Cooking, Eating, and Drinking in the Zipser Village of Eisenau in Bukovina

By Renate Geschwendtner
Translated by: Dr. Sophie A. Welisch

Gisela Oberländer hails from Eisenau, a village in southern Bukovina, founded in 1810 by German settlers from the Zips [Spis, now in Slovakia]. As with most women of the village, the house, garden and fields were among her daily responsibilities.

Gisela was born in 1907 and, together with five sisters and one brother, grew up in Eisenau. Since her father, Angelo Kattani, earned little as a stone mason, the family kept cattle and cultivated fields and a garden.

The lifestyle of the Kattanis and Oberländers was comparable to that of most other inhabitants of the village. Meals in Gisela’s youth were meager, although she never went hungry. After World War I conditions in Eisenau improved. In 1929 Gisela Kattani married Rudolf Oberländer, her cousin in the second degree of kinship. The couple had only one daughter and therefore could afford things, which, in Gisela’s youth, would have been out of the question.

Cattle and Meat: The Kattanis had five cows which provided the family with milk. They skimmed the cream off daily with a portion stored in the cool cellar. The remainder of the milk was maintained at normal room temperature to make sour cream. Once a week they made butter, using the sweet cream kept in the cellar. With the back of a spoon or a quartered potato Katharina Kattani then made designs on the butter.

She also made her own cream cheese. In Eisenau this was called “cow cheese.” In order to curdle the milk, Katharina Kattani poured it into a ceramic vessel, stirring the mixture while heating it. This had to be done slowly and the heat could not be too great. Then she poured the mass into a linen sack and hung it on the handle of the table drawer until the liquid had drained off into the bowl below. After pressing the cream cheese between two weighted boards, she left it overnight. By morning it was dry.

The cream cheese was frequently consumer with “dripping noodles” (Abgeschmalzenden Nudeln). This is a preparation made from potatoes and noodles, over which were poured butter and fried bacon. Cream cheese was then added and the mixture seasoned with salt. Dandelion salad often served as a side dish.

In the summer they drank curdled milk and sometimes Gisela Oberländer had so much that she had to give the rest to the pigs. They bought firm cheese made of sheep’s milk from the Romanians who made it in the hills. But this occurred rarely, since the family preferred milk products from their own cows.

Of the five Kattani cows, one was confiscated in World War I. Russian soldiers took it when they retreated. Later Katharina Kattani gave three of the animals to her grown children after they had married and established their own households. The remaining cow proved sufficient for the family.

Gisela Oberländer and her husband could afford to buy their first cow only after they had been married for three or four years. Hay for the winter presented a problem. At first the Oberländers bought the hay; later, they leased a piece of property sufficient to raise fodder. Unfortunately they could cultivate it only for two years, since in 1940 the family had to leave their homeland in conjunction with the resettlement program involving the Bukovina Germans. Gisela’s parents, the Kattanis, had leased land from the Greek-Orthodox Religious Foundation in order to raise hay for their cows.

In the summer the cows were sent to pasture. This meant that someone had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to milk them. At 5:00 a.m. the shepherd drove the cows to pasture. At specific gathering stations he and a shepherd boy waited for the cows. The owners of the cows paid the shepherd and also gave the Greek-Orthodox Religious Foundation a contribution for the upkeep of the pasture.

The Oberlanders’ cow usually bore a calf in January. It was well fed for the first five or six weeks and then slaughtered. They cut the meat into sections, keeping some themselves and giving the remainder to family and friends who, when they slaughtered, reciprocated in kind. The hides they sold in Wama. Processing the meat took much time, but financially it was more profitable than selling it to a cattle dealer.

As was the practice in the household of her parents, Gisela Oberländer also raised pigs. Each November and February a pig was slaughtered. The fall pig weighed about 300 hundred pounds with the spring pig coming in at about 400 pounds. At that time one preferred pigs to be fat. A thick slab of bacon also raised the animal’s selling price.

The winters in Eisenau were so cold that one could keep fresh meat in the pantry for quite some time. Usually Gisela prepared fresh cutlets. The remaining meat was smoked or processed for sausages. The Oberländers’ attic was not suitable for smoking. Therefore, they brought the meat to relatives, who, for their trouble, could keep some of it. A large ham was smoked for a long period of time and saved for Easter. The remaining meat was smoked for a shorter time. There were two types of sausages: smoked and fresh. The fresh ones were put into ceramic vessels and sealed with hot lard. By this process the jars had an airtight seal and the meat could be preserved longer.

