heritage foods prepared from heirloom seeds. William’s newest cookbook The Roughwood Book of Pickling will be published in September.
Towards the end of our talk, William shattered another myth about the red lima beans I grew in my garden last summer. I had bought the seeds last May at the gift store of the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum, which is an excellent exhibit of Pennsylvania German heritage. The label on the seed package identified them as Pennsylvania Dutch red lima beans, an heirloom variety.
Pennsylvania Dutch Red Lima Beans aka Jackson Wonder Lima Beans growing in my garden.
William, whom our leading local newspaper, The Morning Call, befittingly called the “Sherlock Holmes of Pennsylvania Dutch fare”, has a different take on it. In an article about the Jackson Wonder Lima Bean, he wrote, “Pennsylvania wasn’t good lima bean country (the nights are too cool). But when I saw the brilliant beans in a jar of chow-chow (pickled mixed vegetables), I couldn’t help but smile — this lima had certainly found its place in the hearts of Pennsylvania Dutch housewives.”
It does not matter whether those red lima beans are truly Pennsylvania Dutch or not. I don’t regret having grown them in my garden as are very tasty and eventually gave me the idea to write about German heirloom seeds in America as part of The Year of German American Friendship.
Easton Farmers’ Market. Photo by Elizabeth Judge Wyant, courtesy of Easton Farmers’ Market.
During the first couple of years after I moved to rural northeast Pennsylvania in the early 2000’s, I commuted to New York City once a week. The bus made a stop in downtown Easton. I was new to the area and still in exploration mode. What I saw then of Easton from a bus window did not pique my curiosity. The streets were deserted, the storefronts empty or boarded up, the buildings run down. It looked like an abandoned movie set from PBS Masterpiece.
Easton was not the only city in the Lehigh Valley with a dying downtown. Main Street in Bethlehem looked just about the same. My being from Germany where there is virtually no inner city or town, often not a single block where buildings had not been destroyed in World War II, I have always found the sight in America of entire rows of intact historic buildings remarkable.
In the early 2000’s all of Lehigh Valley seemed to live up to its bad rap from Billy Joel’s song “Allentown”. Before my departing New York City for Pennsylvania a colleague gave me the CD. Over the years I talked to numerous people who were given the same gift when they moved to the Lehigh Valley.
Weyerbacher’s former Brewpub at a livery stable in downtown Easton. Photo courtesy of Weyerbacher Brewing.
The Lehigh Valley’s food explosion
During my first few years here I mainly stuck to the countryside where I lived. The Lehigh Valley held little attraction. It was a logistics destination, such as for grocery shopping and visits to doctors. For dining out, we would go elsewhere, Philadelphia or New York City.
Then things changed. The Lehigh Valley evolved into a place that I would become proud of to show to friends visiting from elsewhere in the United States or abroad. As someone who had been closely following the emerging food scene in the Lehigh Valley, a pivotal moment for me was the tasting event Lehigh Valley Harvest in October 2013. I had taken a friend from Washington D.C. along who marveled at the variety and quality of the food that was dished up by local food producers and farmers. The next event of its kind, Taste, in July 2016, was even bigger and better (there I did a presentation about on one of my favorite locavore topics, cooking global with locally sourced ingredients). My sister-in-law and niece from Connecticut joined me, and they were amazed by what the local food scene has to offer. That’s when I knew for sure that we had something quite special going on in the Lehigh Valley.
Silo with Weyerbacher’s signature Jester logo. Photo courtesy of Weyerbacher Brewing.
The emergence of a new food landscape was fueled by an overall economic development and growth of the Lehigh Valley. There is a new video clip I love that conveys how the Lehigh Valley has risen like the phoenix from the ashes.
A lot of German heritage in the local mix
For my writing about German food, the Lehigh Valley and its surroundings with its omnipresent German heritage is a treasure trove. Many food producers and vendors have Germany ancestry, many with fascinating stories. One of the most intriguing is the story of Stefanie Angstadt of Valley Milkhouse, who sells her cheeses at Easton Farmers’ Market. By serendipity Stefanie, who grew up in New Jersey, landed a job at a farm in Oley Valley in Berks County, the very same farm where her ancestors, German immigrants, had settled in 1743. Stefanie’s cheesemaking business is located in another historic farmstead nearby.
Naturally, among the many businesses founded by German immigrants in the Lehigh Valley were also several breweries. Easton in particular was a brew town. “Easton had the grain to brew beer, the canals to transport it, the labor to increase production and the market in the form of numerous taverns and hotels,” writes Rudy Miller in his article, “Did you know? Brewing in Easton, then and now”.
Bringing back Easton as a beer town
So when I talked to Dan Weirback, founder and owner of Weyerbacher Brewing in Easton, I was first and foremost interested in the German connection. Then the conversation took a different turn, which was just as fascinating.
Dan’s family came to America in the mid 1800’s. The original family name had been, like so many others, changed upon arrival at Ellis Island, and today there are more than nine different spellings. When Dan decided to turn beer brewing from being a hobby into a craft brewery in the early 1990’s, he decided to revert back to the original family name, Weyerbacher.
Easton Farmers’ Market in the early 1900’s. Photo courtesy of Easton Farmers’ Market.
As a native of upper Bucks County, Dan knew Easton from accompanying his mother to shopping trips when he was a child. “That was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Before the malls replaced downtown shopping, it was a flourishing downtown with lots of shops. The sidewalks were crowded almost like in New York City,” Dan remembers. One of the department stores was Orr’s; this slideshow shows downtown Easton in the old days.
When Dan visited Easton again many years later, in the 1980’s, he was shocked seeing downtown so run down. And it wasn’t safe, the crime rate was up. What made Dan consider Easton as a location for his new business despite this were two things: renting a building was cheap, and an acquaintance who tipped him off about The Crayola Factory (now called The Crayola Experience) that would open its doors in 1996, and predicted that it would draw considerable crowds downtown.
