Eating the Way our Ancestors Ate

Jan Ernest Smoler and Jan Kilian were contemporaries, although not always friendly ones. As editor of a newspaper in Bautzen, Smoler published negative letters sent from the Serbin colony leading to years of tension between Smoler and Kilian. Thirteen years before the immigration to Texas, in 1841, Smoler and a colleague, Leopold Haupt, published a book of Wendish folksongs, customs, legends, proverbs and eating habits from Upper and Lower Lusatia. The book, which Kilian surely knew, was reprinted twice, most recently in 1992. The foods highlighted by the authors were certainly known to the Texas immigrants. Their reprinting here might provide interesting fare for some contemporary Wendish parties in Texas, and perhaps even some side dishes for the traditional menu at the annual Wendish Fest in Serbin.

The Wends have three meals a day. Breakfast has two parts. First, there is an early family gathering before going to work consisting of gruel or some type of soup, or even potatoes with the jackets on them. Then a slice of bread, perhaps with a piece of cheese, is taken along to be eaten later. For lunch, there are again potatoes and some cooked dried grains like grits, groats, millet, etc. In summer there is also lettuce and some cucumbers to accompany the meal. Only on Sundays or on special occasions, a piece of meat or a roast will be on the table. In the evening, the typical supper consists of an open-faced sandwich and fried potatoes. For special festivals or local fairs the offerings are better. Everywhere there is cooking, frying and baking and everyone has their fill of the generously prepared bounty. People eat even more grandly when there are special guests such as at a joyful family gathering. Baptismal or wedding celebrations consist of a variety of dishes, and beer and Schnapps are provided in abundance for the guests.

Although the Wends ordinarily eat simply and moderately, nevertheless besides the festival meals there is great variety in the daily meals and dishes. An attempt is made here to describe what might typically be offered. Gruel has already been mentioned. Often it will be prepared by whisking grain into boiling milk until thickened. The favorite dishes include Faustmauke, a preparation consisting of rye flour and millet cooked in milk until thickened. Left-over bread (Brotsuppe) cooked in milk is also cherished. Among the commonly eaten foods are grains from the heather regions grown almost exclusively in Lower Lusatia, specifically buckwheat or heather wheat and barley kernels. These are either cooked until thickened with water and then served with butter or bacon, or cut up in pieces with warm or cold milk poured over it. It is also eaten as thin milk porridge. The usual soups are beer soup, milk soup, buttermilk soup, lilac soup, sausage soup, or simply a clear meat broth. The soups, with the exception of beer soup and simple meat broths, are eaten after the other courses of the meal. Raw mushrooms cooked in buttermilk or braised in butter are eaten regularly and with great pleasure. Typically mushrooms like Champignons, Chanterelles, or Milk Caps—even Porcini—are used. Less enjoyed are mushrooms like Morels, typically cooked with rice. Dried mushrooms are cooked either with beef broth or vinegar.

At pork-slaughtering festivals people enjoy pork belly. Various kinds of sausage are made, including blood sausage, liver sausage, and scrapple. On the Sunday after the festival, a large ring sausage is made. People invite their friends and eat beer soup, then pork with a gravy made with blood (Schwarzbrühe), then sausage with sauerkraut or cooked onions, and finally roast pork with baked fruit. Beef is eaten with a white sauce, or thick porridge, thick barley soup, mashed potatoes, fried diced potatoes, cabbage, onions or horseradish. Offal is prepared with a whisked sour sauce or a brown sauce. Tripe is made with a sour white sauce. Likewise veal is made using a whisked white or a brown sauce. In addition to these dishes, the following should also be mentioned: liver fried in butter and bacon, smoked pork with sauerkraut or with millet or kohlrabi; additionally, veal roast, quail, chicken, goose and a variety of wild game dishes; boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, crepes, goose sausage stuffed with millet and cream; cucumbers; lettuce with cream or oil or bacon grease; home-style Preisselbeeren (similar to American cranberries) sweetened with sugar; lentils, peas, red beets, turnips, fruits, etc.

Many other things could be added, but perhaps this may be enough. The reader can see that the Wends know how to cook, even though they live in meager heather or sandy regions, where life is often difficult and people must satisfy themselves with simple and rather scanty fare.

Leopold Haupt and Jan Arnošt Smoler, Volkslieder der Sorben in der Ober- und Niederlausitz (Bautzen: Domowina, 1st ed. 1841/43, 2nd ed. 1992), 213-214. (Bi-lingual Wendish and German) Introduction and translation by David Zersen. Special thanks to Beata Müller of Bad Sulza, Germany, recently retired from the Domowina, for checking the meanings of some of the original Wendish dishes still eaten in Lusatia today, and for providing the recipes.

Two Wendish Soups: 1) Butsankowa/Buttermilchsuppe/Buttermilk Soup and 2) Biersuppe/Beer Soup

  1. Whisk appropriate amount of flour into cold buttermilk and while stirring, bring to a boil. Add sugar, cinnamon and salt to taste.
  2. Bring equal portions of light and dark beer to a boil. In another pot, heat the same amount of milk. Pour the boiling beer into the cooking milk and whisk in an appropriate amount of flour to thicken the soup. After allowing it to come to a boil, remove from heat and add sugar and salt to taste. Then stir in a whole egg that has been whisked with some cold milk. Before serving in bowls, strew some raisins on top.

Krautmauke
Cut red cabbage finely and cook in salted water until soft. Fry bacon separately and stir into the cooked cabbage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Separately prepare mashed potatoes. Stir the cooked cabbage with its liquid and the bacon into the mashed potatoes until a thick mixture is formed. Served in bowls and eat with a spoon.

David Zerson

President Emeritus Concordia University Texas

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