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Zwiebacks rich in tradition

These and other Low German foods to be served at Threshing Days

Staff writer

For more than 70 years, Helen Schmidt has mixed her zwieback dough in the same mixing bowl. The bowl belonged to her mother, who taught her to make the traditional two-tiered rolls.

Zwiebacks will be one of several Low German foods served Saturday at Threshing Days in Goessel.

“My mom made zwiebacks all my life, but I don’t say I make them just the same way she did,” Schmidt said while making a batch Saturday.

Everybody has their own way to make zwiebacks, and there is no single best way, she said. When she was growing up, zwiebacks were baked almost exclusively on Saturday, so they would be ready on Sunday. Schmidt said she used to think zwiebacks could only be baked on Saturday.

“It’s a delicacy,” she said. “Most of us grew up with them from day one.

“When I was a child and there were weddings, zwiebacks were served with cheese.”

Sometimes for special occasions, someone would make several batches of dough at once, and other people would take a batch home to bake, speeding up the process.

It isn’t a scientific process to make them. Schmidt seldom measures the flour that goes into the dough; she prefers to work by feel to find when the dough feels right. Under normal conditions, 10 cups of flour is about right. She also uses a finger to test the temperature of water and milk that are heated for the dough.

“I’ve never used a thermometer,” she said.

She has changed some of the things she does to make zwiebacks. She originally used lard because it was readily available on the family farm. But now she uses margarine in its place. Other bakers use butter or oil. Schmidt said she has never had much luck using oil in zwiebacks.

The recipe changes a little from summer to winter. In summer, heat and humidity require a stiffer dough to prevent the zwiebacks from falling flat.

“I don’t want pancakes,” Schmidt said. “I want zwiebacks.”

Winter weather provides a clearer distinction between the top and bottom tiers of zwiebacks

Zwiebacks handle freezing well and keep similar quality after being thawed. Before thawing frozen zwiebacks, Schmidt recommends wiping off any ice crystals and transferring the zwiebacks to a new bag.

Threshing Days foods

Zwiebacks and several other traditional Low German foods will be available at Goessel Elementary School cafeteria for lunch until 2 p.m. Saturday during Threshing Days. Other items on the menu include country sausage, verenika with ham gravy, bierocks, cherry moos, and New Year’s cookies.

Verenika are dumplings filled with cottage cheese and boiled, then fried a bit in a skillet. They are most often served with ham gravy. Bierocks are rolls filled with a mixture of ground beef and shredded cabbage.

New Year’s cookies aren’t really cookies, meal organizer Aileen Esau said. Also known as portzelkje — along with alternate spellings — they are made with a sweet dough with raisins, deep fried, and rolled in sugar. As the name suggests, they are traditionally served on New Year’s Eve.

Cherry moos might best be described as similar to pudding, Esau said.

Other events

  • Parade, 10 a.m. Saturday, downtown.
  • Prairie Rose Rangers concert, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Goessel High School auditorium. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door.
  • Book readings and signings by Cheryl Unruh, author of “Flyover People: Life on the Ground in a Rectangular State,” and Robert Collins, author of “Ghost Railroads of Kansas,” Saturday afternoon on the grounds of the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum.
  • Lemonade and homemade cookies, 2 to 4 p.m. on the lawn of the Friesen house.
  • Children’s activities and pedal tractor pull.
  • Various demonstrations, including threshing, saw mill, plowing, and homemaking.

Tickets cost $4 in advance or $5 at the gate. For more information, e-mail danielsoldan@gmail.com or visit http://www.wheatco.org.

Last modified Aug. 3, 2011

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