Monday, December 22, 2014


            My sense of well-being goes up several notches when I can count one or two sacks of storage potatoes snuggling under cover in a dark cool corner of our keeping room. It’s partly a matter of DNA, and partly the consequence of being able to multiply 2 (people) times 5 (months). And that works only if we don’t have a storm-surge of winter visitors. It’s not that we can’t count on other supplies in our freezers or on our shelves; we can actually do quite well on eggs from the hen house, home-baked bread and peanut butter if it comes to that; but a supply of honest spuds somehow adds a gourmet touch to even the most primitive diet in my way of thinking. They keep well if stored correctly, and can be boiled, baked, fried, sautéed, mashed, shredded or turned into salads.
            If there is a “comfort food” offered up by nearly every Pub (Public House) in Ireland, it has to be Dublin Coddle in all its glorious variations. The version I have settled on after some delicious experimentation goes like this:
            You will need 6 -8 bacon slices, 6 good quality pork sausages, 4 onions sliced, 6 russet potatoes peeled and cut into large chunks and 3 cups of chicken or ham stock. For flavoring use 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, some chopped parsley, 2 garlic cloves chopped and black pepper. (You probably will not need additional salt.) Meanwhile be preheating the oven to 300 degrees.
            To continue, sauté the bacon in a skillet until just starting to crisp; drain on paper towels and cut into 2-inch pieces, reserving the fat. Over medium heat cook the sausages for about 15 minutes, adding a little bacon fat if needed to keep them from sticking to the skillet. Remove them from the skillet and cut each into two or three-inch pieces and set aside. Using the same skillet, gently cook the onions for 7 minutes until soft but still transparent, adding more bacon fat if necessary.
            To assemble layer the onions, sausages and bacon on the bottom of a baking/casserole dish, seasoning each layer with black pepper as you preheat the chicken stock. Add the seasonings and garlic, finishing with a layer of potato chunks. Season with a little more pepper and add the heated stock. (To give it all a quicker start, consider partly cooking the potatoes with the stock on a surface burner before assembling.) Tightly cover the dish with foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil for the final 5 minutes.  Serve with a fresh loaf of Irish Soda bread to soak up the juices.
            While Irish Soda Bread is simple to make, it is not a simple matter to explain the process along with some “secrets” discovered over some years of making this breath-taking Pub standby. Look for it in an upcoming HOME COUNTRY column.

   Partnered with a warm loaf of Irish Soda Bread, a Dutch oven full of Dublin Coddle helps to turn any kitchen into an Irish Pub. Notice a combination of Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes. Al Cooper Photo

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


            The phenomenon military historians label “Total War” was introduced in World War I and characterized much of WWII, with long-range aerial bombing campaigns which virtually erased such geographic novelties as borders, fortresses and defensive redoubts. Such adjectives as impregnable and unassailable no longer had real-world meaning. Most of all it meant that civilian populations differed from combatants mostly in their inability to fight back, or in many cases even to sustain themselves with the basics of human sustenance. In much of Nazi Europe’s cities, civilian factory workers lived along the edges of the very manufacturing centers which they served and the very facilities the bombers sought to destroy.
            Along with Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg and Darmstadt, the city of Kassel has the distinction of being one of Germany’s targets most severely hit by Allied bombers. Located in the Hesse region of west central Germany, Kassel was headquarters to the Fiesler aircraft plant and the tank-producing Henschel factory, as well as being a key rail transportation hub. Particularly devastating was the night of October 22-23, 1943 when 569 Royal Air Force bombers dropped 1800 tons of high explosives, including incendiaries, on the downtown area. The resulting firestorm killed 10,000 people – mostly civilians – with flames still burning one week later. More than 150,000 were left homeless so that by the time the U.S. 80th Infantry Division liberated the city after bitter house-to-house fighting, with even more devastation between April 2-4, 1945, the population was only 20% of that in 1939.

 A 1947 snapshot reveals residents of Kassel clearing the wreckage in city center. The U.S. Marshal Plan would bring much-needed assistance in returning the ancient city to normal.

