Sunday, December 25, 2011



My memories of Christmas go back to when I was six years old.  Weeks before Christmas my mother was busy in the kitchen making fruitcakes for family and friends.  Today, many people see fruitcakes as “old fashioned” and even make jokes about them.  Well, I beg to differ.  I have family members who actually look forward to getting a delicious cake from me.  

Last night, I reflected on my childhood Christmas Eve.  Mom made chicken noodle soup and butterballs for supper.  After we ate and cleaned up the kitchen, we went to the Christmas program at church.  Our Sunday school teacher had us all prepared to recite our poems and sing our songs.  After the program, we each were presented with a brown paper bag of candies, assorted nuts to crack, and an orange.  Sometimes even a little gift.  I still have a cup that I got when I was eight. 

After church, we opened our presents.  I don’t remember much about a Santa Claus.  I always knew my mother did the shopping and I looked forward to a doll. 

Christmas day was a time for family and food.  Mom put the goose in the cook stove oven and then prepared all the trimmings; a regular feast.  After we ate, the women went to the kitchen to clean up and the men went to the living room and had a shot of schnapps.  The rest of the day was for visiting and eating mincemeat pies, kuchen, and Halvah.

Guess I best be getting my fruitcakes wrapped and ready for delivery.  The recipe I have given here is the one I have used since 1971.  We lived in Vallejo, California, and were unable to go back to South Dakota to spend the holidays with our family.  My children, even though young at the time: Michelle (4), Chris (2) were an inspiration to me to continue my cultural traditions.  Fruitcakes were one of them.  So, I purchased the ingredients and made my first cake.  I have made them ever since.


Bowl 1
4 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ cups flour

Bowl 2
½ cup orange juice
2 Tbsp. Brandy 
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried fruit mix
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup walnuts

Mix bowl 1 and bowl 2 together.  Pour into greased and floured baking pan.  Bake at 300 degrees for l hour and 45 minutes.  Have a pan of water in the over while cake is baking.  After the cake is cooled, I wrap it in cheesecloth soaked in brandy.

May the Peace and Happiness of the Christmas Season be with you all through the coming year. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ammonia Cookies and Honey Cakes

“GRUZNIKJE” – Ammonia Cookies and HONIGKUCHEN - Honey Cakes

Some years back, 1998 to be exact, I learned about Baking Ammonia.  I was concerned about using it for leavening, but was assured that the baking time evaporates all the ammonia.  Northern Europeans like to use it because it makes cookies light and crisp.  This is certainly true with this particular sugar cookie recipe.  They melt in your mouth.

The honey cakes taste like the outside of a fig newton bar and stay moist if you keep them in a covered tin.  They have a wonderful anise taste.  I read somewhere that “Anise” is the Spice of Christmas.  

Baking Ammonia can be difficult to find.  The best place to look is in drug stores, baking supply stores, or mail order catalogs.  Baker’s Ammonia is actually ammonium carbonate and if bought in chunks, must be crushed into a powder.

My mother always made several kinds of cookies during the Christmas holidays.  She would share them with family, friends, and neighbors.  This is a tradition I carry on.  I start my baking right about now, the middle of December.  My freezer and cupboards fill with goodies and there are even some left for Christmas Day.
If you enjoy baking, you won’t be disappointed with these recipes.


1 cup shortening
½ cup butter
2 cups white sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 ½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking ammonia (mix in flour)
1 cup flaked coconut
Powdered sugar to sprinkle on cookies

Cream shortening, butter, and sugar.  Add salt, baking ammonia, flour, and coconut.
Roll into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 325 for 20 minutes
Let cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar


1 ¾ cups honey
½ cup butter
½ cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tsp. liquid anise
1 ½ tsp. baking ammonia
5 cups flour

Boil honey for one minute.  Let cool and add butter and sour cream.  Then add eggs, anise, and flour with baking ammonia.
Spread l/2 inch thick onto greased pan.  Brush on egg white.

Bake 375 for 15 minutes or until golden brown

Cut into squares

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

German-Russian Received Medals after 65 Years

“If we are to heed the past to prepare for the future, we should listen to the voices of those who speak to us of duty, honor, sacrifice and accomplishment.  More of their stories should be preserved and cherished as reminders of all that we owe them and all that we can learn from them.”    Tom Brokaw

On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1985, my brother, Albert Elenberger, was presented with the Bronze Star Medal.  It came 40 years after he left the service.  The medal was authorized by executive order August 24, 1962, but no one knew why he had not received it.  The certificate was addressed to Technician Fourth Grade Albert Elenberger, U.S. Army for “meritorious achievement in ground combat against the armed enemy during World War II in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater of Operations. 

