By Sabrina Hornung
There was something special on the menu at Wishek Living Center on Good Friday, homemade noodles with stewed prunes, pickled herring and a slice of homemade kuchen, which has been a Good Friday tradition in German Russia country as far as anyone can remember.
Wait…what? Prunes and noodles?
“Christians would not eat meat, because of the proper holiday. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, so it became a tradition back then. Most people around here 100 years ago didn't have a lot of money because of hard times. But they could always make noodles because they would have wheat and eggs,” said Cindy Gall, an LPN at Wishek Living Center.
She went on to say that stewed prunes were often added to the noodles because it was common to have dried fruit on hand, along with a homemade sauce, and if they had the means it would be served with fish.
Gall is well versed in the region’s German Russian cooking traditions. She learned from her mother and grandmother and has since passed the tradition on to her daughters, who are now in their 20s and 30s. She expressed concern about losing these traditions because the younger generations aren’t as interested in learning.
“The thing that's been fun here, is when we have new employees that are not from the area or a resident that is not from the area come up and say, I looked at the menu yesterday, what in the world is prunes and pickled herring– what kind of a meal is that?” she laughed.
Sometimes there needs to be a bit of an explanation or a little bit of encouragement to just give it a try. Of course, if they’re not interested or not feeling adventurous enough to try it, there’s an alternative meal available – no one goes hungry.
She says one of the best parts that comes with serving these traditional meals is the conversations that spring up surrounding them. Lots of reminiscing, especially on the topic of making homemade noodles. Oftentimes, egg yolks would be used for making the noodles themselves and the whites would be saved to make an angel food cake which would most often be served on Easter Sunday. Gall fondly recalled her mother making one every year and serving it with strawberries.
Good Friday isn’t the only day residents get treated to traditional fare. They, along with the rest of the community, are delivered meals for Sauerkraut Day and Tuesdays are “dough day.”
Hold up…Sauerkraut Day?
Mark your calendars for the second Wednesday of October. It's an almost century-old tradition in which Wishek businesses sponsor a community meal of wieners, sauerkraut and “speck,” feeding nearly double the population of the town. People travel from miles around and even politicians have been known to show up to shake hands, rub elbows, and kiss babies during the event. Volunteers will even drop off meals at local businesses if employees aren’t able to make it to the Civic Center for the feast. Locals will often joke about Sauerkraut Day being “Wishek’s Thanksgiving.”
“Many, many of our people here grew up not having a lot of money. So you had to be very frugal and you would make delicious meals out of basic, simple ingredients that you would have in your home. Living on a farm we always had meat. Many people had chickens and cows or pigs that they would butcher themselves. They would always have wheat so they could make their own flour. They had eggs.
Dough meals were a big thing back then and still are.” Gall went on to say, “We do different desserts that are made with dough called blachenda. It has pumpkin in it or apple, like a turnover, and that was a tradition for people that were growing up here.”
Dumplings, strudels and creamed chicken are also meals residents enjoy on dough day.
“This is their home. They live here, we work for them. So we want to make it as comfortable as possible. We want to bring back memories of good food and accommodate them in any way that we can and make them happy here. People work very hard, they paved the road that we’re on, they were hard workers, so we want to honor them by giving them what they're used to, in their own home, and bring back good memories,” Gall said.
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