Washtenaw County's historic preservation program is dedicated to supporting local historic districts, spurring heritage tourism, and attracting investment in our historic resources.
One of Michigan’s largest German settlements was established in western Washtenaw County. German immigrants from Wuerttemberg, Westphalia, and other areas formed their own rural farming society. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century marked the peak years of the German settlement. The German-American Rentschler family lived through the Great Depression, and like many other German-American farms, adapted farm life to changing circumstances. Food during the Depression was whatever could be produced on their farm. Locals remember eating chicken, dumplings, soups, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, and sausage. Today, the Rentschler Farm Museum, operated by Saline Historical Society, interprets the farm during this pivotal time in history.
Elsewhere in Ann Arbor, German-native William Schwartz opened the Old German Restaurant on Ashley Street in 1928. The restaurant remained a landmark until 1995, when the restaurant moved from its downtown location to a new building in west Ann Arbor on Zeeb Road. Recently, the Old German re-opened in the cellars of the original Ashley Street building with a limited menu. A cookbook published by the original restaurant contains recipes that German-American citizens of Washtenaw County, such as the Dikeman family, would have used.
Other sources of German-American cooking include a 1960 recipe book from St. Andrews Church in Dexter. St. Andrews, a German community church, met in a small church which is now the Dexter Historical Society. Dexter has a rich German heritage, and these recipes have been part of German American history in Washtenaw County for generations.
(from Recipes of the Old German Restaurant) 5-6 slices pork about 1/4” thick (pork, veal cutlet, or fresh ham) Salt and pepper Flour 3 eggs Bread crumbs Lemon juice Vegetable oil for frying Salt and pepper each slice and add a little lemon juice. Roll in flour so they are well coated. In a separate bowl beat eggs, add milk, and mix well. Dip flour coated meat into egg wash, then into bread crumbs. Let stand for ½ hour at room temperature, and fry in hot oil until golden brown.
(from Recipes of the Old German Restaurant) 2 ½ cups grated raw potatoes 3 cups water 1 tsp. lemon juice 1 boiled potato , or a little mashed potatoes, if you have it 1 egg, beaten 2 tbsp. milk ½ tsp. salt 6-8 tbs. vegetable oil Place grated potatoes and lemon juice in water; drain very well. Beat raw and cooked potatoes with egg, milk, and salt to form batter. Using 3 tbs. oil for each batch, drop batter for 3 or 4 pancakes into hot oil in a large frying pan. When firm on bottom side, loosen edges and turn; brown other side. Remove and drain on paper towel. Potato pancakes are served with meat, or applesauce. Makes 8-10 pancakes
(from St. Andrew’s Shares Her Favorite German Recipes) ¾ lb. butter 1 pt. molasses 6 eggs 1 lb. currants ½ lb. raisins 1 cup boiled cider 3 cups pastry flour ½ lb. citron 1 nutmeg, ground [or 2 tsp ground nutmeg] 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking soda Combine butter, molasses, and eggs, add fruits and dry ingredients alternately with cider to first mixture. Pour into 2 deep bread tins. [Tent foil over the loaf pans to prevent burning.] Bake 2 hours at 325°Fahrenheit. This recipe has been handed down for 200 years in one family and brought to the United States many years ago from Baden-Baden, Germany
Sources: “Depression-Era Cooking on a German-American Farm in Michigan.” Repast. Volume 23, Number 2 (Spring 2007). Leib, Marzella. Recipes of the Old German Restaurant. Ann Arbor: Proctor Publications, LLC (2000). “Our Roots and Connections.” St. Andrews United Church of Christ. Accessed 10 September 2015. http://standrewsdexter.org/About%20our%20Church.htm. “Rentschler Farm.” Saline Area Historical Society. Accessed 10 September 2015. http://salinehistory.org/index.php?content=rentschler_farm§ion=sites. St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ. St. Andrew’s Shares Her Favorite German Recipes. Dexter, MI. Washtenaw County Government. German Heritage Driving Tour. Available at http://www.washtenaw.org/preservation.
(Rentschler farm museum Saline, MI photo licensed under creative commons from Wikipedia)