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simple local vegetables

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Once upon a time, in a kitchen somewhere....

In the Army (2) - MDP Units.

In the 1960’s, the British Army in Germany had dealings with various
“anomalies” dating from the end of the War.
One of these things was called “MDP” Units, (Military Displaced Persons)
and consisted of Poles, Czechs, Ukrainian etc displaced after the war,
and the take over of their countries by the Russian forces, and Germans who wanted to show their distinct innocence of anything German Nationalist.
Those from the Eastern Countries, not wishing to stay under USSR rules, or finding themselves already in so called “Free” countries, they were now obliged to find ID Papers, employment and all the other things of life.
Since most of them were of military origins, and since the various
Armies (British, American, French etc) needed people of their ilk, as
translators, drivers, simple workers, guards etc.. etc... and since ID
Papers, accommodation, employment etc., could all be done very
quickly, a lot of them ended up in these “MDP” Units.
Probably a large percentage were nothing other than “slid-in” spies, but
they weren’t really employed in anything very security orientated, so it
didn’t really matter.
Another high percentage of them were German Military Displaced Persons, mainly those who had a Nazi history behind them, but not sufficiently serious to put them up at Nuremberg, or into prison.
German was, in fact, the language used within MDP Units, since few of
them spoke English at the beginning.
These Units had existed from near the end of the War onwards, and
by the time I had anything to do with them, in the mid/end 60’s, and
again in the 80’s, they were well organized, with their own bars,
canteens and all the rest, within the British Army barracks.
Since I was able to speak German, I was a sort of natural choice to have
liaisons with them, at first in my capacities as a British Soldier, and then
(in the 80’s) as a Cook/Chef (civilian) working for the British Army.
I often went for a couple of weeks or months to work in their canteens,
and I always used their bars in preference to the warm beer of the
British Army NAAFI canteens! 

Naafi Duty Free Shops
The prices were the same, if not cheaper,and they had the same access to the duty free spirits etc., with the added advantage that they could get French and German cigarettes duty free as well, and not just English ones .
Here it was, in one of their canteens in Dortmund, W. Germany, that I had my first brush with “Kartoffelnpuffern”!
For some weird reason, this had become their favourite dish, and
although it was on the menu at least twice a week, it was never enough,
so I put it on as a “special” at every meal. Their ability to swallow down
at least a dozen of these things at each sitting (before going on to the
main course) was amazing to see, and they could get a bit nasty if they
didn’t think I had made enough! 
A bit of knife waving (with the largest knife in the kitchen) normally sorted them out – but still!
Now – as a sort of “semi-military” Unit, they all had their ranks, right up
to Captains and Majors, but after that, it was regular British Army
Officers who had command!
This led to all sorts of competitions between the MDP Officers to try and
get something original to please their British Commanding Generals
etc., and what better than “British” food, when the General came with
his Staff on a visit? 
Generally, this happened every Christmas period, and they thought it
was good form to supply the highly important visitors with a “British
Christmas meal” – problem was that they didn’t have access to the
things needed, like large turkeys, Brussels, chipolatas, etc... etc...
Christmas pudding was out as well, and Christmas Cake so – in general -
the occasion was a farce!
 This was when one of the brighter lads had the idea to call on the services of “that Scottish German fellow” – he must have access to,  and knowledge about, such mysteries! Indeed he had, and – for a price – was prepared to share such information!
Little did they know that the General and His Command Staff had
Turkey, Brussels, Stuffing, Pudding and all the rest, coming out of their ears at that time of the year, and would much more prefer a real “Gulyash” (goulash-a brown stew with lots of paprika), cooked by the “Scottish German Fellow” who they thought to be an original Hungarian or Czech or Pole!
They stayed polite, however, and thanked their hosts profoundly and
excessively, for their kind attention to “British Traditions” and how did
they manage to find a Chef capable of cooking British Traditional Stuff so well from within their ranks?
(killing the haggis)
 I invariably ended up being called into the ornate Dining Room, to receive their good wishes for the season, and their thanks for the meal.
I wasn’t polite for too long! 
After a couple of polite exchanges, I suggested - in English - that they would probably prefer a Gulyash to another roast turkey christmas meal, and they may want to give a sweet (or savoury) Roestli -Kartoffelnpuffern a try, this being the favourite dish of the MDP’s.
After the surprise of hearing English, with a slight Scottish accent, they
did indeed think that the idea was a good one, and could I possibly put it
into action the next time?
Now - as a Civilian attached to the Military, I could permit myself some liberties, so - of course I could "put it into action" – at a price – and I did!

Goulash or Gulyash (A beef stew or soup)
It seemed to me that the British Command Teams came rather more often than was necessary for an “official visit” from then on!
Mind you - my Goulash was quite something!

That was Army International Cuisine – a true novelty!
When I left -for Berlin and for other things - I was presented with a
“golden goulash gourd” (a sort of large ladle, gold plated) as thanks! 
I kept it for many years, but all the gold wore off, and was probably eaten
in my many goulashes! 
There are worse ways to die than from golden goulasch poisoning..... 

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