My grandma never made it past an 8th grade education. Being the oldest of nine children, she had to leave school at 13 years of age to help care for her younger siblings and assist with cooking, cleaning and many other duties around the house.
Her parents were German immigrants who carried the traditional values and standards from the old world to America and expected nothing less than the same from their children. There wasn’t a bed in that house that ever once had a wrinkle in the sheets or a corner not absolutely folded with perfect precision.
Years later, my grandma married my grandpa and spent her adult life raising their two boys (my father) and keeping house while my grandpa worked away from the home to earn the family living. In all her life, she never held a professional job or even learned to drive a car, but no one dared say she wasn’t a hard worker.
She took great pride in fulfilling her position as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the household.
When my grandpa finally retired after thirty years of working as a safety personnel manager at a local manufacturing plant, he found himself home every day with my grandma. Suddenly there were not one, but two bosses in the house where before my grandma had peacefully reigned alone for all that time.
Unable to turn off his managerial tendencies, yet no longer having a crew of employees to direct or boss around, my grandpa turned to directing my grandma in her daily tasks. Being loving and gracious as my grandma was, she attempted to ease the transition from professional life to home life for her newly-retired husband and adjust to the new co-director arrangement.
It wasn’t until one day, as my grandma was peacefully and calmly chopping cabbage in the kitchen that the time came for her to put her foot down and show my grandpa who really was boss.
She was making a traditional German dish called “Graubrot,” one she had made countless times since she was 13 years old and chopping that same cabbage alongside her own mother in the kitchen. My grandpa, undoubtedly wandering aimlessly through the house looking for meaning and purpose in his newly-formed role as retiree, unassumingly meandered into the kitchen and hovered behind my grandma while she continued to chop away at the cabbage.
Not being able to pass up a moment to subconsciously exert his will as head of the household, he off-hand instructed my grandma to “be careful with the knife when you’re chopping the cabbage. You don’t want to cut yourself.”
No sooner had the words left his mouth and pierced the fragile balance of power lingering in the air, my grandma turned from her cutting board, spun around with knife in hand, the sharp blade flashing, and pointed it directly at my grandpa.
She then screamed, “I’ve been cutting cabbage for 50 years now so don’t you come in here and begin telling me how to do it!”
I can only imagine the look of shock on my grandpa’s face as he stood opposite his wife holding a knife and threatening him over the act of chopping cabbage. And I’m sure he didn’t know what to say when she then spun back around and continued to chop that cabbage perfectly, just as she’d been doing her whole life.
The truth was, there wasn’t anything that he could say. My grandpa may have been a big shot at the car company, but that day, my grandma definitely showed him who really was in charge.
Below is the recipe for the dish my grandma was preparing when she finally showed my grandpa who was boss. If you have anyone in your house who can not refrain from doling out instructions/critiques or who likes to boss people around, you may advise them to stay out of the kitchen or at least out of arm’s reach from the knife!
This year, as a special gift to my dad, I cooked this recipe for him for our special “dad and daughter” Christmas date. He was the one who told me this recipe about my grandmother (his mother) and it is she who I most resemble in our family. It was a memorable afternoon cooking in the kitchen, as my dad watched his daughter cook him the recipe his own mother had cooked him so many times before. I thought of my grandma and imagined she was standing with us, chopping away at the cabbage just as she had done for all those years.
Recipe: Graubrot (Grey Bread)
- 1 head of cabbage
- Equal amount of onions to cabbage, 1-3 lbs. (My family likes more onions!(
- 2 lbs. ground beef (ground chuck best)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 boxes hot roll mix (premade from the store)
Brown ground beef and set aside.
Finely chop cabbage and onions. In large pot with enough heated oil (olive is best) to cover bottom of pot, sauté cabbage and onions until glassy. Add cooked ground beef. Salt and pepper to taste. My family’s tradition is as much pepper as salt. Cook all ingredients through.
Using “Hot Roll Mix,” as it is always fresh and measures easily. Follow instructions on package and roll out dough. One package of Hot Roll Mix makes 16 portions. You will need two boxes to start, this recipe is passed on orally and is trial and error at first. You can make your own yeast dough recipe but will have to use judgment for portions.
Divide one box of prepared dough into 16 portions (about 1/4 cup dough). Using a rolling pin or just spread with fingers into 6-7 inch squares. Spoon a heaping spoon full of meat mixture with a little “juice” into the center of dough square.
Pull sides of square up into a packet. Seams should make an X when sealed.
Place each finished packet onto a greased cookie sheet with sides touching. When all meat mixture is used, brush dough packets with any”juice” left from the meat mixture.
Cover cookie sheet with a tea towel and set in a warm place for about 30 minutes. Bake packets in 350 oven until golden brown. Serve with spicy mustard and cold (preferably German!) beer.
Any meat mixture not used initially can be frozen for a batch later. Finished, baked packets can also be frozen.