Recently I noticed a discussion between some Hermannites on Facebook regarding how you know you’re from Hermann when…you remember Saturday night dances at the Knights of Columbus Hall, or you find someone passed out in your front yard on a Sunday morning during Oktoberfest.
Well, I knew I was back in Hermann when one day, shortly after moving back here from Alaska, I decided I wanted to make chicken curry for dinner. I headed to one of the grocery stores in town to pick up a couple cans of coconut milk, a jar of red curry paste, and cilantro. In our small town in Alaska, these items were staples you could always find on the store shelves. People are travelers in Alaska. You might run into someone on Main Street that you hadn’t seen for a while, and learn that they just spent a month bicycling through China or had trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Most people there have pretty evolved taste buds, and the local stores cater to that.
But, back to Hermann…with a hankering for curry, I decided my best bet was the grocery aisle labeled “ethnic foods”. No coconut milk and no curry paste, but I did find some of that yellow curry powder in the spice aisle. I had forgotten that in this part of the Midwest, ethnic food refers to refried beans and canned water chestnuts. Lasagna is made with cottage cheese, not ricotta, and the local Mexican restaurant’s specialty is a taco bar. I can still picture my husband, Mick, taking his first bite of dinner that night, looking up at me, and saying, rather diplomatically, “This doesn’t taste like the curry you usually make”!
And so, if you can’t beat them, join them…which means fried catfish at the VFW on Friday nights, Jello salads, and chicken-fried steak – Mick’s new favorite. But one traditional German dish has become very sophisticated during the time I was away, and that is bratwurst. Brats were something we usually saw during festival weekends, smothered in sauerkraut. They were really just basic links of pork sausage, seasoned with salt and pepper. Today’s brats have taken on a gourmet twist – you can find sun-dried tomato brats, mushroom & Swiss cheese brats, brats with dried cherries, even brats made with buffalo meat. My friend, Ralph, makes his own with apple pie filling and a little bit of cinnamon – absolutely delicious! And, although I didn’t realize that athletic teams had “official meats”, a locally-made bratwurst from the Swiss Meat & Sausage Co. has become the “official bratwurst” of the Mizzou athletics.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Hermann this weekend, September 23 & 24, you can get a taste of some of the best bratwurst and BBQ at the annual BarBQ and Brats Festival held in the city park. You will see some serious cooking going on here – it’s a Kansas City BarBQ Society-sanctioned event. There are also backyard chef competitions, a beer and wine garden, and live entertainment throughout the weekend.
For more information about this weekend’s BBQ & Brats festival, click here. And, now you can find everything for your brat fix right in downtown Hermann. The Hermann Wurst Haus is open on 1st Street, producing sausages in a smokehouse in the back of the business. You can find German potato salad, soups and micro-brews at the deli counter. And if you want to try your hand at making your own brats, the business plans to offer sausage making classes this winter.