I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up knowing most of my grandparents. By the time I was old enough to remember, there was only my father’s mother, my Oma. And unlike other kids whose grandparents were a car ride away, mine was a plane ride away — all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in Germany. My memories of her are limited; as I got older, so did she, and it wasn’t long before our relationship was limited to what remained in her long-term memory.
One of the memories I wish I’d gotten to have was cooking beside her. She was a solid German cook, making simple, hearty food that had little fuss. On the day we flew in, there was always a tasty broth-based soup waiting for us as lunch. (I still crave broth-based soups after a long plane ride). She also made delicious Christmas cookies, inventing recipes that my cousin Tina has passed down to me.
The other Christmas tradition that she did was make Pastetchen — pastry shells filled with a meat stew. It looks fancy, but it’s really peasant food. Tasty and very filling, my family still has it every year on Christmas Eve. Her recipe, written out in German, is above, written with her signature blue fountain pen. Below is my translation.
Quality Ragout for Pastry Shells.
Good-quality veal! (and neck when it’s not fatty) Let the butcher cut it into small pieces (smaller than for goulash). Brown it in half butter and half margarine with chopped onions. Dust with flour and lightly roast. Deglaze with white wine (cooking wine). Salt and some pepper, lemon juice, Worchester sauce [she means Worchestershire sauce]. Season to taste, and if it isn’t done yet, let it cook lightly a bit more.
Separately, prepare mushrooms in butter with onions (cut small), some parsley (chopped) as well and either mix it with the ragout and pour into the hot pastry shells, or serve on the plate next to the pastry shells (with the ragout). I find the latter better, as it looks better arranged on the plate. (A raw salad is good with this.)
We make a few changes (beef instead of veal, and adding in peas and carrots), but for the most part, that’s the recipe we still use. And we do serve it with a big green salad!