It all started with a cuckoo clock.
On a casual wedding anniversary dinner out at a local Fraser Valley restaurant, I spotted a clock on the wall. It had leaves ornately carved into the sides and a tiny little wooden couple in lederhosen. They’d spin in and out when the hour struck, and I had to ask the waitress to move the hands so I could see it in action and hear the tinny tune that played when the couple would move around in a small circle, dancing in and out of the clock.
It made me want to cry, because I’ve seen that clock before. My Grandparents lived on Saskatchewan farmland from 1942 on, but my Grandpa was actually from born and raised in Austria. He crossed over on the ship Montcalm in June of 1929 and slowly made his way across Canada by working in lumber camps. I’m not sure if he brought that clock with him on his first trip or went back and got it after his last trip in the early 1980’s, but I remember seeing it on the wall of the farm house and loving when the little couple would spin and out.
Because my Grandpa had a very thick German accent, I had a really hard time understanding whatever he’d say. He called me Shirley instead of Shelly, and he’d take me along for trips through the local wheat field, just so we could check the crops. I was one of 20 grandchildren by that point, so I always loved going along for the ride.
I tried to ask him a few questions about his background before he died in 2000, but his hearing was bad and I only visited Saskatchewan once every few years. I missed out on the opportunity to find out from him where he came from, and although I regretted it once he was gone, I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t know where to start.
But when I saw that clock? All of a sudden I realized I better get going, because time was ticking and I really wanted to know more about our family tree. So I started spending a lot of time on ancestry websites, combing through old photos, and asking for photocopies of old letters. I haven’t figured everything out yet, but it’s a start.
While going through the old letters, I also came across old recipes. There’s nothing like food to trigger memories of growing up, and when I look back I remember different German dishes on my Grandma’s kitchen table like Weiner Schnitzel, frying pans full of fried cabbage, and big, puffy Bavarian pretzels. Not everything was a favourite – I remember running out of the house holding my nose whenever someone would start frying the cabbage, but the dishes that would good were really amazing.
This month is Octoberfest all over the world, and because I’m also in the middle of searching through my family tree, there’s never been a better time than now to celebrate my Austrian heritage by recreating a few of the best recipes from when I was a kid. Because I’ve got kids myself, I started with Bavarian pretzels.
Unfortunately my Great Grandma’s recipe for pretzels was written in German, and she was more of a ‘bit of this, a bit of that’ type of baker, so I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com that was as close as I could remember and I whipped up a batch today.
Your house will smell like heaven after you bake them. Here, step by step, are Bavarian Pretzels:
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons baking soda
3 cups water
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, or to taste
Take a large mixing bowl and add 1 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 1/3 cup of water. You’ll have to let the mixture stand for 15 minutes until it looks bubbly.
Once your mixture is bubbly, you can stir in the salt and the rest of the flour. Although it says 3 cups total, I kept adding ¼ cup of flour until the dough wasn’t sticky anymore.
Once it’s not sticky and you can pick it up, knead the dough for approximately 8 minutes until smooth.
Divide the dough into 6 parts and make it small balls. Let it rest on the counter for a few minutes. It will rise a bit.
Roll out the dough one piece at a time and create a rope with it. The rope should be about 15 inches long.
Once it’s long enough, loop and twist the dough into a pretzel shape. If you want more definition for your pretzels, roll out about 20 inches and twist. Place each pretzel on parchment paper.
Immerse each pretzel in the boiling water, turning it with a wooden spoon. Each pretzel should boil for approximately 1 minute.
Heat up your oven to 450 degrees.
Take each pretzel out of the boiling water and place on a greased cookie sheet. Once you’ve boiled all of your pretzels, brush them with melted butter and sprinkle them with sea or course salt.
Bake in oven for 8 to 10 minutes. I baked mine for 10 minutes and they turned out perfectly golden brown.
Enjoy your Bavarian pretzels with a spicy mustard and ice cold glass of beer, or if sharing with kids, get them to dip them in melted cheese.
I don’t remember that dinner out at the local restaurant as being all that great, but I’ve been enjoying the journey that the cuckoo clock has sent me on.
If you have an authentic family recipe you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments.
Celebrate Octoberfest at home with your own beer glasses
When you need course salt, look no further than a salt and pepper mill
Boil your pretzels and everything else in a versatile sauce pan