Thursday, October 29, 2009

Celebrate German Heritage Recipe #5.2: Lydia Wegener’s German Potato Salad

It’s a cornucopia of GPS recipes! Remember versions 5(.0) and 5.1? This is the last of my Oktober, er, October, celebrating-German-heritage recipes. I will of course keep sharing recipes with you, so don’t worry.

Here is another recipe from my mom’s collection. The recipe is from Lydia Wegener, who was a crony of my Grandma Renner’s, a Lutheran, who was in Grandma’s circle. As in, church ladies’ circle. (I think “circles” were what people had before there was Facebook.)

Being good friends, Grandma and Lydia Wegner apparently swapped various recipes. Years later, Dorothy Schaefer (Lydia’s daughter and next-door neighbor to my Grandma) (I mentioned Dorothy and her husband, Ralph, earlier) shared some of her homemade chili sauce with Grandma.

Grandma tried it, and remarked, “Why, that tastes quite a bit like my chili sauce!” Dorothy showed her her recipe, explaining it had been her mother’s recipe, and Grandma looked at it and said, “Well, that’s my recipe!” Turns out she’d shared it with Lydia years and years before.

. . . But we’ll get to retro chili sauce recipes some other day.

Anyway, like I said in my first GPS post, the techniques and dressings for German potato salad really do vary from one recipe to another. Here’s one where the dressing is made with an egg.

I found this to be a very sweet version of German potato salad, and surprisingly light. The abundance of celery and green bell pepper helps lighten it quite a bit.

As usual, I’m presenting the recipe just like I acquired it, keeping my editorial comments to a minimum; I’m adding them in square brackets. And be sure to read my comments at the end.

German Potato Salad, from Lydia Wegener

[Put the first five ingredients into a big bowl:]

12 sm. potatoes [cooked and cut up]
3 lg. blades celery [chopped]
1/4 green pepper [chopped]
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion [chopped]
4 slices bacon

Cut up and fry bacon and pour over the potatoes. Add the following dressing:

For dressing, bring to a boil:

1 egg
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vinegar [apple cider vinegar, of course]

Note: As you can see from the photos, I’ve made this salad, and I have to say I don’t understand the dressing at all. Maybe I didn’t make it correctly, but I couldn’t see that the three dressing ingredients should go in the pot together—it seemed that the vinegar would cook the egg--but maybe I should have cooked them together anyway.

As it turned out, I cooked the sugar and vinegar together, first, then added the egg, which, I should have predicted, immediately cooked into solid swirls; it basically became “egg-drop soup.” I put this “dressing” into the food processor to make it into something smoother, and it worked (sort of). If anyone has any better idea about how to make a “dressing” out of egg, vinegar, and sugar, please let me know!

Another comment: I used big red potatoes instead of small ones, and I overcooked them a bit. It tastes good, anyway!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nilla Pizzi

Remember a while back when I told you about listening to Nilla Pizzi music while I was cooking? I hadn't ever heard of her, but I found an old LP at a thrift store in extreme southern Missouri, and now I'm hooked.

I thought I'd share some of her music with you via YouTube. Of course you can search YouTube for "Nilla Pizzi" and find lots more--she has enjoyed a very long career. But here are a few of my favorites.

"Maria Canaria," from 1959

"Vola colomba," from 1952

"Corde della mia chitarra"

"L'edera," from 1958

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Birthday Possum

Saturday was my birthday, and my mom hit a home run with her gift to me. Since I was a little kid, she was always good at picking out stuffed animals for me. Ones with character and personality. Ones that were cool and could become real friends to an imaginative kid such as myself.

So Mom gave me a stuffed animal on my birthday—in honor of this blog, it’s a little opossum. She saw it at the gift shop at Cracker Barrel, which, as of September 11, is the exclusive seller of the brand-new Ganz Webkinz Opossum.

The pink nose, hands, and tail are super plush, and the body fur is a respectable representation of an opossum’s frosty gray coat. The tail is curled and you can hang the possum by it. It’s a fairly realistic stuffed animal.

Like others in the Webkinz line, the opossum “comes to life” online at the company’s kid-safe Web site, where children can log on and play with their critter in a virtual world.

You can buy them from Cracker Barrel online; they’re $13.99.

Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten at a Cracker Barrel. I quit eating there in the early 1990s when the company blatantly implemented patently discriminatory policies toward its lesbian and gay employees. The company reversed the decision in 2002 and added “sexual orientation” to its nondiscrimination policy, but I guess at this point, for me, it’s become a habit not to go there.

