We moved to the lake “for good” in January of 1965. My parents bought our house on Castle Rock Road in 1963, and we spent summers and weekends commuting to the lake from Montclair, N.J. Route 80 had not been built yet. I was in the fifth grade.
Moving to the “country” was a culture shock for my brother and I, especially in the winter. So many things struck us as foreign: there were no sidewalks, we had to ride a school bus to the Ellen T. Briggs Elementary School, it was really, really dark at night and there were no kids to play with—just this big expanse of frozen lake, the wind, the snow, and the cold. It was a long cold and lonely winter for Frank and I. The only
things that got us through the winter were the all too infrequent visits from our friends in Montclair and my mother’s cooking.
My father, however, made the best of things. Horst Kertscher learned how to relax when we moved to Lake Hopatcong. Before coming up to the lake, my father never really had any hobbies. He worked nights, he worked days, he worked in the garden on the weekends. He worked all the time. Once we moved, though, my father learned how to fish. He joined the Knee Deep Club and made some great friends. Fishing became his passion. He bought a little wooden rowboat from Dick Dow’s on Nolan’s Point. He would go out every summer morning at sunrise, not coming in until he had caught one or two trout. He’d spend summer nights catfishing from the dock.
As extreme as it seemed to the rest of my family, my father wanted to go fishing in the winter. None of us really saw the appeal of standing on the frozen lake for hours at a time waiting for a pickerel to hit one of the tip-ups, but my father loved it. He would set out very early in the morning, in the freezing cold and load up the flexible flyer sled he had outfitted with a wooden crate. The crate held his ice fishing gear: the tip-ups, the auger, the chisel, the skimmer, a small bottle of schnapps to help keep him warm, and his pack of Camels. He could stay out all day, enjoying the solitude, catching fish. Frank and I would bundle up and go out on the lake to bring him hot black coffee and keep him company, but most of the day he’d be by himself. We couldn’t understand how he could stay out there all day, but he just loved ice fishing.
There was nothing more comforting than coming home to one of my mother’s suppers, and I imagine it was especially nice for my father, having been out on the ice all day. Eintopf was a winter dish my mother, Gertrude, would start early in the afternoon and have ready by 6 p.m. for dinner. It is a simple dish, almost cooks itself and there is usually enough for leftovers the next day.
A word or two about the ingredients; rutabaga and lamb taste wonderful together—do try to include the rutabaga, but it can be omitted. The “Bohnenkraut,” or dried summer savory, is an herb that Germans use for seasoning string beans. Bohnenkraut literally means “bean herb” in English. It’s called summer savory here and is available on Amazon and in specialty German markets, like Schwind’s in Rockaway. I’ve read that thyme can be substituted for Bohnenkraut, but I would only use about one teaspoon of thyme. Rutabagas are widely available and are usually waxed, so they must be peeled before cooking. After peeling, I use my largest heaviest knife (a cleaver) to slice off the ends. Then I cut it in half, then quarters, then I slice it about ½ inch thick, yielding wedge-shaped slices.
Each layer of vegetables is seasoned to taste with salt and pepper—a light sprinkling is enough. I don’t measure—“Ich hab’s im Handgelenk” (loosely translates to I have a “feel” for it).
Eintopf (“one pot”)
2 tablespoons oil or butter
2 pounds lamb shoulder chops or lamb neck bones
2 tablespoons flour
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh or dried rosemary
1 ½ pounds fresh string beans trimmed and cut in half
1 tablespoon summer savory (Bohnenkraut)
1 softball sized rutabaga, peeled and cut into large diced pieces or wedges
1 (16 oz.) bag of baby carrots, or 3 medium-sized regular carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins
4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, sliced ½ inch thick. Peel them if you’re German.
1 teaspoon marjoram
kosher salt and pepper
1/3 cup dry red wine
Heat oil or butter in a large Dutch oven. Season lamb with salt, pepper and rosemary, dredging it in flour before adding to the Dutch oven. Sprinkle on the garlic slices and brown the meat well on all sides. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the remaining ingredients in layers.
The diced rutabaga goes first, on top of the meat. Season this layer with salt and pepper.
Then add the string beans, seasoning them with the Bohnenkraut, salt and pepper.
Next, add the carrots, seasoning them with a bit of salt and pepper.
Last, add a layer of sliced potatoes, seasoning them with the marjoram, salt and pepper.
Add in the red wine and simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours.
Serve with a green salad. My mother’s salads featured Bibb lettuce, radishes and onions tossed with a tangy red wine vinaigrette. Enjoy—and stay warm!