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Voices Spring-Summer, 2003:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the Foodways column, “Buffalo’s Other Claim to Fame” by Lynn Case Ekfelt here.
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Volume 29

Headline - Buffalo's Other Claim to Fame by Lynn Case Ekfelt

Foodways A food column on Buffalo? Hmm, must be about chicken wings. To anyone outside western New York, that would be a reasonable assumption. But those of us born within hailing distance of the Peace Bridge know that long before Teresa at the Anchor Bar came up with her inspired solution for undesirable chicken parts, Buffalo had a signature food. My fellow expatriates, home for a visit, have been known to hug the relatives, pat the dog, dump the suitcases, and head directly out for...a beef on weck?

And not any beef on weck will do—it has to be that special one. Buffalonians hotly debate the merits of one emporium over another. There’s even a webpage rating the best beef on weck in the city. If you don’t believe me, check out www.seriouseats.com/2010/10/best-beef-on-weck-sandwich-buffalo-ny.html.

Luckily, there is enough beef on weck around town to suit everyone’s taste. My cousin, a weck connoisseur exiled to Ohio, took my husband and me to his old college haunt when we were all home for Christmas, commenting that he liked the sandwiches there because they came with "real horseradish, not little packets of a creamy horseradish-like substance."

I grew up calling these sandwiches "beef on wick." Linda Stradley on her History of Sandwiches webpage describes this spelling as "an alternative usually used by older people from Buffalo and eastern suburbanites." Once I’d taken German, it was easy enough to see the error we "eastern suburbanites" had been making. Weck is short for kummelweck, a combination of the German words kümmel (caraway seed) and weck (roll).

And in fact, it is this roll that makes the sandwich unique. Made only in the Buffalo-Rochester area, the kummelweck—often alternatively spelled kimmelweck—is basically a Kaiser roll topped with lots of pretzel salt and caraway seeds. Inside, very thinly sliced roast beef is piled high, and the whole thing is served with a dish of "au jus" (I suppose it is too much to expect a German sandwich to make sense of French prepositions), for dipping. Alternatively, the cook sometimes dips the top of the roll into the jus just before serving it. In either case, the beef on weck sandwich must be accompanied by a pot of freshly grated, sinus-clearing horseradish.

Although the exact history of the sandwich can’t be documented, it is believed that William Wahr, a German baker, brought the kummelweck to Buffalo from the Black Forest. German immigrants had already made the city a center of brewing. Becky Mercuri in Sandwiches That You Will Like (Pittsburgh: WQED Multimedia, 2002, p. 40) reports that in 1908, even though consolidation had reduced the number of breweries from thirty-five to twenty-five, it would have taken a minute and eighteen seconds for all the beer they produced that year to clear the brink of Niagara Falls, had it replaced the usual water. These breweries owned most of the taverns in town and offered sumptuous free lunches to their customers.

The hearty buffets were an inexpensive way to eat. Tables were loaded with ham, pickled herring, sardines, pickled pigs’ feet, and beef on weck—all accompanied by hot mustard, raw onions, and horseradish. But the tavern keepers knew what they were doing. The food was so salty that customers built up a thirst that could only be slaked by repeated trips to the bar. Nowadays, of course, there is literally no such thing as a free lunch, but fortunately beef on weck is still readily available, and it still goes very well with a tall, cold beer.

Kummelweck Rolls

1/4 cup caraway seeds
1/4 cup coarse salt
2 envelopes active dry yeast
5 cups (approximately) flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup oil
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup warm water
2 eggs
Combine the caraway seeds and the coarse salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 2 cups of flour, the salt, oil, milk, and water. Mix well at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs and beat the mixture another minute, adding as much flour as the mixer will take. By hand, stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead, adding flour if necessary, until it is smooth and elastic. Place it in a large greased bowl, turning it to grease the top. Cover and let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Punch the dough down and knead it for two minutes on a floured board.

To shape the rolls, cut the dough into 24 pieces. Tuck the edges of each piece under and shape it into a flat, round roll. With a sharp kitchen knife, cut four evenly spaced, shallow arcs into the top of each roll from the center to the edges, pressing at the center with your thumb to make an indentation. The pinwheel pattern should resemble that on a Kaiser roll. Sprinkle the tops of the rolls with the caraway-salt mixture, then transfer them to baking sheets and cover them. Let them rise until they have doubled in bulk.

To bake, place a heat-proof pan of water on the floor of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven is hot, put in the rolls and bake them for about 30 minutes, until they are brown.

Source: www.reocities.com/Athens/aegean/3831/buffwingsalad.html#Kimmelweck


My fellow expatriates, home for a visit, have been known to hug the relatives, pat the dog, dump the suitcases, and head directly out for ... a beef on weck?

This column appeared in Voices Vol. 29, Spring-Summer 2003. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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