Albert received the Purple Heart Medal on April 28, 1945, when he was wounded.  He was hit by shrapnel about 10 miles outside of Munich.  Albert was unattached, meaning he did not have a division so he was sent as a replacement and caught the tail end of the Battle of the Bulge.  They crossed the Maginot and Siegfried lines, both of which had land mines and other obstacles to overcome.  Albert told me, "Infantry casements were a problem for the troops, with forces bunking inside and firing anti-tank and twin-machine guns.  The Rainbow Division was waiting for massive concrete barricades to be torn down on the Siegfried line.  These barricades, called Dragon's tooth, were tank traps that made crossing the field in the heavy, armored vehicles impossible."

Albert shared more of what he remembered with me.  He told me, "I remember the dense barbed wire that had to be crossed once the tank traps were out of the way."  It was difficult for my brother to continue with the story, but he went on.  He spoke of crossing fields, swimming half the Rhine, and the Blue Danube which ran red with the blood of lost men.  "I was a Corporal in The 42 Infantry Division known as the Rainbow Division.  We passed concentration camps and prisons, freeing people as we went.  When our infantry came to the small town called Leitzing, I was hit with shrapnel."
Albert was then transferred to the traffic division and became a Sergeant. He began escorting American, French, and British Generals.  Once when he escorted General Eisenhower his bike would not start at the airport.  The General heard of the problems with the bikes and provided a contact number and information to replace them.  Albert also escorted General Patton into France and back out again.  A few days later, the jeep Patton was riding in was in an accident in Germany and he was killed. 

This photo was taken in the annual VJ Day parade in France. The parade went around the Arc de Triomphe at Champs-Elysees, the Arch of Triumph.  In the middle of the arch is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Albert remembers relighting the torch when it was America's responsibility to do so.  

Christmas Eve, 2010, my brother received the following medals from U.S. Army TA-COM, 65 years after the end of WWII:  
Bronze Star Medal (November 11, 1985)
Purple Heart (April 28, 1945)
Good Conduct Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 bronze service stars
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal with Germany clasp
Combat Infantryman Badge lst Award
Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII
Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar 

I am proud of my brother, Albert, and thank him and all who have served our country.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

AHSGR Headquarters - Lincoln, Nebraska

“The mission of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia is to discover, collect, preserve, and disseminate information related to the history, cultural heritage, and genealogy of Germanic settlers in the Russian Empire and their descendants.”

On October 4, my husband and I took the Self-Guided Tour of AHSGR Headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska.  This is a photo of me in front of the Germans from Russia Immigrant Family Statue which depicts the typical German-Russian immigrant family as they arrived in the United States, Canada, and South America.  Pete Felten’s sculpture portrays the faith, hardship, and endurance of the Germans from Russia.

The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia International Headquarters was built in Lincoln, in part because of the concentration of the German Russians in the capitol city.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, German Russians made up 40 percent of the population of Lancaster county.  This means that four out of every ten people you might meet on the streets of Lincoln would be of German Russian Heritage.

This photo is of the AHSGR/Jake Sinner Headquarters building located at 631 D Street in Lincoln.  It houses a small exhibit area, a library, A.A. Flegel Genealogical Research Center, bookstore, gift shop, and museum, upstairs.  Here are a few of the photos I took in the museum.

Other buildings to tour are:  the All Faiths Chapel, the Summer Kitchen, the Barn and Manger, the Robert Kincaide Blacksmith Shop, and the General Store. 
The All Faiths Chapel was built by AHSGR in recognition of the strong religious convictions of the Germans from Russia.  This chapel houses the furnishings from the historic St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Denver, Colorado. The Summer Kitchen is a replica built by AHSGR, and represents a common German-Russian household.  The barn and manger once stood behind the Amen house.  The barn was in use when it was still possible to have farm animals within the city limits.  The blacksmith shop is typical of a blacksmith shop found in the German-Russian neighborhoods.  Lastly, the general store houses exhibits of items one might find in local German-Russian grocery store.  
I highly recommend visiting the AHSGR Headquarters.  You will find the people to be helpful and friendly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Open Door Cafe - Menno, South Dakota

After Mike’s 50th High School Class Reunion in Watertown, we headed for home – October 2.   We left California on August 14, with a long list of people to visit and interests to pursue.  After 50 days on the road, we needed a vacation from vacation.

