Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Blood Turns To Gravy

The following is an excerpt from my book "After The GIs - The Immigrant".
The time was in the mid to late 1940s in Post War Germany.

After we celebrated the coming of the Christ Child we tackled the Christmas goose the next day. The meat, gravy, stuffing, and dumplings easily lasted the week and until midday of New Year’s Eve.
The special evening meal for New Year’s Eve was the Gansjung that had been marinating for a week.
Now, that pot of blood, mentioned in my earlier post, with its delectable additions, was destined to become the New Year’s Eve meal. Before the lid went on the pot a week ago, Mom added a good cup of vinegar, salt, bay leaves, a couple of sliced onions, celery leaves, fresh carrots, parsley, and plenty of peppercorns. This special concoction had marinated in our cold bedroom until the appointed day when all was brought to a boil and left to simmer till done. 

Mom put aside the morsels (the neck, kidneys, gizzard, the goose feet) that had marinated for a week, then strained the blood. In so doing, she separated the spices from the sauce. To achieve the desired thickness of the blood based sauce, Mother added flour, brought it and its morsels to a boil until ready.
On New Year’s Eve the feast was complemented with Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), cabbage, and boiled sugar beets. This Bavarian delicacy was called Gansjung (young goose), a perfect extension and finale of the holiday season.––

Good luck and Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Old Magic of Christmas

The following is an excerpt from my book "After The GIs - The Immigrant".
The time was in the mid to late 1940s in Post War Germany.

The day of December 24 started and continued like any other day. However, my sister and I knew this was the big day. Our home showed no signs of Christmas, no tree, no decorations, only the baking smells of the special season. We helped Mom bake a variety of cookies. We cracked nuts and greased pans. Dagmar and I knew that sometime before midnight, that day, December 24, the Christ Child would come.
Around 4 in the afternoon, Mom put us to bed with a promise to wake us before the evening was over. She told us if the Kristkindle is going to come, it would not want to be seen. It is a Heavenly Being and it only takes a moment to come and be gone again. The timing had to be perfect.
So we went to bed, full of excitement and expectations. We lay perfectly still––imagining, expecting, quiet as a mouse. Whether sister went to sleep, I do not know. As for me, I was too excited to do any sleeping. I listened. I dreamed and envisioned and tried to put the magic in order. I was a thinking little fellow, always wondering why things worked in certain, and often unexpected ways.
Around 8 o’clock in the evening Mom came into the bedroom to wake us up. We bounded out of bed, full of excitement, and entered the kitchen. The single light bulb hanging from the ceiling was turned off. However, the whole world glowed in splendor. In the corner stood a tall Christmas tree. It shimmered and glistened with its many ornaments and tinsel. All the tinsel was lovingly placed, one strand at a time, by Mom while we slept. The ornaments were handblown glass, and family heirlooms.
White wax candles flickered on the tree, each with its little drip bowl to catch any melting wax. The candles were clipped to the branches of the fir tree. Glass ornaments, very fragile and sprinkled with many sparkling tiny crystals, shimmered as they reflected the magic. The tinsel hung like angelic hair. It quivered and slightly swayed from the candles’ warmth and responded to our every breath. We stood close to this wonder, enthralled by its magic.
For many long moments our little family stood quietly in front of the tree––mesmerized. We held to each other. After the magic had burned into our hearts we sang Silent Night, Holy Night. We, the three of us.––Father had gone to war . . . .
We sang that song every year on Christmas night.
After singing, Mom lifted us up, one at a time, so we could blow out the candles. Slowly the room turned dark, but the magic did not vanish. The Holy Night continued and was filled with its own special smell––the smoke of snuffed wax. To this day, I love to smell a snuffed, plain candle’s smoke.
Mom pulled the string to the light. Our joy continued. With the Christmas magic still in our hearts, we searched under the tree for presents. The presents were baked treats, rock candy, and woolen clothes knitted by Mom. One Christmas, I also received a 10 cm long drafting ruler. One time, I received a set of coloring pencils and paper to draw on; another year a stamp collecting album, and once a compass set with a fountain pen.
After we unwrapped the presents, we sat around our kitchen table and enjoyed the evening eating cookies and drinking hot Glühwein. This hot mix was made with cheap red wine and equal amounts of hot tea. It had simmered on the stove with orange peels, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and sugar, since Mom sent us to bed. Any alcohol the wine might have had had long evaporated. To this day, the taste and smell of this hot punch means Christmas.
Just before midnight, if we didn’t go to midnight mass, we heated Weisswurst, a mild, white sausage, in a pan of water––a Christmas Eve tradition. We dipped the sausage in sweet mustard and ate it with our fingers. Together with warm potato salad and buttered hard rolls it completed the special evening.. . . Heaven came down––peace––and gladness of heart.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Christmas Goose

