Schnitz Und Knepp

26 03 2007

And the endless feast continues…this weekend’s highlight is an old family tradition called Schnitz Und Knepp, perfect on a cold and blustery winter’s day. According to the wikipedia, schnitz und knepp is a “staple in the cuisine of the Pennsylvania Dutch.”

Schnitz refers to unpeeled dried apple slices. And knepp (or sometimes gnepp pronounced in either case with the k or g silent) to me has always been dough although when I googled it, many translated it to dumplings.

Epicurious.com offers the most succinct, accurate description. “A Pennslyvania Dutch dish consisting of dried apples that are soaked in water before being cooked in that liquid with ham. At the end of the cooking time, spoonfuls of batter are added to the cooking liquid to make dumplings.”

And that is, in short, how one cooks this delicacy. What it doesn’t tell you is how one eats this dish, which, to me, makes it truly unique. In our family, we place the boiled dumplings in a bowl with some ham, spoon on hot schnitz, and pour over it a mixture of milk slightly sweetened with brown sugar.

I know all my Jewish friends are likely to barf after reading that, but what can I say. I absolutely LOVE this dish. The saltiness of the ham balances the sweetness of the milk and that combined with the schnitz makes an exotic sweet and savory meal.

Schnitz und knepp nights were very special occasions in my family history, almost more special than Christmas or Thanksgiving. They only happened once, maybe twice if we were lucky, each year.  It’s nearly an all-day affair for the cooks since the ham boils all afternoon and since our dumplings are a yeast-raised dough, in contrast to every other recipe calling for baking powder that popped up when I googled it. And the recipe we make, yields large quantities. So if you weren’t cooking for a mass of people, you were wasting perfectly good food!

I can remember my grandmother Viola and sometimes her sisters, particularly Dorothy, Annie, and Pauline, gathering together in the afternoon to begin preparations. With such lengthy wait times, of course, preparing this dish was more of a social event than an all-hands-on-deck cooking marathon. Such occasions generated incredibly strong family bonds.

And family members would come from miles and miles around to partake. I can still see my aunts, uncles, and cousins crowded around my grandmother’s tiny dining room table. With heads bent over our plates, conversation during the first round, anyway, was often minimal. But my grandmother kept bringing out more and more and more platters of dough. We’d eat our fill, rest, joke around, and eat some more.

I know, it sounds gluttonous, doesn’t it. Indeed, it was. But, I have such fond memories of those occasions. I remember the belly laughs, my grandfather’s Bosco song, the sense of belonging, and feelings of safety and comfort and complete happiness.  While I still crave and relish the taste of this meal, I think the real reason I nag my mother to make it once a year, is to reconnect with those memories and step back, if only momentarily, into that bubble of love.

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