January 15, 2007
Ach, du Liebezeit!

potatopancake.jpgWhen I first moved to Europe some 15 years ago, I lived in Munich for a year. With a maiden name like Liebezeit, on the surface I fit in pretty well. Pizza delivery places weren't thrown by my name and everyone knew how to spell it without any confusing ee-zee-tee sounds. I asked a few people if the name had a special significance aside from the obvious "love (liebe) time (zeit)". Did it mean a particular season, or a concept? None of my friends had any light to shed on the subject and eventually I stopped asking. I had all but forgotten it until the first time I crossed the border into Austria. "Ach, du Liebezeit!!" the border patrol guide called out with a broad smile when he saw my name on the passport, and he smacked himself on the forehead. Apparently, the only common use of the phrase "liebezeit" (unless it happens to be your name) is when you have done something foolish. Oh you idiot. Or maybe a better translation would be yokel? In any case, it was a source of great amusement to my friends.

Actually, my roots are Austrian rather than German. My grandmother's name, Ifkovits, was much more typical of the Burgenland region from which she and my grandfather hailed. So my two favourite dishes that she made were goulash and creamy duck soup, neither of which is at all typical of German cooking. However, there is one recipe which has passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me which is completely German: her potato pancakes. The recipe is so simple that I'm almost embarrassed to put it down here. That said, I had to call my mother the other night to verify it. I knew that if I just guessed she'd be sure to pick up on any mistake and I'd have an "Ach, du Liebezeit!" moment. So here it is: great with sausages (we had Nürnberger sausages) and applesauce or a roast or anywhere, as long as it's hot and salty and a little greasy. (Note for the lazy: there is a stall at the organic market in the 17th which sells pretty good ones. I've seen my friend Clotilde write somewhat disparagingly of them, but the boy and I are fans...)

Authentic Potato Pancakes

Note: the proportions are more or less correct here, but there is a lot of leeway. I have never measured any of the ingredients, aside from this time - when I plopped the potatoes on a scale to see how much they weighted. Makes 8-10 medium pancakes.

Special equipment: a grease splatter guard is useful and you'll also need a stack of paper towels to drain them as they cook.

about 1 lb (450g) potatoes, grated. You can leave the skins on if they are thin, for example on young red potatoes
2 small onions or one large, grated
2 heaping Tbs sour cream or creme fraîche
1 heaping Tbs flour
1 generous tsp salt
oil - something neutral (I use sunflower)

Mix all the ingredients except the oil. Pour enough oil to generously cover the bottom of your frying pan and heat until not quite smoking. When you add the batter for the first pancake, it should immediately splatter and begin cooking. As soon as you have two medium dollops of batter in your hot oil, use the spatula to spread it out thinly. The thinner the pancake, the easier it is to cook it through without over-cooking it. After 4-5 minutes, peek under the pancakes to see if they are nicely browned. Your nose will be as useful as your eyes in judging when the pancakes are done as they will start to smell delicious. Once they are medium brown and crispy, turn them over and cook another 3-4 minutes. As soon as they are done, remove to a paper towel and salt them generously. You can keep them warm in an oven while you finish the rest or - even better - serve them hot as they come off the fire. You might want to delegate the sausage-turning and plating to someone else while you concentrate on this essential task, so that everyone gets his or her portion crispy hot and ready to be devoured.

Guten apetit!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at January 15, 2007 11:52 AM Print-friendly version
Comments

From a Jewish girl in a suburb of Chicago, I must admit potato pancakes in mid-January strikes me as a little late. I ate my share in December for Hanukkah, but I see no reason why latkes (aka potato pancakes) shouldn't be a year-round food.... aside from the massive amounts of oil.

Your grandmother's recipe sounds just like the one my grandma uses too. Apparently, it's a universal comfort food! :)

Posted by Max on January 15, 2007 at 1:44 PM

From a Jewish girl in a suburb of Chicago, I must admit potato pancakes in mid-January strikes me as a little late. I ate my share in December for Hanukkah, but I see no reason why latkes (aka potato pancakes) shouldn't be a year-round food.... aside from the massive amounts of oil.

Your grandmother's recipe sounds just like the one my grandma uses too. Apparently, it's a universal comfort food! :)

Posted by Max on January 15, 2007 at 1:49 PM

Don't feel bad about your name. Mine is Jockell (originally Jokel) and it translates directly to yokel in German!

Posted by family name trauma on February 17, 2007 at 7:41 PM
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