Bockwurst – The Prince of German Sausages
Eben van Tonder
20 March 2020
Before I got involved in meat processing, I never heard of bockwurst and when I did, I thought there must be some association with hunting on account of the fact that “bok” in Afrikaans is a dear and “wurs” is “wors.” It is then “deer wurs” or “deer sausage.” Afrikaans: bokwors). This weekend, with the Coronavirus keeping us in our homes in isolation, I decided to delve into its history.
A newspaper report from Pennsylvania, 1952, declares that “the Welshman has his faggots, the Italian his spaghetti and ravioli, the Swede his coffee and fine pastries, the happy Irishman his corn beef and cabbage, the Spaniard his tamales, the Hungarian his goulash – and as anyone in the South Side of Scranton will tell you, the German has his bockwurst.” (Scrantonian Tribune, 1952) Bockwurst is therefore not just any sausage! In many respects, we can say that it is the prince of German sausages.
Sheraton, M. (2010), ToldrÃ¡, F. (2010) and Steves, R. (2017) gave us a lists of German sausages that will put the bockwurst in context. If we call it the prince of sausages, it is quite a statement. The other other German sausages are then Ahle Wurst, Beutelwurst, Bierschinken, Bierwurst, Blutwurst, Bockwurst, Bratwurst, Braunschweiger, Bregenwurst, Brühwurst, Cervelatwurst, Fleischwurst/Lyoner, Frankfurter Rindswurst, Frankfurter Würstchen, Gelbwurst, Jagdwurst, Knackwurst, Knipp, Kochwurst, Kohlwurst, Landjäger, Leberkäse, Leberwurst, Mettwurst, Nürnberger Bratwürste, Pinkel, Regensburger Wurst, Saumagen, Schinkenwurst, Stippgrütze, Teewurst, Thüringer Rostbratwurst, Thüringer Rotwurst, Wiener Würstchen, Weckewerk, Weisswurst, Westfälische Rinderwurst, Wollwurst,Zungenwurst and Zwiebelwurst.
The earliest known mention of bockwurst is from J A Schmeller in 1827 in his Bavarian dictionary, characterizes Bock beer with Bockwurst as a “popular old Munich breakfast”. Early references to it associate it with the consumption of Bock beer. Here is a selection of advertisements from American and German newspapers from the 1800s to illustrate the point.
-> From 1876
Here I assume Bock BER on the barley is BOCK BIER (Greman for bock beer).
-> From 1877
This one, the association is possible with the billygoat ram (“buck” in German) with the beer glass.
-> From 1881
-> From 1887
Today, bock beer is a sweet, strong (6.3%–7.2% by volume), lightly hopped German lager. Ideally, the beer should be clear, and the colour can range from light copper to brown, with a “bountiful and persistent off-white head. The aroma should be malty and toasty, possibly with hints of alcohol, but no detectable hops or fruitiness. The mouthfeel is smooth, with low to moderate carbonation and no astringency. The taste is rich and toasty, sometimes with a bit of caramel. Again, hop presence is low to undetectable, providing just enough bitterness so that the sweetness is not cloying and the aftertaste is muted.” (Deutscher Brauer-Bund)
Originally Bock was a dark, malty, lightly hopped ale which was first brewed in the 14th century by German brewers in the Hanseatic town of Einbeck. (Beerhunter) It is the association with this medieval German brewing town that probably gave it its name (i.e. corruption of the name Einbeck). Bock was traditionally brewed for special occasions, often religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter or Lent which accounts for the traditional season for eating bockwurst of January to April and as far as the region in Germany that is most famous for it – bockwurst was common in Bavaria during the first half of the 1800s even though it was consumed across Germany since the earliest times.
Claim of a More Recent Origin
One well-documented tradition says that it is from Berlin where there is a claim that it was invented in 1889. It is said that during the celebrations of the start to the winter season in 1889, the local restaurateur Robert Schol(t) served it to his guests in the place of the usual Knackwurst (1) or Knobländer, made by the Jewish butcher Benjamin Lowenthal, consisting only of veal and beef meat.
The name, Knobländer, is sometimes used synonymously to bockwurst. Very similar to bockwurst, regional variants such as the Thuringian Knobländer is described as a garlic sausage of a courser nature than Bockwurst. It was referred to as red or red sausage. American bockwurst is unsmoked which means that it is white on the outside also, where the German sausage is traditionally smoked. German bockwurst is brown on the outside.
Back to the claimed invention of bockwurst in Berlin, Tempelhofer Bock, a regional Bock beer, was served with the bockwurst to the guests. Legend has it that the guests then called this previously unknown sausage, Bockwurst. It became the typical snack in bars in and around Berlin.
