Saturday, February 26, 2011

How many times did Grandma make Kartoffelklösse?

My Aunt and cousins lived in the same town as my grandmother, so helping her when she made the klösse (klay-za) often fell on their shoulders. When our family arrived, hours later after Grandma started making the dinner, all that would be left to do was grate the potatoes, squeezed every drop of water out of them, break apart the dry potato pulp and mix this pulp with the boiling hot mashed potatoes.  On the bottom of the bowl, the excess starch from the grated potatoes would settle. This starch was a critical ingredient in the klösse making process. Not enough,  and they would fall apart, leaving you with potato soup. To much and you would have very heavy cannon balls for dinner. Now all that was left to do was roll the potato mixture into balls with three croutons in the center of each one. Making the klösse had to be done very quickly or the klösse would turn dark gray. 

Making Kartoffelklösse Balls
I decided to ask my cousin, who was there most often while Grandma made klösse talked about. 

One day my cousin said that he had a conversation with my Grandmother while making klösse when she was 12 years old. By the time she was 75, she made klösse every Sunday since she was 12. My cousin  said that she had to have made them at least 3,000 times, by hand! In case you're wondering why anyone would do that, I am sure that there are many reasons. Since potatoes were readily available, because we really loved them, and it was tradition. 
Even with that kind of experience making klösse, Grandma had, often she would enter the dining room from the kitchen with a platter of dark gray, leaden "cannonballs."  She would apologise for the dark color saying that the potatoes we old, or that there was to much, or to little starch in them. As you know, figuring out how much starch is in the potatoes was an art/science of  critical concern, because if you didn't figure correctly, you had a disaster on your hands.
To us the color of the klösse didn't matter because they always tasted great.  

Friday, February 25, 2011


The fact is that making traditional Kartoffelklösse by hand is "hard work." When I found out that there was a Kartoffelklösse museum in Germany (YouTube, I soon realized that I wasn't alone, or was I? While watching the video I saw "the machine," you know, the one, the "Thüringer Kloßpresse," that squeezes all of the water from the grated potato pulp.  I just had to tell my sister's, brother, children, aunt, cousin... everybody. What was I expecting? 
My sister was the first to respond with "it’s prehistoric... you still need muscles to turn that crank….and then clean all that potato residue out of the cotton cloth. Some things are better left in museums." People today really prefer to have lighter fare, they don’t do hard manual labor like the old Germans did. I don’t see Grandma’s children's, children's, children (great grand kids) making them." 
Actually, a couple of years ago, I invited one of my sisters over to watch my two daughters make Kartoffelklösse. Everybody had a job to do. My wife made the pork roast and gravy, my sister opened the wine as she managed the job. My daughters made the Kartoffelklösse, and I took pictures and video. Even with the professional juicer doing what use to be manual labor, it is still a big project ,and creates a lot of dirty dishes. So how do I pass on these traditions? By making more Kartoffelklösse! That's how.

If you've ever watched "Fiddler on the Roof" there is a song about "Tradition."  The lyrics go like this:

"Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition."

"And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!" Fiddler on the Roof. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kartoffelklösse for breakfast

Fried Kartoffelklösse
In my family the great debate still exists about which is better, Kartoffelklösse for dinner, or left-over Kartoffelklösse slices nestled up against dome eggs, bacon, or sausage for breakfast. Almost always my Grandma would holdout some of the Kartoffelklösse to send home with each family for breakfast. As soon as we got home we put the Kartoffelklösse into the refrigerator for the next morning. 
By the morning the Kartoffelklösse were a very dark shade of gray, if not black. As I said before, the color doesn't matter. They always taste good. To make the Kartoffelklösse in the morning, you simply cut them into 1/4 inch slices. The slices are then added to a hot pan of melted butter and then fried on each side until golden brown. The dark gray color seems to go away and you can see the croutons in the center. Something magical happens when being fried in butter. The slices start tuning back to a very light gray (white). After having Kartoffelklösse for breakfast the first time, hash browns will never compete ahain. What are you waiting for? Make some Kartoffelklösse!     

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is anybody still hungry?


