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.
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.
Mrs. Gilbert Flieg
“Recipes of Old Ste. Genevieve”
- 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
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.