Not very long ago, I moved to Deggendorf, Germany for six months. I could say that it was work related, or that New York was becoming too expensive, or that I really wanted a change of scenery. I could come up with a million reasons for the move, but the truth is that for me to beg my boss to allow me to telecommute from Europe, sublet my super cute apartment in Brooklyn, drag my dog kicking and barking to my parents’ house in CT, pack up my not so valuable valuables, and auf wiedersehen New York City with barely a second glance, amounted to one thing; It was clearly all about a boy.
At ninety miles from Munich, Deggendorf is a small town in Bavaria where everything shuts down at 5pm, except on Sundays when nothing opens. Nothing, except the church in the center of town and Restaurant Olympia, a Greek restaurant that inexplicably, stayed open daily until 12:30am. That was the hotspot! I do not kid when I say that batman forbid you should run out of milk on a Sunday … Fuggetaboutit … You’d better find a cow and get to milking. Did that. Yvonne lived two farms down, and she wasn’t very happy with my attempt. It seemed a good idea at the time. Needless to say, I drank more ouzo than milk during my time in Deggendorf.
A couple of weeks after my arrival in town, I walked into the local tavern for dinner … before 5pm of course. Had I spoken German, I would have been able to read the extra large sign at the front door, on which “Uhlmann Family Reunion” was written. I did notice the balloons, but my thought? I guess they're being particularly festive at the tavern tonight. I walked in and took another moment to notice that instead of the usual assortment of tables and seats, there was one long table in the middle of the room, with a buffet set up along a wall. My thought? hmm, family style tonight. I took yet another moment to notice that the conversation stopped immediately upon my walking into the room, and that upwards of fifty people turned, in unison, to look at me. My thought? only black chick in Deggendorf, stops conversation all the time. I’m cool with that. My stellar power of observation led me to sit at the “family style” set table, and look around for a menu.
What happened next? Awesomeness happened. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak German, but we all spoke food. I was waved over to the buffet by "my server", also known as Grandma Uhlmann as I later found out, and I proceeded to pile my plate high with blutwurst and leberwurst (blood and liver sausage respectively), kartoffelsalat (potato salad), and schweinshaxe (braised pork, german style) …. I then sat back at the table, and used the three German words that I knew (push, pull, thank you), and lots of sign language to communicate with my dining companions. Two hours later, my then boyfriend having driven in from his office in Munich, arrived as planned, to pick me up from “dinner”, and quickly revealed the anecdote that I had walked into. One that I’m sure has been told, and re-told, since by the Uhlmanns. Apparently, the recurring question of the night was, “What part of the family is she from?” wink wink. Oh, hardy har har. But all jokes aside, what I discovered that night, at my German family reunion, is that food brings people together. That may be a cliché, but it's nonetheless true. And also, schweinshaxe is absolutely delicious.
Fast forward to now, and I live in San Francisco, and the boy lives in Edinburgh. The love is lost, but I gained schweinshaxe. Trust me, I totally won.
But I do miss the Uhlmanns.
SHREDDED PORK LEG
- 10 pounds pork leg, bone-in
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into wedges
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 16-ounce container of chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Trim the pork leg of any thick layers of fat. Combine the light brown sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the pork with the spice mixture, getting into crevices and on the sides. Allow the pork to sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature and up to a day in the refrigerator. Meat must be at room temperature before cooking.
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pot. Add the onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to bring up any browned bits.
Return the pork to the pot. Cover and put in the oven for 4 to 6 hours, checking once or twice, until the meat is extremely tender and pulls away from the bone easily. Shred the pork in the pot, using tongs to separate the meat from the fat. Discard the bone or set aside for another use.
Serve the meat with several spoonfuls of the vegetables and sauce.
I served it with this amazing braised cabbage dish from a recipe by Molly Stevens, who definitely knows her way around a cabbage patch, because this dish is simply amazing.