Tracy Rittmueller is a poet, a writer, a teaching artist, and a Cultural Producer. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy last year about Lyricality.org, where Minnesota writers, lovers of poetry, and new writers can come together, to foster the art of empathy through poetry and stories. You can listen to our interview below by clicking on the player.
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As we discussed this very important topic, we thought about creating something that we can all connect around. What better than food to bring us all together; to share our cultural differences and learn something new from our friends and neighbors that make up our local neighborhoods and communities?
EPISODE 1- TRACY SHARES HER STORY
Tracy’s German ancestors came from Pommerania and Prussia in northern Germany. In the late 1970’s she was an exchange student and went to school in Hamburg, on the Elbe River between the Baltic and the North Sea. Cooks in the home of her ancestors and in her host city Hamburg are known for their many varied fish delicacies, and her recipe honors that heritage.
My grandmother Elsie was born in Morristown, Minnesota to 1st Generation German immigrants in 1908 in Shieldsville Township. She attended a German-Lutheran school through 8th grade—I’m not sure when she learned to speak English. She didn’t tell stories—she worked to hold the family together, growing and raising her own food, and supplementing the farm income with factory work. I remember a plaque in her kitchen that said, “A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”
I spent much of my first ten years of life at the farm—in her garden where she grew asparagus, radishes, potatoes, and marigolds; in the apple orchard where Holstein cows roamed around grandpa’s bee hives, in the kitchen where she fried up the chicken she had slaughtered and butchered, the bacon from the pigs they had raised, and the endless supply of fish my grandfather, my brother, and I caught fishing from Ray Hunt's rowboat on Hunts Lake in Shieldville Township.
I learned to speak my grandmother Bottke’s mother tongue when I was 16. I didn’t know it at the time, but I understand now that the drive that compelled me to get myself to Germany was a kind of quest to find her spirit, to feel my feet on the land of her parents. That’s a long story, but the short of it is that she died suddenly when she was 63 and I was 10. She was the family matriarch and the glue holding us all together, and she took with her the reassurance that I was being looked after by someone who knew how to manage the complexities of life and problematic relationships. Although I had never been to Germany, when my German host family greeted me at the airport, I felt as if I had come home.
I had been in Hamburg for 10 weeks, going to Gymnasium, when my advisor called me into her office to find out how I was doing. She spoke fluent English and expected me to answer in English. But I was already speaking almost fluent German.
I can’t say whether it was my grandmother’s DNA, or that thing that makes children brilliant language learners, or the influence of my Hamburg Oma who told endless, interesting stories while I helped her in the kitchen. Oma Emma was born approximately as old as my grandma Elsie would have been. She had been born in Hamburg, and she too was known for being an excellent cook. The difference between her and Elsie is that she told her stories—about the hyperinflation of the German Papiermark in 1923, when it took a wheelbarrow full of paper currency to buy a loaf of bread, about the firebombing of Hamburg in 1943 when 40,000 citizens died in one night, and about sending her only child, 12-year-old Maria-Louisa—our Mama—to live in a convent in southern Germany for the duration of the way, praying every night that her daughter wouldn’t be raped by invading soldiers. (She wasn’t!) Oma couldn’t speak or understand a word of English, and I desperately wanted to hear her stories, so she would repeat them until I understood.
So when my advisor asked how I was doing, I said, “Ich Liebe Deutschland. Ich liebe meine Deutsche familie, diese Schule, und meine Klassenkameraden. Die sind alle ganz, ganz toll.” Her astonished expression told me she hadn’t expected that.
“You sound almost like a native speaker,” she said. And I could almost feel my grandmother Elsie beside me, nodding her head. Yes. Because she is my granddaughter, and this is her homeland.
WALLEYE WITH FRIED POTATOES & TINY SHRIMP
VALENTINE'S DINNER FOR 2
List of Ingredients
4 medium-sized cooked gold potatoes
2 tablespoons oil
salt (or your favorite seasoned salt) and pepper
1 large fresh or frozen/thawed Walleye filet (slightly less than 1 pound)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon butter, divided
½ bunch of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
3 ounces frozen cooked and peeled salad shrimp, thawed
Preheat the oven to 180º F.
Peel potatoes and dice. Clean scallions and slice them into rings. Heat oil over medium heat in a nonstick skillet, then add potatoes and fry, covered, for 10-12 minutes, stirring/turning every 4 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to two dinner plates and keep warm in the oven.
Rinse fish in cold water and pat dry between 2 paper towels. Dredge in flour until evenly coated, brushing off any excess.
Melt butter with olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, lay the fillet in the skillet, and brown on one side for 6-8 minutes, then on the other side for 4-6 minutes. Season with salt, remove from skillet but leave the oil/butter in the pan. Divide the fish between the 2 plates and keep warm in the oven.
Chop the parsley and add it to the frying pan with 1 teaspoon of butter. When the butter bubbles up, stir in the shrimp and season generously with salt and pepper.
Arrange the potatoes attractively on top of the fish, then adorn it all with the parsley shrimp-butter. Serve immediately.
If you have a heritage recipe and would like to share your story, recipe and pictures to be featured on one of our segments, please send the information to: Kelly@wjon.com.