I sure hope so, because about 1-1/2 hours after having a Kartoffelklösse dinner, Grandma, my Mom and my Aunt started bringing out coffee, dessert and a snack! No kidding?  Once the coffee was made, she brought out some sliced rye bread, water rolls, unsalted butter (salts not good for you), a meat deli tray with most selections ending in "wurst". To balance our diet she had another platter of sliced cheese, Limburger cheese, Herring in sour cream with pickles and onions, and Cannibal Burger (Steak Tartare).
For dessert Grandma almost always had her famous Streuselkuchen coffee cake, oatmeal and chocolate cookies, and my Aunts famous Mile-High Lemon Feather Sponge Cake, with Lemon Cream Frosting. The fact that it was light as a feather made it the perfect compliment to Kartoffelklösse dinner. My wife and I have tried to make this cake several times in the past and we are always told that it tastes just like my Aunts, but wasn't as high. Does size really matter? Apparently with the cake it does. I often wonder if it was really ever that tall, or as children it was the tallest cake we had ever seen? 
By the time our snack was done, Grandma had already wrapped up our allotment of Kartoffelklössefor the next mornings breakfast. There is just nothing like it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

After a dinner like that, now what?

What would you bid?
After pushing yourself away from the table after consuming your allotment of Kartoffelklösse (Kartoffelklöße in German), general you didn’t move very quickly. After dinner, my Grandma, my Mother and my Aunt cleared the dining table, while the men moved to the living room to unbuckle their belts and talk about whatever it was that adults talked about back then. My Grandfather would turn on the radio, “a beautiful wood cabinet floor model Grundig,” tune into the short or long wave bands and listen to some German music. The HIFI sound emitted from the Grundig was incredible

My Grandmother, my Mother and my Aunt cleared the table, bringing all of the dirty dishes to the kitchen. Grandma didn’t have a dishwasher and I don’t even think they were invented yet. Grandma had a tablecloth that was white vinyl on one side, used for dining, and green felt on the reverse side. As soon as the green felt side was up, the men returned to the table. They would take out a deck of Pinochle cards and begin to play. They were very vocal when playing cards. To the best of my recollection they didn’t ever swear. Pinochle is a bidding game where you bid based on the value of the cards dealt to you, calling a trump suit, and the possible number of points (tricks) that you could take playing the hand out. Card counting is a major part of the game. The 10 card was lower than an Ace, but higher than a King, Queen, or Jack. One the aces were out, the 10 became the highest card in the deck. If someone played a 10 or a King, thinking there were no higher cards left, they had not kept track. If a person took the bid, they called trump and had to play against two other players.   

The children, weather permitting, either went across the street to the park, or made forts in one of the bedrooms, taping bed sheets to the painted walls, all with the approval of our grandmother. While we were playing there was frequently an outburst in the dining room where one of the fathers would slam down a card that was higher than the one that was played. This was called a “smear”. If someone clearly underbid they would be called a “Piker.” Meanwhile the ladies were in the kitchen making, are you read for this? A snack! Once the card game ended the men would leave the table while the women set it again. Stick with me there is more to follow…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pork Roast, Sauerbraten, Rouladen, Turkey and lots of Gravy!

I don’t want to mislead you, we didn't eat Kartoffelklösse, or as we called them “Kartuff’s,” all the time. In the colder winter months Kartuff’s was something to look forward to. In the summer we simply substituted Spätzle for Grandma's  regular  Kartoffelklösse. When my grandmother made Kartuff’s, it was generally once a month. On rare occasions, Grandma would give us more than one meat choice. Pork Roast & Rouladen, or Sauerbraten & Pork Roast. If you’re going to make Kartoffelklösse, you just must serve it with the right meat. Preparing this meal, even with this machine is an all-day event. If I were to rank the gravy best suited for Kartuff’s, it would just have to be Pork Roast, Rouladen, Sauerbratten, and Turkey.