And so it happened. Soon The Crayola Factory drew 300,000 visitors annually. What also helped, said Dan, was that the State Theater, within walking distance of the former livery stable where the Weyerbacher brewery and tap room were located, had been renovated and was under new management. Plus, the theater had a parking garage. “People felt safe again coming to downtown Easton at night. Police stepped up their presence, and volunteers from the State Theater were on the sidewalks with flashlights.”
Weyerbacher’s best-selling beer, Merry Monks. Photo courtesy of Weyerbacher Brewing.
Weyerbacher sold its first beer in 1995, and by the third of fourth year, Dan says, “the quality was really good.” Over the years, Weyerbacher has made several dozen different varieties, many of them seasonal. The label of Merry Monks, the bestselling beer, makes me feel transported to the German fairytale books of my childhood.
While many new microbreweries closed in the mid-1990’s, Weyerbacher continued to grow – so much that it moved to a new, bigger location across town, off Interstate 78, and opened a new satellite tap room in New Hope, Pennsylvania, this year.
The brewery might have moved across town but it is still very much part of downtown, with a presence at the Easton Farmers’ Market that can pride itself of being the longest operating farmers’ market in the United States.
If I can get away on a Saturday morning, that’s where you’ll find me. The horse-drawn carts that were used to haul the merchandise to the market are long gone. With so many historic buildings around Center Square it still feels like a historic movie set to me – but one that’s now populated with lots of real people and food from local sources. And that, of course, includes the occasional bratwurst!
Easton Farmers’ Market. Photo by Elizabeth Judge Wyant, courtesy of Easton Farmers’ Market.
Steigerwalt, Ohl, Helfrich, Zimmerman… the surnames of many of our neighbors here in Pennsylvania Dutch country are utterly familiar to my German ears. Some locals, such as my friend Todd, can trace their ancestors back to the mid-1700s when Germans first settled in our township.
This has been primarily farm country but in recent decades, the landscape has changed. During the 18 years I have lived here, I have seen several farms with their requisite red barns disappear, and the land being subdivided for residential or commercial development. Our home sits on such a parcel. Once plowed with real horsepower, it was deemed unproductive and too steep for internal combustion power equipment. We became the fortunate beneficiaries.With the consolidation of the farming industry, the farms in the United States are getting fewer and bigger, similar to the consolidation of the flour industry described in my earlier story about the historic Castle Valley Mill for The Year of German-American Friendship. Family farms are not being handed down from generation to generation any longer because young people seek careers elsewhere. And frankly, how can you blame them? Farming is very hard work.
That’s why I am grateful for every farm that remains. I make a conscious effort to buy whatever I can from local producers (see the list on my other blog, Green Card Gardener).
One shining example for a family farm business where the younger generation is carrying on is Miller Charm Farm and Butcher Shop, owned by Randy and Cathie Miller. The setting could not be more idyllic on the slope in Mantzville right below St. Peter’s Church that dates back to the year 1845.The Miller Farm, built in 1881 and rebuilt after it burned down being hit by lightning, is now operated by fourth and fifth generation Millers. The farm started off growing potatoes. The first harvest was bountiful, making it possible to pay off the mortgage in one year. No wonder why Claude B. Wehr, Randy Miller’s great-grandfather, was known as the “potato king”.
Butchering began with Randy Miller’s grandfather Warren Miller. But the butchering gene might have been in the family much earlier. Randy traces his family back to Daniel Miller, who was a soldier in a German army – the emphasis is on “a” as before 1871 when Germany became one nation, it consisted of many princedoms and states each with separate armies. Daniel deserted and headed to America. Family lore says Daniel lied about his profession claiming that he was a butcher.
Cathie, whose maiden name is Fritz, is also of German descent, from nearby Fritz Valley, named after a string of farms owned by members of the Fritz family.
Randy’s grandfather Warren sold the butcher retail business, because Randy’s father had no interest in being a butcher; he worked as a truck driver. After high school, Randy started up a dairy on the farm, which operated for almost four decades until, like many other family-owned dairy farms, it fell victim to the consolidation that also took place in America’s dairy industry.
At about the same time the bottom fell out of the dairy business, the couple’s twins Kevin and Mark, after graduating from high school in 2013, showed interest in reviving the butcher shop. The family decided to start it up again, specializing in farm-raised cattle.
The Millers initially offered only custom butchering, where a customer delivers a whole animal for processing. In 2016 they opened a stand at the Hometown Farmers Market and later in the same year a retail shop at the farm. Ed Steigerwalt, a local butcher in his eighties, was instrumental in teaching Mark how to butcher. Ed did much more than teach – he also gave the Millers a booklet with the recipes that Warren Miller, Randy’s grandfather, had sold to him decades earlier, along with the business.
Among the Pennsylvania Dutch specialties that the Millers produce all year long is liver pudding and scrapple, both from grandfather Warren’s recipes, as well as ring bologna. Scrapple makes use of what today is called whole animal butchery, or the trendy term “nose to tail eating”. It consists of scraps of pork, often offal, mixed with cornmeal, flours and spices and shaped into a loaf, then sliced and fried, making for a hearty breakfast.“We make scrapple the old-fashioned way, it’s cooked in cast iron, not in stainless steel, and that makes a big difference in the taste,” Cathie says. Now for full disclosure, we eat very little meat and even fewer deli meats but bologna still made a very favorable impression on our palates. You can definitely taste that the Millers are making an effort to cut down on salt, as many of their patrons are older and conscious about salt intake.
Other specialties include maple sausage patties and apple sausage, a breakfast sausage made with locally produced apple butter, and it gets two thumbs up from my husband who ordinarily shows no interest in sausage. There is also “bag sausage”, a sausage cased in muslin from an old country sausage recipe. Occasionally, Cathie prepares stuffed pig stomach for her family, a dish that acquired world fame as the favorite dish of German ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl.The Millers have a herd of 60 to 70 animals, which supplies about 70% of the beef for their retail butchery. The rest comes from other local farms, as does the pork and chicken. Their cows are a cross between the Scottish Highland, renowned for their hardiness, and Simmental, a breed of cattle that goes back to the Middle Ages and valued for its calm nature. The cattle graze on the pastures around the farm. The dairy silos have been repurposed to store the fodder: haylage (fermented hay) and grain Cathie says grain is needed for a good marbling of the meat.
