I often think about what it must have been like for my grandparents when they came to the United States from Switzerland six or seven years after the end of World War I. I’m sure they were sad to leave their country of origin. Grammie talked about being a young wife and mother and having to say goodbye to her parents, knowing full well that it was likely she would never see them again. She was right. While Grammie and Grandpa did return several times to Switzerland many years later, her parents were long gone and she never did see them again. And no email or Face Time. Whaaaaaaat?
Bill and I traveled around Europe – mostly France and Italy – for three-and-a-half months, and I can tell you that while we enjoyed every minute, we often felt like the proverbial fish out of water. We didn’t know the language. We couldn’t figure out some of the customs. We couldn’t find a good hamburger.
That latter fact is more important than you would think. While we loved the food we sampled during our travels, we often missed the familiar foods we grew up eating – hamburgers, fried chicken, barbecued spareribs. The reason they call these foods comfort food is because eating these foods make us feel comfortable.
So in addition to giving up family and friends and familiar customs, my grandparents had to get used to a whole new way of eating. They, like most immigrants, lived near others from their own countries of origin. Because of this, they probably were able to get some of the foods that were familiar to them. I remember, for example, my dad and my grandparents eating a highly suspect food with a wholly unpleasant smell called head cheese. Head cheese is not cheese at all, but more of a sausage or cold cut made from, well, the head of pigs or cows. Yummers, right? And just to add to the fun, it is set in aspic. You know, aspic – in and of itself a totally disgusting item. You’ll be glad to know that the brains, eyes, and ears are almost never included, according to Wikipedia.
Another delicacy that my grandparents and my father enjoyed was limburger cheese. I couldn’t even be in the room with them when they ate it. It smelled awful. More than awful. Much more than awful. And I once again looked it up on Wikipedia and learned why it has such a dreadful odor. It seems limburger cheese is made using the bacteria called brevibacterium linens. That, my friends, is a bacteria found on the human body and is responsible for human body odor.
I’ve got to stop looking on Wikipedia.
Recently I read that the vegetable kohlrabi is coming into fashion. The new kale, according to what I read. I mentioned this awhile back, and also said that I was having trouble finding the vegetable. In fact, I couldn’t find a single produce person who had ever even heard of it. But I was at lunch with a friend recently who had stopped at a farm near her home in Brighton, Colorado, to bring me fresh corn on the cob, and I mentioned my quest for kohlrabi.
“They had it at the Palizzi’s Farm,” she told me. “I would have brought you some but I didn’t know what it was!”
So I went to a nearby farmers’ market on Saturday where Palizzi’s had a booth, and lo, and behold, I found kohlrabi.
Why kohlrabi? I assure you that it wasn’t because kohlrabi is the new kale. Do I seem like a food snob? No, friends, it was because I remembered my grandmother making kohlrabi (which was and is often eaten in Germany and Switzerland) when I was a child, and I loved it.
The problem is that I couldn’t remember how she made it. I’m pretty sure it involved speck, a bacon-like substance that originated in Europe, which she got from her brother-in-law-the-butcher. I had enough trouble finding kohlrabi; I have no intention of starting a hunt for speck.
But I did find a recipe, and made kohlrabi last night for dinner. It was worth the hunt.
2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled
2 T. olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ c. Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Cut the kohlrabi bulb in half, and then cut the halves into half-moons. Spread on the bottom of a cookie sheet or a baking pan. Sprinkle with the minced garlic; pour the olive oil over the vegetables, and stir until coated. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Bake 10 minutes; stir the vegetables. Bake another 10 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the kohlrabi and bake another five minutes.
Nana’s Notes: I would definitely compare kohlrabi to turnips except they are much sweeter. They really were very good. And my grandmother DIDN’T use parmesan cheese, I assure you.