Monday, December 31, 2012

1920s Coal Camp Tyrolean Feast

Image by GenBug on Flickr Commons

Today it is hard for us to imagine the sheer amount of work involved in housekeeping and raising a family in a 1920s coal camp.  Early four-room houses were not even equipped with running water.  As well as constantly having to clean surfaces covered in coal dust from cooking and heating plus that saturating the miners’ clothes, there were meals to prepare without benefit of frozen vegetables or entrees, electric can openers and coffee makers, or bowls popped conveniently into microwave and dishwasher.

House and chicken house at Copenhagen, Superior, Wyoming c. 1950s
Food was prepared by hand with mixing bowls and spoons, and boiled or baked or fried in lard, often from recipes passed down through generations and arriving in the coal camps from the old country.  Recipes were not written down, but carried instead only in the cook’s memory.  Measurements were a handful of this and a pinch of that.  A recipe was successful if the meal didn’t cost too much and also tasted good.

In the mountain valleys of the Tyrol in the first decades of the twentieth century, meat was so scarce it might have graced a family's dining table once a year. By the standards of my ancestors in the years preceding, during, and immediately following World War I, we modern Americans are unimaginably wealthy.

To celebrate the New Year, I give you a typical Tyrolean feast.  Let us put on our aprons and roll up our sleeves in remembrance of those bygone days when life was hard and a meal of dumplings and stew meat much anticipated.  But be forewarned: these old recipes become lost is not just because they are not written down, with precise measurements.  They also require most of a day to cook and clean up the kitchen, for which most of us have neither the time nor the energy these days.   

Image of canederli by on Flickr Commons

CANEDERLI (Bread Dumplings)
day old bread, cubed into 3-4 cups
3 eggs
6 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup diced hard salami
1 cup diced fried bacon

Stir all ingredients together into semi-firm dough.  Form into balls about 3 tablespoons in size.  Drop test ball into boiling water to see if it holds together; if not, add small amount of flour to dough.  When fully cooked, about 40-45 minutes, dumplings will rise to surface.

Serve with cubed beef and garlic sausage gravy, and shredded cabbage slaw with vinaigrette.

1 ½ lbs. stew meat
1 package uncooked garlic sausage
 6 cups water
salt and pepper
2 tbs. cornstarch mixed with water

Cut sausage into 1-inch chunks. Brown stew meat and sausage, drain.  Add water, season with salt and pepper to taste, bring to simmer.  Thicken with cornstarch and water.

1 head cabbage
salt and pepper
vinegar and oil

Shred cabbage, season to taste with salt and pepper, vinegar and oil.


For more on the culture, genealogy, and history of the Trentino province of the Italian Alps, visit the always-interesting trentinoheritage blog.

For more Trentino recipes with pictures in a downloadable cookbook, see Alpine Adventure Agency's Tyrolean Cooking School.

While the traditional Tyrolean dish of polenta has made it on mainstream American restaurant menus, the more time-consuming canederli is rare to nonexistent. For more mouth-watering pictures of canederli, go to Flickr.  


Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Great information! Love the history,

Alethea Williams said...

Thank you, Cindy. Glad you enjoyed it.

Cher'ley said...

When I grew up we heated with one coal stove in the living room and I remember the soot and the gathering of the goal. We had an electric cook stove, and I am still a pinch of this and a dash of that, type of cook.