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Potato Pancakes with Love and Other Treasures

How I learned to cook with grease and grit

By Ute Luppertz ✨ Published 19 days ago 4 min read
Potato Pancakes with Love and Other Treasures
Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

My Oma was not the most affectionate person, but she loved me.

She lived in this turn-of-the-century apartment building with creaky doors and drafty windows. She had lived there pretty much her whole life, ever since she married and got widowed later in life.

The living room was never heated. On the coffee table, there was a dusty bouquet of plastic flowers. The good china was locked away for special occasions and only came out once a year on her birthday.

The two bedrooms were also never heated. The beds had heavy layers of comforters and electric blankets. The bottom drawers of the bedroom closet held onions and potatoes. The linens were in the upper drawers, and Oma hid money underneath them. She was convinced that thieves would not think to look there for stashes of cash.

The main bedroom had a fake oil painting of Jesus on the Mount of Olives and a Still Life in the living room.

The day-to-day action happened in the big kitchen, which also served as the family room. It had a love seat and a huge dining table with multiple functions: the home office desk, my drawing and homework table, the sowing table, and the kitchen counter substitute for preparing food.

The kitchen was warm and cozy. It had a big window with lots of light and a great view of the neighbors’ spaces since it faced the courtyard of the building complex. We could call out to each other if we wanted to.

There was a TV, too. I was allowed to watch any TV show at any time of the day until late at night, when I stayed over, to my mother’s dismay. But that was just one of the perks that I enjoyed.

The magic happened when I cooked with my Oma. There were two stoves; one was an electric range only used in emergencies. The other one was a massive old coal stove, which also served as a heater for the room. There was always something on that stove, like a pot of lukewarm coffee under a handmade pot cover.

She made me get coal bricks from the damp, dark basement of the building, and I was afraid of ghosts when I went down there. But I digress.

Oma only knew of four spices: sugar, salt, nutmeg, and white pepper.

The main staples of her diet were potatoes, eggs, cabbage, onions, pork, and fruit and vegetable preserves.

The kitchen gadgets included knives, whisks, a manual meat grinder, cast iron pots, and pans. Lard was the grease of choice. I wonder if she knew of oil.

Potato pancakes are a famous ‘poor people’ dish in my hometown, and the recipe has been handed down from generation to generation. I loved eating potato pancakes but didn’t get to eat them often because my mom hated the smell and the greasy residue in her kitchen.

Oma to the rescue! Her sense of cleanliness and hygiene could have been more refined, which included the kitchen and its surfaces. When I visited with her, we had potato pancakes whenever I asked for them. I was a lucky kid.

Photo taken by my dad of Oma and me before I learned to cook

What was even better was that I learned to cook! Heaven! She taught me how to grind the raw potatoes in the meat grinder, mix them with cut-up raw onions and eggs, add salt, ladle a spoonful into the pan, and fry them.

The two of us were sweating over the sizzling hot pans, watching the potato pancakes get crispy and then scooping them onto plates. The best thing was that I did not have to wait to eat!! I could eat the pancakes right out of the pan. I burned my tongue every single time, but it was simply irresistible.

Other times, we made my second favorite dish—hash browns with red cabbage. She showed me how to peel and slice raw potatoes and onions with one of her gigantic knives, fry them, and later mix in raw eggs. She cooked the red cabbage with apples, salt, sugar, and nutmeg.

These two dishes were all I ever ate when I visited with her. It instilled a love for cooking and the joy of eating without shame.

I cherish that special bond from doing something together that only she and I shared. We did not need to talk much. We were cooking.

These memories are the black and white photographs of a tough woman who rarely smiled, who never said, I love you, but always got the potatoes out for her granddaughter. I can still smell them.

The Recipe

  • 2 pounds of raw potatoes
  • Salt
  • One small onion
  • Two eggs
  • 2 tbsp of flour
  • A lot of lard or oil

Peel and grate the potatoes; add salt, the finely chopped onion, the eggs, and some flour to bind everything, and fry until crispy brown on both sides.


    About the Creator

    Ute Luppertz ✨

    I am an animal lover, a meditator, and a wisdom keeper. I live my passion through writing about life and animals and working as a pet death doula and animal communicator.

    You can learn more about me here: petspointofview

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