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Everlasting Yeast

 

This is not a book that I need to plug. It has legs, and it’s walking onto bookshelves and kitchen counters across the northern plains. But let’s get a few things straight about this book, published by the Tri-County Tourism Alliance.

First, the title: Ewiger Saatz. The subtitle, Everlasting Yeast, is a literal translation of the title. The second subtitle describes the content: The Food Culture of the Germans from Russia in Emmons County, Logan County and McIntosh County, North Dakota.

Now, one more time on how to pronounce that title: you say it Evigge Sotz, got that? Stop saying Ewigger Saetz, or Ewijer Satz, or anything like that. Ewiger Saatz.

And in case it hasn’t smacked you in the forehead yet, the title is a big fat metaphor. To pioneer homemakers, such as the inveterate bakers of German-Russian Country, yeast was everlasting, it had to be in order to leaven the bread of life. It was everlasting, however, only on account of continual care, the saving and conserving of a bit of leavened dough from every batch.

As is the case with the saving and conservation of German-Russian folk culture in general, a rising ethnic consciousness among our state’s largest ethnocultural group. Ewiger Saatz is published by an organization dedicated to the conservation of German-Russian folk culture and to its renewal through sharing via heritage tourism. How do you start and proliferate and conserve your yeast? By sharing it around.

So, open up this book and have a sniff, see if the Saatz is working. I mean, breathe it in. At some point you will want the book on your kitchen counter, but open it first in an easy chair.

If you just leaf through the book for recipes, you may be eating well, but you’re missing the point. The chapter on sausage isn’t just about sausage, it’s about butchering, the place of butchering day in family and community culture, the technologies used for packing sausage, the smell of hardwood. The chapter about baking is about wheat, and farming, and dough, and nutrition, and how the dough feels when you work it.

There are sweet chapters about the good old general store in Lehr, and the good old café in Wishek, and about the labor and joy of feeding a threshing crew. The sense of culture grounds into a sense of place.

All right, now that you have the scene, go ahead and examine the recipes. The first thing you will notice is that many of them are handwritten, photographic facsimiles made from the card files and kitchen notebooks of German-Russian women. This not only generates verisimilitude but also contributes to the stunning visual impact of the book. The large format means that you get document facsimiles, historic photographs, and sensual text all together.

It is all the real deal. Alma Schott remembers, “We made that soft cheese you buy. You can still buy it. . . . We used separator milk. It was the leftover milk we couldn’t feed to the calves. We just left it in the separator shed and in a day or two it was sour. We took it to the house and scalded. It. As soon as it curdles, you put it into a strainer and strain your cottage cheese. That was it.”

To get a piece of this, go to germanrussiancountry.org and follow the link. I mean the web link, not the sausage link at the top of the page. Darn it, now you’ve got me thinking about sausage.

 

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