I really do like their “country vegetable plate,” where you can make a meal out of your choice of four of their side items. I’m partial to the turnip greens (I think Cracker Barrel is the only national restaurant chain to regularly offer cooked greens); the fried okra is also something you can’t get at other chains. There’s also pinto beans, fried apples, “dumplins,” mac and cheese, and more. I mean, for a chain restaurant, Cracker Barrel isn’t too bad; it’s one of the few chains where you can get down-home country food, southern-style cooking.

Though I always, always urge you to try out the locally owned and operated places.

And I wonder if they planned it this way, but at the same time that they’re offering this Webkinz opossum, they’re also the exclusive seller of George Jones’s new CD, A Collection of My Best Recollection, a “best of” compilation that includes two previously unreleased songs. And George Jones, you know, is known as “the possum.” . . . Coincidence?

(. . . Possums! People are going to think they’re my favorite animal or something. But our kitties know better.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Argiope Slayer

The arthropod world is a universal chomp, and yesterday--apparently--our argiope (Argiope aurantia) went down to a Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera sinensis). Apparently.

We didn't see it. But when Sue left for work yesterday morning, our lovely "Mrs. Argiope" was gone from her web, and this four-to-five-inch mantis was standing less than a foot away from where she used to hang out. There was a single black spider leg dangling in the web.

And the mantis was looking right up at Sue with its green eyes. Defiantly. Motionless.

Sue took some pictures.

. . . Well, it is getting late in the season. The cold evenings aren't good for any of the bugs, and when it finally frosts hard enough, all the argiopes expire then, collapse and drift into the leaves of the plants upon which they've built their season's webs.

So this year, it was a quick dispatch instead of the slowing of metabolism until there is nothing.

She did make at least three egg cases (that we know of) before she was dispatched.

As an interesting note, there had been another argiope, about one molt behind full adulthood, which had built a respectable web nearby, in the same clump of tomatoes. She has now appropriated the web built by the other argiope, which is bigger and better-placed for hunting. Yesterday, I noticed she'd caught a little wasp. But if she wants to make egg cases, she'd better get a move on.

And watch out for mantises!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Celebrate German Heritage Recipe #5.1: Grandma Renner’s German Potato Salad

Here is the German potato salad recipe from my maternal grandmother, as copied from a recipe in my mom’s collection. I’ve kept my editing to a minimum.

It’s a very simple and incredibly, um, “rich” version of GPS; it makes a lot of dressing, and the dish really needs to be served hot. I have to admit that even though it’s not my favorite way of making GPS (seriously, please add some veggies to it, if you make it)—when I smelled it cooking this last week, it really took me back in time. Grandma Renner’s kitchen.

This is real.


Mrs. John Renner’s German Potato Salad

4 slices bacon, diced
3/4 c. vinegar
3/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 c. water
onions, chopped
5 or 6 medium potatoes, cooked and cut up

Fry bacon to golden brown; add vinegar. Make into a paste [the] flour and 1 1/4 c. water and add to boiling mixture. Add sugar, salt, and 1 cup water, and boil 5 mins. Sprinkle potatoes liberally with onions. Pour out dressing over them and let stand for flavor to penetrate.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Celebrate German Heritage Recipe #5: German Potato Salad

When I was growing up, in my family, we almost never called it “German potato salad.” We just called it “potato salad”—I mean, what other kind is there? Oh yeah . . . the kind with yellow mustard, and the kind that’s just, well, plain. Like I said, what other kind is there?

I have to admit that I cannot provide you with a definitive “this-is-the-best-you-guys!” kind of recipe.

You have to realize that I didn’t really get interested in cooking until both of my grandmas had retired from KP, and even then, I was more interested in “ethnic” cooking and “healthy” cooking than I was in acquiring my own family’s heirloom recipes. (Big regrets.)

And although I have a copy of a recipe from my Grandma Renner, I haven’t been able to locate any official German potato salad recipe from my Grandma Schroeder. And the two versions were very different. (I have to admit that I generally like my Grandma S’s version better; it tastes lighter and has more vegetables.)

My own recipe is informed by one I found at, as well as several others, and—especially—my recollections of Grandma S’s potato salad. And I guess it works pretty well as an approximation.

GPS Techniques: Overview

Some years ago, when I was trying to figure out how to replicate Grandma S’s recipe (which is just as good cold as it is hot), I read a lot of recipes and discovered that there are several ways of doing the sauce. Here’s an overview of the three main methods. I’ll be giving you all three of the recipes.

1. Fry, remove, drain, and crumble the bacon. Use drippings as base: Add flour and seasonings. Add vinegar (use apple cider vinegar, of course) and sugar and water. Pour this dressing over the cut-up cooked potatoes and other ingredients. (This seems the most popular method, overall.)

