Watery Spaghetti and Hasenpfeffer

My extended family ate some really weirdly-sauced spaghetti when I was growing up.  Heavy on the ground beef and water, light on the canned tomato. When I, a polite and tactful child, told my cousin Andy that his mom's version of spaghetti was gross, he explained that it was German spaghetti, and added that he was proud to be German.  I was shocked by both of these assertions.  I think that Germans would also be shocked to hear that our puddle of meat spaghetti had anything to do with them.

Wherever the blame for German spaghetti belongs, it turns out that I do have German heritage.  My experience was that we didn't talk about being German or do anything that could be explained by being German, other than having a Christmas tree.  But some of the family names on both sides of my family tree, Minneman and Helfrich and Hunsberger, form the outline of a story that I am trying to understand.

Once I found a book lying around my grandparents' house, outlining the appropriate words for religious milestones with facing pages in German and English.  It turned out that it had belonged to my great-grandfather, a bilingual German Lutheran minister.  His daughter, though, wasn't allowed to speak German at home.  She lived through Prohibition, when of course all the beer gardens closed, which spelled the end of many Germantowns.  There was more than one war during her lifetime that made people suspicious of German Americans.  When she was young, her social circle was defined by the Lutheran young people's group.  It seems likely that being Lutheran probably became the last safe place for expression of her heritage, and very likely the last place where she heard any German public figures held up as role models.  She's my grandmother.  It wouldn't surprise me if her experience as a bit of an outsider was what gave her the strength to take an independent stance on occasion (she was the sole non-union teacher at her school), but she doesn't really talk about it.

I've heard people suggest that the complete "assimilation" of massive numbers of German-Americans can be a hopeful example to other countries struggling with immigration issues, including Germany.  But the assimilation of my family was motivated by acute pressures to avoid public Germanness, the kind of pressures that made my great-grandparents believe that their children would have better lives without German accents.

What is a more American experience than being an immigrant or the child of an immigrant under pressure to assimilate?  We, the immigrant people, the new nation, the country with the constant identity crisis?  We are still becoming America.  If we could collectively remember the whole story of immigration, then maybe we would stop perpetuating the ugly parts.

It's probably very American to make a hobby of learning about your cultural roots, making up narratives and links to the past partly because many of the stories of my family are lost to time and intentional forgetfulness.  Whatever it even means to be German-American: all that the German-Americans could agree on right before the world wars was making sure their kids could speak German and preserving their freedom to drink beer.

Given that, maybe it's not so silly to try to begin reconnecting to my heritage through making peppered/pickled rabbit, enjoying a good weihenstephaner, and someday trying to remember how to make Grandma Clamme's laborious thinly sliced egg noodles.  Since I'm as German as German spaghetti.

With apologies to my aunt, who taught me valuable life skills like washing my hands before cooking, and didn't make anything else that tasted bad to me.

This is Mark Bittman's marinade for Civet of Rabbit, or Hasenpfeffer.  See how I thought this recipe turned out.

2 cups of red wine (I chose Pinot Noir)
1/2 cup vinegar, apple cider or red wine
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 rabbit
Salt and pepper

1.  I am being lazy and thawing the rabbit in the marinade.  Eventually you'll want your rabbit in pieces, so if your rabbit is thawed go ahead and cut it into pieces.

2.  Place all the ingredients in a gallon bag or another container that will allow most of the rabbit pieces to be covered by the marinade ingredients.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 8 hours to 3 days, turning occasionally so all the meat gets soaked through.  


  1. Oh man. I, also, experienced acute pressures to avoid public disavowal of that spaghetti.

    Please stop using the rabbit in icebox phrase because it confuses me.

    Recipe looks great!

  2. You're confused? I can't even tell which end the head was on. It's so... non-chicken shaped.

  3. I've never seen anyone cook rabbit at home. Where do you even get it? :)
    The recipe sounds fantastic!

  4. McKinnon's in Davis has frozen rabbits, sometimes.

  5. So does Savenor's (reliably), although they are really over priced, at least on the few items I've checked. Their prepackaged Irish blood sausage costs about 50% than the same thing at McKinnons. But then, they always have it, and McKinnon's doesn't.

    How'd the bunny come out?

  6. The bunny didn't turn out great, but I think the recipe was flawed.

    I wonder if the Savenor's rabbits are fresh instead of frozen? The McKinnon's rabbits are strangely cheap.


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