Son Mark is the main butcher, and his twin brother Kevin does the crop farming and takes care of the herd and also helps out at the retail store and farmers’ market stand.
In his free time, Kevin is taking Pennsylvania Dutch language classes once a week at a nearby fire company (in our area fire houses double as venues for social gatherings). Both of his grandparents spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, a language brought to Pennsylvania between 1750 and 1815 from southwestern Germany and Switzerland. “Dutch” is an Americanization of “Deutsch”, or German. However, from the time of World War II, many parents of baby boomers were not keen on teaching Dutch to their children. That is changing – today Pennsylvania Dutch is coming back. Most of the people in the class, Kevin says, are seniors who want to see the language passed on to the next generation.Kevin tried a few sentences on me. As in similar occasions when someone talks to me in Pennsylvania Dutch, I get the gist but can only respond in contemporary German.
Cathie told me that it is customary to give your cows a common surname, and that’s how the “charm” in the Miller Charm Farm business name came about. From the steady stream of customers who entered the butcher shop on Saturday afternoon right before closing time, it’s clear the charm works well – and with Mark and Kevin on board, it is set on a course to operate for many years – and generations – to come.
There’s no beating around the bush – German cuisine is neither hip nor cool. The Washington Post, in a March 2018 article entitled “Grandma’s food’: How changing tastes are killing German restaurants”, explained well why German restaurants in America, some of them over 100 years old, are closing all across the country. Their clientele is simply disappearing, and the grandchildren of their loyal customers, while they might visit Berlin, viewed as the most exciting city in Europe, they don’t return with a craving for German food that makes them seek out the German restaurant in town. Nor do millennials hurry to the kitchen to cook something German.
Beef-rollups with Red Cabbage and Spaetzle. Photo credit: Ralf Knauth.
Recognizing this sad situation, my idea for this month’s topic of The German-American Friendship Year, to peek into cooking pots and ask people to post photos of German dishes on Instagram under #AmericaCooksGerman, seemed to defy gravity. Still, Karen aka German Girl in America gracefully came along for the ride. We were both aware that most people who cook German in America are not on Instagram so we offered to share their photos under their name. Karen wondered whether we would get 300 photos of schnitzel and beef roll-ups. I wondered whether we would get more than a handful of photos from friends and family sympathetic to our hopeful undertaking.
Surprise! At the end of the two weeks, there was a diverse collection of German dishes, including the popular Bavarian cheese spread Obatzda, Soup with Farina Dumplings (Grießklößchensuppe), schnitzel, and lentils, and also the Swabian specialty Lentils with Spaetzle.
German street food was in the mix, too. College student @sperizer shared photos of making of Döner Kebab: “Created a little Germany in our kitchen today with the best street food around.” (for more about Germany’s most popular street food made in America, read my November blog post for The German-American Friendship Year).
German Girl in America was right about the beef roll-ups, those seem to be especially popular. They are the epitome of German comfort food in the wintertime.
There were photos of wholesome German breads and rolls (Brötchen). And, of course, pretzels, which are probably the most ubiquitous German-American food of all. In 2017, The Monument Lab at the University of Pennsylvania even called upon young artists to come up with designs for a pretzel monument in the city (for which I wrote a supporting piece which you can read here).
And then there were lots of sweet treats like typical German sheet cakes (Blechkuchen) with apples or plums, and sweet plum dumplings. There were Christmas delights like lebkuchen (in December, I wrote on this blog about Sandy Lee, who bakes authentic Lebkuchen in New York City). There was also a bunch of Springerle photos. Unlike in Germany, in the United States Springerle have a dedicated year-round following of hobby bakers and small artisan bakeries like Alabama-based @gingerlilyweets and Georgia-based @kitchenwixenjen (more about Springerle in America in this blog post).
@kurtrosetree posted slices of his homemade Stollen adding, “Is it wrong to want to eat my homemade Stollen for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between? Asking for a friend.” It made me laugh out loud and think of the countless times I have eaten Stollen for breakfast with the excuse that it’s a yeasted bread after all, and thus perfectly acceptable breakfast fare.
I was excited to see some unusual desserts like Kalter Hund (No-Bake Chocolate Cake, find my recipe here); Rotkäppchenkuchen, a cake that got its name, Red Riding Hood Cake, from the vibrant cherry topping; and Eisenbahnschnitten (Almond Cream Apricot Bars). German cuisine has a vast number of dishes using leftover bread and it was great to see Scheiterhaufen, a delicious apple bread pudding, popping up in the Instagram feed.
Eleanor Oliver from Washington D.C. send me a picture of her adorable Igel (hedgehog) cake. That dessert is a rarity nowadays in Germany but there is a recipe for it in a German cookbook whose authors toured senior citizen homes around Germany, asking residents about their favorite dishes, then cooking a meal together (more about this project here).
“The Igel is still my Easter specialty,” Eleanor wrote. “Together with the grandchildren I carefully construct the lady fingers and buttercream into an Igel. Then I sit down with the children and patiently poke every toasted almond sliver into place. A little coconut dyed spring green and a few jelly beans for that American touch and our Oster Schleckerei (Easter treat) is complete!”
I also want to give a shout-out to our northern neighbors who contributed photos. Although #AmericaCooksGerman is technically about German cooking in the United States because it’s part of The Year of German-American Friendship, it was wonderful to see that there are Canadians who care so much about German food that they shared their photos.
You can view the entire collection here (note that it does not require an Instagram account).
Far beyond collecting photos, what made #AmericaCooksGerman so fascinating are the stories that transpired, and the people with whom I connected.
Pork Schnitzel with Buttermilk Spaetzle and Lemon-Caper Dill Sauce. Photo credit: @jennygoycochea.
It provides a glimpse into what it meant to be German-American in times when Germany’s standing in the world was at its lowest. As Eleanor wrote, “I entered Kindergarten in 1942 so my family enjoyed their German heritage quietly at home and with other German families. We made little fanfare that we were German.”
People did not just share photos but also memories.