2. Fry cut-up bacon. Add vinegar to the drippings and crumbled bacon. Then make a paste out of flour and water and add that to the bacon/grease/vinegar. Then add sugar, salt, and water, and boil for 5 minutes. Pour that over the potatoes and other ingredients. (This is Grandma Renner’s technique.)

3. Fry cut-up bacon. Pour it over the cooked and cut potatoes and other salad ingredients. For a dressing, bring to a boil an egg, sugar, and vinegar. Pour the dressing over the salad. (This is from an old recipe from a Lydia Wegener—a friend of one of my grandmas, I’m sure.)

. . . You all are going to think that I have a pork fat or bacon fetish! Really, I don’t. It’s just the time of year, and pork fat is pretty central to this style of cooking. I can’t help it; I didn’t make it up. Bacon is to German home cookin’ as olive oil is to Mediterranean cuisine. I'm not saying to eat it every day, and I really do use olive oil a lot more than bacon grease. Honestly.

I think the reason why there’s no “official recipe” from my Grandma S is that this is a “cook by feel” dish, where you add whatever you think would be good in it. I mean, for goodness’ sakes, it’s a salad, not rocket science.

My Grandma S liked to put hardboiled egg, chopped celery, and a generous amount of parsley into her GPS. She generally served it cold from the refrigerator, and it had a good crunch to it. This goes just as well with fried chicken on a summer picnic as it does with brats on a crisp autumn day.

German Potato Salad My Way
(approximating Grandma Schroeder’s version)

4 medium potatoes: peel them, boil or steam until JUST done, and then cut up or dice.

4-8 slices of bacon (or less, depending on their thickness and how much you want): cook and crumble. Leave about 1/4 cup of grease in the skillet. [I squirrel away the remainder of the grease in a jar in the fridge—a little dab of it makes a big difference in a huge mess of greens.]

To the hot bacon grease, add:

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

. . . And cook, stirring, until thickened.

Then, in a big bowl, combine the salad ingredients:

--the cooked, cut-up potatoes
--the crumbled bacon
--1 onion, chopped
--a rib of celery, chopped
--chopped parsley as you like it (I say: plenty!)
and last, because you want to be gentle with it:
--some cut-up hardboiled egg

(’s recipe uses a chopped green pepper and a tablespoon of pimiento, but I skip those in lieu of the celery, parsley, and HB egg.)

Pour the dressing over all, and toss gently. It’s best if you let it sit for a while, like overnight, for the flavors to meld, but it’s good hot or cold.

Makes 1 big serving bowl.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Twenty Years Ago

One of the interesting things about keeping a journal is that you can look back on what you were doing in the past, and as you reread your own words, you can usually remember exactly what you were thinking and feeling at the time.

And then you can also reflect on how everything has changed since then.

Today’s post has nothing to do with the here and now. It has everything to do with where I was—and where we all were—twenty years ago today, October 17, 1989. I had just moved to Phoenix for grad school, and I’d recently bought my first television set.

This is transcribed from my journal.

Wed. Oct. 18, 1989
12:51 a.m.


I’ve been watching the news for the past 3 hours, and my head is spinning. Images twirl around thoughts. Things I’ve seen; crunched cars, huge areas on fire, huge long stretches of highway, one level smashed onto another, the videotape of the car driving on a bridge, then disappearing, dropping down into a huge hole in the road. The pickup behind it braked, put on its backup lights, and backed up.

And they said one of the people who’d been pulled from his car—a Nissan Sentra that’d been sandwiched between two layers of highway—the dude had survived. His car was no higher than 18 inches. And he was relatively unharmed.

And another guy said his house was basically upside-down.

All of this boggles my mind . . . how within a few minutes, so much could happen. What went through everyone’s mind? What was it really like to see light poles “thrashing around”?

. . . Yeah, I’ll bet you saw all those news images of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, too. I think all of America was glued to CNN that night.

It’s funny how you can look back on something like that—some famous event in a place that you didn’t directly experience at the time—but with which you eventually become somehow connected. I mean, I had never been to the Bay Area when I wrote that journal entry, and had no plans to go there. I had absolutely no idea I’d be living in San Francisco within the next year, that I would drive over that repaired spot in the Bay Bridge where the car had tumbled in, and that I would form personalized connections with San Francisco that endure to this day.

It’s just funny how life turns out. I’m always amazed by it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bonnots Mill Parish Hall Views

Since I've been under the weather this week, I'm trying to keep my posts short. So tonight I'm going to stick with pictures of last weekend's fall supper at the St. Louis of France Parish Hall in Bonnots Mill, Missouri.

