I’m new here. What’s the story with those fried potato cakes with the funny name?
By Wise Expat Sage
Dear Wise Expat Sage,
I moved to Luxembourg in October, so this is my first winter here. What’s the story with those deep-fried potato cakes sold at the Christmas market that everyone gets all excited about, and who created their ridiculously long name?
What I’m about to tell you is so secret that many Luxembourgers don’t even know it, and those who do have sworn to never speak out.
The story of Gromperekichelcher goes back to the early 19th century. One day, a local maiden named Charlotte mysteriously became pregnant. Her furious parents demanded to know who the father was. Amid threats to send her to live with an aunt who ran a tobacco shop in Echternach, Charlotte confessed that she’d had an affair with a sentient potato.
The parents sent their pregnant daughter away. All was quiet for a year until Charlotte’s father, a potato farmer like everyone else at that time, was working in the field when he heard a voice say, “Hey, you. What did you do to my girl?”
Looking up was a large brown potato. Stupefied, the farmer didn’t respond. “What’s the matter, don’t you speak Luxembourgish?” the potato said. “Your daughter and me, we had a good thing going, and you ruined it. Villmols merci.”
Struck by immense guilt at not having believed his only daughter, the farmer sent for her and her baby and invited the potato, who went by the name Ernest, to live with them. Ernest and Charlotte got married and went on to have long, full lives, eventually having fourteen more children and 73 grandchildren.
One afternoon, one of the couple’s grandsons, a thin-skinned and pale boy named Charles, stopped by so he could ask his grandfather a question for biology class about potatoes and other tubers. He knocked on the door and was met by his grandmother, who had a confused look on her face.
“Hi Grandma, where’s Grandpa?” Charles said.
“Come in, come in,” Charlotte said. “Grandpa? Oh, Grandpa’s in the kitchen, dear.”
Much to the horror of young Charles, Grandpa Ernest was in the kitchen — sitting in a pot of boiling water. That’s right. Grandma Charlotte had mistaken him for a regular potato and cooked him.
The story spread far and wide, as did the unfortunate phrase “Grandpa’s in the kitchen, dear.” True, everyone was saddened and many residents were angry, but they all had to admit that it was a rather easy mistake to make.
People demanded action to protect any future sentient potatoes. A law was passed that potatoes must first be grated before being cooked. Boiling, baking and steaming whole potatoes was outlawed as such practices gave them little time to cry out for help.
As you can imagine, eating plain grated potatoes, which were usually just topped with salt, got very boring. Fed up, a famous chef started mixing grated potatoes with ingredients like eggs, flour, and parsley, forming the mixture into patties and frying them in oil. The chef called the item “Grandpa-kitchen-dear.” In Luxembourgish: Gromperekichelcher.
The side dish was such a success that people forgot about poor Ernest and his sad demise, and all the better. A story about a local woman marrying a potato and then accidentally killing him is not good for a country’s reputation. Imagine the effect it would have on Luxembourg’s current nation-branding efforts.
The only previous attempt to expose the truth was in 1954, when an Irish backpacker heard the story of Ernest and Charlotte from an octogenarian drunkard in a village in the east. Astonished, the Irishman recounted the Gromperekichelcher story in a letter to a friend, a journalist working in London, but before he could send the letter, the man disappeared.
Neither the letter nor the Irishman were ever found.
Hope that helps! By the way, don’t forget to get some applesauce as dip for your Gromperekichelcher. Yummy!
Wes is a wise expat sage who has lived in Luxembourg for precisely eight months longer than you, and therefore knows more about life here than you ever will.
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