German Immigrant Food: Sauerbraten

I had not eaten sauerbraten outside of a German restaurant until I discovered how easy it was to make, and adapted the recipe in the Joy of Cooking 1964 cookbook as my own.


Sauerbraten is a perfect example of the foods that German immigrants brought to America because it represents the sweet and sour main dish that is so prevalent. And in looking up the history of Sauerbraten, I notice that it is prevalent in several regions of Germany, including Bavaria and Rhineland where my ancestors originated. No wonder I love it.

I suspect that it originally was developed to mask the flavor of meat that was starting to “turn”, or at least to preserve meat that was getting too old.  The fact that Alexander reportedly cooked (or had cooked for him) a version of sauerbraten in the field would underline that it was a good way to preserve meat. So we know it is a very ancient recipe, at any rate.

Although it is not difficult to make, a sauerbraten dinner is not a last minute decision, since you want to marinate it for at least 2 days, and depending on the cut of meat–up to a week. Then it will take a few hours to cook. It is a fine way to use a cheap cut of meat, but ironically when I went to the store to get said cheap cut, the butcher had a sale on sirloin tip roasts making them a better bargain. So I had a falling-apart roast when I was through.

German Sauerbraten

well done sauerbraten

The bad news is–it does not freeze well.  Although I would think if you froze it before adding the sour cream and thickenings to the marinade/gravy, you could freeze it and then complete the dish when you thawed it out.

You can see a crock pot version of sauerbraten and more information at this blog by a person who is also a genealogy addict. Unlike this writer, I DID use gingersnaps.  They are easiest to crush by putting them in a ziplock bag and pounding with a wooden spoon or mallet.

Ginger Snaps

Crushing ginger snaps.

In Germany, it would be served with potatoes or spaetzle.  In the U.S. you are more likely to find potato pancakes on the plate.  Wanting something a bit lighter, I cooked some carrots, potatoes and cabbage in a separate pan when the sauerbraten was about ready.  But applesauce is a terrific side dish that I always have with this tangy meat dish.

We had lots of leftover meat, which I shredded and mixed with some Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles and a scoop of extra sour cream. A second day of delish.

German Recipe: Sauerbraten


  • 3lb Beef (shoulder, chuck, rump or round)
  • pepper
  • garlic (minced)
  • 2 cups vinegar (or wine vinegar)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 onion (sliced)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 8-12 ginger snap cookies
  • 2 tablespoons fat for browning meat
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sour cream


First step
1. Rub beef roast with pepper and garlic.
2. Heat (but do not boil) vinegar, onion, bay leaves, water, peppercorns and 1/4 cup sugar.
3. Pour marinade over meat in glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for three or four days, turning occasionally.
4. When ready to cook, drain and put marinade in saucepan and bring to simmer. Brown meat in fat in heavy pan.
5. Put meat in large covered pan and pour in heated marinade. Bake in 350 degree oven for 3-4 hours. Turn several times and add additional warm stock as needed.
6. When meat can be easily pierced by a fork, sprinkle brown sugar over top and roast uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes more.
7. Remove meat from pot and thicken stock with flour (stir in with whisk) and ground gingersnaps.
8. Add sour cream and stir just to heat immediately before serving.
9. Slice and serve with gravy. Traditional accompaniment is potato pancakes.

52 Ancestors: Two Wives With Same Name? #12 Mary Magdalen Kurtz Butts

Mary Magdalen Kurtz Butts 1736-1775 (Maybe)

I have decided to go ahead and write about Magdalen Kurtz Butts, the wife of John William Butts, even though as I have been checking her information, I have become more and more uncertain about what I really know about her, and her successor, John William Butts’ second wife (if there WAS a second wife.)

Mary Magdalena Kurtz was born in Hirschfeld Germany where she was baptized on November 1, 1736.  Her father died when she was a young girl and her mother, Agnes Steffens Kurtz married her second husband, Leonard Eltz (also spelled Els, Elz and Olls) who came from Coblenz in Germany. They had four more children.

Magdalen married Johann Wilhelm Butz on November 8, 1761, two years after her step-father died. The couple had two children in Germany, before joining the movement of Hasenclever workers to Ringwood, New Jersey before their third child, John George was born in 1767. Magdalen may have been pregnant on the voyage, but at the very least, she was caring for a child under two and a four-year old as they sailed.

We know that Magdalen’s brother John Henry Els also moved to Ringwood New Jersey, because he was a sponsor to the baptism of John George, the first of the Butts children born in the New World, and again to the 1772 baptism of Christian Butz’ child (Christian was the brother of John William Butz. John Henry Els also followed the Butz family to Pennsylvania when they established their own iron works.

Two more children were born to the family, John Joseph in 1770 and John Henry in 1772.

As you will see in the next section, it is possible that Magdalena Kurtz Butz died in 1775 when she was just under 40 years old, leaving five young children.

What’s This About a Second Wife?

Part of the confusion arises because both the first and second wives may be named Mary Magdalen (sometimes spelled Magdalan or Magdalena). The Mary is the saint’s name and the 2nd name is the everyday name by which they would be known.  Likewise, John William, would have been called William. Except when he wasn’t, which adds to the second source of confusion.

