Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bratwüst, Sauerkraut und Kartoffel

Welcome back! What's that smell? It's my sauerkraut simmering and I was just getting ready to fry the bratwurst.

My parents immigrated to the US from Germany in 1953, a year and a half before I was born so German food and culture were always a very large part of my growing up. Our neighborhood, Ridgewood, NY, located right on the border between Queens and Brooklyn, was heavily populated by German speaking immigrants. We thus had a good number of stores in the neighborhood that were run by other German immigrants and catered to the local German tastes. There were at least three German butcher shops, wurst (sausage) being an integral part of German cuisine - over 1500 varieties, I read once - at least 2 or three German bakers and more than a few delicatessens. One of the dishes my mom made was Bratwürst, Sauerkraut und Kartoffel. The sauerkraut was not just unceremoniously dumped from the jar into a pot for heating, not by a long shot. She had a specific way of cooking it that made it taste so much better. I use her recipe and have added a thing or two as the years have gone by.

First of all, I use Bavarian style sauerkraut. You can tell it's Bavarian if it has caraway seed in it. I buy it in a jar, I think it's 15 oz. I put it in a saucepan and add 1 jar full of water. Some people who don't like it to be too sour may rinse it a bit in a strainer (but not too much!) before placing it the pan but I like it the way it comes out of the jar. I then add one container's worth of water to the pot.

I start that up on medium heat and while it comes to a boil I roughly grate a medium to large sized carrot and toss that in. If there's some in the house I often use a medium carrot and add about 3/4 cup chopped sweet (like a Vidalia or Mayan sweet) onion too. Once it comes to a boil I reduce it to a simmer and go to peel the potatoes.

I use regular white potatoes. I peel, cut into halve or quarters and boil them in salt water. That's all that needs to be done with them. One small, or a half of a larger potatoe is reserved. I grate it using the next to last smallest side of my 4 sided grater. The finely grated potatoe is added to the sauerkraut to cut the sourness and to slightly thicken the water it's cooking in. A little more simmering, a pinch of sugar to balance the sourness and maybe a bit of salt, both to taste, and it's ready for the next step.

While the kraut is simmering I start frying the bratwürst. In my old neighborhood we could get authentic German sausages in more than one place. Nowadays, the closest thing I can find to those bratwürst are locally known as Johnsonville Brats. I like to fry at least three to 5 of them over medium heat in a rather large pan. The pan needs to be large enough to hold the sausages as well as the sauerkraut. A braising pan would be ideal, I guess, but I haven't got one. I fry the sausages and might even pierce them in a couple places to let some of the fats run out. When they are well browned and thoroughly cooked, I push them to the side of the pan and dump the pot of sauerkraut in. After the noise and steam quiets I stir and deglaze the pan with the sauerkraut.

I serve the sauerkraut over the boiled potatoes, mashed by a fork on the plate, with a brat or two on the side. Beer is almost a requirement as an accompaniment.

I've received many advantages from my bicultural upbringing. I'm bilingual and have the benefit of being able to live within and compare two vibrant cultures. The local "Bund" (get more than 2 Germans in one place and they form a Bund, lol) offered classes which taught me basic reading and writing in German, even though I hated the classes by the time I was a preteen. My peers in school and in the neighborhood had similar backgorunds, yet through it all I never felt as if I was like them, although I deperately tried to be. I never had the words to express it though, I never knew what kept me from feeling truly included. By the time I hit my teenaged years I was lost but still couldn't figure out what made me do and like the things I did, things that I "knew" other guys didn't do. Puberty was devestating in many ways, especially at its beginning, but I had no clue why. All because I had no frame of reference, no knowledge or vocabulary to describe who I was. It wasn't until I was 20 years old that I finally figured out, I had "a womans soul even though my body was male." Of course, in 1975, this was not something that was talked about except in sensationalistic and derisive ways. I can remember reading about Nancy Hunt and Jan Morris and feeling a bit envious and then quickly telling myself that I would never, could never, be like that. The only strategy that I could envision was to push this thing deep, live with it the best way I could and never, ever, ever tell a living soul about it.

I've transitioned from male to female now and have been living as my true self for more than a year already. I fit in so much better with women than I ever did with men yet I am still painfully aware of the fact that my past was so different from theirs. It makes me wonder if I will ever feel truly a part of any group, other than a group of people with similar histories yet I do know that I have done the right thing, that this was what was meant to be for this life and I cannot even imagine the prospect of never having transitioned, or having to transition back to being male.

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