The last stop of our trip was Vermillion, SD, where my High School friend, Ann, lives.  I couldn’t leave South Dakota without visiting her.  Ann told me about an article in the September Issue of South Dakota Magazine.  The article, written by Katie Hunhoff, is about the Open Door Café in Menno, SD.

 “I want to drive you to  Menno.  It is only 61 miles from here.  We could have lunch,”  Ann said.

Menno, population 780, was settled by Germans from Russia.  The café, open seven days a week, is on Main Street.  It is run by Rita and Jerome Hoff who have been serving German specialties since 1986.  Rita makes her dishes from scratch and uses produce from local gardens.  

Tuesday’s menu always includes one or more German dishes.  Fleish Kuchle is the favorite.  Thursdays she bakes Kuchen, and on Sunday they serve a big buffet for the church goers. Weekdays, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the Open Door Café serves food to the Senior Citizens of the town.

Even though it was Monday when we visited the café, Rita fried us some Fleish Kuchle so we could taste it.  She offered  her recipe.

Rita’s Fleish Kuchle

Ingredients:  1 stick margarine, 1 cup warm milk, 1 egg, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon cream of tartar, and 4 cups flour.

Melt margarine and cool.  Add milk, baking powder, salt and eggs.  Mix.  Add flour.
Filling: 4 pounds hamburger, salt, pepper, chopped onion. 
Mix meat mixture.  Roll out dough to thickness of pie dough.  Cut into 4” x 4” squares.  Put one heaping tablespoon hamburger filling in center.  Fold in half.  Seal edges   Fry in 350 degrees oil for 7 minutes.

Ann and I ate lunch and visited with Rita and Jerome.  Their families came from the Black Sea region of Russia.  We discussed the similarities and differences of the foods from the Volga area and the Black Sea. 

If you are ever in the southeastern part of South Dakota, stop at the café.  Rita and Jerome are terrific people and cook good German Russian foods.

And, “thanks again, Ann.  I would never have discovered this treasure without you!"

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gwen's Schmeckfest

September 15, my husband and I traveled in our 5th wheel trailer from North Dakota to Minnesota.  We made a stop in White Bear Lake to visit Gwen Cowherd and her husband, Phil.  Over the past two years, Gwen  and I have become email pen pals.  We share an interest in writing, cooking, and we both like to grow a garden.  Gwen and I have a love and respect for our culture and it is important to both of us to pass our heritage down to our children and grandchildren.  While Gwen and I were visiting, she said, “We are both one hundred percent German Russian, you know.”  

The day before we were scheduled to arrive at her house, Gwen told me on the phone that she had prepared some German Russian foods for us to eat.  When I walked into her kitchen, I was astounded!  She had homemade foods for us, all right!.  She had prepared a traditional “Schmeckfest”.

The foods she prepared included:  Knoepfla Suppe, Halupsie, Baked Rice, Cream Cucumbers, Rhubarb Kuchen, Prune Kuchen, and the most delicious Apple Pie. 

She fixed sausage she had ordered from Napoleon, North Dakota.  We ate these delightful dishes together to celebrate our heritage.

After a delightful visit, we could not leave without “food to go”.  This is a German Russian tradition.  When you visit someone’s house, you end up well fed and you must take food with you.  Gwen packed up kuchen, soup, homemade watermelon pickles,  red beet pickles, and  homemade salsa.  Oh, yes.  And a grocery bag full of spiral bound cookbooks  because we both have a passion for them.

Meeting Gwen was definitely one of the high lights of my trip.  After reading Gwen's story in the Winter 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia,  I felt  connected to her.  Her story, "The Girls of '66", won second Place in the 2009 AHSGR Storytelling Contest.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU

If you ever have the  opportunity to travel to Fargo, North Dakota, be sure to visit the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North Dakota State University.  Michael Miller, Director and Bibliographer, is knowledgeable, helpful, and a delightful person.  He and his staff will enthusiastically assist you with your pursuits.

“Foodways” of the Germans from Russia is one of my many passions.  The Heritage Center has a large collection of old cookbooks, and a room with cookbooks for sale.  I purchased several having to do with Volga German recipes, and I couldn’t resist the “Schmeckfest” DVD.  Other items available for sale at the center are: books, maps, video tapes, DVD’s, and cassette tapes.

 Before entering the rooms containing research archives and special collections, l enjoyed studying the display boards and large photos of textiles.  I learned about weaving and how patterns represented different regions.  This photo is a weaving done by Christina Heagel who came to America in 1916 from Norka Colony, Volga region. 