Dan Schneider from Toledo, Ohio, who initially sent me a photo of his Springerle cookies, wrote, “I wish I had a picture of the potato pancakes my dad and Uncle Paul used to make. My dad had an old hand crank grater that they bolted to the table and they would make these in the wee hours of the morning after returning from the local tavern. That’s a whole story by itself but the potato pancakes were always outstanding.”
Susan Bold Reed from New Jersey had a lovely Stollen story to share alongside her photo. “My grandmother, who was born in Stuttgart and came to the US when she was 16 years old, always made Stollen for Christmas breakfast. She always braided hers. When she died 50 years ago, I continued the tradition, and this Christmas was my 50th Stollen!”
@nikkioutwest, a native of Bavaria who offers baking classes in Virginia, made me reconsider what I have been pondering doing myself for a while when I read this, “Diving deep into German pastry baking traditions with yet another group of charming, enthusiastic and committed bakers last night. I count myself more than lucky to be able to connect with so many lovely people over the shared passion for pastry baking. The joy I feel when we exchange food stories, baking wisdom and the occasional German word is one of the most grounding experiences I‘ve had since moving stateside.”
German Onion Meatloaf (Zwiebelhackbraten). Photo credit: @dirndl_kitchen.
#AmericaCooksGerman also had me take a closer look at Dirndl Kitchen. Sophie, who moved to the United States from her native German ten years ago, blogs out of Kansas with a fresh, young outlook on German cuisine and lifestyle while making use of the entire repertoire of social media tools to build her brand.
Other photo submitters have no family connection to Germany whatsoever, such as blogger Jennifer Goycochea who told me, “I love German food because it’s so humble and comforting. I was recently in Munich and Frankfurt and enjoyed being able to try all the food first hand.”
Claudia Royston, who studied in Munich for three years and now owns the culinary travel company Global Gourmands, is offering a tour to Germany “so people can see for themselves how imaginative and inspiring contemporary German food is.”
I also found Americans of German descent who are curious about their culinary heritage. @dew_of_the_sea posted a photo of a vegan German apple cake that caught my attention. Her mother’s family had a bakery in downtown Albany, New York that is long gone, and she said, “I wish I could have gotten some recipes directly from there but the bakery closed a while before I was born.” Besides the apple cake, she has veganized a German-inspired noodle dish her mother used to make with bacon and kielbasa, as well as German potato salad.
It did not always require a photo to have people share their German food story. Upon my call for German food photos on my Facebook page, Shannon Owens commented that her family emigrated from Germany in colonial times, however no food German food traditions whatsoever had been handed down. “Lots of things were lost over time,” she explained. After initially settling in Pennsylvania, the family moved on to Ohio or Indiana. Shannon, who was born in California, and by serendipity now lives with her family not far from where her ancestors initially settled in Pennsylvania.
Sunken Apple Cake (Versunkener Apfelkuchen). Photo credit: @ovenlightbakery.
“Once I got out of college and got married,” Shannon said, “I was able to experiment more with food and looked for things that were part of our roots, trying to find bits of our old culture that we can add as family traditions because there really weren’t any. We even picked names within our backgrounds for your daughters, one is named Lorelei. And I started collecting cookbooks and picking dishes from different countries for holiday meals.” For German cuisine, she started with soups and desserts “because you can get anyone to eat those.”
There are many, many more stories out there and therefore I wish #AmericaCooksGerman wouldn’t stop and people would continue to share their photos on Instagram. Because all those memories, recipes and stories should be recorded before they vanish.
The only way to do this is if the younger generations sit down with the older generations in their family and start talking, asking questions and using the gadgets that are in their hands virtually at all times to capture German food traditions in America.
The article in The Washington Poststates that “German food seems stodgy. Not to mention that in the age of Instagram, it suffers from an acute case of brown. It’s also hearty, heavy and boasts enough starches to make ketogenic, gluten-free Whole..
Nothing connects people as food does. And it’s a great conversation starter, too. I have often found myself talking with total strangers at a grocery store about a German ingredient or a recipe. The last time this happened was at a Christmas market outside of Philadelphia, where I overheard a conversation in German about making your own Eierlikör (spiked eggnog). I boldly jumped in, and before I knew it, my friend Gabriele and I found ourselves debating with half a dozen other German-Americans whether sweetened condensed milk or heavy cream makes the better Eierlikör.
Most of those encounters however don’t happen in person but online. I am in touch with the readers of my blog and with others on social media, trading and comparing German recipes, tips for substituting hard-to-find ingredients, and where to find them, or just reminiscing about food memories from Germany. If I could, I would initiate a potluck to bring us German food aficionados together.
One of the people with whom I have an ongoing dialog but have never met in person is the blogger German Girl in America. I interviewed her for this blog four years ago, and her experiences as a German-American are as relatable today as when I wrote her story four years ago.
She and I share the same passion for the red berry pudding Rote Grütze, and I could not have summed up better what German food is all about when she told me, “What I love about German food is that it tends to be seasonal, with lots of fruit and vegetables. Yes, there are ‘heavy meals’ but overall, people eat well. There is less of a junk food culture, fun foods like chocolate and candy exist, but there is a balance. And Germans stand firm on keeping chemicals and GMOs out of their food.”
I am thrilled that German Girl in America agreed to join me in #AmericaCooksGerman.
Between January 31 and February 17, 2019, we are inviting you to share your photos of German food on Instagram. It’s like a virtual potluck all across the United States, as part of The Year of German-American Friendship.
A few basic rules:
It needs to be a photo of prepared food, not products straight from a supermarket shelf. In other words, no Toffifay® on its own, but your favorite cake decorated with it is OK.
In your post, indicate what’s in the photo and your location (city and state, or state only).
And, very important, don’t forget to add the hashtags #AmericaCooksGerman and #WunderbarTogether (which is the hashtag of The Year of German-American Friendship). This is the only way we can locate your photos.
Not on Instagram? If you are not on Instagram, and you cannot ask anyone else to post a photo on Instagram for you, you can email me your photo at spoonfulsofgermany[at] gmail [dot] com, or, if you are on Facebook, send me a photo via Facebook message, and I will post the photo on Instagram for you. Please include the name you would like to appear with the photo, what the photo shows, and your location.