The supper was fairly small and low-key. It was served cafeteria-style (you pick up a tray and a plate, then pass through a line and dish what you want onto your plate). On the menu were were pot roast and sliced ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and sauerkraut. Then, on the tables, we had big serving bowls of apple sauce, coleslaw, bread, and (my favorite of the whole day, to be honest) pickled whole beets, served on a crystal dish. What a nice touch!

But mostly, I wanted to show you pictures of the beautiful view from the Parish Hall grounds. Beyond the hall itself is a grassy yard with a few shelters and other outbuildings. There's an old shelter house at the top of a bluff overlooking the Osage River right above where the Osage meets the Missouri.

So if you look straight ahead, you see the beautiful Osage down below; if you look off to the right, you can see over to where the rivers meet (and the Callaway Nuclear Plant and its plume of steam); if you look to the left, the view down the hill shows the St. Louis Church and its grotto, and beyond that, the little town of Bonnots Mill.

And you see everything through the pretty trees that line the blufftop. And this time of year when the leaves are turning color, it's especially beautiful.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 13, 2009: Evening Musings

Hi, friends. I wrote this two nights ago and I wasn’t sure I wanted to post it. But you know how moody weather can make you reflective, how a change of seasons can bring the past to mind. So here we go . . .

This is the kind of day that forces you to think. It’s overcast and cold. It’s been raining or sprinkling since mid-morning, and the cars that rush by make slick sounds on the wet pavement. The kitties are curled up wherever a lamp shines its warm light on a suitable sleeping place. And I’ve made sure those lamps are on.

Whenever I’m confronted with the first days of a new season, it makes me particularly reflective, and images of similar days flash into my head. For example, for some reason I’ve been thinking about trudging around downtown Columbia today; I guess I’ve done that on many other days when it’s rainy and cold like this.

I’ve felt pretty low-key today, too, since I’m suffering from a stubborn head cold that’s really got me down. Taking lots of cold medicine makes me feel rather dreamy and fuzzy, and the synapses are floating from one idea to another.

I realize that I have a lot of “anniversaries” this month, most of which don’t bear mentioning, but the fact that there are so many makes me think this is a somehow charmed month, or that there’s some kind of special “energy” that comes into my life in the peak of autumn that leads me to perform actions, make connections, fumble into situations that turn out to be significant.

Today, especially, I am remembering this day in 2007. Instead of being cold and damp, it was rather warm and dry, sunny, and I was mowing the grass. I got around to the terraces in front. While pushing the mower in my usual few steep up-and-down swaths to get as close to our front steps as possible, my right foot turned outward and I felt something go “clunk” in its outer edge.

And I was unable to put any weight on it, except on just the heel. If I tried to bend my toes or to walk on it, it hurt so much it made me laugh. Yeah, but it wasn’t funny. I figured I had sprained it pretty good.

I’ll try to make a very long story short. The next night at the emergency room, I found out that I had a Jones fracture, which is a break in the fifth metatarsal right in a particular zone that has terribly inefficient blood circulation. Which means that healing will likely occur terribly slowly.

(The fracture, by the way, is named for a British orthopedic surgeon, Robert Jones, who was the first to describe this particular kind of fracture. His 1902 article in the Annals of Surgery is rather interesting, in that Jones himself had suffered this fracture, and he describes in quaint Victorian language how it happened, and what it felt like.)

So, they casted me in the emergency room and told me I’d have to be completely off of it for at least four to six weeks. To start with. This was in the middle of October.

And by the end of November, no healing had occurred. In fact, the fracture had gotten a little worse (that’s the X-ray above). (And yes, I’d been following all the instructions.) . . . So the orthopedic surgeon recommended surgery (now that it was a bona fide “delayed union” and insurance would most likely pay for it), and in early December he fixed the bone with what looks for all the world like a deck screw. It’s like two and a half inches long. (I will spare you that X-ray!)

. . . And even then, it took for-ever to heal. I was out of the cast in mid January, but then I was in a clunky “moon boot” for months, gradually weaning myself off of crutches and eventually into a shoe with a stiff carbon plate to keep my foot from flexing. It was May before I could actually wear “normal” shoes and walk “normally” again.

And even now, I wear special orthotic insoles; I tend to favor the foot out of habit, I limp slightly when my feet get tired, and I still get a little freaked out when I mow that front terrace.

But I’m so glad it’s in the past, and that except for some weird scars on the edge of my foot, I’m back to all my usual activities.

. . . Like dangling my feet in Stephens Lake on a fine hot day this summer. It really felt great to do that. I don’t take such things for granted anymore.