It is clear that this claim can not be true as it stands since bockwurst was known long before 1889 and has been documented since 1827. The claims of it being invented in berlin in 1889 could have been that something different was used in the method of producing it or in the ingredients used in the Berlin instance. That two completely alternate methods existed to produce it from very early on is clear from the fact that American bockwurst and German bockwurst are almost completely opposite products and yet, both claim German origin. This points to the fact that such a serious deviation in tradition occurred at some point in history.
Its introduction to America is well documented in a 1952 newspaper article that appeared in the Scrantonian Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania). This was certainly not the only instance of bockwurst being introduced to America, but the “tradition” it represented when it was introduced in the late 1800s found its way into the U. S. Department of Agriculture regulations that would come into force in America on 9 June 1975.
According to the article, bockwurst was introduced into Pennsylvania in 1877 by Stephen Gutheinz, the father of Charles Gutheinz. Stephen made bockwurst during the month of May to coincide with the production of bock beer. In 1952, Charles was running their Gutheinz Meat Market at 520 Cedar Avenue.
Ingredients and Recipes
At the Gutheinz Meat Market bockwurst was considered a fresh sausage and its production was restricted to cooler months. They used veal, lean pork (compare with the belly used in Knobländer which is not lean), fresh eggs, seasoning, and chive. Apart from flavour, the chives would act as a preservative while the raw eff will act as a binder and alter the mouthfeel.
American Bockwurst was, as introduced by Gutheinz, a white sausage. Children in America called bockwurst a “white wiener”. It became regulated in America on 9 June 1975 by the US Department of Agriculture. (St. Joseph News-Press/Gazette, 1975) The method of production was according to the Gutheinz tradition.
The new regulations stipulated that it had to contain meat, egg and a new ingredient we have not seen before, vegetables! 70% must be pork; pork and beef; pork, beef, and veal; or pork and veal.
The vegetables must be onions, leeks, fresh or dehydrated celery. It can contain milk or pork fat, depending on what tradition was handed down to the maker. In America, fillers and additives are also permitted.
See the clipping below from an old American recipe book that was given to me without the title page to credit the source. Note that the term “white sausage” is used synonymously with bockwurst.
We have said that two major differences emerged in how bockwurst is made as seen in the difference between American and German regulations. Let us now look at the German regulations.
German bockwurst is an emulsified sausage that is hot-smoked for between 30 to 60 minutes before cooking to 71 Geg C. This gives it its typical brownish color. The ingredients are pork and bacon (cured meat). The addition of beef is permitted and contributes to increasing the “bite resistance” (knacken). Meat from other animal species is permitted if it is listed as such in the packaging such as poultry-bockwurst, lamb-bockwurst, etc.. (German food book, LTS 2.221.03 and LTS 2.11)
Twenty percent of ice and water (20% of the fat and meat total) are added to the meat in the cutter during emulsifying. Other ingredients are nitrites, salt, emulsifying agents, and spices. Typical spices are pepper, paprika, ginger, mace, and coriander. It’s mixed and filled into a 28/30 either natural or collagen casing.
The end result is a dark product, both outside and inside. It is completely opposite to the American product which is white outside and inside. These different traditions have both their origins in Germany which means that the 1889 claimed invention in Berlin is probably a credible reference to the invention of one of these traditions and should not be taken as a claim to have invented bockwurst itself.
-> 12 old Bockwurst Recipes from America
The Scranton-article also gives the best method of cooking it. Most people boil it but care was taken not to boil it too long. The objective is to ensure that it is cooked through.
The 1975 article in the St. Joseph News-Press/Gazette has similar recommendations for cooking it. They warn that bockwurst is frequently overcooked. They recommend that “It is always simmered, never fried or grilled. And it should be heated all the way through, yet, the casing should not burst.” The reason for this is that the juices and much of the flavour is lost if they are cooked till the casing bursts. The author gives us a note of comfort and says that it is extremely difficult to get the delicacy just right but worth any effort you may go to.”
Similar advice is given from the 1963 article above. “Simmer the tender Bockwurst links in a covered pan for 8 – 10 minutes. NEVER BOIL … (the) BOCKWURST. Then, if you desire, you may brown slightly in butter.” (The Berkshire Eagle, 1963)
The Scranton-article gives several serving suggestions. Bockwurst with sauerkraut and potato salad is the universal bockwurst meal. For breakfast, you can reheat any leftovers from the previous day by gently frying them. It tastes delicious on its own or you can cut it up and mix it with mashed potatoes.
The following serving suggestions come to us from Struten on Stretching the Food Dollar by Betty Strutin (The Tribune, Wed, Jan 11, 1978)
-> Part of Omelets
Add cut pieces or cut in half lengthwise;
Place in half the omelet;
Fold over and serve.
