Pioneer Potluck: The hidden history of the German Krautburger

  • By ANN ‘GRANNIE ANNIE’ BERG
  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 12:42pm
  • LifeFood

On a farm north of Fort Collins, Colorado, 1937-1957

I have an article that brings back memories of my childhood and the sugar beets Dad grew on the farm. He was in the Big Ten Beet Growers Association and was one of the larger growers in the area.

The article is from the Greeley History Museum by way of Marsha Lehr on Facebook. It gives an obscure history of Germans from Russia, written my Matt Masich and several inserts from John Kammerzell of Fort Collins.

On the farm we were surrounded by German-Russian neighbors. We were the only Irish family in the community. Thus our mother pounded into our heads and shaking her finger at us, “Be good! You are Irish and don’t you forget it!”

Our neighbors consisted of Winnick, Heinz, Shieldts, Deitz, Laucks, Schmidts and Reins (sorry there are others, I just can’t remember) and an Italian family, the Arancis. All our neighbors were hard working farmers and very seldom stopped buy to visit very long as there was always something to tend to. Although if you needed anything or help of any kind, they dropped what they were doing and were at your side, pronto!

All were irrigation farms and the beets were irrigated up, so the little ditches had to be cut into the ground with a shovel and them connected to the larger irrigation ditch. But first the beet rows had to be ditched so the water would run down each row of beets. Irrigating the field, Dad would “walk the beets” about every three or four hours, day and night. I remember him getting up during the night — putting on his irrigation boots and go “tend to the water” in the beet field. His dedication to growing his crop showed as his yield of sugar beets was recognized through the Big Ten Beet Growers Association which he was most proud of.

This article from the Greeley History Museum goes back to that time and much earlier. In my time, the late 1930s and all of 1940s, it says that if you lived near a sugar beet factory, you probably were very familiar with Krautburgers, a favorite beef, cabbage, onion, wrapped and baked in bread dough. This was lunch for the Germans from Russia, who owned and worked in the beet fields. Their hard work fueled the region’s prosperity. All this seems to be lost in time to obscure history.

The Krautburger of today is served in various Mexican restaurants in the region such as Windsor, or what is called the Colorado Krautburger Triangle, which covers the areas between Brighton, Fort Collins, and Sterling. You will find the bread pockets of beef and cabbage served in all restaurants in that area.

This wonderful sandwich was easy to carry to the fields while the beets were thinned, irrigated and later, the top of beet was lopped off with a beet knife with a big hook on the end. Labor intensive for sure, walking each row, picking up each beet, until the whole field was topped and the beets were hauled off the be weighed at the rail road site, dumped in rail cars, so they could be carried to the Great Western Sugar Beet Factory east of Fort Collins. The building was a great huge, long, brick, three- or four-story building. You knew you were in the area, because it put off a peculiar odor that I cannot even describe, but I would know it if I ever smelled it again!

The beet industry was the beginning of the wonderful Krautburger, Cabbage Pocket, Cabbage Bellies. We called them at times “Kraut-ber-dock,” but actually the correct spelling is Kraut bierok.

Not many know why or how the Germans settled in Russian and then came to America. During World War II most of the Germans called themselves Russians, because of Hitler causing the troubles in Germany. They and Dad called themselves Roosians.

Actually the Germans settled in Russia because the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. In 1763, the German-born Catherine put out an open invitation for Germans to come settle along the Volga River in Russia, promising cheap land, freedom to keep their own language and religion, also promising lower taxes, self-government and exemption from the Russian military. The German peasants wanted to own their own land and escape the miseries of the recently ended Seven Years’ War. More than 30,000 Germans moved to the region. They called themselves Volga Deutsche.

They thrived for many generations, successfully farming the fertile land. Then near the turn of the 20th century the Russian government reneged on Catherine’s promise, pressuring the Germans to adopt the Russian ways and assigning the men to the military.

A retired U.S. Marshal, John Kammerzell, now living in Fort Collins, related that his great-grandfather was drafted into the Russian Army, leaving behind his home in the town of Frank, Russia, to fight with Russo-Japanese War, a horrific conflict. His family heard not a word from him for 30 years. They assumed he was dead.

“One day this guy in uniform came walking down the road into Frank,” Kammerzell said, repeating and old family story. My great-grandmother saw him, but did not realize until he got very close that is was her husband. He had lost so much weight and was so unkempt. As soon as he got home he said, ‘We’re moving.’”

Like thousand of other German families along the Volga, the Kammerzells, came to America, bound for the beet fields and farms of the Great Plains.

And that story, my friends, is how the Germans came to be our farmer neighbors North of Fort Collins. And this is how we came to love the Krautburger!

My thanks to Sandy Rein McClure, my sister-in-law who shared the recipe and her Cabbage Bellies with us at picnics and family holiday gatherings.

Thank you to the Greeley History Museum, Matt Masich and to John Kammerzell for bringing to light this delectable part of history.

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. Grannie Annie can be reached at anninalaska@gci.net, or look for her on Facebook at Grannie Annies COOK BOOKS, where you can find details and ordering information for her cook books.

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