Today I introduce two of my favorite Franconians, Heinz and Jola, my parents-in-law (meine Schwiegereltern). Jola’s full name is Jolanda. Everyone agrees that Jolanda does not sound like a German name. Even when I ask, no one knows why she was given such a seemingly exotic name in a country full of Brigittes and Waltrauds. But she is so warm and talkative, hilarious and outgoing that its really a perfect name for her.
When I heard that Jola was a good cook, I got really excited. Aside from beer, food seems to be at the heart of Franconian culture. Knowing that Jola and I might have trouble communicating about regular things, I thought cooking together might help us along. So, it was a lovely surprise last Christmas when I opened the gift from she and Heinz and saw a cooking journal and a Bavarian cookbook. We set plans away for a future day of cooking together.
Jola and Heinz speak German and no English. Up until our cooking day, I had never spent more than 5 minutes alone with them. And so it seemed particularly daunting for us to spend two hours together without anyone to help with translating.
The day of the cooking lesson came. Heinz picked me up in their little red VW. The car is 20 years old but it is in better condition than almost any other car. It’s perfectly clean and puts my 10 year old Honda Civic to shame.
When Heinz arrived, I used almost all the German words I knew to say hello and how are you. It was a nice sunny day so we talked a little about the weather. Heinz is a relatively quiet person anyway but in the car we were sooo quiet. I wanted to ask him questions and thank him for picking me up but I couldn’t yet. I wanted him to know how happy I was, but instead I just smiled. After a few minutes of silence he mentioned the sunshine again and we talked a little more about the weather, happy to be able to talk about anything together.
When we arrived Jola was already working in the kitchen. To my great luck Jola loves talking. She is willing to repeat things and say them in different ways until you get it. The meal we made together was Rauchfleisch mit Klöße und Linzen. Loosely translated, it means smoked pork and potato dumplings with Lentil sauce. When I say “made together,” I mostly mean, I watched Jola work her kitchen magic, wrote a lot of notes, and helped her when she nudged me.
She had already prepped the meat. We focused first on the Lentil sauce and then the Klöße. Klöße is a dumpling made from pulverized potatoes. It’s called Klöße (pronouned more like Close) in Franconia but it’s called Kartoffelknödel in the rest of Germany. Using our hands, we formed them into spheres. Jola is really like a comedienne, explaining how to make the Klöße the proper size by comparing them to body parts. She would laugh and fix mine if they were the wrong size. When they are ready, you drop them into boiling water for 20 minutes. It’s interesting that every culture has a kind of dumpling. In the south of Bavaria and Austria they make bread dumplings called Semmelknödel, Asian cultures have various dumplings made of rice or other ingredients and the Jewish culture has a dumpling that looks very similar to Klöße but it’s made of Matzah.
In a kind of a comedy of errors, Jola and I were able to discuss the upcoming wedding and what to wear. It was better than theater really. The kitchen tools and utensils were like props and Jola was the star. Aside from learning the names of numerous kitchen items, the most exciting part of the event was that we made it! We were not bored or scared or silent. When in doubt we just acted out what we were trying to say until the other one figured it out and we laughed a lot. By the time Thorsten arrived to join us for dinner it felt like Jola and I had found our rhythm and it hardly felt like we needed him to translate. Stay tuned for more episodes of Cooking with Jola.