My last few food posts have been more anecdote than recipe, so for this post my goal is to keep the story short and sweet, and get to the food as soon as I can.
This story begins with my grandfather Leo, who despite being born in the United States, grew up speaking German in a small area of east central Wisconsin called “The Holyland”. Dotted with minuscule farming communities all centered around (and named after) Catholic churches, this area persisted as an autonomous German-speaking region well into the twentieth century. My grandfather was from Johnsburg; my mother was born in Marytown, a mere seven miles away. Other towns included Mt. Calvary, Jericho, and St. Cloud.
St. Mary's Church in Marytown, Wisconsin. My mother and her siblings grew up down the hill. (Photo source: Wikipedia)
When I was a kid he spoke English exclusively, but frequently mixed German words, phrases, and idioms into his speech. A hangover was a “katzenjammer” (pronounced kah-tzen-ya-mer), and from a very young age he called me “Hannes-wurst” which means, literally, “John-sausage”.
The Holyland was for a long time a very insulated German Catholic community. As a result, the people there created their own slightly modified version of the language over time. And my Grandfather was third or fourth generation, so his German was anything but “hoch”, that is to say “high”, proper German. So when we’d go to visit Leo and my grandmother, we’d eat “shtumpus”: a mix of left-over sausage (usually bratwurst), sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes. It was delicious, but for years afterward I always assumed that “shtumpus” was Holyland-German for “leftovers” or “mash” or some such thing–something delicious, but decidedly humble.
However, as I found out while reading Sanford D’Amato’s column in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week, I learned that shtumpus has noble origins. D’Amato is unquestionably Milwaukee’s finest and widely respected chef and a James Beard Award winner, so when he writes about shtumpus (or as he calls it, “stoemp” or “hutspot”), I feel that my grandfather’s cooking has been exculpated.
However, D’Amato’s version lacks many of the elements of the shtumpus that I was raised on, so last night I thought I’d create my own version: keeping in mind D’Amato’s technique, my grandfather’s love of “speck” (Holyland-German for “fat”), and my own love of root vegetables. What follows is the delicious result of this effort. This shtumpus may be used as a side dish, or topped with any variety of meats; D’Amato recommends short-ribs, and I used eggplant, pepper and olive ravioli (from the Italian grocery off First Avenue at 11th Street) with toasted pine nuts.
Also, if you’re looking to make this vegetarian,you can just make up for the bacon by adding more butter. Though there’s so little bacon in this dish, I’d recommend cheating and having a little meat!
A 2-3 pound mix of root vegetables, cubed. Less than half potatoes! (For mine, I used three medium sizes red potatoes, a large parsnip, two medium large turnips, and half of a celery root.)
1/2 pound bacon, diced
One medium onion, diced
1/4 to 1/2 head of cabbage (depending on size), chopped
Milk (no less than whole), a generous splash.
1 to 2 Tablespoons of Butter
Salt and Pepper, of course.
Start by peeling the root vegetables and chopping them into similarly sized cubes. Place in a pot, cover with water, add salt,bring to a boil, and simmer until the vegetables are completely done. Drain into a colander and immediately add back to the pot. The heat of the pot will help to evaporate the remaining water. Save about a 1/4 cup of the root vegetable water to steam the cabbage.
While the vegetables are coming up to a boil, dice the bacon, and add to a medium hot skillet with a little butter. Brown the bacon (not too crispy) and transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towel to drain most of the fat. Pour out (and reserve) almost all of the bacon fat, but save back a few tablespoons.
Add the onion and saute for a couple minutes in the bacon fat before adding the cabbage, the 1/4 cup root-veg-water, pepper, salt, and a large pinch of minced fresh dill. Toss in the skillet to combine and cover: to let the cabbage steam (it’ll cook a lot faster this way). Once the cabbage is nearly done, remove the lid to let almost all of the liquid cook off and remove from heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the root vegetables, along with a generous splash of milk, and a bit of the reserved bacon fat (what the hell, right?). Mash to desired consistency; I prefer a chunky mash, myself. Add the cabbage onion mixture, the bacon, and a generous amount of fresh dill to the pot, and stir to combine.
Whether Flemmish or German, Alsatian or Belgian, this dish is delicious! Next time you’re going to make mashed potatoes, make this instead!