Exploring the Germans from Russia foodways

"I'm more German than you are Norwegian!" my husband exclaimed, grinning at me. He sounded a little too triumphant, I thought to myself. We were reviewing the results of our DNA testing. I looked at his ethnicity pie charts, and he was correct. H...

knoephla -- ndsu.jpg
This knoephla soup recipe has been modified to make it more healthful. (NDSU photo)

"I'm more German than you are Norwegian!" my husband exclaimed, grinning at me.

He sounded a little too triumphant, I thought to myself.

We were reviewing the results of our DNA testing. I looked at his ethnicity pie charts, and he was correct. He was 82 percent German to my 72 percent Norwegian. He was zero percent Scandinavian, poor guy.

How had we survived more than 25 years of marriage?

I could understand why he likes sauerkraut and sausages, I thought to myself.


However, I was more English and Irish than he was, despite his English-sounding last name. The DNA service explained that Viking sailors exploring the coasts were probably the reason for my English and Irish heritage.

My appreciation of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day might be genetic.

I began connecting with long-lost and never-met cousins. My husband thought it was a scam and didn't pay a lot of attention until one day. I had written a note to a person with a name that sounded familiar. She wrote back a story with very specific information about my childhood hobby.

"This is real!" he said with astonishment as he read the message over my shoulder. "No one would know that!"

I had chosen the kit that helped us connect ourselves to our heritage. However, many testing kits are available, and some can provide hints about future health. However, keep in mind that lifestyle, including eating, physical activity and smoking habits, significantly influences our health.

Lately, I have stepped out of my Scandinavian heritage to work on a North Dakota Germans from Russia project.

Here's a little history I have gleaned from the Germans from Russia collection at the NDSU library, available at In 1763, Russian Czarina Catherine the Great, a former German princess, invited German colonists to Russia with the promise of farmland and more privileges. Many accepted the invitation and colonized the Volga region first. Then in 1803, Alexander I, grandson of Catherine, issued another invitation and Germans settled southern Ukraine near the Black Sea.

In 1871, Czar Alexander II revoked the preferential rights and privileges given to the colonist settlers by the manifestos of Catherine II and Alexander I. In 1874, universal military conscription was instituted. The Germans began emigrating to North America and settled everywhere from Canada to Texas. By 1910, about 60,000 Germans from Russia resided in North Dakota.


As I read the history, I became a little worried about getting this new ethnic foodways project correct. I know that people don't like others "messing with" their recipes.

My student interns and I began developing content and testing recipes. We learned many new German recipe names along the way. We gathered recipes from published cookbooks and recipe cards, and we ran the nutrition analysis.

Some recipes just needed a little clarification. As with many old cookbooks, sometimes an ingredient amount wasn't provided, or the ingredient was mentioned in the directions but not in the ingredient list. "Add some vinegar" is a little vague, for example.

Some of the recipes were fairly healthful "as is" with just a couple of tweaks. Other recipes were fairly high in fat and sodium and low in fiber.

In earlier history, people used what they had available, and they worked very hard physically to produce and prepare foods. We have many labor-saving devices now and burn fewer calories in our labor.

I need to caution people about using old canning recipes from any cookbook, though. Canning recommendations underwent a major re-do during World War II and are updated regularly. Some of the canning recipes we find in heritage cookbooks would not meet today's safety standards. Visit and check out the current research-tested recipes.

We had taste-testers try our slightly updated recipes. We added less salt, used whole milk or half and half instead of heavy cream, and used half whole-wheat flour for white flour in the buns and dumplings.

We tried several recipes for knoephla soup, and this is the winner. We added some vegetables for color and nutrition, reduced the butter and used half whole-wheat flour in the dumplings. Note that the dumplings will be light gray as a result of the whole-wheat flour.


By the way, this recipe is German-heritage-husband-approved.

Knoephla Soup


1/4 cup butter, unsalted

6 cups baking potatoes (about 3 large), peeled and cubed

1/2 cup onion (about 1 small onion), diced

3/4 cup celery, diced

3/4 cup carrot, diced


1/2 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

3 cups whole milk

6 cups chicken broth

Knoephla (dumpling) recipe:

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

3/4 cup white flour

7 tablespoons whole milk, or more as needed

1 egg


2 teaspoons dill weed

2 teaspoons parsley

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Saute potatoes, carrot, celery, onion and pepper until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir 3 cups milk into potato mixture and heat until almost boiling, about five minutes. Remove skillet from heat. In separate pot, bring chicken broth to a boil.

To make knoephla (dumplings): Combine whole-wheat and white flour, 7 tablespoons milk, egg, dill, parsley, salt and pepper. Add more milk a tablespoon at a time until dough is stiff. Roll dough into 1/2-inch-thick ropes. Cut ropes into 1/4-inch pieces with a knife or kitchen shears. Drop pieces into boiling broth. Cover pot and reduce heat to simmer until knoephla begin to float, about 10 minutes. Stir potato mixture into broth and knoephla. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

Makes 10 (1-cup) servings. Each serving has 260 calories, 8 grams fat, 9 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber and 480 milligrams sodium.

Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service.

What To Read Next
Get Local