Right after the slaughter, they also made headcheese, which was quickly consumed. Bacon was cut into quarters and heated. The lard was stored in the cellar and used in the kitchen the year round. The leftovers from processing the lard, still steeped in fat, were placed into ceramic vessels. Kneaded into dough, one could make a tasty apple cake with them.

Every year Gisela Oberländer had a sitting hen. She wanted to maintain a young flock of poultry. Young roosters were slaughtered and consumed on Sundays, served either fried or breaded and baked. The chickens laid eggs and ended up in soup.

Gisela’s mother, Katharina Kattani, had a large flock of geese, sometimes up to thirty. She used the feathers [for pillows and comforters] for the dowries of her many daughters. Obviously there was also roast goose, and here and there she sold a goose.

The Garden: Every year Gisela Oberländer planted two beds of carrots. In the winter she placed the carrots in wooden crates and covered them with soil in order always to keep them moist. They were consumed steamed or as a salad. The family also planted beds with celery, lettuce, cucumbers, sugar beets, beans, beets, onions, garlic, corn, tomatoes and radishes. As fertilizers they used cow dung and garden refuse. For herbs they planted parsley, chives, dill, lovage [Liebstöckl = Ligusticum (Bot.)], peppermint, and tarragon.

They stored the beets in the cellar, using them in the winter for soup and salad. Gisela made a variety of Borscht in which she cooked the beets and then added rice to the strained off water. Grated beets, prepared with vinegar, salt, pepper, horseradish and caraway seeds could be preserved in the cool pantry for days.

Horseradish roots were buried in soil in the cellar. When grated, they provided a favorite garnish for meat in the winter. Gisela Oberländer placed leaves of the plants in the ceramic vessels containing beans and cucumbers to prevent them from getting too soft.

In the summer she served green beans fresh, either steamed or as an ingredient in soup. Pickled green beans proved especially tasty. Gisela cut them into pieces, blanched them in salty vinegar water, added garlic cloves, weighted them down, and waited for the pickling process to run its course. For the cucumbers Gisela bought rock salt, which she broke up with a mortar and pestle, and pickled them in ceramic vessels.

The family cultivated bushes of red and black currants and gooseberries. Mixed with milk and sugar, they liked to eat them on hot summer days. From gooseberries Gisela Oberländer made a sauce which she served with beef. They picked raspberries in the forest and dried elderberries, which they used for tea.

There were six apple trees in the Kattani garden, among them one with a flat fruit, which was the first in the year to ripen, one with red apples, and a tree with fruit which in the fall was as hard as stone and green but after longer storage became yellow and developed an exquisite flavor.

Some apples could be stored until June of the next year. When Gisela was a child, her mother kept the apples in baskets in the cellar. Later, as a married woman, she had wooden apple crates, which her husband had made.

They also had plum trees. For the winter they dried plums as well as pears. Gisela always put the fruit into the oven after the bread had been baked. After that, she placed the dried fruit into paper bags, which she hung in the pantry. Gisela made prune butter from plums. This is a very firm plum jam, which requires that the fruit be heated for a long time. In Eisenau they called it “Powilla.”

Gisela Oberländer borrowed a large copper kettle from someone in the neighborhood. Her mother had once owned one, but it had been confiscated during the war. With her two daughters-in-law, Reli and Mitzi, they set about cooking prune butter, alternating at the job of stirring, which took quite a while.

Gisela included various sorts of marmalades and jams among her winter provisions. A specialty among them was a rose jam, cooked from a particular type of light rose-colored blossom.

The Fields: The Kattanis planted corn, potatoes, beets, poppies, sweet cabbage and red cabbage. In the fall they stored the potatoes in the cellar. The Kattani farmstead had a cellar under only one section of the house, but it sufficed for storing their winter provisions. They transferred the potatoes to the cellar through a window. Around the potato field they planted bush beans, which, after the harvest, they placed in the storage room to dry.

Gisela Oberländer liked to cook potato dumplings, half out of raw, half out of cooked potatoes. The Zipser name for this is Krompienpäll [(dialect), in literary German: Grundbirnbälle = potato balls]. Sometimes she served them at noon without meat, sometimes as a side dish with meat.

