Wie Geht's, Y'all? German Influences in Southern Cooking

By Reenstjerna, Fred R. | Southern Cultures, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Wie Geht's, Y'all? German Influences in Southern Cooking


Reenstjerna, Fred R., Southern Cultures


While a great deal has been made about Celtic and English influences in southern culture, less attention has been paid to other significant European influences. Most especially, German culinary traditions were established in several key regions of the South by the mid-1700s, and these traditions continue to this day.

German settlement in the eighteenth-century South was the result of English colonial policy in the Carolinas and Virginia. South Carolina planters lived in fear of Native American and slave uprisings, and they wanted colonies of white militiamen available on their borders. They devised a Township Plan, recruiting colonists from German Europe to settle in an arc ranging from along the Savannah River over through Columbia and down to Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Most of the townships failed, in part because they were put down in swampy landscapes bearing little resemblance to the homelands of German settlers. One settlement that did take hold, however, was Saxe Gotha Township. The region between the Broad and Saluda Rivers is known as the Dutch Fork even today, reflecting its German origins. Comprising modern Lexington County and Saluda County (and the land now under Lake Murray), this settlement took root as a center of evangelical Lutherans--and their food.

Take, for example, chicken and dumplings. This mainstay of mountain culture, which is actually served throughout the non-German South, is a stew of chicken and vegetables covered with a thick flour paste that is cooked by the steam of the boiling broth. In the Saxe Gotha region, by contrast, "dumplings" are flour noodles about two inches square. The region has become so homogenized since 1970 that food stores no longer carry dumplings in that size, but they did in my youth. I know this because my mother, once assigned to bring the dumplings to a family dinner and too busy to make a batch by hand, bought a package of prepared dumplings and sprinkled some flour over them to make them look homemade. Nobody knew the difference. Today, however, the only "extra-wide" noodles in food stores are barely an inch across.

These kinds of "dumplings" are only one German culinary tradition. Liver pudding, quite a distinct food from pork sausage, is another characteristic of Saxe Gotha. Its distinctly South Carolinian feature is that it combines rice with ground pork organ meats, mixed with red pepper and other seasonings, all stuffed into casing. Commercial liver pudding in food stores is pretty bland, but "real" pudding is available at Caughman's meat plant outlet ("The Meat 'n Place") and Four Oaks Farm. Both of these places are within a mile of each other in Lexington County and are operated by old Saxe Gotha families (the Caughmans and the Mathiases).

But the most distinctive German food to come out of Saxe Gotha is liver nips. Clearly of Central-European heritage, liver nips are still cooked in central South Carolina. …

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