-> Sweet-Sour Wurst
12 slices rye bread;
1½ cup of sweet-sour cabbage, canned;
6 slices of Mozzarella Cheese;
Method: Simmer sausage in a small amount of water for 10 minutes; Split sausages and place on rye bread; top each with 3 or 4 tablespoons of cabbage and slice of cheese. Brush outside of sandwich with butter and grill until bread is brown and cheese melts.
-> Steamed Bockwurst in Sour Cream Sause
8 bockwurst, separated;
2 tablespoons butter;
¼ cup cold water;
1 tablespoon flour;
½ teaspoon salt;
1 cup sour cream.
Method: Drop the bockwurst into 2 quarts of boiling water, remove from the heat, and let the sausage soak for 5 minutes. Drain and pat the bockwurst dry with paper towels.
Melt the butter over moderate heat in a heavy 10 to 12-inch skillet, add the bockwurst and cook, turning them frequently with tongs until they are golden brown on all sides. Add ¼ cup cold water to the skillet, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncover, for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the bockwurst over after 10 minutes. Replenish the water with a few tablespoons of boiling water if the cooking water boils away. Transfer the sausage to a plate, and cover them with foil.
With a whisk, beat the four and salt into the sour cream. Then, a few tablespoons at a time, stir the sour cream mixture into the liquid remaining in the skillet. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 5 to 8 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened. Do NOT let it boil. Slice the sausage into ¼ inch rounds, drop them into the skillet, baste with sauce and simmer only long enough to heat the bockwurst through. Transfer the entire content of the skillet to a large, deep platter and serve immediately. Serves 4.”
Here are some visual serving suggestions.
Preferred by Industry Leaders
The 1975 article in the St. Joseph News-Press/Gazette gives an account of bockwurst being a favourate snack food for George Damsel who managed the local Armour plant. According to the article, he was fond of bockwurst and would frequently buy 5 to 10 pounds for his friends. He did this for many years. The story is told of George who arrived at a tavern one time with bockwurst that he gave to the cook to prepare for friends that he invited. The cook used a pressure cooker and the result was a grey mass that can only be eaten with a spoon!
The clipping above reinforces the fact that bockwurst in America is a white sausage. The addition of chives and sweet cream “to give them a greyish white color” is fascinating!
Bockwurst – Produced by Van Wyngaardt, Johannesburg, South Africa
Powered by Van Wyngaardt Deli Meats
The team who produces it and the delicious end result
After all, is said and done, Luren and I decided to kit ourselves out at our Johannesburg apartment with proper cooking utensils so that we can continue to experiment with this amazingly versatile sausage. It has tremendous historical character and an unrivaled reputation as the prince of German sausages.
My European and American meat processing friends, please continue to correct me on any mistakes and please share your bockwurst recipes with us so that I can include it in a new feature on my blog, dedicated to sausages.
(c) Eben van Tonder
(1) Knackwurst: Generally known as Knacker or Berliner Knackwurst, this is a raw sausage made from lean pork and beef with pork belly, rind off. The sausage is produced from medium ground pork belly and meat and finely minced meat. Typically nitrite curing salt is sued, pepper and mustard seeds. It is filled into a natural hog casing, 30mm in diameter, cold smoked and then ripened for several days until they are ready for consumption.
Anzeiger des Westens, Mon, Apr 23, 1877
Beerhunter – “Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter – Original Bock: the beer the doctor ordered”. http://www.beerhunter.com. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
The Berkshire Eagle, Thu, Jan 24, 1963 – Bockwurst as Part of a Meal
Bockbier – starker Genuss mit langer Tradition. Deutscher Brauer-Bund. 2011.
Bockwurst. In: Digital dictionary of the German language.
German food book, guidelines for meat and meat products. LTS 2.221.03.
German food book, guidelines for meat and meat products. LTS 2.11
Memphis Avalanche, Fri, Apr 8, 1887
Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · Sat, May 1, 1993, Page 2
Scmeller, A. J.. 1827. Bayrisches Wörterbuch. Sammlung von Wörtern und Ausdrücken (in German), Band 1, Stuttgart und Tübingen: Cotta, p. 151, retrieved 2014-10-15 (Bavarian dictionary. Collection of words and phrases. Volume 1. Cotta, Stuttgart and Tübingen 1827, p. 151 ( full text in Google Book Search)
Scrantonian Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), Sunday, 13 January 1952
Sheraton, M. (2010). The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking. Random House Publishing Group. p. pt396. ISBN 978-0-307-75457-8. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
St Joseph Gazette Herald, Thu, Apr 28, 1887
St. Joseph News-Press/Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri) · Fri, Jun 6, 1975, · Page 8
Steves, R. (2017). Rick Steves Berlin. Rick Steves. Avalon Publishing. p. pt606. ISBN 978-1-63121-694-7. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
ToldrÃ¡, F. (2010). Handbook of Meat Processing. Wiley. p. 391. ISBN 978-0-8138-2096-5. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
Westliche Post, Sat, Apr 29, 1876