Fourth-generation Joy of Cooking coauthor John Becker didn’t actually grow up in Cincinnati—but his grandmother, Marion Rombauer Becker, and his father, Ethan Becker, past authors of the cookbook, did. And because home-cooking holy grail Joy is nothing if not comprehensive, the book includes a goetta recipe. It is 100 percent pork, which seems faithful to the forcemeat’s German/agricultural roots, even though many—if not most—contemporary versions also include beef. There are no “parts” (you’ll find delicious hearts and skins in Glier’s), and the cut of choice is either neck bones or ribs, for a make-your-own-stock approach.
As a goetta guy myself (despite not being a native), I had a few more questions for Becker, which he answered via email. He and his wife and coauthor, Megan Scott, have also shared the recipe for you to try at home.
This being the ninth edition of Joy, what was the provenance of the goetta recipe?
Marion added the recipe to Joy in 1963. I’m not sure who/what her source for the recipe was, [but] at that point, she had resided in Newtown for 24 years.
Everybody’s personal goetta recipe seems to have a different blend of seasonings. Did you play around with the spice mix at all?
Yes, a bit. According to Ethan, the highest compliment Marion could bestow upon a dish was to call it “delicately flavored.” This shunning of strong seasoning is born out in the original recipe, which calls for “salt, if required” and “1 teaspoon or more of grated onion.” We upped those quantities but opted to keep the spicing the same otherwise.
The recipe in the new edition of the book called for rolled oats, which would have been a pretty unusual twist. But it turned out to be a typo?
Yes, that error was introduced in copyediting. We fixed it for the second printing. [I’m] not exactly sure how “steel-cut” became “rolled” oats, but I think it was made in an effort to standardize ingredients. This in itself was a gargantuan task, as existing recipes had been written by several generations of my family, not to mention the 100-plus contributors who worked on the ’97 edition. I think the confusion may have started with [someone misunderstanding] the oft-used term “pinhead oats.” But I’m fuzzy on the details.
A technique question: What does grating onion do compared to mincing?
I think grating onion is a little underrated. [It’s] rarely called for in recipes, but it produces a really nice combination of juice and unobtrusive bits of flesh…a “slurry.” I use it all the time for marinades. I think it saves time when you’re not planning on browning onion and are adding it to a liquid, braise, or goetta-like mixture. For latkes, there is an added advantage: Grating releases juices, which can then be drained off or squeezed out in a towel.
As a Philadelphia native who has also lived in Cincinnati, I was curious about the fact that the book’s recipe is paired with scrapple, which is not really the same thing, if obviously in the same pork/grain genre.
Marion’s original recipe, which had remained unchanged through the 2006 edition, begins with the headnote: “If you use cornmeal, call it scrapple. If you use oats, call it goetta.” Then, the recipe proceeds, assuming you will be making scrapple. In other words, Marion had drawn the connection between the two—and “economized” on space by combining the recipes—from the beginning. The only clue as to how to make goetta is to “use oats” instead.
Which brings us to a bit of context regarding the 1963 edition: This was Marion’s first stab at a complete, comprehensive, Larousse-style American cooking reference. She was compelled to add as much as she possibly could, including all of the ingredient and technique reference material, the (somewhat infamous) coverage of game cookery, even instructions for preparing whale (included at the end of the fish chapter with the chuckle-inducing headnote “last—but vast”).
In light of this ambitious goal, I think Marion’s inclusion of scrapple and goetta were a reflection of her desire to give a complete accounting of American gastronomic curiosities (as well as the foodways of her neighbors). For her purposes, gesturing at goetta in the headnote was good enough, considering the vastness of her project.
But after this back and forth, I think we will be going with standalone goetta and scrapple recipes in the next edition. Time to upgrade Marion’s recipe a bit more!
Try making this goetta at home!
The following recipe prepares about 6 servings.
Combine in a large pot and bring to a boil:
- 6 cups water
- 1 onion, sliced
- 6 black peppercorns
- 1 small bay leaf
- 2 pounds pork neck bones or spareribs
Reduce the heat and simmer until the meat falls from the bones, about 1 ½ hours. Strain, reserving the liquid and meat separately. Measure out 4 cups of the reserved liquid, adding additional water or stock if necessary. Add the liquid back to the pot, bring to a boil, and add:
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring often to keep the oats from sticking to the bottom of pan. Remove all the meat from the pork bones and finely chop. Add it to the cooked oatmeal. Season with:
- 2 tablespoons grated onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or sage
- A grating of nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pour the mixture into a loaf pan that has been rinsed with cold water. Refrigerate until cold and firm, unmold, and cut into thick slices. To serve, pan-fry the slices until brown in melted butter or bacon fat.
Cookbook Authors’ Note: Our recipes are written to use standard table salt unless otherwise specified. Fine sea salt or Morton’s kosher salt can be used without having to make any adjustments. If you wish to substitute Diamond kosher salt, use twice as much by volume as the recipe indicates.
Excerpted from Joy of Cooking, by John Becker and Megan Scott. Copyright © 2019. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.