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.”