The following is an excerpt from my book "After The GIs - The Immigrant".
The time was in the mid to late 1940s in Post War Germany.

Several times we enjoyed a goose for Christmas. I wonder, looking back, how did Mother do it? I wouldn't doubt she cashed in a silver coin for it, one she illegally hoarded in the early forties. No such thing as a frozen goose existed in that day. Freshly butchered, was the only way to have one in the forties. Though I never witnessed the butchering act, it must have happened nearby, because after the head came off the blood was drained immediately into a pot for future use.
The next step in this holiday ritual was to dunk the lifeless goose into scalding water. It took our big pot to do this, and many sticks of wood to get the water boiling.
After the scalding part, our little family plucked the feathers, all the feathers off the bird. Even the undeveloped pinfeathers under the wings and in hidden folds of the bird. All were diligently plucked.
Mom carefully removed the non-edible innards; they were but a few. She scrubbed the goose’s feet, chopped them off the bird, and dropped them into the pot that held the drained goose blood. The neck she cut off and put into the same pot to marinade. The gizzard she turned inside out, cleaned it, and it also ended up in the same pot.
The heart and the fresh liver we split in half. After they were salted and peppered they were fried on the spot. It made a lip-smacking snack, whetting our appetite for the feast to come.

We stuffed our Christmas goose then baked it in the oven. The stuffing included chopped stale bread and hard rolls, onions, celery, parsley, a couple of eggs, some sage, and salt and pepper. It all was tossed together with scalded milk to get a loose moist mixture.
Throughout the year, every meat dish was always expanded with much gravy. The Christmas goose was certainly no exception. Gravy not only stretched a meal, but it added comfort to the other trimmings. Gravy had the taste of meat, and when one closed their eyes, it was meat.
Of course, the rendered goose grease was considered gold. Mom skimmed it off the gravy, a golden yellow, granular spread when cooled. It easily spread on sliced rye bread, with a little salt added, and made a mighty treat when the winds and snows howled. We also saved a bit of that yellow gold for medicinal purposes. Mom stored it in the cold, curtained off room, in a Nivea Creme jar. (see the Home Remedies section in the book)
Story has it, the Christmas goose got its fat from being force fed. The way my mother explained it, the goose was simply penned-up in a cage and systematically forced to eat much more than normal. This was done by holding the head of the goose back, prying open its beak, then stuffing food down the throat with the handle of a wooden spoon. Not a comforting picture, but it rendered a fat goose and a bounty of yellow gold.

(Look for the post on what we did with the goose blood)

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

We Did Not Write To St Nick

The following is an excerpt from my book "After The GIs - The Immigrant".
The time was in the mid to late 1940s in Post War Germany.

Here in America, the Post Office receives thousands of letters each year addressed to Santa. In the mid forties, I also dreamed and wrote to the Christ Child. We expected the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve.
A week or so before Christmas, my sister and I would write an invitation to the Christ Child to come and visit our home on Christmas Eve. The little letter also included a short wish list. We kept the wish list really short, for it was just not right to be selfish and ask for much. Other than cookies, fruit, and some of Mother’s knitted wears, we seldom got more than one extra present on Christmas Eve; the day of gift giving.
We stuck the little written note between the window and the sash so the Christ's angel could pick it up as he flew by. The longer the letter stayed stuck in the window, the better behaved and more polite we became. There was always that chance the angel  remembered some bad behavior or deed and as a result would pass us by.
In my child’s imagination and anxiousness I often looked out through the window into the dark night. I hoped to see Christ’s angel as it flew by. I actually saw him once, very briefly, like a bright blip. He did not come close and take the letter, but I prayed for the angel to come back; and he did––on his time. The little letters always vanished.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

St Nick had nothing to do with Christmas

The following is an excerpt from my book "After The GIs - The Immigrant".
The time was in the mid to late 1940s in Post War Germany.


