This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 12, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
My daughter’s recent visit from New York offered us the opportunity to talk some more about the book we want to collaborate on. I’m a newspaper columnist and she’s a book designer, and we hope to glean from my columns about "Mama from Dime Box” and my mother’s old recipe box enough fodder for a book, which I hope to entitle, It Must Be the Noodles, -- or the Pickles.
This all started when my daughter actually created a book of my old Images columns and family pictures for a class project as a journalism major at the University of Texas. That was a long time ago, and we haven’t made much progress on our collaborative venture. Since that tentative beginning, which was made up mostly of my Images columns form The East Bernard Tribune, I have since written many, many more Imagers columns for the East Bernard Express, and a column series for The Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter, entitled “It Must Be the Noodles.”
Our book project got rebooted when I went through my mother’s old recipe box filled with recipes passed on down from my Wendish grandmother, and after I reread my four It Must Be the Noodles columns published in the Wendish Heritage newsletter the past five years. Suddenly the book began to take a new direction, especially since my daughter’s specialty at Rodale Books is designing recipe books. My Noodles columns became as important to me as my Images columns.
I began writing the “It Must Be the Noodles” columns when my Wendish cousin suggested that I write about why we Texas Wends are so obsessed with our Sorbian heritage. I facetiously said, “It must be the noodles!,” and my column was born. In my next Wendish Heritage column, I suggested that it might also be our home-canned pickles, and maybe even those picturesque Wendish bonnets our mothers wore.
After observing the tremendous amount of work done by so many members of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, and the incredible amount of professional quality research done on a volunteer, but regular, basis by scholars who came from humble backgrounds, our obsession seemed no longer a laughing matter. Here is what I wrote in my last Noodles column:
Although we Wends are known for having a sense of humor, I can no longer
make a facetious judgment about why we are so ‘obsessed’ with our Wendish heritage
and history. It’s not because of the noodles, -- well, maybe to some extent because of
the noodles, -- it’s really because of the passionate love and respect we have for the
humble history of our forebears, their guts and grit, their gusto, their Godliness, their
genuineness and their generosity.
You see, the Wends (or Sorbs) from the beginning of their existence were Slavic nomads who seemed to wander the European continent in search of a home. The Czechs, Poles, Russians, and other Slavic peoples, had a homeland, but not the Wends. They finally settled in Germany around 300 A.D., but they were considered outsiders and subjugated by the Germans. Hitler didn’t like them because they were Slavic and thus, in his opinion, non-Aryan. In spite of a long struggle in Germany, they were able to preserve their language and their customs.
Their life was also a struggle on the Texas frontier, -- so much so, in fact, that Wendish brides wore black or gray wedding dresses as a sign of the hardships they would face in their life in Texas.
So, yes, their obsession to know and preserve their heritage evolves out of years of humble living through difficulties and struggles in seeking a place under the sun.
My Wendish mother’s recipes were not that different from the recipes of Czech mothers, Polish mothers, or even German mothers, and were probably influenced by the wanderings of their ancestors. That’s especially true of the noodles, which are not at all unlike Czech noodles in East Bernard, but I think our pickles are superior to all. Many people associate pickles with German cuisine, but cucumbers were native to India, and pickling was the best way to preserve food before the invention of refrigeration. Just about everybody in Europe canned pickles early on; in fact, Columbus brought pickles to the new world, and he wasn’t German.
Also the ethnic “fact” that Germans hung a pickle in their Christmas tree is a totally unproven myth, -- no one in Germany has ever heard of that custom.
The French are known for their Roquefort, the English, their Cornish pastry, the Italians, their Parmigiano Reggiano, and the Germans are known for their “Spreewald” Gerken (Pickles). Not their “German” pickles, but their “Spreewald” pickles, which translates into “Wendish” pickles. Who has lived in the Spreewald area of Germany for 1,400 years? The Wends, of course. Maybe it is about the pickles!
Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.