Towards the end of February, German Girl in America and I will do a recap of all the photos and highlight some of the more unusual ones.
Next… grab your camera or smartphone and snap away to show us how #AmericaCooksGerman!
For most of my 21 years in America, I have been baking my own bread. If you have lived in Germany with its tremendous variety of wholesome breads, you just cannot be without it. As a wrote before, baking German breads in America can be challenging, and I am always on the lookout for suitable flours and grains. In the case of Castle Valley Mill in Pennsylvania, the grains and flours include a German-American connection – and also a slice out of American colonial and industrial history.
Henry Fischer, a native of Erlbach in Bavaria, immigrated at the age of twenty to the United States after World War I. He settled in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and started a route for milk trucks, eventually expanding to include a moving company, Fischer’s Transfer. What was not so obvious was that Fischer came from a milling family and had been trained as a miller back in Germany. Milling was literally engrained in Fischer.
Henry Fischer (Photo courtesy of Castle Valley Mill)
His business prospered and when his truck drivers weren’t busy, he sent them around in the area to collect discarded milling equipment from the many old mills that were closing down as a result of the quickly consolidating American flour industry. Henry stored his finds on a 20-acre property situated on Neshaminy Creek that he bought in 1947, near the home where he lived with his wife, also of German descent, and their children. The property had a mill dating back to 1730, a stone house from 1716, and a barn, all in poor condition.
Mill scale by The Standard Scale & Supply Company
For a few years it looked like the old mill would never come back to life until Henry’s grandson Mark Fischer took it on. Fran Fischer, who is married to Mark, said, “Henry sadly ran out of lifetime.” Mark’s father had no interest in the mill that was eventually stuffed floor to ceiling not only with the disassembled remains of milling machines from Henry’s collection, but also with decades of discarded household items and junk that family members stored there.Twenty-two years ago, Fran and Mark bought the property from the family. First, they restored the house, so they’d have a place to live and raise their three children. Then came the restoration of the barn. The biggest challenge, the mill, was last.
By then, both Mark, an electrical engineer and a business aviation consultant, and Fran, who worked in the commodities business, were ready for a career change. They decided to clear out the mill and see if Mark could assemble the machines and various parts and make the mill run again. He did.
Roller mill by E. P. Allis & Co. It sent its milling engineer William D. Gray to Europe to scout out milling practices which resulted in him inventing an improved roller mill, which was patented in his name in 1879.
Various wooden parts and sections of the milling equipment were scattered helter-skelter around the three floors of the mill. Fran said Mark had to become a “forensic miller” to make sense of the thousands of parts and assemble them into an operating mill.When Mark was unable to identify a part, he checked with the United States Patent Office. Mark and Fran gave each of the restored machines names like Jules after Jules Verne, and Victoria. At present a single electric motor drives the entire system. They plan to eventually return to hydropower.
The automated flour mill at Castle Valley Mill is US patent #3, invented by Oliver Evans of Philadelphia in 1790. It uses gravity for grain milling and works without the aid of manual labor other than two persons to set the machines in motion and supervise the process. This was a huge step forward in 1790. Before Evan’s labor-saving invention, the grain in a mill had to be hauled manually up and down and around the mill.
Eureka grain cleaner by S. Howes Company
When Mark brought Fran the very first batch of flour he had ground, she made her grandmother’s pumpkin bread. “It was a Eureka moment,” she says. “I ran over to the mill with the still warm bread in my hands so Mark could taste it.” Anyone who bakes can relate to this. The flour makes all the difference. Castle Valley Mill sources the grains – soft and hard wheat, rye, spelt, emmer, and corn – directly from farmers, when possible locally. There are grain towers for hard wheat and yellow corn. Space is always a challenge; the mill is not set up for long-term storage of grains, and the grains are milled as needed, which ensures the freshness of the flour.
The grains undergo two or three cleanings and then they are stored as clean grains. When an order comes in, the grain is slowly stoneground into flour at cool temperatures. The grain mill is not heated, and there is no air-conditioning. We visited on a mild October day and I can only imagine how it must be for Mark and his assistant to be operating the mill on a sweltering summer day or in deep winter. Stone-milled grains still contain all the components of the grain, whereas commercial flours have the germ removed to make the flour shelf-stable. This has direct impact on the nutrients: stoneground wheat flour contains three times as much vitamin B than mass-produced whole wheat flour.
Bloody Butcher Corn
Some of the flours are given a special treatment in the mill’s bolting room. “Bolting” is another word for sifting. Still, even after bolting, all of the germ and nutrients remain in the flour. Because the flours contain no preservatives, they need to be refrigerated (I freeze mine). The visually most striking product from the mill are Bloody Butcher Grits, an heirloom variety made from Bloody Butcher Corn. This is a dent-type corn has been grown in the United States since at least the mid-19th century. Castle Valley Mill views as its mission the preservation of heritage grains, in addition to offering excellent products, keeping history alive, and supporting local farms.
Castle Valley Mill delivers about 7,000 pounds of grains and flours per week to its distributor, directly supplies restaurants and bakeries, and sells its products online.The 3,000 pound French Buhr stone is where the magic happens and the grains are ground into flour. Buhr stone is a freshwater quartz imported from Alsace in France, where most of the raw quartz was quarried. Buhr is highly sought after because of its ability to maintain a sharp edge.
The millstones don’t remain sharp forever, they need to be dressed, i.e. sharpened, every six months, which is a laborious job that takes a full day. I learned from Fran that this is where the expression “keep your nose to the grindstone” comes from. It requires a special tool, a cross between a hammer and hatchet, used to painstakingly re-cut grooves into the face of the bottom grindstone. It’s like a jeweler’s job with a hammer and you must pay attention to every swing of the tool. Fran says the “pay attention to the grindstone cutting” became “keep your nose to the grindstone.”
Dressing the millstone is not without risks. The freshwater quartz itself is so hard that it chips off small, skin-piercing fragments from the steel tool. The first time Mark dressed the surface, he couldn’t understand why he ended up with speckles of blood on his hands and arms. It dawned on him that it was microscopic shrapnel from the metal of the hammer. Now he also wears long gloves when dressing the millstone.
