America’s Food Secrets III – Ste. Genevieve, Missouri

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On this wonderfully hot day in SW Oregon, where 90 degree days are rare indeed (I’m enough of a skeptic to doubt all the forecasts until my own personal temp indicator suggests otherwise – it now, at 3 pm, reads 82 degrees!), I’ll ignore the garden for a bit and do Part 3 of my fun project, America’s Food Secrets.

And I have just today learned that my fun has a scientific title – Foodways – and it seems that Foodways is the study of cultural food heritage, and apparently a legitimate part of Cultural Anthropology. And lest you doubt my statement, check out the eminently reliable Wikipedia, and The Southern Foodways Alliance for assurance. I’ll be damned!

OK – on with the fun. Our new subject of interest is a community cookbook entitled, “Recipes of Old Ste. Genevieve” (The Woman’s Club of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, 1982). Before doing some absolutely fascinating research about Ste. Genevieve, my reason for selecting this volume was simply that I had always thought it a nicely constructed book with a number of interesting recipes – now that my research is finished, my selection looks all the more appropriate as a Foodways study.

Ste. Genevieve, Missouri was in fact, the very first settlement west of the Mississippi, and dates to the mid 1700s. From its name, you may infer its French heritage (it is not by mistake that they retain the French spelling, Ste.), and it is an interesting heritage for sure. Early on, this land west of the Mississippi was under French control, but initially, few French except for traders and trappers lived here. Not until the Cajun migration following The French and Indian War, did large numbers of French exit their previous homelands in the newly English controlled eastern U.S., and move west across the Mississippi to relocate. Ste. Genevieve was one of the few existing settlements from which to choose. It grew quickly.

As the western frontier began to open in the early 1800s, this section of the country became attractive to many new German immigrants as well, and Ste. Genevieve’s second substantial ethnic influence was born. Today, the only remaining visual evidence of any ethnic influence and heritage are those of French and German.

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As I perused “Recipes of Old Ste. Genevieve” for a good candidate to express the area’s cultural food heritage, I found surprisingly few French influences among the recipes in the book – and the ones I did find, looked to me to be misplaced out of “Cajun” country. It is likely that this is my own bias, and their inclusion in this book reflects the fact that their influence has survived the years. And yet, what we’d expect to see as a result of a strong ongoing food heritage culture would be the inclusion of specific ethnic foods in local celebrations and events – and in fact, when we see such evidence in Ste. Genevieve, it is German, not French!

So, right or wrong, I went looking for a strong German food influence, and found many – but the one I choose was chosen not because its influence lives on today in America’s food, but because it deserves to live on! And, apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this is so – for it’s a dish which shows up not only on the menus of several Ste. Genevieve’s restaurants, but in its food celebrations also – my choice is “Liver Dumplings”, a distinctly German contribution.

And why do I think this is a food that deserves to live on? Well, my reasons are many – first, it combines two foods I love, liver and dumplings – this combination simply can’t be bad! And we in America have avoided both for a long time. Why? I think we’ve ignored liver because it was a meat our mothers tried to get us to eat, and failed – this fact has little to do with the good taste of liver. And as a part of our recent American food snobbishness, its avoidance fits well. Dumplings have faded from our diets, not because of taste- people love them -but because they are not easy to make – even in a restaurant! So they are disappearing – and that alone is reason why we should preserve this unique dish.

Food fads come and go – and it is the nature of a popular food to eventually lose its popularity – just as it is the nature of an avoided food to overnight shake its negativity and become wildly accepted. Will this happen with Liver Dumplings? Who knows! But I think I sense the general American warming toward offal in general – maybe the economy is a motivator – and that trend may be the catalyst to break an undeserved abstinence.

While we wait, why not try these for yourself? Do you like dumplings? Sure you do. Do you like liver? Yes? Then this dish deserves your indulgence. And if you answered no to either of the above, maybe this is the dish to open new worlds for you – Try it for Ste. Genevieve’s sake.

Liver Dumplings
Mrs. Gilbert Flieg
“Recipes of Old Ste. Genevieve”
(page 32)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. liver
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 3 cups flour
  • ½ cup ground pork (I use a thawed brat or two, with skins removed)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp. chopped basil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt/pepper to taste

Process:

  • Grind liver (This may be done in a food processor – this will happen quickly!)

  • mix with chopped onion and ground pork.

  • Add the flour and eggs, along with the parsley, basil, salt/pepper, and milk to make a stiff batter.

  • Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water – add a Tbs of oil to keep dumplings from sticking – turn heat down so that water is barely simmering.

  • Put some of the batter on a flat plate, and scrape with a spoon 1 Tbs. amounts into the simmering water.

  • When dumplings rise to the surface, they are ready to be removed and drained (about 12-15 minutes).

  • Heat 2-3 Tbs of butter over medium heat and gently saute the dumplings in the butter for about 4-5 minutes.

  • Serve drizzled with the remaining pan butter and some chopped parsley sprinkled over them.

Liver Dumplings are very versatile – they are often served with sauerkraut, or in either beef or chicken stock as a soup – or you may like them best with a “gravy” of onions and bacon, gently sauted together and served over the dumplings on noodles. Whatever way you choose to serve them, I think you’ll be surprised at how good they are.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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17 Responses to America’s Food Secrets III – Ste. Genevieve, Missouri

  1. This is a cool recipe. I love both dumplings and liver. And although I hate the word “offal,” “Foodways” is a good one (and a new one on me).

  2. drfugawe says:

    Hi Susan,
    Words are strange, huh? If I was energetic, I’d look up the derivation of offal – bet it’s interesting! I did a quick check to see if “Breadways” is used in the same way as Foodways, and yes, it seems it is. Learn new stuff everyday.

    I like this recipe too, and as soon as I can go get some fresh liver, I’m going to give it a try – my mother was successful in getting her kids to eat liver (it was always fried with onions, and sometimes bacon too), but she sure as hell wasn’t going to the trouble of making liver dumplings!

  3. This is what Wikipedia says about the etymology of offal (and corroborated by a few dictionary sites as well):

    The word shares its etymology with the German word “abfall” (offall in some Western German Dialects such as Luxemburgish), afval in Dutch and affald in Danish. These germanic words all mean ‘garbage’, or – literally – ‘fall-off’.

    I still like liver, but I still think the word is awful.

  4. drfugawe says:

    Ooo Susan, you are opening a can of worms here … but …, well OK, I’ll play.

    Were I to have guessed, I would have said- from my vast store of useless data -that the word offal was somehow linked to the word, awful (tell me you don’t unconsciously link them mentally! See, you can’t.). But no – the word awful is drawn from the Old English usage of awe – OK, I can see how that might be, but … how come awesome has the sense of something good, and awful has the sense of something bad ???

    I know the answer, Susan, but I ain’t telling you – ’cause it’s your can of worms, and you need to mess in it for a bit.

  5. Well, although it is my can, I can’t really answer the question, but I’m guessing that the real meaning of “awesome” is very close to “awful,” but it has gotten morphed in everyday use to mean the opposite — kind of like how “bad” means “good” in some colloquial contexts?

  6. drfugawe says:

    Oh Susan, you are being too kind, … again. (I enjoy seeing the two sides of Susan, as in your last Wild Yeast post – Ha!). We both know that you’re just giving me an opportunity to provide the answer – which is; in medieval English, the word “awe” was used primarily in a religious context – and in those days, God commanded fear – and so, when one reverently considered God, it was with awe, and a good dose of fear as well – and so one was “awful”.

    And it’s not much of a stretch between fearful awe, and non-fearful awe. And thank you, Susan, for being your gracious self – and not disappointing me.

  7. Melissa says:

    I loved the etymology discussion – not so much the liver recipe!! You should admit to your readers in interest of full disclosure that even with your AWESOME (see? see what i did there? clever child!) cooking skills, you were much less successful than your own mother in getting liver down the gullets of your kids! I remember having to eat “just one bite” in order to earn the right to leftovers or pb&j or whatever else I could find to replace the awful (teehee, now I’m just messing with you!) entree.

    P.S. Any reason I’m no longer getting a pretty background and fancy looking version of your page? I’ve got a rather threadbare version now with your pix, but no background and much more utilitarian formatting…

  8. drfugawe says:

    Oh Melissa … must you ruin my day by reminding me of your culinary failings? Actually, this dumpling recipe made with chicken livers is spectacular – enough so that ever those who hate liver would enjoy – and aren’t chicken livers considered vegetarian? So, try it.

    As for the mangy look of this page, that’s due to a Mac problem – you’ll have to take that up with them – or just get a PC!

