Some reminiscences and a fact or two about my home town of New Ulm, Minnesota. Also included, Mother's excellent German Potato Salad, creamy, warm.
Everybody comes from somewhere. And that somewhere is always special. It's special because that's the first place where we begin to explore the world. And that world becomes our norm, our gold standard. Our hometown is the place of all - or most - of our "firsts," all of our earliest joys and sorrows, glories and terrors. Some are monumental, but so many are just precious moments captured in time like flies caught in amber.
For example, one fine summer day, long years ago in my home town of New Ulm, Minnesota, sitting outside on the ledge by the driveway, Mother presented us with a magical combination of freshly cut leaf lettuce, a sprinkle of vinegar, a shake of sugar. The sun shining on those deliciously green and sparkling leaves was astonishing. It is a memory beside which every other lettuce was doomed to pale by comparison.
And every proper childhood needs a dash of terror, its Boo Radley, to strike fear into young hearts. In our case, it was the legend of Shag, supposedly a pilot whose plane has crashed years before. This somehow resulted in madness. He lurked in the darkest corners of our imaginations attacking sheep (and presumably unsuspecting children) ripping out their throats with his teeth. I don't recall any sheep in the area, come to think of it, but that didn't seem to matter at the time.
My parents fell in love with this charming town, settled by German immigrants, nestled at the confluence of the Minnesota and Cottonwood rivers, while on their honeymoon. The jewel of the town is the post office. Amazing. Built in the early 1900's in the German Renaissance style, it's definitely worth a Google! There was a butcher shop that smelled like a butcher shop, with wood shavings on the floor. And a bakery. And a creamery. And a Piggly-Wiggly grocery store. And a hatchery which was known for occasionally displaying oddities in its front window. Things like a two-headed calf, a three-legged chicken, or a recently killed black bear. Roeder's hatchery, I think it was. And when some unfortunate thing or other was on display, after dinner was over and the dishes were done, all of the parents would take all of the children to stare into that window and be amazed.
It was the sort of town where children wandered freely everywhere, and listened for the bell of the Jolly Wagon, dispenser of ice cream treats, where families would jump into their cars when the fire siren sounded, expressing concern, of course, but mainly to go and see what was up, where the high school band marched in full regalia from the high school to the football field leading the team past cheering onlookers for every home game.
In short, it was a town like thousands of others.
This particular town was settled by German immigrants. The stores, sporting names like Eibners, Wilfahrts, Vogelpohls and many others lost in the fog of my memory, proudly displayed their German heritage.
Like immigrants from everywhere, the Germans of New Ulm brought culinary delights with them from their homeland. Everyone seemed to have vats of sauerkraut festering in their cold rooms. Sausages were everywhere. And there was a warm oniony, bacony potato salad bathed in a rich sweet and sour sauce. And, surprisingly, great vats of steak tartar glistening in the sun, were a feature of every civic celebration, along with the many polka bands and always beer.
Lots of beer. New Ulm was known to have more churches, breweries and bars per capita than any other town in the country. I don't know if that was true, but it was repeated often enough to be.
Speaking of local lore, I recently found the following tidbit about my home town under the title, "The Land of Pleasant Flatulence":
"Due to the presence of beer and sausage in the diet of the German settlers, New Ulm became known as a town of excessive flatulence. However, due to a heavy concentration of cumin and turmeric spices in local cuisine, New Ulm residents became known for having pleasant smelling gas. This reputation exists locally to this day."
I particularly appreciate the "however" in that passage which, apparently negates any implied unpleasantness that might impede the swell of pride in the hearts of the natives.
Mother's fabulous German Potato Salad
1 pound bacon, crisped. (That President's Choice thick cut pepper bacon is astonishingly good!)
8 medium potatoes, or 10 pounds of small red ones if they're in season, boiled.
Mix in a frying pan over medium heat, whisking until thickened:
1 cup cream
1 scant cup of sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1 rounded tablespoon flour
1 grated onion
Set aside to cool.
Slice the potatoes.
Mix with the sauce. (Rather like Donair Sauce, I'm thinking). Serve warm with quite a lot of crumbled bacon atop.
What's that? You were hoping for a recipe with lots of cumin and turmeric? Really?