Call me prejudice, but in my opinion, my mother made the best Pork Roast, Sauerbraten, Rouladen (thin round steak filled with a slice of bacon, chopped onions and yellow mustard), or Turkey around. She also had the ability to turn a less expensive cut of meat into a fork tender masterpiece. Her real talent was her ability to get a lot of gravy from whatever meat she was making at the time. When serving Kartoffelklösse you just had to have plenty of gravy for the meat and Kartuff’s as well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Machine

The Things We Use Now
After my grandmother passed away, my wife and I were the only ones that still made traditional Kartoffelklösse, using her grater, her sugar sack, her potato masher, her canning pot, etc. Tradition!
Before I continue a little more history, I can’t think of one person in our family that didn’t like Kartoffelklösse. As we children got older and began the cycle of dating and getting married, the new additions to the family could not understand what all the fuss was about. We just couldn’t understand anyone who didn’t like Kartoffelklösse.
My mother never made Kartoffelklösse because she never had the right tools. She did however make the best pork roast, Rouladen, Sauerbraten, and the best gravy and plenty of it.  So it was collaboration with mom and my wife in charge of the meat and gravy.
It was only a matter of time before someone would mess with tradition. As I said before, there has always been a rumor that somewhere in Germany there is a machine that allegedly makes Kartoffelklösse. My sister, who is notorious for messing with tradition, stated that she had found the machine. She told me that when she made Kartoffelklösse with this machine, they were not only great tasting, but also pure white every time. “Blasphemy,” I told her.
My father played this rivalry out for all it was worth. As I said before, the color of the Kartoffelklösse has no effect on the taste. It is said that we eat with our eyes first, so the color can have a negative impact on someone new to Kartoffelklösse. When eating at my house he would say that he loved them. There was always a “but.” My dad went on to say that my “Kartoffelklösse” were not as white as my sisters. 
So off we went, clear across a couple of towns to debunk the "pure white Kartoffelklösse" myth. When I arrived, I approached the machine just in time to watch my sister grate and extract the water from the potatoes. My sister explained that she had made some adjustments to the traditional recipe and added lemon juice to help keep the potatoes white (certainly not in grandma's traditional recipe). She also used a microwave to heat up the mashed potatoes when ready to mix with the dry potatoes. 
The machine, a Waring Professional Juicer, not only grated the potatoes with a stainless steel circular grating blade to the desired consistency, the stainless steel basket containing the grated potato pulp, was spinning like a centrifuge. This process would extract every drop of moisture from the potatoes, leaving only the desired very dry white pulp behind. While the basket was spinning, a bowl placed beneath the spout collects the liquid from the potatoes. At the bottom of that liquid you find the raw potato starch. 
My sister said that she perfected the art of freezing Kartoffelklösse, so you can have them anytime that you want. Imagine that, Kartoffelklösse out of the freezer. 
It was a miracle. But how did they taste? Just like mine and Grandma’s, with a lot less work.  The juicer, a Waring Professional, was about $199.00, and not in my budget at that time. For the next two years my wife and I made them the traditional way, by hand. My father and mother kept this rivalry alive because they got to eat Kartoffelklösse twice as often as they use to. I began saving my change until I could afford the juicer. So there you have it. Kartoffelklösse, no longer an all-day prep event, but you still have plenty of dishes to wash. You've just got to get a Waring Professional Juicer and begin making the greatest potatoes on earth.
A couple of months ago I found the German machine and it's called the "Thüringer Kloßpresse." It looks like a small version of a wine press. It's made of stainless steel and has a screw attached to a "T" handle. It comes with a cloth sack. I searched the internet to find one available in the US without any luck. If anyone knows where I can find one in the US leave me an email. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's that smell?

