RIB FALLS, Wis. — I traveled to this tiny hamlet (between the Big and Little Rib rivers), ostensibly to celebrate a large family reunion of friends (the Schulz clan) at a picnic held on the lush and rolling 340-acre farm their forebears settled, tilled and stocked with cows 100 years ago.
Today Rib Falls has changed little. No town houses, no tract housing in sight, so far. The Schulzes, however, are a large and unhomogenized family who have spread like weeds and put down roots throughout the United States. To round up even a portion of the tribe for a homecoming picnic at the dairy farm requires tactical planning.
The comestibles--brought in relays of covered dishes, coolers, cartons and baskets--were all homemade.
The feast itself was in imminent danger of demolition long before the dinner-bell rang. Like a scene from an outdoor spectacle in the movies, storm clouds suddenly gathered momentum in the sky and, within seconds, rain and hail obliterated the landscape.
Luckily, the Wisconsin folks know how to deal with such exigencies of nature. Every family member (from ages 8 to 80) grabbed a bowl, platter, crock, pitcher--even the smoking grill laid out with bratwurst--and rushed all the food to shelter till the storm passed.
Aside from the city slicker, everyone at the farm seemed to know it was merely passing weather.
Food on the Schulz farm--even in summer--is hearty fare. No diet food. Plenty of cured ham, grilled bratwurst, chicken and bolognas of every stripe and size. Not to mention pots of baked beans, chili, four kinds of coleslaw and twice that amount of rainbow jellied salads. However, for me the star of the feast was a special Wisconsin treat--traditional German hot potato salad with vinegar and crispy bits of bacon and sausage.
For a potato salad of another color, ponder on the next golden Wisconsin bequest. A hot spud slaw that is totally dependent upon fringes of crisp bacon and spicy pink chunks of knackwurst or kielbasa.
4 strips thick bacon, cut into 1-inch-long pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, chopped
3 medium-large potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/8 teaspoon crushed dried chiles
1/2 pound knackwurst or kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Render bacon in large heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Do not brown. Add butter and garlic. Cook 4 minutes.
Stir in green onions, thyme, potatoes and chiles. Mix well. Add knackwurst. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with oil and vinegar. Cook 5 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings.
DIRTY RED COLESLAW
6 slices bacon
1 (3-pound) red cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, shredded
1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 small shallots, minced
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Fry bacon in heavy skillet until crisp. Crumble and set aside. Reserve bacon drippings.
Combine cabbage, carrots, green pepper, onion and shallots in large mixing bowl.
Beat mayonnaise with reserved bacon drippings in large bowl until smooth. Add sour cream, whipping cream, mustard, bouillon powder, allspice, chili powder, salt, pepper and dill. Pour over vegetables and mix well. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and parsley. Serve at room temperature. Makes 8 servings.