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Our Rich History: Gotta get goetta. What’s that? A mystery food few outside our region ever heard of


(This is part of a regular series especially for the NKyTribune on local history by three distinguished historians, Paul Tenkotte of NKU, James Claypool, NKU professor emeritus of history, and David Schroeder of Kenton County Public Library. They are co-authors of the new “Gateway City,” a 450-page history of Covington, marking its 200th birthday.)

By Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

What do Spam®, Hamburger Helper®, Tuna Helper®, and goetta all have in common? They are “food stretchers.”

To those not native to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, goetta is somewhat of a mystery, and to those whose families have been here forever, you probably believe some myths about it.

So, let’s depart on a little journey of food debunking and fact finding:

Myth #1: A few years ago, someone was claiming on a website – thankfully it seems to have disappeared — that goetta was invented by some employee at a Cincinnati slaughterhouse who took home scraps of pork and beef to his family. Yeah, right, and you and I invented the internet!

Truth #1: Basically, goetta is an old German peasant food, brought to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area by immigrants from northwestern Germany. It was a way for them to take a little of this and a little of that, pork, beef, pin oats, onion, and spices, and stretch their food supplies.

glier goetta

Cooked for hours and then made into a loaf, you sliced it, and then fried it until crisp. It was served as a cold-weather breakfast food. My grandmother, Katherine Eibes Meier (born in the 1880s), whose family came from northern Germany, had an excellent recipe for it. However, despite her generous and loving nature, she never shared the recipe with her eight living children. Why? Because she said that they all lived in modern houses with forced-air heat registers along the side walls. To properly dry out the goetta, she claimed, you had to let it sit in the loaf pan on top of a heat register in the floor. She was probably right. I have never tasted goetta to match hers.

Of course, those were the days before we started feeding cattle antibiotics, grains, and who knows what, so perhaps that has more to do with it. Oh, and by the way, true goetta requires pin oats. Other oats have a tendency to make the goetta soggy.

Myth #2: Modern-day Germans all love goetta.

Truth #2: Most modern-day Germans have no idea what goetta is. Why? Because goetta went the way of the dinosaur in Germany. And with poor communications between the Old World and the New World in the 19th and early 20th centuries, goetta became a part of “fossilized” or “ossified” food culture in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Germany moved on with newer recipes. However, in the case of Cincinnati, German descendants loved their goetta. And so, families like Glier, Finke, Eckerlin and others continued to make goetta to meet the demand.

So, my German colleagues and students at Northern Kentucky University have been introduced to goetta, and some have developed a taste for it, especially as burgers, pizzas or tacos, which brings us to . . .

Myth #3: Our German ancestors loved to make goetta into all kinds of tasty food, including burgers, pizzas and tacos.

goetta

Truth #3: Originally, goetta was a breakfast food, and one that was enjoyed in the late autumn, and during the winter. I never remember eating it in summer, nor do my parents.

Now, with its popularization, it has been Americanized into every imaginable form, which in turn has made it even more popular. And I’m certainly not a goetta prude, so hurray for goetta, any manner that you like it and at any time of the year! And if you don’t care for the taste, throw some ketchup, syrup or your favorite topping on it.

Next time, we’ll discuss Cincinnati chili, so put your feed bags on and prepare to salivate.

Paul A. Tenkotte is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History at NKU. With other well-known regional historians, James C. Claypool and David E. Schroeder, he is a co-editor of the new 450-page Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015, now available at your local booksellers, the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington and online sellers. Join the 27 authors of Gateway City at a book signing on Saturday, May 16, 2015, from 1-3 pm at the Kenton County Public Library, Covington. For more information, please visit www.kentonlibrary.org

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2 Comments

  1. John says:

    Get a Goetta and Cheese omelet at the Anchor Grill. It’s all you’ll ever want .

  2. Greg Wingham says:

    I can attest to the information in this article as when I was in Germany, they looked at me with a dumbfound look when I mentioned Goetta. I previously had thought that since it came from Germany, that they must still enjoy it.

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