In order to make Galuschtjen/ Haluschken/ Sauerkrautwickel [stuffed cabbage], one needs totally acidified cabbage leaves. Heads of sweet cabbage were acidified in a barrel with the spaces between the heads filled with chopped cabbage leaves.

The Kattanis brought home the harvested corn cobs, leaving one or two leaves on the cobs after shelling them; by binding these leaves together, ever more cobs could be hung in the storage area to dry. Later they rubbed the cobs together in order to free them of the kernels. A teamster was hired to deliver the filled sacks to the mill in Wama. Shortly before the transfer [of the Bukovina-Germans to Germany in 1940] a mill was constructed in Eisenau next to the railroad station. From corn meal Gisela cooked Mamaliga [Meisbrei = corn meal mush] and Malei [Meiskuchen = corn bread]. Corn also served as fodder for pigs and chickens.

Stems and leaves of the corn plants were chopped up and used as fodder during the winter. Gisela Oberländer fed her cows a mixture of cooked beets, water, bran and cornhusks. The pigs got the beets and the chickens the leaves.

In order to have poppy seeds for the beloved poppy seed cake, the family set aside a part of the field. Opening the seedpods was a laborious task.

Bread: Gisela Oberländer baked bread every Saturday. In the oven in the anteroom several loaves of bread or cakes could be baked at one time. For one individual cake she used the kitchen stove. Both stoves were constructed of stone with cast iron plates.

Every week Gisela mixed a remnant of dough with yeast and a little flour and laid it on a board to dry. On Friday she put the dough into a wooden bowl, adding a little water, rye meal, pressed cooked potatoes, the water in which the potatoes had been cooked, flour and salt and then kneaded it. The dough had to rise overnight. Saturday morning she shaped the breads, placed them into round wooden bowls, and once again allowed them to rise.

In the baking oven she pushed the coal to one side and threw in a handful of corn meal. Based on the length of time it took the meal to darken, she knew when the oven had reached the desired temperature.

The loaves of bread were moistened with water, a hole poked into their centers, and then placed into the oven. Gisela could never figure out the purpose of the hole. She learned the technique from her mother and kept up the practice without knowing the reason behind it.

Every week Katharina Kattani baked eight loaves of bread for her large family. Later, when only Katharina’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchild lived at home, she baked only one or two loaves. Bread just out of the oven, with fresh butter on it! Gisela’s daughter Edith today still recalls this culinary delight of her childhood.

FROM FOREST AND FIELD. There were many apiaries in Eisenau. Dark forest honey and lighter blossom honey were processed with the Oberländers preferring the somewhat darker forest honey. Gisela’s father-in-law, Theophil [Gottlieb] Oberländer, kept beehives but gave them up when he got older and the work became too strenuous.

The children went into the forest to gather raspberries and strawberries, which were eaten fresh or cooked to make marmalade and juice. When Gisela was a child hazelnuts could still be freely gathered. Later people began to keep goats, which ate all the hazel bushes. Many villagers went out to gather blueberries. These the Kattanis and Oberländers purchased and, when dried, used them as a remedy for stomachaches.

The family did not have much knowledge of mushrooms. The children gathered eatable mushrooms. On the road to Wama, where a bridge crossed a stream bringing flowing water from the mountains, Gisela and her sister Angela knew a good place where such mushrooms could be found. In this spot there also grew juniper bushes, the berries of which were gathered and dried.

In the pantry of the Kattanis there hung a “house apothecary”–a basket filled with various dried herbs. Camomile, peppermint, ribwort, mullein [Verbascum Thapsus (Bot.)], mandrake [Mandragora officinarum [Bot.)], dried blueberries for stomach aches, coltsfoot [Tussilago Farfara (Bot.)], yarrow [Achillea millefolium (Bot.)], and presumably still others, which Gisela Oberländer no longer recalls. The herbal expert in the family was her mother, Katharina Kattani, who kept everything very neatly identified in paper bags. The basket also contained a little pouch of caraway seeds, gathered in the mountain grasslands and used for seasoning and as a remedy for flatulence.

