German-American Life: Recipes and Traditions
The book German American Life: Recipes and Traditions, by John D Zug and Karin Gottier, describing the History of Germans in America, has been on my shelf for a few years. It’s not a textbook, it’s more a series of essays written by German Americans detailing their experiences. Mixed in are pages about history, recipes, and information about exactly where Germans landed in America, and why.
The book is actually a collection of articles or essays written by John Zug and Karin Gottier, but also by a number of other people. All are compiled into one volume (mine is paperback) making it easy to read and enjoy. The center of the book is LOADED with fabulous photos from all segments of German American life, showing it off in a way I had never seen before!
German American Life: Recipes and Traditions one of those books that you don’t necessarily read cover to cover… but you can pick and choose, reading the essays or recipes that are most meaningful to you at any time. Over the years, I’ve read it all a few times. Having grown up in California with German parents, my experience of being German in America is far different from what I think many people in other parts of the United States had. I can not imagine my whole town coming together for a German Fest! And I was more familiar with neighborhood butcher or baker speaking Spanish than German.
Quick Look at the Contents
History of Germans In America
According to German American Life, the first German arrived in the “New World” with Leif Erikson… and they never stopped coming. There were Germans among the Jamestown settlers… and waves of Germans arrived in the 1840’s (called the 48ers) after the unification of Germany. They landed mostly in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri and even Texas.
My favorite parts of the book are the personal essays written by German Americans in different parts of the country. The way they share their experiences… of dances, and Christmas celebrations… of music, and especially of food. Between these recollections are segments on Holiday Celebrations. You get the history, as well as an explanation behind many of the traditions. Remember, Germans brought the Christmas Tree to American, but did you know they also brought the Easter Rabbit?
Literature, music, religion and Art in America were all strongly influenced by German immigrants. In fact the history of Germans in America is so deeply woven into the history of America, that it’s hard to separate it out. When entire communities take on characteristics of Germany, you have to wonder where one ends, and the other begins.
German American Recipes
About 1/4 of the book is devoted to recipes and food. (Seems about right, since about 1/4 of the average German’s day revolves around food). Traditional German recipes changed just a bit when they arrived on American shores. However, since German Butchers, Bakers and Farmers were among the early immigrants, German foods stayed fairly traditional, and although availability of different ingredients meant a few changes, the flavor profiles stayed the same. ObstTorte, Sauerkraut, Kassler, Rinderroladen, and Gans still made it to the table, and these recipes were passed down through generations. Today, many homes still prepare the same foods that you might find on the table in Frankfurt.
German American Festivals
What surprised me the most… and what continues to amaze me, is the number of German Festivals that are still celebrated in America. My German upbringing was my family, and our German friends coming together for Kaffee or Parties… occasionally we would go to a local German Club for a fest. But the idea that an entire town would devote itself to a German Fest is astonishing. And I love it.
Looking at the photos in this book makes me long to see an America I never knew existed. An America filled with people who are very much like I am… who understand my German quirks (like punctuality, and a strong desire for cake mid-afternoon).
“German American Life” is like a road trip across an America I want to get to know.
German America Life is Available on Amazon in Paperback (new and used) and for Kindle
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