There  is no doubt at all that my 3x great grandfather, Johann Wilhelm (John William) Butz was married to Mary Magdalena Kurtz and she is the mother of my 2x great grandfather, John Henry Butz. I just don’t know for sure if she died in 1775, because the only proof I’ve found is the fact that a William Butz was a widow when he married in 1776.

A major source of information for these German Catholic immigrants who settled in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is the meticulous register kept by the traveling priest who ministered to their church in Goshenhoppen (now Bally) Berks County, Pennsylvania.  In those church records, John William Butz name appears frequently as John William, but in one critical entry–a William Butz, widower, marries Magdalen Kuhn in 1776. Is that the same person as John William??

Researchers have assumed that is the same person, and I was going down that path until I found another record in the same church register listing the birth and baptism in 1781 of an Anna Sophia Juliana, whose parents are William Butts and his wife Susanna Schartle. Where did this Susanna person come from? Doesn’t that show that William is a different person because John William and his wife Magdalena continue to have children through the 1780s.

To further muddy the waters, the sponsors of the Schartle-Butts baby are a man named Kuhn (the name of the woman who married that William Butz in the church record) and a woman named Anna Sophia Juliana Struble. Struble is also John William’s sister-in-law’s maiden name, just to show how closely related all the people in those church records are.

What difference does it make?  Well, John William’s life, and therefore the life of his wife, got very, very interesting in the 1770’s and 1780’s.  They had several more children. Many of them died. It was a tragic time in many ways, and I would like to tell you the story of the wife and mother who suffered through those times. But first I have to figure out if it is my 3x great grandmother, Mary Magdalena Kurtz Butts who suffered, or if my 3x great grandfather did indeed have a second wife.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Paul Kaser, who is the son of
  • Mary Isadore Butts, who is the daughter of
  • Henry Butts, who is the son of
  • John Henry Butts, who is the son of
  • Johann Willhelm Butz/William Butts and Magdalena Kurtz Butts

 Research Notes

“Whatever Became of Hasenclever’s Germans,”The Highlander, vol. 34, no. 88 (1998) Found at Longpond Ironworks web site.


Goshenhoppen Catholic Register: “Goshenhoppen (St. Paul’s Mission, Church of the Blessed Sacrament), Bally, Berks County, Pennsylvania, Marriages 1741-1819;Deaths 1765-1818; Conversions 1781-1785″ Found at Rootsweb

The Palatine Immigrant, Vol. XVI, No. 1, Spring 1991, Columbus, Ohio. copy provided by Jane Butts Kilgore.

Personal Correspondence from  and a paper “The Family of Johann Wilhelm Butz” (2007) by Jane Butts Kilgore.


52 Ancestors: #11 How German Johann Wilhelm Became American William Butz

Johann Wilhelm (John William, or William) Butz/ Butts (circa 1735-1805)

Last week I talked about the tough times German immigrants  faced becoming Americans.  I was tracing my father’s paternal line–the Kasers.  My father, Paul Kaser’s German ancestors on his mother’s side had a quite different story. The great-grandfather of Paul Kaser’s mother, Mary Isadore Butts, was the first of that family to set foot in America.

“Mame” Butts Kaser may never have contemplated the way her grandfathers shared the burden of creating a new country. Her father, Henry Butts, was a Civil War soldier. Her grandfather, (John) Henry Butz was listed as a private in Sparks’ Battalion, Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of 1812. And his father, (Johannes) Wilhelm–William Butts, left Germany with a group of iron workers brought to America by a man named Hasenclever, eventually started his own iron works, supported a large family and served during the Revolutionary War.

The Kasers were Reformed Lutherans; the Butts family were Catholic. The Kasers were farmers; the Butts’ were used to an industrial setting, small towns rather than cities, but not rural life. The Butts’ worked for others; the Kasers wanted to develop their own farms and work for themselves. Both families, however, clustered with people from their own region of Germany and continued to speak their native language.

I want to say at the outset that I could not know this story in so much detail, were it not for the meticulous research and the generosity of Jane Butts Kilgore, who many years ago shared with me what she had learned about our mutual ancestors.

William Butz birthplace

Location of Taunus in Germany and the Rhineland Palatinate.

My three- times great-grandfather, Johannes Wilhelm Butz–known in America as William Butz– was born in the Hessen region of Germany, near the Taunus Hills. I do not know exactly where he was born, but he was listed as from Asbacher Hammer, Germany when he married his first wife, Maria Magdalena Kurtz in Hirschfield, Germany in the Rhineland-Palatinate on November 8, 1761.

Apparently William Butz spent most of his life on the move in search of better jobs. German records show four Butts, probably brothers, settled in the area and moved from one “Hammer” to another plying the family trade.  Hammer means forge and you can find Katzenlocher Hammer, Sensweiler Hammer, Stummenhammer, etc. as place names.

Then a man named Peter Hasenclever came calling. Hasenclever, with backing from English investors, established several iron works in New Jersey.  The workers he recruited in Germany between 1764 and 1767 not only worked with the iron, but built the forges and factories, the roads, the bridges and their own homes, so it took an army of hard-working men of many skills. And all this in a foreign country where they did not know the language and a revolution was brewing. (See a map of a typical forge to see what the workers accomplished.)

