It was the summer of 1974. I had just come back to Tante Lucie’s house in Sonnenberg, Wiesbaden (yes, the same Tante Lucie of the potato salad recipe) after touring Italy with my mother, Gertrude, her cousin Helmut (Tante Lucie’s son), Helmut’s wife, Waltraud and their son, Heiko. We had driven all over the Italian peninsula, and over the Dolomites, all crammed into an orange VW Beetle. Helmut’s older son, Ronald, had to stay behind because we couldn’t all fit into the car.
Our trip was timed so that we could all get back and watch World Cup soccer. Within days of returning, Franz Beckenbauer led the West Germans to victory on home soil over the Netherlands and the entire nation was celebrating the world championship.
Because Ronald wasn’t able to come to Italy with us, his parents decided to send him to the U.S. to spend a month at the lake with my family.
The day we left for the airport he had his suitcase packed and was wearing brand new sneakers (turnschuhe) and shorts. Waltraud was horrified – “Mann reist nicht in Turnschuhe!” (One doesn’t travel in sneakers!)
Germans, being a bit more formal than Americans, had some strong opinions about how one should dress when traveling. An argument ensued, Ronald vs. Waltraud vs. Gertrude vs. Helmut. The tension and confusion and excitement (much of it still due to the residual World Cup victory) built until it was time to leave for the airport.
Helmut, Gertrude, Ronald and I packed ourselves into the VW and got ready for the 300 kilometer ride to the airport in Luxembourg. We were flying Icelandair. Checking in at the airport we discovered that Ronald had left his suitcase at home. We managed to get a call through to his mother (remember this is before cell phones) and she turned the entire neighborhood on its head, finding the missing suitcase and enlisting one of the neighbors to drive it to the airport— all the way to Luxembourg.
The neighbor never got to the airport on time and Ronald came to America with no suitcase, traveling in his sneakers, after all. With nothing but the clothes on his back and the new sneakers on his feet, Ronald began his vacation on the lake. He was perfectly happy to be without his good shoes and Sunday clothes. According to
Gertrude, “You’re at the lake. All you need is a bathing suit and a T-shirt.”
Ronald couldn’t have been happier. He borrowed some underwear and socks from my brother, Frank, and Gertrude took him to Two Guys to buy some jeans and flip flops.
In honor of my German relatives, here is a recipe for authentic hamburgers, which are not called hamburgers (not even in Hamburg) but are known as Frikadellen. Not just plain ground beef thrown on the grill, Frikadellen are more like mini-meat loaves that are bursting with flavor. They are a terrific addition to any barbeque or “grill party” as the Germans call it. Served with gurkensalat (cucumber salad) and some kartoffelsalat (potato salad) on the side, they make a wonderful summer meal.
Traditional recipes call for chopped fresh onions, stale bread soaked in hot milk and many seasonings. Gertrude streamlined the recipe using packaged onion soup and seasoned stuffing mix. The herbs and spices in these products flavor the meat really well and save a lot of prep time in the kitchen. In the summer, it was important to get dinner on the table fast and get out of the hot kitchen to enjoy the cool shade at the picnic table as quickly as possible.
2 lbs meatloaf mix (beef, veal, pork) 1 package onion soup mix
1 1/3 cup seasoned stuffing
3/4 cup hot water
Put the stuffing mix into a large bowl and cover with the hot water. Stir well and let it sit for a few minutes until the stuffing mix softens and cools.
Put the ground meat on top of the soaked stuffing, add the egg and onion soup mix and combine until all of the ingredients are well incorporated. Divide the mixture into eight portions and form into patties.
Grill 5 to 7 minutes per side, until cooked through. Serve on buns with your favorite toppings.
1/3 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill if available (ok to use dried dill)
Cracked pepper, to taste
A tiny pinch of sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream (optional)
Peel and thinly slice the cucumbers. Place in a colander and toss with the kosher salt.
Let them sit and drain for at least an hour, or up to three hours.
Place the cucumber slices in a clean dishtowel, fold the edges in to cover the cucumber slices, twist and wring out the excess moisture, ensuring a really crisp salad. Place the cucumbers in a bowl; add in the onion, oil, vinegar, dill and pepper, and sour cream if using. Toss and serve.
See “Lake Hopatcong News” Memorial Day issue (Vol. 5, No. 2) for Gertrude’s potato salad recipe.