            My dear and patriotic Utah friend Barbara was born in the midst of war to a Kassel family whose home – built a decade before the Columbus voyage – had been repeatedly damaged by bombs that obliterated 90% of their city’s center. Her father had been missing and presumed lost since his U-boat had blown up and sunk off the coast of Norway and she and her twin brother Rolf , lived with their mother and maternal grandmother who had weathered the loss of many relatives. For a while Barbara’s grand-mother had worked as the only female trolley car driver in all of Germany during the war years.
             Even after the war’s end and life under the occupying Americans began, surviving amid the ruins of a city where hunger and misery were constant companions was a daily test, with garden produce and wheat cereal making up their greatly reduced diet. By 1947, still with no knowledge that their father and one shipmate had indeed survived the sinking of their vessel and been imprisoned by the British, the approach of Christmas held little promise for the family.
            It was a cold and unpromising Christmas Eve as the children and their mother and grandmother walked homeward. A large American car began to pass before suddenly stopping nearby. As they watched, a tall woman with long blonde hair and a stylish red coat – probably the wife of an American officer – exited the rear passenger door and approached the family group. Smiling, she presented them with a small handheld gift, kissing them each on a cheek, before driving away into the gathering gloom.
            The recipients of the strange “angel’s” gift found themselves in wondering possession of four chocolate Hershey bars. Returning home, their Christmas Eve celebration saw the mother carefully break the first Hershey bar into four equal pieces, each of them marveling at the sweet creamy chocolate marvel which they feasted over ever so slowly. For Barbara it was the first taste of chocolate in her four-and-a-half year life, and one she would never forget. For most of the next week, they would follow the same routine until all four bars had been shared in a communion-like ceremony, an image of the kind blonde-haired American in the red coat an enduring part of what would be a lifetime Christmas memory.
            In time, the hearts of the family –including the father who had survived the war and come home – softened to the point that a former American missionary had their blessing when he courted and won the heart of their Barbara. This year, as in each year since, the first Christmas gift under Barbara’s American tree will be a be-ribboned package containing four Hershey bars.

Friday, December 5, 2014


            Because of the passage of as many as four generations of time, and since we live within the shadow of more recent world-changing events, that “quotation mark” of history known as World War One – and to earlier generations as The Great War – receives little modern-day attention. Because I grew up in the home of a wounded veteran of that war, it still looms large in my view of much of the unintended consequences which are still with us today. In setting a background for today’s story which took place exactly 100 years ago, allow me a paragraph or two of history.
            The German High Command began its invasion of France in August, 1914 with a wily attack through the Belgian-French border with two Armies, following the Schlieffen Plan, with the objective of driving rapidly south to a largely-undefended Paris, thinking to win and end the war in 41 days, with 1st Army on the west and 2nd Army the east of the two-pronged assault. As it turned out, von Kluck’s 1st Army allowed a 30-mile gap to open giving the Allies an opportunity to attack his right flank. On Sept. 6th, 1914 – 37 days into the invasion – the exhausting 1st Battle of the Marne was underway. By its end, the Germans had been stopped, but each side had lost 250,000 killed and wounded in a month-long campaign which had seen more killed per-day than any battle of that immensely costly war.
            WWI would cost Germany 2,800,000 dead (4% of population,) France 1,700,000 (4.4%,) U.K. Commonwealth 1,200,000 (2+%) and the U.S. joining the Allies in 1917, 117,000. All together, the war would leave 16 million dead and more than 20 million wounded. With 1 million widows and 3 million orphans, Europe would lose much of a generation, with years of depression and economic suffering to follow.
             After the 1st Marne, the Germans would entrench along the Aisne River with orders to hold at all costs, thus instituting the trench warfare which would dominate the rest of the war.
            Christmas Day 1914 dawned with a cold damp fog and ground frost covering much of the “No-Man’s Land” between the parallel trenches of the two sides. The English were first to hear the singing: Oh Little Town of Bethlehem in German rising from enemy trenches a hundred yards away. One daring patrol crawled out of the Allied trenches to find a wooden sign: WE LEAVE OUR WEAPONS – YOU LEAVE YOUR WEAPONS!  “It must be a trick” most Tommies thought. “Those people hate us.” But songs and hails of “Merry Christmas” in German, French and English persisted. First one daring soldier, then another ventured forward from each side, followed by many more. Those watching warily soon joined their comrades, shaking hands, exchanging greetings and even slapping backs – like old friends meeting after a long absence. Chocolate bars were traded for chewing gum, cigarettes for English beer, and odds and ends of value exchanged merely as gifts of good will and the spirit of Christmas.

            One of the most repeated stories is that of the football (soccer) games which apparently broke out at a number of locations where anything that could be filled with straw or rags and kicked around served as the object of friendly competition. All of this Christmas activity didn’t just happen at one location, but played out along more than 100 miles of opposing trench lines as enemies celebrated together. 

  Enemy soldiers share a smoke during the spontaneous Christmas Truce of 1914.

            The story of the Christmas Truce to the British, and the Weihnachtsfrieden to the Germans has been recognized over the years as a moment of “humanity” in the midst of bitter struggle; an enigma; even perhaps a miracle. My own view is somewhat simpler: Wars are given birth by politicians, planned by Admirals and Generals and self-perpetuating staff members, and fought by common soldiers, sailors and airmen whose ties to home, faith, families and the values which shaped them are never completely extinguished - even in the harsh realities of a battleground. I continue to believe that the best which lies within us as members of the human race has the power to overcome the very worst against which we might come to face.
            This year – 2014 – will see the story of the Christmas Truce played out on stage, on the screen, in churches and schools and in the home living rooms of remembering people across Europe on the 100th anniversary of what took place in “No Man’s Land” that long ago Christmas night.