A pan of Henry County, Ohio, prettles, a first cousin to our Cincinnati Goetta.
Yesterday, I received two comments on my Kansas Pruttles blog, by folks from Henry County, Ohio. That’s the county in the area of Toledo, Ohio. They both spoke of this Germanic dish both of their families made in the area around Napoleon, Ohio, growing up in the 1950s, called prettles. It consists of pork, spices, and pinhead or regular oats – a close first cousin of our goetta. Now we can connect the “Interstate 75 Goetta Cousin Trail” from Cincinnati’s Goetta, to Minster’s Grits in middle Ohio, and to Henry County’s Prettles, in northwest Ohio.
Prettles is prepared a bit differently than our goetta, even though the ingredients are the same. Instead of putting it in a crock pot or large pot, the meat and oats are cooked separately and then mixed together, before baking on a sheet pan. Sometimes, they’re made into patties and frozen. Goetta is typically poured into bread pans and cooled, frozen, and cut into slabs to be fried. Prettles is fried, but its in more loose form and eaten on toast. Sometimes, like our goetta, it’s dressed with a sweet syrup like molasses or sorghum or ketchup.
The cool thing about Henry County is that we can tie prettles to a very specific region in the Germanic kingdoms. Most of the Germanic immigrants in Henry County, Ohio, came from an area called Visselhovede or Walsrode, a small farming community in the northern German lowlands, generally between Bremen and Hamburg.
My father’s family come from upper Mecklenburg, next door to this area. An old German electrician at my first plant job out of college called me ‘Klaudeitsch’, when I told him of my family’s origin. When I asked him what it meant he said. “See how big your feet are? That’s so you don’t sink into the marshland. And see how tall you are? That’s so if you do, you can still yell as you are sinking to be rescued!”
Similar to the low lying farm country of Westphalia and Hanover where our goetta originated, the German patronymic farming system left the younger relatives without any land, as bauer or farmhands who worked for their oldest brother, had to ask to get married and were basically serfs. This predicament sent many of them packing to America.
These lowland Germanic immigrants of Henry County, spoke low German, and were mostly Lutherans. They turned what was then called Ohio’s great black swamp into fertile farmgrounds, into a mirror of their fatherland.
The Henry County Historical Society interviewed several old retired farmers born in the 1930s for an oral history project and they all mentioned that their families made prettles (along with blood sausage and schwartenmagen or ‘head cheese’) at the time of hog butchering.
A butcher, Herm’s Meats in Napoleon, Ohio, makes two types of prettles by request, and a whole host of German sausages. They make the typical pork and beef, and then one made only with beef shank and beef heart. The current owner of Herm’s says that the pork makes a richer broth for the prettles. Herman Bischoff started the business in 1964, so he could provide the German meats like prettles, that he had in his youth, but were no longer available.
There are two restaurants in Napoleon that serve the local delicacy on their breakfast menus as a ‘choice of meat’ with eggs – Spangler’s and Big G’s – and one truck stop about 5 miles out of town. But travel 20 miles out in either direction from Napoleon and you won’t find prettles.
While prettles is eaten today in the homes of those of Germanic ancestry in Napoleon, Defiance, and Archibald, Ohio, it’s also eaten in Putnam County, just south of Henry County, and can still be found at Holgate Market in that area.
Hamler, Ohio, in Henry County is famous for late July Summerfest, where 25,000 people ascend to polka dance and eat sausages and prettles.