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Austrian cooking wouldn't be what it is without the potato. Not only is it boiled,
baked and fried as a conventional side-dish, but potatoes are transformed into dough,
mashes and croquets as the major ingredient of many dishes.
My mother used to say, "I could do without bread, but not without potatoes." Austria´s
domestic cooking was based on what grew in the ground and hence filled the stomach.
When the potato came to Europe in the 16th century, hunger haunted the land. It
took almost half a century for European rulers to discover that they could feed their
people by widespread cultivation of potatoes.
Through experience and creativity, the potato became a main ingredient in many Austrian
recipes, not only as a side-dish, but as the basis of dough, croquets, mashes, cream
soups, salad dressings, and the popular warm potato salad, or its extension the mayonnaise
Potato dough is ubiquitous in Austrian cuisine. It is used to make potato dumplings,
poppy seed noodles or wonderful apricot dumplings. Also, minced smoked sausage or
leftover roast are mixed with sautéed onions, wrapped in potato dough and cooked
as dumplings. Another very popular dumpling, made of potato dough, is called Grammel
Knoedel. Grammeln (Grieben in Germany, crackling in England) are rendered from pork
fat. The raw fatty coat of the pig is skinned and then cut into two-inch cubes.
After hours of cooking on low heat, occasionally stirred, the crunchy remains of
the lard cubes have separated from the liquid fat. The rendered crackling is cooled,
chopped, seasoned with garlic, freshly-chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and formed
into little balls. These in turn are covered with potato dough and cooked in salted
water. Served with sauerkraut and gravy, you have an incredibly delicious dish which
I invite you to try out.
The potato plant originates in South America. In the 16th century the Spanish King
Philip was presented with a casket from a ship returning from South America. It
contained an unknown tuberous plant. Before the potato landed in the cooking pots
it was a popular plant for the garden, valued for its beautiful blossom. Spanish
seamen probably discovered the nutritional use of the potato tuber. There was, of
course, no manual to make it known to European farmers, and it is absolutely inedible
raw or harvested before mature. But, with experience, the floodgates opened and
the triumph of the potato was assured to this day.
Returning to the question asking what Austria would be without potatoes, I can hardly
imagine. Thank Mother Nature for the potato; without it, cooking and eating would
only be half of what they are today.