Hunting and Fishing: Poaching in forest and stream was no rarity in Eisenau. Gisela Oberländer recalls stories of house searches for concealed guns. It was said some people kept their weapons hidden in the forest or at home under the threshold. Not every deer roast, which the Eisenauers consumed, reached the oven legally. Illegal fishing with poison also occurred. At any rate the police were hard on the heels of poachers. Therefore, they preferred fishing by hand in the Moldova River, thereby reducing the danger of being caught. Some Eisenauers had official permission to fish. They mainly sold their catch to Jewish townsmen in Kimpolung.

Foodstuffs Which Had to be Purchased: Even in their time Katharina Kattani and her husband had had to buy corn meal, since the land they leased did not suffice to meet their needs. The Oberländers had even less land at their disposal and bought all of their essential corn meal. They used it to make Mamaliga and Malei. Both are Romanian dishes: Mamaliga is a type of corn meal mush; Malei is corn bread. There was quite a variety of corn meal–fine and coarse, but it always contained bran and had to be sieved at home.

On Good Friday the Zipsers of Eisenau ate fish. Gisela Oberländer bought salted herring at the store. In order to be eatable, it had to be kept in water for days on end. Gisela was careful to remove the eggs from the females. On Good Friday she cut the fishes into pieces and mixed them with salt, pepper, vinegar, onions and the fish eggs.

Beef was purchased at the butcher of whom there were three in Eisenau: the Zipsers Hennel and Schmegner, who also owned inns, and the Jew Götzel, whose wife worked as a midwife. They had ice cellars, filled in the winter with blocks of ice. There the meat could be stored a little longer in the summer. Since many people in the village raised pigs, someone or another was always slaughtering and one could buy fresh pork on a private basis.

There was no ice cream in Eisenau. One may have made it oneself, but there was none available for purchase. Only later, after Gisela Oberländer had married, did the daughter of the Götzel family sell ice cream at the sports grounds where she found a clientele, especially among the youth. If one wanted a culinary treat, one bought Halva. This is an eastern confectionery of sesame paste.

Bean coffee and black tea could only rarely be purchased. For breakfast there was malt coffee. Gisela’s mother bought green coffee beans and roasted them on a hot plate.

Every week Katharina Kattani went to Kimpolung to buy butter, cream cheese and eggs. Now and then she bought candy for her three youngest daughters. Every child got one or two pieces with the rest saved for later.

Eisenau lay in the mountains. Therefore, the villagers called the residents of the flatlands people “from the countryside.” Many farmers came to Eisenau from “the countryside” with their horses and wagons. They bought fruits and vegetables, chickens and geese and all sorts of other things.

Sugar was available in the shops in the form of blocks. At home pieces were broken off and crushed in a mortar. After Gisela Oberländer had already married, cube sugar and refined sugar became available.

Beverages: Water drawn from a well was the daily beverage. When company came, it was preferably served with raspberry juice. With their neighbors, the Kattanis began to dig a jointly shared well. But at about sixty meters they hit rock and had to abandon the project. They got their water from Christls Lisi, three houses away. [Translator’s note: It was the practice in Bukovina to consider water a gift of God, free to all. Even strangers would not be stopped if they drew water from a well on private property.] A little further away there was an open well. On windy days, all sorts of debris blew into it. Nonetheless, people used its water for cooking. The wells in the village had roofs and hoist wheels; the wells out in the fields had pole-haul mechanisms.

In the winter the Kattanis placed a large wooden vessel on the sled and brought water for the cattle. After the cattle drank their fill they placed the barrel in the anteroom. From there one took what was needed for kitchen and household.

While beer was available for purchase, the Oberländers only indulged in this beverage at Christmas. Now and then Rudolf Oberländer bought a beer at the inn when he went to play cards. Much milk was consumed including that which curdled in the summer.

Every fall the family made cider, which usually lasted until Easter. Apples for the cider grew around the edges of the fields. The fruit was washed and the stems removed. Gisela Oberländer had a barrel, which she used only for cider. She filled it with apples and water. The cider was yellowish and bubbly. Gisela’s mother-in-law colored it red by adding some elderberries.

Sometimes several families got together and ordered a barrel of wine. The Oberländers had large bottles with outer braiding, which they filled and stored in the pantry. Although it was a white wine, it was made into a mulled wine [Glühwein] in the winter. When Gisela was a child, her parents could not yet afford this luxury.

Whiskey and rum were available in the store. Gisela Oberländer recalls that there were distilleries in Czernowitz.