I guess I’m writing this in part to commemorate that event and assert some perspective on it, as well as to put something “out there” on the Internet that amounts to a personal description of what I went through.

God knows as I went through my “compulsory orthopedic surgery seminar,” I did a ton of Web searches on “Jones fracture,” “fifth metatarsal fracture,” and so on. I found a lot of scientific abstracts, many with little relevance to my specific case, and a bunch of generalized articles (primers; they all said the same thing). But I found very few first-person accounts of what it was like.

So if you stumble upon this page because you’ve just been told you have a Jones fracture, just go ahead and resign yourself to be on crutches for what could indeed be a good long while. And yeah, it will eventually get better. And feel free to leave a comment if you want to contact me. I’m full of stories about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Celebrate German Heritage Recipe #4: Mom’s Fried Apples

I cannot believe it when I talk to people and they haven’t ever had fried apples. Good lord, what they’re missing!

Here’s the deal: This is something to have with pork. Pork chops, or little round patties of cooked pork sausage (you know, like out of those tubes of R.B. Rice or Jimmy Dean, both owned by engulf-and-devour megacorporation Sara Lee). I have to say our family is rather partial to the R.B. Rice, medium.

To complete the culinary Trinity, you need some form of potatoes: fried, mashed, or simply boiled, whatever. Chips, if you’re hard up.

Pork + fried apples + potatoes = yummy dinner. Mustard with the pork sausage is optional. Add green vegetables or a salad ad libitum.

Mom fixed this dinner a lot for us when I was a kid.

(Thanks, Mom!)

Mom’s Fried Apples

Cut 4-5 medium cooking apples (such as Jonathans) into slices. [Red apples look better, cooked, than green ones.]

Put the apple slices into a skillet on top of 4 or 5 pieces of margarine (about 2 tablespoons).

Cook on medium or medium-low heat and cover.

As the butter starts to cook, stir the apples around and get them coated.

They’ll steam a little bit. Check on them every once in a while; stir gently. You don’t want them to get too soft.

When they’re cooked, take off the lid and leave it off. Sprinkle on some cinnamon and about 1/3 c. sugar. Stir gently, so as not to break the apple pieces.

Serves 2-3 people as a side dish.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Vichy Fire Tower

After we finished our hike last Sunday at Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area, we decided our legs could accomplish a little more, so we crossed the road (Old Highway 63) and climbed the ca. 130 steps up to the top of the Vichy Fire Tower.

Fire spotting is no longer done by people in towers, but the groovy old towers still stand on hilltops throughout the Ozarks. They are fun places to visit.

When I was a kid, our family would often picnic at highway rest stops, often near these towers. Dad would take me and Paul up to the top of the tower. Of course we kids were rambunctious from having to sit in the car, and Mom, Grandma, and whoever else were busy digging fried chicken, potato salad, pickles, and tomatoes out of the picnic basket and preparing the table for our feast.

Revisiting these fire towers today, I am amazed that Dad took us up these. Most parents today would have fits over the potential danger of falling; they wouldn't feel safe up there themselves, much less their Nintendo-hyper kids. There's no screening to give you an illusion of safety; just the bare beams and all kinds of void around them. You would not bring a toddler up one of these.

Anyway, we didn't have any kids with us, so we could simply enjoy the sights from on high.

We could see part of Highway 63--the stretch from which you can see the tower.

It's a long way down.

And we even noticed that we could see the shadow of the tower--and the tiny figures of us--outlined on the trees of Spring Creek Gap. (Yes, we waved at ourselves!)

I'm surprised that these fire towers haven't been ripped down, fenced off with barbwire, coated with Warning Keep Off signs. Here is an actual, serious, potentially dangerous and deadly thing, on public property, with no one immediately around to rope it off during an electrical storm, hold your hand, or tell you to quit throwing things. It is pretty amazing.

So if you like to get great views of the Ozarks, stretch your legs while on a drive, or just acquire a little different perspective, you might pull off the road and clamber up one of these towers occasionally. Before the lawyers make them all come down.

Addendum, September 18, 2011: Apparently the Vichy Fire Tower is no longer accessible to the public. Read the comments below.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area

Today I’m going to tell you about Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area, and Spring Creek Gap Glades Natural Area, which is included within the Conservation Area. We hiked this area a week ago, Sunday, October 4, and had a great time at this gorgeous, relatively untrampled public land.

It’s administrated by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and comprises 1,816 acres in Maries County (that’s pronounced MARE-eez, for you outsiders). On a map, you’ll find Spring Creek Gap CA a little north of Rolla, and a little southeast of Vienna. The closest town is Vichy (rhymes with “fishie”). (I won’t touch the local pronunciation of “Vienna”—I hear there are different ways to pronounce it, and I’m not going to enter that fray!)