Practically every day on the Catholic calendar was dedicated to honor a saint. That day, if your name was the same as the saint's, you celebrated your Name Day. December the sixth is Saint Nickolaus’ day. The Catholic’s celebration of Saint Nick has nothing to do with Christ Jesus and His birthday. Activities honoring Saint Nick were a bit unusual and were not related to what is called Christmas in America.

In my younger days, Saint Nick visited the homes of families on the sixth of December. We didn't have malls or television, so the only way a kid got to see this colorful character, bearded and royally cloaked in red, was when parents thought it worthy to either reward or punish their children. . . .Let me tell you what I mean.

Saint Nick was always dressed in a red coat with white cuffs. He wore a tall hat like the Pope would during certain religious festivities. He walked with a tall staff in one hand and was proud of his long white beard. He toted a sack over his shoulder with goodies in it.

When Saint Nick came to visit the home on the evening of the sixth, he would ask the parents for a report on the behavior of the children during the previous year. If the child was deserving he or she may receive a few cookies, apples, nuts, or rock candy, along with a little admonishment to strive to be an even better person the coming year.

To have a Saint Nick come to one’s house, parents visited a local Gasthaus where men, wearing Saint Nick outfits, were gathered and waited to be hired.
However, for children who really needed a bit of additional reprimanding, Saint Nick’s helper, Knecht Rupprecht, would have to come along. This Knecht Rupprecht doled out the deserved punishment––as he saw fit!

Oh my, my!––This Knecht, he was an ugly, bent over, mean-looking creature. He dragged a long and heavy chain on the ground behind him. This introduced him as the coming of doom. One could hear the chain clanging as he smacked it onto the cobble stones. He would snort and grunt and would make eerie noises as he came up the front walkway, or up the steps, to pay the wayward child a visit.

He wore a sackcloth mantle over his shoulders and a crude rope tied around his waist. His hair, dark and scraggly, stuck out from under his floppy, black, wide-brimmed hat. He was marked with dark shadows under his beady eyes and showed a deep frown that extended down from each side of his mouth.

I recall one night in the mid 1940s, when our little family visited the home of a friend with two teen-aged daughters. We had a friendly and jovial visit until a terrifying commotion outside the house suddenly entered my ears and heart. Wow!––What?––Sure enough, Knecht Rupprecht approached the closed front door. Through the window I saw Saint Nick restraining his Knecht from totally going mad and breaking down the door. My sister and I shivered. I vowed never to do anything wrong as long as I lived. We did not want to face this evil creature at our house!

Saint Nick and his sidekick entered the house. The room filled with evil. I had slid down in my chair and was barely able to watch the goings-on above the table’s top. After a brief report from the girls' mother, the Knecht stomped and smacked his wooden switch on the floor. With much huffing and snorting, he started to chase the giggling girls around the house and into the bedroom. Soon the calamity subsided. The girls had received their reward. I, however, could not understand the disrespect these girls had for an individual of such authority.

I also remember on one such night when a young boy, a little older than me, still having respect for “The Authority” was rewarded with Rupprecht's whipping cane. After a good salting, the naughty boy found himself stuffed in Knecht Rupprecht’s sack. The Knecht, grunting and mumbling, carried the boy, over his shoulders, into the night. Several hundred yards from the boy’s house he shook the boy from the sack into the deep snow in the forest. The boy received additional stern warnings and was told to find his way back home in the dark.

After that ordeal, I bet the boy had to change his clothes from the inside out!

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