Finding Family through Food: My Grandfather’s ‘Klinker Spaghetti’

Grandpa Klinker receiving Promotion with U.S. Army

Before I share this family recipe with you, I should explain that it appears to have been created in Germany while my grandfather was stationed there with the United States Army after World War II. While my ancestors are of German descent as far back as I have researched, the Klinker side of my family settled in Delaware, Ohio around 1837. Much of the Klinker family still resides in Ohio. My grandfather, Ronald William Klinker (b. 30 Aug 1927, d. 16 Dec 1978), was raised as a meat and potatoes kind of man. My mother remembers living her early years in Germany eating a decidedly Mid-Western diet of nothing but meat and potatoes. My grandmother was a native German and would feed my mom and her brothers authentic German food sometimes but meat and potatoes topped the family’s menu. However, when there was a little extra money for fresh produce (not always available or affordable in post-war Germany), Grandpa Klinker would get a wild hair and go Italian…well, kind of. Klinker Spaghetti was my very German/American Mid-Western family’s version of Italian.

Klinker Spaghetti truly is delicious and is a hearty rendition of Spaghetti and Meat Sauce. What makes it ‘Klinker’ you might ask? Klinker Spaghetti is chock full of mushrooms, onions, green peppers and, wait for it…kidney beans. The addition of kidney beans threw me for a loop but after eating my bowl clean, I decided that Grandpa Klinker knew what he was doing!

Klinker Spaghetti

A funny part of this family recipe is that my Mom grew up  thinking that Klinker Spaghetti was her mother’s concoction. