|The things my grandmother used to make kartoffelklösse|
I started writing recipes so that they would not be lost forever. In the beginning it was all about my Mom and her recipes. Then it was grandmother's, grandfather's, aunts, uncles, bothers, sisters, family and friends. When does it end? So when researching old recipes, many stories about the "good old days" were told. This lead to more research, experimenting and tweaking recipes, editing and printing the recipes, taking photographs with my digital camera and formatting those pictures to suit my purposes.
At this time the digital camera revolution was taking hold. No more buying expensive film only to pay for processing when I was done. Desktop publishing was now affordable. Digital cameras with a whopping 2 mega pixels, built in flash, and auto focus were hitting the market. This was great in the beginning and then I realized that if I ever wanted to print the pictures I would need a much higher resolution camera. So I got a better camera. Then I realized that I would have to re-shoot the photographs taken with the previous low resolution camera.
As each new camera came out I had to make a decision to buy it, or accept the current photograph quality. Not a chance! So now I'm at a whopping 10 megapixels. When will it end? I kept making more and more recipes which were not always accurate, and some didn't really taste very good.
One of my first jobs in life was that of a short order cook for a snack shop at a major retailer’s store. From there I became a breakfast cook. Over the years I learned to cook breakfast and lunch like a pro.
|Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans|
|Mixing mashed potatoes with dry potato pulp for Kartoffelklösse|
Once you have these tools together you're going to need some meat to serve with them. Generally you have only four choices; pork roast (best choice), sauerbraten, rouladen or turkey to make gravy for the kartoffelklösse. No canned or jar gravies allowed here. There is no recipe here just 2/3 grated and 1/3rd mashed. 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).
I can assume that you don't have any heavy-duty sugar or flour sacks lying around the house, so you will need to find someone who can sew, go to a fabric store and buy some canvas. You make the bag out of the canvas that is about 1 foot wide by 1-1/2 feet deep. Our friend Lin made us the sack pictured above. The seams must be triple stitched to withstand the pressure when squeezing the liquid out of the grated potatoes, leaving you with the dry potato pulp. In Germany you can buy a ready-made Kloßsack or find a machine called a "Thüringer Kloßpresse."
Before I go on with this story you will need some history. My grandfather and grandmother emigrated from Germany in the 1920's. They lived in a two bedroom, one bath apartment with a very tiny kitchen that was about 12'x5'. The wooden porch adjacent to the back kitchen door made a great cooler in the winter months. These cold winter months were considered kartoffelklösse time. Her sink and counter top literally had no workspace. The kitchen table, a two top, was incredibly small but made a nice prep area. My grandma had an ingenious method of dealing with the massive pileup of dishes, glassware, pots and pans. The dirty ones were secreted behind the bathtub shower curtain to be dealt with later.
For the men there was one job that only they could do. That job was to squeeze all of the water out of the grated potatoes in the sack. When finished the potatoes formed a dry pulp ball. It had to be so dry that your hands felt like they had flour on them. Sill interested? Stay tuned.
Before I go on, a little history. When my grandparents grew up in Germany, Sunday meals were very important. Grandma told me that if there was meat in the house, the men ate it first. The women were very creative with potatoes. Sunday was the day to make kartoffelklösse.
I later learned that my grandfather and grandmother would peel 20-24 pounds of potatoes the night before and keep them in cold water on the back porch until the next day. As I said before, the men in my family, as it was in my grandparent’s family, had one job that only they could do. That job was to squeeze all of the water out of the grated potatoes in the cloth sugar sack.
My cousins lived nearby and would often be there to help squeeze the potatoes dry. 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 over them? The potatoes had to be squeezed so hard, that very often your finger tip would poke through the cloth. Grandma would have to sew the rip in the sack, to save the dry pulp from falling back into the bowl of potato water. When every drop was squeezed out, the potatoes formed a dry pulp ball. It had to be so dry that your hands felt like they had flour on them.
Normally grandma would make enough kartoffelklösse so that we could each have two, or three during dinner. This would generally leave about a half dozen to take home to slice and fry in butter for breakfast. I just had to learn the art of making these dumplings before it was too late...
I'm not going to lie to you, making kartoffelklösse (dumplings) and all the trimmings is no simple task and often an all-day affair, if you're working alone. Making kartoffelklösse can be and should be a family event. Working together with a clear written plan can make it a fun family gathering to enjoy a really great meal. There are many things that can be done in advance to move the process along.
Croutons! Slightly stale bread, bathed in butter and baked to golden perfection should be done at least the day before. There are two major drawbacks to making croutons in advance. One is that you might be tempted to sample them after baking them. It's a lot like Christmas cookies, if you don't keep them under lock and key until ready to use, they will be gone when you need them.
As children we would search for them as soon as we got to grandma's house. She knew that and made plenty of them. Three croutons go into the center of each and every kartoffelklösse. You'll also want enough croutons left to sprinkle on the flattened dumplings before adding the gravy. Make plenty because they're great on salads too. Again there is no right or wrong recipe here. You want them to be golden in color with a buttery crunch.
Everyone had a job
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."
She often had 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.
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 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 losing 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.
The Golden Kartoffelklösse Award
To us kids Kartoffelklösse was, without a doubt, our all-time favorite. The meat and vegetables served with them was at best a secondary target. In our minds the primary purpose for cooking meat was to make 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 real happy campers. The fact is that they had missed their own allotment of kartoffelklösse. In retrospect and considering the situation, I think their rage was very 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, not because we didn't want it to, because the parents kept an eye on us from that day forward.
Making Kartoffelklösse - The Process
I said it 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 and enforced.
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 kartoffelklösse are gently lowered into the water where they immediately sink to the bottom.
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.
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 me. All of us 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, gray, or green-gray. They just don't look as good when they are gray.
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 finally getting married, the new additions to the family just 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 for them 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 visual impact.
So off we went, clear across a couple of towns, to my sisters, 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. She 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 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 before. I began saving my pocket 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. I finally found it.
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, a dumpling, for the 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 and rouladen or sauerbraten and 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:
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 HI-FI 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.
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 ready 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…
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 Streusel kuchen 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 complement 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 Kartoffelklösse for the next morning’s breakfast. There is just nothing like it.
The fact is that making traditional Kartoffelklösse by hand is "hard work." When I found out that there was a Kartoffelklösse museum (YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFZ4LSk8ZHc in Germany, 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.
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. I would often get their in time to watch, or help during the grating and squeezing portion of the project. I decided that since my cousin was their most often, what did they talk about?
My cousin told me that my Grandmother started making klösse when she was 12 years old. By the time she was 75, and the fact that she made klösse every Sunday since she was 12, she had to have made them at least 3,000 times, by hand! Why did she do that you might be wondering? Because her family loved them.
Even with that kind of experience making klösse, often she would come to the dining room from the kitchen with a platter of dark gray, leaden "cannonballs." She would apologize 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.
© TMelle 1998-2011