We concluded out visit of Fargo by stopping at Hornbachers Foods.  It turned out that Jay “Surrey” Gage, Textiles and Exhibits Curator at the Heritage Center, also works  at Hornbacher's .  He assisted us in selecting some traditional German-Russian sausages.  The recipes are those of Lonnie Peringer who has been making sausage for 40 years. 
After two fun days in Fargo, with our freezer packed full of sausages, we headed down the road.  Our next stop was to be a visit to Gwen Cowherd in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.     

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

South Dakota Chokecherry Jelly

Fourteen hundred miles was a long way to drive just so I could make choke-cherry jelly.  My childhood memories and a craving for this delicacy nagged at me until I reached my beloved Black Hills of Dakota.  Suckering shrubs or small trees grow wild in canyons, along rivers and across the landscape.  They produce black, berries that have a very astringent, sour taste. If enough sugar is added, they make wonderful jams and jellies.  Chokecherry juice is also used to craft wine in the western United States mainly in the Dakotas. 

In 2007, Governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the state of North Dakota, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else. 
Mike and I arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota on August 19, at his brother Richard's and sister-in-law, Jean’s home.  One of the first events we planned was to pick chokecherries which grow around their house in the hills.  We had to get right on it as the deer, birds, and squirrels were gorging themselves on these tart berries and there wouldn’t be any left on the branches.

A large amount of berries is required to make jam and jelly because the seed inside is large and the skin tough.  The process is more work than other berries because after picking, you must wash clean, and boil them hard to get juice. 
The recipe we used for our jelly is as follows:

 CHOKECHERRY JELLY (makes 12 ½ pint jars)
4 cups juice
1 box Sure Jell pectin
5 ½ cups sugar

Wash berries; put in water to cover by placing hand on top of berries.  Bring to boil; simmer until there is good color.  Berries will begin to burst.  This takes 20 minutes of boiling.  Strain through cheese cloth.  Mix Sure Jell with juice in large saucepan.  Bring to hard boil; stirring occasionally.  Add sugar and bring to boil again for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off foam.  Use scalded jelly jars.

Chokecherry jelly has a wonderful taste and is well worth the work.

NOTE: for many Native American tribes in the Northern Plains, chokecherries were the most important fruit in their diets.  The bark of chokecherry root was used to ward off colds, fever and stomach maladies.  Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hometown Fair

Nisland, South Dakota is where I grew up and lived until I was nineteen years old.  As a newly married couple, we moved to California, and over the past 47 years we have made the 1400 mile drive back to my hometown many times.  At heart, I am still a small-town girl and need to return to where my roots grew deep. 

This year, we arrived in time for the Butte-Lawrence County Fair. The small town of Nisland is the location of the fair. I walked through the two-story pavilion admiring the arts and crafts, and culinary exhibits.  The quilts and handicrafts captured my attention.  I remembered how the ladies in Nisland took pride in entering their work in the fair, and then anxiously waited to see what ribbon they received.

The activities of this year’s fair include:  Buckles & Bows Square Dancing performance, Youth Rodeo, Talent Show, Catch-a-Sheep Contest, 4 H activities, local farmers market, and of course, the judging of livestock.  There are grand champion steers, and sheep at the fair.  The grounds is scattered with vendors, and the implement dealers have their machinery for viewing. 

Unlike many fairs I have attended in California, this fair was different in that the parking and admission were free.  At 5 p.m. there was a free barbecue.  Before the meal, the Belle Fourche Cowboy Band performed.  While standing in the long line waiting to fill my plate with pork sandwich, beans and chips, I visited with many people I had not seen in years. 

One of the last events of the evening was the tractor-pulling contest.  More than half a century ago the competition was horse pulling.  Farmers would boast about the strength of their horses.  Today, machines are used to pull heavy weights.  The event has become high-tech.  Computers are used to calculate how far the tractor has pulled the weighted-down sled.

Another event we thoroughly enjoyed was the Catch-a-Sheep Contest.  Youths ages 8-12 can win a lamb.  All they have to do is harness a sheep and then coax, pull, drag (whatever it takes) to get the sheep to another pen. 

Before we left the fairgrounds, we sat under a cottonwood tree and watched the children enjoying themselves at the fair.  The small child in me remembered what the fair looked like over 50 years ago. Things were much the same except there was no carnival rides with flashing lights and music playing or noisy carnies.  I sat and thought how someday the youngsters here will look back on this day and think it was one of the finest days of their lives.  And maybe, just maybe, they will have the desire to return to this hometown fair and relish all their wonderful memories just like I did that day.