Tea in the Rectory: Once a month Mrs. Hochhauser, the minister’s wife, had the elder ladies of the village over for tea. They had to bring their own tea and cake. Katharina Kattani usually liked to take along a shortcake made of pastry dough filled with prune butter.

Wedding Meals: In Eisenau weddings took place at the home of either the bride or groom, depending on who had the most space. A designated individual sought out the guests and personally invited them. The wedding always took place on a Sunday. Days in advance people brought baked goods as gifts to the house in which the wedding was to take place. The donors were served Zipser cake and kümmel liqueur. When they departed, they got a Zipser cake, cut into four parts, to take home.

Days before the festivities the women of the family engaged in culinary preparations. Relatives and acquaintances lent them dishes. Mounds of baked goods were prepared. When the guests arrived after church, they received small confectioneries and kümmel liqueur.

In order to make kümmel liqueur, sugar is put into a pot and left to caramelize; then, with continual stirring, caraway seeds are added along with a little rye whiskey. The mixture is then brought to a boil. The addition of the whiskey hardens the sugar. After it again dissolves, the remainder of the brandy is added. After being filtered, the liquid is poured into bottles. Zipser cake is baked of leavened dough with butter and honey applied with a spatula.

It was not usual to serve hors-d’oeuvres or soup. The main course usually consisted of meat loaf filled with [hard-boiled] eggs and served with mashed potatoes and salad. Dessert consisted of cooked fruit. With their meal the guests imbibed a generous quantity of beer.

At that time confectioneries were not served at weddings. In Eisenau they baked a Viennese cake [Gugelhupf] made of unleavened dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. Only after Gisela Oberländer had married did it become common practice to set out a variety of cakes.

Christmas: At Christmas the Kattanis and Oberländers had stuffed cabbage. This dish offered the great advantage of being able to be prepared before the holidays. In contrast to other foods, its taste improves when reheated. Large acidified cabbage leaves were filled with chopped meat, onions and rice and cooked in a mixture of water and cabbage juice.

Katharina Kattani baked poppy seed cake (Mogenklootsch–dialect) and crumb cake. After Gisela had married, she additionally baked an assortment of Christmas cookies. She also tried her hand at making a traditional Zipser dish from cooked wheat kernels with figs, raisons, nuts and honey [called simply Weizen = wheat].

Easter: On Holy Thursday Easter eggs were dyed. Already in Katarina Kattani’s time the required dyes could be purchased in the store. Good Friday remained a day of fasting and only in the evening was the first meal served, usually herring salad. Every Easter the Oberländers had a large ham from their own domestic slaughter. Everyone delighted in the succulent cuts, which were served at breakfast and at the evening meal.

On Easter Sunday Katharina Kattani made beef soup, roast beef and also bratwurst. Gisela maintained these traditions. Klootch (cake of leavened dough) remained the classic Easter confectionery. Katharina had large and small crockery molds. At Easter, aside from the large Gugelhupf, she also baked smaller cakes, in order that each child might have one.

Christenings: Large christenings were not fashionable in Eisenau. Usually only the godparents were invited for a meal. In many families a child was born every year. Under these circumstances the celebrations would have been endless. People had neither time nor money for this.

Funeral Banquet: A wake was held for the deceased, at which crumb cake and brandy were served. People did not go to the restaurant for the funeral banquet; rather, they were invited to the home [of the deceased]. When Gisela Oberländer’s father died, the funeral took place at 2:00 p.m. Friends and acquaintances were invited by a lady who came to the cemetery entrance, having been asked to do this by the family. First there were coffee and doughnuts. For the evening meal Katharina Kattani had a ham, which actually had been intended for Easter. In addition, she purchased cold cuts from the butcher, which she served with rolls and beer. Not all the Eisenau villagers held a funeral banquet, among them those who could not afford it.

Conclusion: Most families in Eisenau tried to provide most of their own food. They purchased only the necessities and only after World War I was it possible to buy something out of the ordinary. People lived modestly, yet neither the Kattanis nor the Oberländers ever had to go hungry. No doubt this was the case with almost all families in the village. Numerous village girls from Eisenau worked as domestic servants for rich families in Czernowitz, Watra Dorna or Kimpolung where they picked up recipes from the Austrian or Jewish cuisine. Later, when they married, they prepared these same dishes for their families. In this manner the customary German cooking of the Eisenau Zipsers succumbed to the influence of multinational Bukovina and developed an interesting diversity.