Curran Fischer (Photo courtesy of Castle Valley Mill)
Their son Curran has restored some of the milling machines by himself, and with his father he completed the Miller Training Sessions and Certification Program of the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills.
The appreciation for what Fran and Mark have created at Castle Valley Mill..
German food, I wrote in the introduction to my German cookbook 15 years ago and keep repeating, is the Cinderella of world cuisines – overshadowed by her pretty sisters, looked down upon and underrated. But come along Christmas season, it’s payback time. Even people who usually turn up their nose at German food are charmed by German Christmas traditions. “German” Christmas markets spring up everywhere in the United States, and I have not seen anyone who does not delight in a plate of Christmas stollen, lebkuchen and other German Christmas goodies.
For The Year of German-American Friendship, I want to introduce you to Ryan Berley of Shane Confectionery, and Sandy Lee of Leckerlee, two American entrepreneurs who are following in the footsteps of German gingerbread tradition, each in their own, special way. What comes out of their ovens in New York City and Philadelphia is unlike the other, but each equally top-notch and delicious.
Gingerbread dipped in American history
When Smithsonian Magazine features a store, like it did with Shane Confectionery, you know it’s an American landmark. Ryan Berley and his brother, Eric, bought Shane’s, the oldest continuously operated candy shop in America, in 2010 and lovingly restored it. Here, in the heart of Philadelphia’s Old City, they produce artisan and historic candy using fresh and locally sourced ingredients, pieces of art that are almost too beautiful to eat. And, Shane Confectionery makes a distinctive gingerbread that is literally a fascinating bite of American history: Christopher Ludwick’s gingerbread.Shane Confectionery is located a few steps away from the former Letitia Court, which was named after William Penn’s daughter who lived there upon her arrival from England. Christopher Ludwick (1720-1801) a German immigrant from the town of Giessen who became the first gingerbread baker in Philadelphia, had his bakeshop here, neighboring Benjamin Jackson’s shop, the first chocolate mill in Pennsylvania.
Ludwick was more than a baker with a thriving business. He was also an advocate for new German immigrants and a co-founder of The German Society of Pennsylvania. And he played an important role in the Revolutionary War. While he was too told to actively participate in the fighting, he provided the soldiers with much-needed bread, and George Washington named him Superintendent of Bakers for the Continental Army. There is a charming children’s book about Ludwick entitled Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2017 when the new American Revolutionary Museum was about to open in Philadelphia. The museum, whose collection includes Christopher Ludwick’s original cookie mold, made a replica of the mold for Shane Confectionery so that they could produce traditional gingerbread for the museum’s grand opening. It sold well, and so Shane Confectionary began offering the gingerbread during the Christmas season.As a collector of historic molds and gingerbread boards, Ryan Berley fully appreciates the beauty of the hardwood mold. It is two-sided, which was common in Christopher Ludwick’s time, showing a woman on one side and a tulip on the other.
“Ludwick’s gingerbread is a combination of American history, food history, aesthetics and taste,” says Ryan. And since a relative of his, Nicholas Berley, a Pennsylvania German who also fought in Washington’s army, and might very well have been sustained by the bread coming from Christopher Ludwick’s bake shop, there is a personal connection for him too.
During Christmas season, Ryan gives talks about Christopher Ludwick and historic gingerbread molds from his own collection (find the schedule here).
Following another German tradition, Shane Confectionery also offers marzipan and clear candy pigs for New Year’s.
As lebkuchen as it gets
After I tasted one of the lebkuchen made by Sandy Lee’s New York-based Leckerlee, I wondered if they would have tasted as good if she had been been awarded an internship at a German lebkuchen manufacturer. Sandy told me that after lebkuchen had become her passion, she inquired about an internship at several companies in Germany but none replied.
So Sandy figured it out on her own. Her lebkuchen are top both in terms of authenticity and taste. With a flour content of only 7%, they qualify as the finest German lebkuchen called Elisenlebkuchen that must not contain more than 10% flour and at least 25% nuts and almonds.Another key ingredient of lebkuchen is candied citron and orange peel, which Sandy imports from Germany because US products are heavily coated with high fructose corn syrup and contain other additives. Leckerlee lebkuchen have a bottom of edible paper called Oblaten, which Sandy also imports from Germany.
Finding lebkuchen of such superior quality in America is all the more remarkable because most lebkuchen made in Germany are mass-produced and often contain ground apricot kernels instead of nuts and almonds. Plus, they hit the stores as early as August and contain stabilizers to keep them fresh.
Sandy’s lebkuchen infatuation started when she first encountered lebkuchen at a Christmas market in Berlin, where she spent 2.5 years on a break from her then job in finance to learn German.
“I had no background in food, I was not even a baker. But I wanted to learn how to bake authentic German lebkuchen so I studied old trade manuals,” Sandy told me. Reading the old Fraktur typeface is not that easy, even for untrained native German speakers so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for someone learning German, and how badly Sandy wanted to get a handle on finding the perfect lebkuchen recipe.
After she returned to the US, Sandy realized she had acquired so much knowledge that she wanted to do something with it. In 2011 she started Leckerlee, making up the name from the German word for a treat, Leckerli, and her last name.
Leckerlee produces lebkuchen with two types of coating, sugar and chocolate. Traditional lebkuchen are large, about 4 inches in diameter. Usually in the American market food portions are bigger in America than they are in Germany. But, in the case of Sandy’s lebkuchen, it was the other way round – many customers found them too big. Reading the market signals, Sandy introduced mini lebkuchen in 2013. They are about 45% the size of a traditional lebkuchen, and they have become Leckerlee’s most popular item.
Another feature that makes Leckerlee’s lebkuchen totally authentic German are the exquisite tins which you will hold on to long after the lebkuchen have been eaten. Leckerlee releases new tin designs every year, inspired by German vintage lebkuchen tins, and they have become collectors’ items.Until last year Leckerlee was only seasonal, operating from November through January. This year Sandy is transitioning into a full-time business. Her lebkuchen are available at brick and mortar stores across the United States, they can be ordered by mail, and Leckerlee also has a booth at the Union Square Holiday Market in New York City.