Anyway, we first visited this Conservation Area early this year (February 28, 2009) and hiked in the snow. We didn’t hike very far, but we had a great time, loved the views, and vowed to return. Hence our trip last weekend! Here are a few pictures from our February outing:

. . . So after that visit, we ended up picking perhaps the best weekend of the year for our return hike. The weather was perfect—sunny, crisp, with those intense blue skies we can get here in October. The fall color changes were still in the early stages, with early changers—such as brilliant red sumacs—showing great color against the warm palette of late-summer greens.

Additionally, the asters, goldenrods, and other friendly, late-blooming composites were casually bobbing their waist-high inflorescences, adding their earth tones to the landscape like patches of lavender, gold, and cream in a hillside by Cézanne.

The landscape changes a lot at Spring Creek Gap. Entering the area at the south parking lot—at the top of a hill, near the Vichy Fire Tower site (more on that soon, I promise) off of Old Highway 63—you are surrounded by a forest of shortleaf pines, which is pretty special for Missouri.

Shortleaf pines used to be all over the southern part of Missouri, but they were so intensively logged that few forests remain. The patch here by Spring Creek Gap is a planting, and it’s cool to see these gorgeous, soft-looking pines and to think about how this area might have looked when they were much more numerous.

As you hike the trails of the area, you pass through oak-hickory forests, along ridges, way down into creek crossings, and all topographic levels in between.

Additionally—and I think this is the reason for the Natural Area designation—there are a number of glades, some small, some covering more than ten acres.

Glades are relatively open areas where the soils are poor and usually involve rocks poking out of the ground. They’re kind of like miniature deserts, and they feature plants that are xeriphytic by Missouri standards—prairie species like yellow coneflower, liatris, and big bluestem, for instance. Glades are also good places to look for lizards—and we saw plenty of them, basking on this sunny autumn day.

In terms of the hiking experience, the glades provide a cheery contrast to the forested sections of the trail, a place where you can see vistas and get a view of where you’ve come from and where you’re going. A breath of fresh air and sunshine.

Adding even more ecological interest to the area, the MDC has created several small watering ponds to improve the terrain for wildlife. Most of these ponds are off the trail, hidden from view by small ridges, but a few are easily seen. I’ll bet these are wonderful places for photographers to visit at daybreak to capture images of animals taking their morning drinks.

The trails in this Conservation Area vary. The main trails appear to be fire roads—double-tracked, often graveled, sometimes slightly rutted. These are easy to follow. Some of the other trails are more difficult, however.

We had the area brochure and map with us, and we got off course when we missed a trail juncture that wasn’t marked accurately on the map and wasn’t marked with signage at the trail intersection. Plus, the trail we had missed was pretty grown up and hard to see, anyway.

So the topography on the map soon contradicted what we were seeing around us, and we sensed we were on a wrong course. We turned around and were ready to backtrack possibly the whole distance, when a pair of spry ladies trip-trapped up the trail and were having basically the same problem as us; together we found the missing trail turn-off and continued on.

And there were a few notable places where this section of trail was greatly overgrown with grasses (river oats and such). Part of me was pleased to be in such a wonderfully remote area, but then another part of me wondered, “Well, is this the dang trail, or not?

Yes, there were some signs tacked to trees at (most) major trail intersections, but they were ambiguously marked (“D” was spray-painted on one; “E” and “F” were two others we saw). These signs didn’t match anything we saw on the map, so they might as well have been written in Sanskrit for all the good they did. The trails aren’t named on the map, either, and approximate mileages aren’t provided—any of these would have been nice to have.

I think that the loop trail we hiked was about three miles long—but since there’s no name for it, it doesn’t do me any good to tell you that, does it.

Another gripe about the trails: Many of them go straight up and down hillsides. My poor ol’ knees were singing, but beyond my personal comfort, I also think that switchbacks are important safeguards against erosion. Why aren’t there switchbacks on these steep (and rocky) hillside marches, or at least generally more oblique approaches up and down the terrain? One wonders. Maybe these are simply old hillbilly trails from the 1800s, and no one has changed them.

After this complaining, let me reiterate the good stuff. It’s a fairly remote area and gloriously little-traveled. We were there the best weekend of the year for hiking, and we only encountered those two ladies the whole time we were there. There’s lovely topographical relief and a diversity of landscapes, a little bit of everything—forests, creeks, glades, ponds, Ozark panoramas. Biological diversity: check! We saw lots of different plants, fungi, and animals. The hike is long enough to be substantial and satisfying, and definitely worth a few-hour drive.

