Russ Hinkel, age 17 or so, as a Merchant Marine (circa 1947), and at the right, our Author, age 9, feeding Dad some birthday cake.
My Dad, Russ Hinkel, is a unique character. He’s almost eighty, a Mason who still goes to meetings in Center City, and a retired heavy equipment operator. He has always looked like Jimmy Stewart, and kind of speaks like him too. He loves to talk about the “old days”– the weird things that happened to him in the Merchant Marines when he was only 16, and the Great Depression, when his family had nothing. Of course, they didn’t call it the Great Depression then. They just knew that they were dirt poor, living in a farmhouse in Frackville, PA with holes in the walls, and picking dandelion greens to have for supper. His father, my grandfather, was a coal miner.
When we were kids growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, and enjoying the best economy anywhere in the world up to that time, my Dad used to regale us with stories of hardship from those old days, always adding voice impressions and sound effects. He told us about cold winters, no money, and his father coming home covered with black coal dust from head to toe. It made us feel cozy, safe, and lucky that our lives were so much easier.
One of his favorite meals back then, when they could afford to buy a few groceries, was “German Salad”. There might be a more official name for this dish, but that’s what we call it. My Dad rhapsodizes about this meal. We would have it about once a month during my childhood. Now, we have it about once a year, because it’s not the healthiest meal around. But it is a piece of history, in a very tangible way. When you read the recipe, keep in mind that even though it sounds strange, it’s one of the most delicious dishes you will eat. At least we all think so. (Keep in mind that back in the Thirties, this dish would have been made with dandelion greens picked near the train tracks, but now we use iceberg lettuce.)
1 1/2 heads iceberg lettuce
2 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons vinegar (nothing fancy)
1 teaspoon salt
16 slices bacon (no wimpy stuff, the real thing)
2 onions, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups milk
4 Idaho potatoes, baked until hot and fluffy inside and split open
Fry bacon in skillet until crisp. Drain only about half the bacon fat from skillet. While the bacon is cooking, break lettuce up into bite size pieces and place in a large salad bowl. Chop onions and add to lettuce. Mix together the sugar, salt, pepper to taste, and vinegar, and pour over lettuce. Toss lightly.
When the bacon is crisp and half drained, remove it from skillet and break up into small pieces. Return to skillet. Combine milk and eggs and add to bacon and drippings in skillet. Heat slowly, stirring until thick. Do not boil. At the last minute, pour this entire mixture over the lettuce and toss gently to wilt. Then pour the salad over the baked potatoes and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6 Hungry Germans.
I hope you make this. And please remember to be grateful for everything you have in this life!