Monkey Leg Stew

Some of the cards in my recipe file have yellowed with age and are speckled with splattered batter. Pulling a very old recipe card out, I held it up for my daughter to see, explaining to Tammie, “Look at this one. I think this is my oldest recipe and probably from my grandmother Franziska. Before emigrating from Germany to the United States, Franziska had worked as a housekeeper for a rich family. Maybe the recipe was something she made in that household.”

My daughter took the card from my hand and wondered, “Why do you think that?”

I explained, “Mom told me the gravy in this recipe was called a roux. I don’t think her German family would have normally used that French word. Mom was making this recipe in 1935, early in her marriage. Surely, it must be something that Franziska taught her to make.”

Handing the card back to me, Tammie chuckled, “I love the goofy name your family gave the stew. “Tell me the story again.”

Laughing, I explained, “I’m going to tell it to you the way I see it in my imagination. Mom married Daddy in the fall of 1934. By the following summer she was pregnant with my brother Casper. They had lived in the small Altmann farmhouse with Daddy’s parents through the winter. When spring arrived, Daddy’s parents moved to Stratford. What a relief it must have been for Mom to finally be alone with her husband.

The house Agnes, my mom, shared with Jake, my daddy, wasn’t as big or grand as her childhood home. The summer day was hot, but Agnes had the front porch and the back porch doors open to allow a breeze from the cooler backyard to pass through the kitchen warmed by the hot wood stove.

Agnes glanced out into the yard from where she was standing at the kitchen sink deboning a cooked chicken. She wasn’t feeling very well. She smiled, daydreaming about the baby she would give birth to in December. If it was a boy, she wanted to name him Casper after her brother. If it was a girl, Jake wanted to name her Agnes. She wrinkled her nose. It would feel strange naming a baby after herself.

Setting the meat aside, Agnes retrieved three large kohlrabies from the back porch that she had picked from the garden earlier that morning. After peeling and slicing them, she put them in a kettle and held the kettle under the tap, grateful for the cold well water piped to the kitchen.

Once the kettle of kohlrabi was on the wood stove to heat, Agnes sat down at the table in the corner of the kitchen to rest. The sound of birds singing, chickens clucking, and cows mooing came through the open doors. Then she heard Jake’s team of horses coming closer; their harnesses jingling and their hooves pounding on the dry earth in the lane. A few minutes later Jake stepped into the kitchen. Browned by the sun, his brow glistened with sweat. Wiping his forehead, he informed Agnes, “I still have more hay to mow, but stopped to water the horses, and myself.”

Teasingly, Agnes suggested, “Maybe you just felt lonesome and stopped because you wanted to see me?”

Jake laughed, leaned over to kiss Agnes and admitted, “I was feeling very lonesome.” Sniffing, he said, “I smell something good.” Stepping over to the wood stove, he lifted the lids off the kettles and asked, “What kind of meat are we having for supper?”

Chuckling, Agnes nonchalantly informed Jake, “I caught a few monkeys this morning while I was in the garden. We’re having Monkey Leg Stew.”

Jake laughed heartily, and teased, “I can’t wait to try some of that Monkey Leg Stew!”

Tammie interrupted me to ask, “What was the recipe called before grandpa and grandma started calling it that?”

I shrugged and explained, “I have no idea. I wasn’t there when this conversation took place between Mom and Daddy. All I know about it is what Mom told me when I was growing up. Daddy had peeked into the kettles on the stove and asked what was for supper.

“By the time I was born fifteen years later, the great depression was over. Daddy had built a new farmhouse for the family that was bigger, with flushing toilets and hot and cold running water. I was baby number seven. Mom’s teasing answer to Daddy’s question endured down through the years. For our family, the meal will forever be known as Monkey Leg Stew.” 

Monkey Leg Stew recipe

Cook or roast a chicken and remove all the meat from the bones.

Cut up and slice 3 kohlrabi, cover with water and boil until tender. Reserve the water for the roux.

To make the roux

Melt 1/4 cup lard in a large skillet (butter, or bacon grease, or coconut oil)

Stir in 1/4 cup flour, stirring constantly until the flour is nice and brown.

Use the water from the kohlrabi to thin the roux (browned oil and flour) to the consistency of gravy.

Add the chicken meat and kohlrabi to the roux and simmer.

To make dumplings, 20 minutes before the meal, mix the following ingredients together.

1 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

one egg

3/4 cup milk

The dough will be stiff. Drop spoonfuls of the dough on the stew and cover the pan. Let simmer for 20 minutes.


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