Emily Lemmenes ’19
What I love most is when family gathers together after having not seen each other for some time, especially when food is involved. The Bible often talks about breaking bread together in fellowship. It’s described as a practice of worship. What better way to catch up with loved ones than around the table? Every August on a hot summer day, my Illinois family joins together with its Wisconsin family to eat good food and reconnect with each other. One thing we always eat at family gatherings is bratwurst. Although my great-grandparents immigrated to Wisconsin from the Netherlands, they quickly adopted at least one piece of the predominantly German culture. By 1900, just fifty-two years into statehood, over two-hundred thousand German immigrants had settled in the Wisconsin area in hopes of developing inexpensive farmland. The bratwurst came along with them. We fell in line, too.
Sausages originated in the colder regions of Europe because they could be stored during the winter. Though the bratwurst (“fried sausage”) originates from Germany, it was not until the Germans came to Wisconsin that the beer brat became a thing. Wisconsin adopted brewing at about the same time as the lumber industry settled in the state: hardworking lumbermen quickly became thirsty lumbermen. Breweries were established in some small Wisconsin towns and eventually began growing throughout the state. This is still reflected in the baseball team, whose mascot is not the “Cubs” or “Tigers” or “Cardinals” but simply the “Brewers.” It’s no wonder the beer brat grew up here.
Every August, four brothers, my father included, along with their cousins and my grandfather join around the grill and cook up beer brats. The event used to take place once a year at a lake house ten miles south of the famous Sheboygan Brat Fest. Since my grandfather has gotten older, the event is now held at a nearby park so he doesn’t have to host us at his house. The day is usually spent under the hot August sun, celebrating time together by swimming in Lake Michigan, playing beach volleyball, laughing together, and eating lots of bratwurst.
Driving up to the reunion has been a family tradition since I can remember. As a little girl, that ride seemed to take so long, though it probably only lasted about two and a half hours, three if we grew hungry or needed to stretch our legs. I just wanted to see my cousin Jessica, the girl cousin who was my age and would be just as excited to see me. But from an early age I have also enjoyed watching my father and uncles grill bratwurst. I remember sitting on the picnic table listening to my father and his brothers catch up over grilling. The conversations usually included stories about work, throwback stories from when they were young boys, and eventually the upcoming year for the Bears and Packers. I enjoyed watching my father, especially because he was always so happy around them. I know that he wished he could see his brothers more.
Today, the moment I smell a bratwurst, I begin to replay memories in my head of fifty family members gathered around a picnic table with cold beers in the hands of those who were of age and lots of laughter. The aroma of a beer brat is sweet and garlicky simultaneously. By the time mouths are watering and stomachs begin to growl, the bratwurst is served on a warm bun with the beer mixture added as a topping. I often forget that this is part of a German heritage when we’re all eating our bratwursts together.
Prayer was always taken seriously in my family. As soon as the barbequers brought the food inside, before we could even grab a plate, my grandfather always made sure to say grace. I remember being impatient as I stood in the kitchen, listening to my grandfather pray for what seemed like five to ten minutes. Eventually, my stomach could not take it anymore and I would open my eyes and see the bratwurst sitting on the table, along with warm garlic potatoes and steamy creamed corn. Next to them would be the desserts. My mouth would water for some of my mother’s dirt cake, a favorite among the younger ones. I would always make sure I was the first one in line to grab my food when my grandfather was finished praying,. Something about waiting for five extra minutes after my dad and uncles had brought the food inside always made my appetite stronger.
There is something very comforting about sitting around the table with family while eating a meal you all enjoy. For that moment in time, the only thing we worried about was if there were going to be enough bratwursts for seconds, or even thirds. Conversations sprang up, and before you knew it, you could hardly hear the person across the table. But that was the way we liked it. Stories were told and memories were shared about my cousins and me. We all just laughed and enjoyed time together.
Food brings back memories and bratwurst brings back some of the best memories for me and my family. Memories are a good thing to cherish because things never do remain exactly the same.
Recipe for Beer Brats
6 bratwurst sausages, 6 cups lager beer, 2 large onions (sliced, divided),1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 red or green bell peppers (cored and sliced), Salt and freshly ground black pepper, 6 bratwurst buns or hoagie rolls (split lengthwise)
Combine the bratwurst, beer, and half the onions. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until bratwurst are firm and cooked through. Move the bratwurst from a pot to a plate. Keep the the liquid that the bratwurst was cooked in.
Meanwhile, in a larger skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining onions and the bell peppers. Cook about 15 minutes or until very soft, tossing occasionally. Add the bratwurst to the skillet in the last five minutes of cooking to lightly brown. If the vegetables begin to get too dark, add a few tablespoons of the bratwurst cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.