Kartoffelklösse, croutons and gravy
As I said before, my grandmother lived in an apartment building. The lower street level was shops and the second and third floors were apartments.  After my grandfather died and my grandmother was living alone, the building’s demographics began to change. As tenants moved or passed away, a younger tenant base moved in. During the winter months, “Kartoffelklösse season,” as soon as you opened the front door to the building, the unbelievable smell of Kartoffelklösse and whatever meat grandma was cooking hit you like a blast of good old fashioned home cooking. Often some of the tenants of the building would ask what grandma was cooking. It had the intoxicating effect of a snake charmers flute. 
When my grandmother passed away in about 1982, there were five people in my family that knew how to make Kartoffelklösse. My aunt, two cousins, my sister and I had learned to make them from my grandmother. Tradition! I inherited her brass grater, an enamel coated canning pot, her hand held potato masher and the memories of some really great dinners. I should mention at this point that often when Kartoffelklösse was served, it would either come out of the kitchen a very dark greenish grey color (Grüne Klöße), or a lighter color, closer to white, but never really white. The color, my grandmother explained had something to do with how old the potatoes were and also how fast you processed them from raw potatoes into Kartoffelklösse. It’s called oxidation. You have to understand that Kartoffelklösse is great whether they are white, or gray. They just don't look as good when they are gray.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making Kartoffelklösse - The Process

As you can see from the pictures on the left, and as I said before, making Kartoffelklösse is no easy task. I could go out and buy a box mix, but that would never be the same. Tradition is not something that should be messed with.  Making Kartoffelklösse brings the family together for a great Sunday meal. To fully enjoy the meal, all cell phones should be turned off and talking, rather than texting should be encouraged. 

From left to right we will begin with a pork roast. In my opinion Kartoffelklösse is best served with pork gravy. Next, the grated potatoes are mixed with the mashed potatoes. With wet hands take a handful of the potato mixture and place  three croutons in the center. Roll the potato mixture around the croutons and roll into the shape of a  snowball. After bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, the heat is reduced to a simmer, and then the Kartoffelklösse are gently lowered into the water where they immediately sink to the bottom. This is when you learn if you made the Kartoffelklösse correctly. If you did it right, the Kartoffelklösse will rise to the top and swim freely. If not, you can break out the soup bowls for the worst potato soup that you ever tasted. After floating almost covered for about 20 minutes. You must watch them constantly so that the water in the pot doesn't return to a boil, they will turn into potato soup. As the one watching the dumplings cook, you also get the pleasure of making sure that they are done. You remove one dumpling from the water, cut it in half, pour some gravy over it and taste to make sure that the potato is cooked in the center and not raw. 
To serve the Kartoffelklösse you press down on them with a fork to expose the croutons. Place a couple of slices of pork roast next to them and smother both in rich pork gravy. If you care to, put some vegetables on your plate as a garnish.  
If you're lucky you might have some leftovers for breakfast. Sliced about a 1/4 inch think and pan fried in butter is a perfect companion to fried, scrambled, poached, or soft boiled eggs. 

The Golden Kartoffelklösse Award

The Golden Kartoffelklösse Award

To us kids Kartoffelklösse was, without a doubt, our all-time favorite. The meat and vegetables served with them were at best a secondary target. In our minds the primary purpose for cooking meat was to make a rich gravy for the Kartoffelklösse. We loved Kartoffelklösse so much that one year my cousins and I made a bet. The bet was actually a simple one. Who could eat the most Kartoffelklösse in a single sitting. Being young we did not totally understand the consequences of our wager as we sauntered up to the table, and without a second thought, eyes shifting left and right, prepared to do battle. Our parents had no idea what was about to take place.

As we took our seats grandma brought the first platter of Kartoffelklösse to the dinner table. We all bowed our heads as one of my cousins led us in a German prayer. "Komm, Herr Jesu, und sei unser Gast und segne was du uns bescheret hast. Amen". In English the translation would be "Come, Lord Jesus, and be our guest and bless what you have bestowed on us. Amen". With the dinner prayer being said, we were on our way to setting our own personal Kartoffelklösse eating records. The contest began.

About twenty-five minutes into the meal, my uncle, who still had no idea what was happening, asked grandma for some more Kartoffelklösse. She got up and went to the kitchen to get them. When she returned, an empty platter in hand, well let’s just say that the family father figures were not happy campers. The fact is that they had missed their own allotment of Kartoffelklösse. In retrospect, considering the situation, I think their rage was well controlled.