I asked Sandy, from her vantage point as an American finance professional turned German lebkuchen baker, what she views as the main difference between Germany and the United States. Sandy said, “In Germany there is a formal structure to learn something. In the United States there are fewer boundaries. Here, if you dedicate your mind to something, you can make it a business even if you don’t have the formal training”.
For all the lebkuchen fans here in America, hooray for Leckerlee.
Photo of Ryan and Eric Berley, Christopher Ludwick gingerbread with mold courtesy of Shane Confectionery.
There are numerous claims about who invented the first hamburger and when, and whether its origins are in the German city of Hamburg, or in America. What is certain though is that ever since Germany’s first restaurant with the golden arches was opened in Munich in 1971, food on the go has mostly crossed the Atlantic Ocean in one direction, eastwards. Today numerous American fast food chains populate the German fast food landscape.
For The Year of German-American Friendship that started last month, I took a closer look at the two most popular German foods on the go that have traveled the other way, from Germany to America, namely Currywurst and Döner.I’ve talked to the owners of two establishments who are both originally from Germany, The Flying Deutschman food truck on the East Coast, and BERLINS on the West Coast. That I do not refer to them as fast food restaurants is intentional – they both put great emphasis on quality, and the fact that everything they serve their hungry customers for a quick meal is prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients.
The Flying Deutschman food truck
When Stirling Sowerby’s wife suggested he should open a restaurant, it wasn’t a new idea for him, on the contrary. He had been in the restaurant business during his entire career, as a chef and owner, first in Germany, and during the past 25 years in the United States. Five years ago. when his sister-in-law suggested the name The Flying Deutschman, the idea for a German food truck was born.The food he dishes out from is colorfully painted food truck is what he grew up with in his native Germany and has been cooking for 30 years; many of the recipes are his grandmothers’. Stirling is a native of Bad Münder am Deister near Hannover and has a German mother and a British father. His mobile German restaurant, which tours the greater Philadelphia area, serves the same food as Stirling cooked in restaurants for decades. The menu includes Jaeger Schnitzel with mushroom sauce, Zigeuner Schnitzel with bell peppers (for more about this “politically incorrect” schnitzel, see my previous blog post), Schnitzel Holstein, a breaded schnitzel topped with a sunny side up egg, and Schnitzel Hawaii, a take on the popular 1970s dish, Toast Hawaii.
The Flying Deutschman also serves Currywurst – undoubtedly the German fast food. “Americans are used to sausages in a bun,” Stirling says. “Currywurst is different, it comes sliced and topped with abundant sauce. And I am not budging on that, I want my German food to be authentic.”The mobile German restaurant is present at festivals, and can be booked for sit-down German dinners, corporate lunches and outings. There is also a mobile stage mounted on top of the truck that has room for a 4-person band.
Word has gotten around that there is authentic German food on wheels in the Philadelphia area. “We are the only authentic German food truck. A lot of the food that is called German in America is a travesty,” Sterling says. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Many foods labeled as German – and I am not talking Pennsylvania Dutch, which has its own distinct cuisine – are not remotely like the original.For Stirling, his food truck is more than a business, and his dedication is reflected in the Flying Dutchman tattoo on his calf. “I created The Flying Deutschman to share the amazing recipes that helped shape my life.” And he shares those freely. For those outside the Philadelphia area, or who want to recreate his dishes at home, Stirling has short videos online showing how his signature sauces such as Jäger Sauce and Curry Sauce are made.
I also spotted a video for a Schwenkgrill among his collection. This swing-type barbecue grill from the German region of Saarland is a trend that has not yet caught on in the country of Weber grills but who knows, it might come to America next.
The Flying Deutschman is definitely a place to keep on the radar. And, of course, have an authentic German bite when it’s nearby.
More than 2,800 miles away, at the other end of the United States, in Los Angeles, there is BERLINS – High Quality German Döner. I first heard about it through a German radio interview in the series “Living My Dream – Deutsche in Kalifornien”.
Simon Classen, an engineer from Wesel in the Ruhr region who moved with his family to California for a tech job, started BERLINS with his brother, Matthias. Wanting to have a second leg to stand on besides his career in corporate America, he looked around in Los Angeles wondering what was missing from the food landscape. And he found that there was a market niche for high-quality German döner.Bear in mind that German döner is different from Turkish döner, just like deep-dish pizza in the US is different from Italian pizza. German Döner, which was introduced in 1972 in what was back then West Berlin by Kadir Nurman, a Turkish migrant worker. German döner is served in a flatbread, not on a plate, and with a variety of sauces. With 2.2 million döner sold daily in Germany it is the most popular German fast food.
Simon recruited his brother, a retail manager, for his enterprise. So neither of them had a background in hospitality or food. The first thing Matthias did was learn all about döner he could, right in the heartland of the German döner, in Berlin. Then, in 2013, he came to America.
The roughly two years between Matthias’ arrival in the US in 2013 and the opening of their first döner restaurant in April 2015 were hard work: finding a location, getting the equipment from Germany, finding the recipes from Germany, the high-quality meat and bread, which turned out to be especially challenging. “We did a lot of the installations ourselves and often slept at the restaurant, so we could start again early in the morning. I was still working at my regular job, and we had three small children. It was a tough time.”The brothers knew they were on the right track when they attended a 2-day festival and people stood in line for up to 1 hour, and some came back the next day. Germans, Turks and Americans with no prior German Döner experience to compare the product made in LA, started streaming into the restaurant. By word of mouth, the German consulate heard of the new döner in town and asked BERLINS to do the catering for the Day of German Unity on October 3, which they catered for the fourth time this year.