Wilhelm Butz and his wife Maria Magdalena had two children while they lived in Germany, Anna Catharina (1762) and Anna Maria (1765). After Anna Maria’s birth on March  4, 1765 (on the same day as my own birthday although one and a half centuries earlier!) and before the birth of their first son, John George in June 1767, the family took passage to America.  Johann Wilhelm had been recruited, along with more than 500 other German iron workers, to come to New Jersey to work in the Hasenclever iron forges.  They lived in Ringwood, New Jersey when the last two sons were born– John Joseph in 1770 and John Henry (my great-great grandfather) in 1772. There they attended the Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.  (Fr. Schneider’s Church is the original part of the church, built in 1754.)

William Butz church

Blessed Sacrament Church in Bally PA

The last half of the 1770’s, a time of turmoil and revolution for the budding new nation, was even more tumultuous in Williams life.  In 1775, Maria Magdalena died, and the following year, he married Magdalen Kuhn and is living in Greenwich, New Jersey at the Chelsea Iron Works, connected to the Durham Furnace.  He and other Butz family were running that Iron Works, but it was being confiscated by the authorities and sold.

According to the Long Pond Ironworks website, The Butz family moved from Ringwood and Charlottenburg to Mt. Hope (all in New Jersey) then to Goshenhoppen in Pennsylvania where they established an iron operation in 1776. Many of the families who had worked in Ringwood, followed them to Pennsylvania.

Ringwood New Jersey is north of New York City, but Charlottenburg and Mt. Hope, presumably the names of forges, no longer exist. Goshenhoppen is now called Bally and is east of Reading Pennsylvania and north of Pottstown.

According to researcher and cousin Jane Kilgore, in 1777 William and his brother Christian, along with a man named Moses Yaman also bought the Mount Pleasant Iron Works in eastern Berks County, Pennsylvania.

At the time that William was taking all these entrepreneurial risks, he had a new wife and children aged 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15.

According to one history site, the Mount Pleasant Iron Works of Berks County was a few miles north of Pottstown, which means it would have been near the Goshenhoppen forge.

The Butts brothers tried to revive the works and called it “Upper Mount Pleasant Forge,” but eventually it failed.

It is difficult to understand how Christian and William Butz could manage these new businesses during the war, because they were also members of the Hereford militia, recorded in May, 1779 and in 1784 (but serving for many more years than the records show). Hereford is the township that contained their Goshenhoppen forge.

A newspaper article written in 1972 (cited by Jane Kilgore, but not identified) explains the unusual nature of the company the Butz brothers joined.

Quoting an article printed during the war, writer Richard Wheeler, describes the “Old Man’s Company” made up of eighty Germans over the age of 40. The man assembling them is 97 years old and the drummer is 84. Instead of going to Valley Forge during the hard winter of 1777-1778, they were guarding men who cut down trees for ship’s masts in western Pennsylvania. Since they were close to home, they spent the winter at home.

Despite the fact they were off serving in the army at least part of the time, apparently the forges  thrived during the Revolutionary War, but the economic depression after the war led to many business failures.  In 1785, the brothers sold the Goshenhoppen forge and in 1792 they sold the Mount Pleasant Forge.

William relocated at least twice more. in 1795 he was living in York County, now Adams County on the southern edge of Pennsylvania across from Maryland. Perhaps, with his children reaching adulthood, he was able to enjoy a few years of rest from his lifetime of hard work before he died in 1805 in Frederick Maryland.

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Paul Kaser, who is the son of
  • Mary Isadore Butts, who is the daughter of
  • Henry Butts, who is the son of
  • John Henry Butts, who is the son of
  • Johann Willhelm Butz/William Butts

Research Notes

 Pennsylvania Forges and Furnaces

Join The History Girl in a tour of the only existing ruins of one of the early Ironworks.

This map gives an idea all the things the German workers built and how they lived. See a map and pictures of the only one of the nearly 100 iron works that once stood in the Highlands of New Jersey and Pennsylvania–Long Pond Ironworks.

Mount Pleasant Furnace (Berks County)”Per Bining, this furnace was built in 1737 by Thomas Potts, Jr. & Company. The furnace was located on Perkiomen Creek in Berks County.” Source: Old Industry

Information about Pennsylvania Forges and Furnaces in this introduction to a collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Other Sources

The Church:

and “Catholic Trails West” Vol. 1 (1988), by Adams and O’Keefe St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia

The Palatine Migration :“Whatever happened to Hasenclever’s Germans” by Susan Deeks   from The Highlander, Vol. 34, no. 88 (1998) Ringwood, NJ. Read at Long Pond Ironworks website.

and The Palatine Immigrant, Vol. XVI, No. 1, Spring 1991, Columbus, Ohio. copy provided by Jane Butts Kilgore.

The Family: Letters and a paper “The Family of Johann Wilhelm Butz” (2007) by Jane Butts Kilgore.

Church records from Most Blessed Sacrament Church, Bally, Pennsylvania.