  9. thb9 says:

    Doing some genealogical research, i came on this post (six months after it was published), and i have some details to add. My mother grew up in Ste. Genevieve and most of her family still lives there, so i have spent lots of time there over the last 30-plus years. The method given by this recipe is slightly different than how most people make them (including the restaurants that offer them).

    Most commonly, instead of spooning rounded lumps of dough into the water with a spoon, people use a fork to SCRAPE the dough into the water. What that results in, when you ladle it into a bowl or over noodles or whatever, is a mass of dumpling that looks alarmingly like brains. Seriously, it looks a lot like grey matter, so much so that the very sight of it is enough to turn many people off (my aunt Theresa, who grew up with liver dumplings, being one of them). People either love them or hate them, no in-between. My uncle John, who is a truck driver and has spent time in nearly every corner of the country, says he has never seen them anywhere but Ste. Genevieve county. My husband, who is an amazing cook, got to try them for the first time recently (he loved them), and he grabbed my grandmother’s recipe for them, so maybe we’ll be continuing the tradition up in Brooklyn!

  10. drfugawe says:

    thb9,
    Appreciate your visit – and your comments. I’m a liver lover, and thought this was a very worthy addition to the repertoire of liver dishes. If you are willing, I’d love to have the recipe for your grandmother’s version, and next time I do these, I’ll try your suggested technique.

    In return, if you too like all things liver, you might want to try out this way of preparing calves liver – I personally love it! http://drfugawe.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/lovin-leftover-liver/

  11. Melinda says:

    I grew up in Ste. Genevieve, these were on everyones Thanksgiving table, and at most family gatherings. They are very tasty. I am used to them being scraped off the side of the plate into the water, then when they float you take them out. Place them in a pan with some onion and cook in bacon grease. Then pour gravy over them mmmmmm. I wonder if my kids would eat them lol.

    • drfugawe says:

      Hi Melinda,
      I love how this old post seems to reach out and grab folks – it reminds me that I really ought to be doing my monthly ‘America’s Food Culture’ posts again. Some day, I need to visit Ste. Genevieve, and have some liver dumplings.

  12. Kathy Mcklin says:

    I am from Ste. Genevieve as well and preparing my liver dumpling dough for Thanksgiving dinner. For residents we can get these dumplings as a side at many local restaurants. They are common with a fried chicken and mashed potato meal. My grandmother has a delicious LD recipe that I can share, if I remember to send it. She also made great Spaetzle!!!!!

  13. kmac says:

    Grandma Herzog’s Liver Knaefly [Dumpling] Recipe
    1 pound liver (calf, beef or pork)
    1/2 cup ground pork
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    3 eggs
    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
    1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    About 1 cup milk
    Salted water
    1 tablespoon fat (oil, shortening or butter)
    Grind liver, pork and onion together. Stir to make sure it is mixed well. Mix in flour, then add eggs, parsley, basil (or allspice), salt and pepper. Add enough milk to make stiff dough. Transfer dough to a flat platter. Depending on the occasion or ingredients she would have at home, she would leave the ground pork out if necessary.

  14. Leslie says:

    I stumbled upon this blog looking for a “Pound Cake” recipe . I recently visited the Felix Valley House during their French Christmas celebration and sampled the best pound cake ever. I moved to Ste. Genevieve 10 yrs ago this Janurary to be with my now husband who is from Ste. Gen. I had never heard of Liver Dumplings until I met his family. They are German but also have some French ancestry as well on mother’s side. Anyway I have to say that liver dumplings are not my favorite dish. My husbands family makes them for every family gathering and they are very very bland. I cant eat them with out dumping a whole salt shaker on them to give them some taste, and I actually love liver. I will say this the recipe above that you have included here sounds very tasty. I tried the liver dumplings made by someone else years ago and they added the onion and parsley in them and they were excellant so I am sure the recipe above will be also and therefore needs to live on. I believe I may want to pass this recipe along to my in-laws maybe they will get the hint that their liver dumplings are lacking in the taste area. Thank you for the recipe.

  15. drfugawe says:

    Leslie,
    Thanks for stopping by – bland liver dumplings sounds like something that a dumpling lover, not a liver lover, favors. I remember these having lots of good flavor, and I too love liver. If you try these, let me know what you think.

    Enjoy the holidays.

  16. GOCARDS says:

    I grew up in STe Genevieve as well and always look forward to going back to visit the Anvil restaurant for Fried Chicken and Liver Dumplings. OMG its the best. Can’t get that here in San Fran. =) Tom

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