Before moving forward you need to know one more thing. Each crouton stuffed Kartoffelklösse had some considerable weight to them. Eating more than two of these can create an uncomfortable feeling in your belly. To the best of my recollection the children consumed more than our fair share. I don’t remember who actually won the bet, but the final score was kids about 20 parents 10. This contest was never to happen again, because the parents kept an eye on us from that day forward.

Everyone had a job

The Tools We Used
If Grandma (Muttie) was making Kartoffelklösse, almost everyone had a job. My Dad was in charge of bringing the wine. He always brought two bottles of a German white wine called "Weber Zeller Schwartz Katz". As children we didn't care about the wine, we did however fight for the little plastic black cat that came on the neck of every bottle. Grandma always had an ample supply of 7Up™ and Maraschino cherries  on hand so that we could make "Kiddie Cocktails".  She often has a bottle of raspberry syrup (Himbersaft) on hand to mix with water and ice to make a great beverage. My mother often brought the spinach and red cabbage, my aunt brought water rolls (not that we needed them) from the bakery and, sometimes, her famous mile-high feather sponge cake with lemon butter frosting. It was the tallest cake that we ever saw. My grandmother would make her chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, and streusel kuchen to be served with coffee after dinner. At Christmas time Dresden Stollen had to be served.

Grandma needed fresh russet potatoes. If she bought 24 pounds of potatoes, 8 pounds would be reserved for mashing, and 16 pounds for grating. I must remind you that this is no simple task.

The most dangerous job
How do you make Kartoffelklösse? Well first of all, you will need some supplies. You will need a potato grater with a fine grate (see the picture to the left). Grandma's potato grater was made from the brass of fired bullet casings from WWI. Apparently the abundant supply of spent brass shell cases in the fields were cleaned and melted down and formed into all sorts of things. The grater that Grandma had (mine now) actually never gets dull and is quick to tear off a strip of skin from your knuckle while you are grating the potatoes. Hey, a little skin, a little blood, it is part of the process. The 2/3rds of the potatoes had to be grated quickly, or they would begin to oxidize and turn from white to a grey green color (Grüne Klöße).

The grated potatoes are placed into a cloth sugar sack (Klöße Sack). The sugar sacks were very strong  and porous, which was why one could squeeze water out of the potatoes more easily. My  Grandmother sent her  daughter, my Aunt to a local bakery and ask them to save us some more sugar bags.  I can assume that you don't have any heavy-duty sugar sacks lying around the house, so you will need to go to a fabric store and buy some canvas. You make a bag out of the canvas that is about 12 inches wide by 18 inches deep. The seams must be triple stitched. You will also need a large pot, one of those blue porcelain-coated canning pots. Today, a large stainless steel (not aluminum) pot will do.
You must squeeze every drop of moisture from the potatoes, leaving just the potato pulp. My aunt and one of my cousins usually got there first and would handle this job. Sometimes I would arrive early enough to help. While squeezing the water from the potatoes we always tried to come up with an easier way to squeeze the potato pulp dry. Why not put them in the bag and drive a car or steam roller over them? When the potatoes were done you would have to break the pulp into little pieces so that they mixed well with the mashed potatoes. If you squeezed the potatoes right, your hands will feel like you have flour on them. 

The water from the squeezed out potatoes must be reserved. The starch from the grated potatoes sits in the bottom of the potato water. The next step is to carefully dump the potato water without loosing the starch on the bottom of the bowl. It's like panning for gold. When all of the water is removed from the bowl, all that remains is the paste like starch. This will be added to the mashed potatoes later.

Grandma always said that somewhere in Germany there was a machine that would squeeze the potatoes dry, but she never had one. I just had to find this machine. One day I called the German Consulate in Chicago. A very pleasant German woman answered the telephone. I asked her if she was, in fact from Germany. She told me that she was from Hamburg and asked how she could help me. Judging from her reaction, I guess nobody ever asked her if she knew of a machine that made Kartoffelklösse. She told me that they just buy the Kartoffelklösse in the store, or they buy a mix in a box. She told me the name of the boxed product. I told her I was looking for authentic Kartoffelklösse and not a boxed version. She had never heard of a Kartoffelklösse machine.

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