“Our main asset is quality,” Simon emphasizes. That means good meat, good bread, and only fresh ingredients. The meat, high-quality steak, is stacked and layered by hand, which is time-consuming and usually done in batches. The meat is then marinated, shock-frozen and thawed as needed. Unlike other döner, BERLINS does not use any ground meat.“We start the machine one hour before opening, and it’s a long roasting process before the meat is cooked all the way through,” Simon says. And it needs to be attended at all times, so it will cook evenly and won’t burn. Döner is definitely not a fast food. Once the meet is ready, it takes experience and skills to slice, or better, shave it. New staff gets started at the cash register, then moves up to assembly and plating, and if they do well, they might reach the holy grail of slicing the meat for the döner sandwiches, döner salads döner wraps and other döner variations on the menu.
To hear from Simon that finding good bread was not surprising to me. The search for bread that lives up to German standard is a lifelong quest for anyone who moves from America to Germany. Simon and his brother found the bread from Armenian bakers the best. And since the Armenian community is LA is one of the largest in the world after Armenia, the bread supply should be secured as BERLINS grows.
There are currently three locations – Beverly Hills, Venice, and Encino – and the fourth location is scheduled to open later this year in Koreatown.
Friends and families from Germany have often remarked that rural northeast Pennsylvania where I live looks just like Germany, and they jokingly ask me, “Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you’ve never left?”
The answer is yes, … and no. In my more than 20 years in America, I have experienced America as a country that is very different from my native Germany in many aspects but I have also found a lot of common ground between the two countries.
Showcasing and exploring how closely Germany and the United States are linked together through deep historical ties and shared values is what The Year of German-American Friendship (“Deutschlandjahr USA”) is all about. And I am excited that Spoonfuls of Germany was chosen as one of 200 partners participating in this major initiative.
During Deutschlandjahr USA with its motto “Wunderbar Together,” my blog will focus on German food culture in the United States, tracing its German origins, how it evolved, and profiling the people behind the food. Because I live in an area with a strong historic German roots and influence, there is already a lot to discover for me close to home, such as Seckel pears.I fell in love with those adorable pears the first time I spottedthem at a local farm stand. With a length of only 3 inches (7.5 cm) Seckel pears are the smallest of all the commercially produced pears. Because of their sweet flavor, they are also called Sugar Pears or Candy Pears. When picked, Seckel pears are green, and as they ripen, they get a yellow tint with a reddish blush. Seckel pears are only available for a few weeks in the early fall so you need to snap them up when you can.
Seckel pears are generally considered the only true American pear variety. However, where they originated and for whom they were named is not clear. The most frequently quoted and, in my view, most plausible account seems to be that they were discovered in Philadelphia in the late eighteenth century by Lawrence Seckel, the descendant of a German immigrant.
Lawrence was the son of Georg (Jurg) David Seckel, who was born around 1712 in Schwäbisch Hall and worked as a butcher in Philadelphia. Lawrence became a wine merchant, and a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives during the 1794-1795 session. In 1777 he acquired 15 rural acres for his country home in then rural South Philadelphia known as “The Neck”. It was on that property that Lawrence Seckel is said to have discovered the tree. The Library of Congress has a photo from 1885 of the “original Seckel pear tree.”The following story of the tree’s discovery, as it was told in the November 1891 issue of The Youth’s Companion, a popular American children’s magazine, might have some fiction mixed into it. Nonetheless it is a charming account:
“Five miles from Philadelphia, at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, there is a fine old place, once known as the Lawrence Seckel estate (….) Not many years ago there was still standing in a corner of the grounds an old pear tree¾a very patriarch among the trees, and the most celebrated of them all. For more than a half-century the fruit of this tree was not tasted.
No one thought of eating the insignificant pears, not much larger than marbles, and the tree was contemned as worthless, while its fruit rotted on the ground or was eaten by cows or goats. (…) How it came there and who planted it, no one knew (…) The pear tree being in a sense an ancient landmark, was allowed to stand although the owner had it in mind to cut it down some time.
One afternoon in early fall, Mr. Seckel was returning from a long walk and changed to past beneath the worthless tree. He stood for a minute resting in its shade. Suddenly a pear dropped, struck him upon the head, from which he had removed his hat, and rolled into his open palm. Half-automatically he fumbled the fruit between his fingers, and was in the act of throwing it away, when it occurred to him to bite it.
“Ah, the flavor of that pear!” Mr. Seckel used to say, in telling the incident. “I had thought myself a connoisseur in pears, but I had never tasted the equal of that aforetime despised little fruit.”
Thus was the Seckel pear discovered. That year the pears were not left to rot on the ground or to feed cows and goats. They become the favorite on Mr. Seckel’s table. Scions from the tree were soon in demand, and the Seckel pear has now become a favorite.”
So the Seckel pear story goes.
From then on, the Seckel pear acquired quite a following. Thomas Jefferson planted a Seckel pear tree at Monticello in 1807, and he said that this variety “exceeded anything I have tasted since I left France, and equals any pear I had seen there.”By happy coincidence Todd Smith, the owner of my favorite local orchard where I buy Seckel pears, is the grandson of a man who immigrated from Neuffen in the Swabian Jura (Schwäbische Alb), about 80 miles from the city where the father of Lawrence Seckel came from.
Todd’s maternal grandfather Emil Kraiser immigrated to America in the 1920s, at a time of dire economic straights and political turmoil in Germany. Of Emil’s eight siblings, four immigrated to America. He soon settled in Horsham in Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia.
Aside from a few curse words, Todd did not learn much German from his mother, but he did grow up with homemade spaetzle, German potato salad with vinegar, oil and parsley, and filled noodles onMaundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter.More than 90 years after Todd’s grandfather left for America, the families on both side of the Atlantic Ocean are still in touch. Todd has visited Neuffen three times with his family, the first time in 1980. His family from Germany has also visited them in the Pennsylvania.
In 1987 Todd bought an orchard in Kempton, Pennsylvania, a property that once included a stone mill. Now 30 years later, the family-owned operation grows apricots, several varieties of peaches, plums, pears, blueberries, and close to 30 different apple varieties.
Todd says he planted the six Seckel pear trees at County Line Orchard more or less by chance 15 years ago when there was space at the end of a row.
Seckel pears are small enough to fit half a dozen in your cupped hands yet for me they are big in taste and impact. Under their beautiful skin they not only pack delicious flavor; they also carry DNA strands of German immigration history in America.