. . . And then there’s also the Vichy Fire Tower, and I’ll tell you about that next.

[Photo credits: Sue, Sue, and Sue, my photographer extraordinaire. Thanks sweetie, and a happy NCOD to you! And to every one of us.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Celebrate German Heritage Recipe #3: Bratwurst

Okay, this isn’t really a “recipe” so much as it is a cheerleading session for some of our local and regional sausage makers, all of whom I strongly endorse.

By the way, the sausages I list are just the tip of the iceberg for all these producers. Visit their Web sites to see the complete bounty of offerings.

First, there’s Schubert’s Packing Co., in Millstadt, Illinois. I’m in love these days with their horseradish brats, which don’t blow your eyes out but do possess a lovely flavor of horseradish.

Like most of the local sausage makers, the folks at Schubert’s are really into the German styles. Just looking at their brats alone, other types include: beer, Cajun, cheddar, cherry, garlic, green onion, Hungarian kolbasz (also one of my favorites), maple, “regular,” Italian sasita, sauerkraut, and lots more.

Then, there’s Williams Brothers Meat Co., in Washington, Missouri. They make some really excellent fresh sausages, again, with an emphasis on European and German styles.

Their fresh sausages include these wursts: jalapeno brats, beer and onion brats, apple sausage, potato sausage, cherry sausage, Italian sausage, chorizo, Merquez (lamb sausage), Swiss and mushroom brats, weistwurst, and more.

Kurzweils’ Country Meats, more convenient to the western part of the state, is another place to get your sausages this fall. Among their offerings are cheddar brats, chilli cheese sausage, garlic pepper sausage, Italian and Polish sausages, jalapeno brats, smoked bratwurst, Swedish potato sausage, and tomato basil sausage. They’re the ones who had the brats flavored with portobello mushrooms sautéed in Missouri Norton red wine, which was possibly the best thing I’ve ever put into my mouth.

(I wish I had a photo of a package of Kurzweils' sausages, but we ate them all up!)

In Central Missouri, we have the Swiss Meat and Sausage Co., which is located in the tiny town of Swiss (not far south of Hermann).

Like many of the others, they will also make up sausage for you, using your own recipe—or, say, your great-grandpa’s recipe from way back when. They’re the company the Old Munichburg Association uses to make up the Hott & Asel–recipe sausage every year for fund-raising purposes.

And Swiss Meats also offers fresh sausages that will knock your socks off. How does this sound, for example: Swiss-style bratwurst, Munich-style sausage, Nuremberg-style bratwurst, smoked cheese brats, smoked cottage sausage, apple-cinnamon sausage, smoked sweet pepper and onion brats, pepper-jack brats, smoked beer and cheddar brats, chipotle brats, “flaming hot” brats, Hawaiian brats, butter parsley potato sausage, garlic butter brats, BBQ flavored brats, turkey and cranberry brats . . .

. . . As for how to cook these deliciously divine sausages, I’ll leave it to you. But I will gently recommend that the finer the sausage, the more you should be careful not to boil the frickin’ flavor out of them or to overwhelm their delicate subtleties with heavy-handed beer-braising.

For more on local sausage producers and their products, see my post on the Hermann Wurstfest, which is held every March.

To emphasize once again: The sausages I’ve listed for each producer aren’t at all exhaustive—I haven’t mentioned the summer sausages, jerky, liverwursts, blood sausages, and much, much more. There’s a lot of overlap, yet they’re always coming up with new brat flavors. Check their Web sites; give them a ring. They’re nice people!

Claysville Store and Café

Fall is here, so you’d better get goin’ if you are planning on eating at the Claysville Store! And fortunately, this is a lovely time of year for the visit.

The Claysville Store—a restaurant with a simple menu of pan-fried chicken and country ham, often barbecue, with all the fixin’s including desserts—is only open from February to about the middle of December, so you’d better start picking a weekend to enjoy a dinner there.

It’s a homey little place, the inside of an old country store, with beadboard paneling, shelves holding quaint old antique kitcheny stuff, and bluegrass music playing in the background.

The “town” of Claysville is actually just a memory, instead of an actual burg. During the steamboat era, the Missouri River ran right by the town and its railroad tracks, so the Claysville Store was a busy shipping and railing point for southern Boone County.

Then the river moved, and the railroad went defunct. Claysville shriveled up. But then the state of Missouri created the Katy Trail State Park, which breathed new life into many old railroad towns. Locals are now able to make an honest buck off of bicyclists, hikers, and other tourists eager to explore rural Missouri along the old railroad line. B&Bs have sprung up in formerly derelict old buildings; neat little cafés, antiques shops, and bicycle rentals and repair places occupy storefronts that used to be empty and dusty.

Claysville is one of these places—and you have to applaud the folks who have grabbed this opportunity to resurrect such a place. While a stereotype of small-town folks is a reluctance to try new things, these people are reinventing their communities. This is economic revitalization at the grass roots. Let’s cheer them on! Let’s give them some business!

Mark Hooibrink, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Laura, explained to us that since they rely so heavily on Katy Trail traffic (bicyclists, pedestrians) for business—and since getting there by car can be kind of dicey in snowy weather—they simply close the restaurant during the off season. He and his wife both have full-time jobs, anyway (which explains why their café is only open on weekends and at select other times). They’ve been known to close the restaurant for family events such as weddings and the like.

So memorize these hours, and then think about calling ahead, anyway, to make sure they’re really open: Saturdays, 4–8 pm; Sundays, 12:30–4 pm. One day we rode past Claysville on the trail, and they had a sign out that advertised a “Wednesday special” of pork steak with potato salad and baked beans.

As I said, they offer dinners of homemade fried chicken or country ham, and these come with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, apple sauce, and lovely, delicious biscuits.

You can order dinners separately (prices range from $7.50 to $8.75) or family-style, where it’s $11 to $13 per person, all-you-can-eat, including drinks. The least-expensive entrées are the mixed dark- and white-meat chicken dinners, and the most expensive are the all-white-meat dinners. Ham and chicken combo plates are intermediate in price.

I should mention that their country hams are from Burgers’ Smokehouse, over in Moniteau County, and it’s simply the best. Hooray for them using a local ham producer!

The Claysville Store also offers barbecue, when they expect a good turnout or when the mood hits them. Or sometimes there’s another special of the day.

They’re also famous for their pies and cobblers—the varieties of the day are handwritten on a board in front of the store; the desserts are $2.50 each. Blackberry cobbler is one of our favorites, and yes, you can get it with ice cream for an extra fifty cents. The cobbler is served hot, just the way you like it.

Beverages include tea and sweet tea, lemonade, and soda.

In the past year or so, the restaurant’s dining area has been expanded, with a projection screen and room to accommodate groups of 60–75. So it’s perfect for small conferences or retreats.

I understand camping is also available, but I strongly suggest you call first to confirm availability.

The last time I talked to them, the Hooibrinks were planning renovations to a nearby historic home, hoping to provide week-long getaway rentals—a guesthouse with a stocked refrigerator, something like a B&B.

They really enjoy offering friendly hospitality along their little stretch of the trail, and like Good Samaritans, they have been known to provide complimentary emergency services for hikers and bikers who’ve experienced sudden health issues or equipment trouble. I encourage you to give them some business for that reason alone.

As for the chow, it’s all just your basic, good, homemade, down-home cooking, salty, rich, and sweet, immensely satisfying. Afterward, you can walk off part of that big dinner by enjoying the trail. If you walk to the east a couple of miles, the forested section of trail opens up and rejoins the Mighty Mo, and there are three sites with benches offering you a tremendous view of the shimmering river.

Or, if you want to make a mini bike trip of it, you could drive your bikes to Hartsburg, pedal the (approximately) three easy miles to Claysville (or beyond; whatever you want), and then, on the return trip, have a late lunch or a dinner at Claysville, then pedal back to Hartsburg by dark, in time to catch a live bluegrass jam and enjoy libations at the Hartsburg Hitchin’ Post. (Ah, but that’s another post . . .)

How to Get There

By car, it’s off of Highway 63: About 25 miles south of Columbia (or about 5 miles north of Jeff City). Turn west on Claysville Road and drive about 2 miles. It’s a red building to the left. They have a big sign.

Via the Katy Trail, it’s between Hartsburg and North Jefferson City, at mile 149.8.

Keep their phone number handy so you can confirm they’re open: 573-636-8443.

The Claysville-Ashland Connection

For fun, here’s some trivia on the town’s name: Robert L. Ramsay, in Our Storehouse of Missouri Place Names, informs us in so many words that southern Boone County was occupied by Kentuckians and others who were mighty proud of statesman, Speaker of the House, founder and leader of the Whig party, and four-time presidential candidate Henry Clay, who helped give us the War of 1812 as well as the Missouri Compromise. Among many other things.

Thus Claysville was named directly for Henry Clay, and the city of Ashland, just to the north, was named for Henry Clay’s estate in Lexington, Kentucky, which was also named Ashland. In fact, the folks at Ashland named their town in 1853, the year after Clay’s death. Remember: Boone County is in Missouri’s Little Dixie!

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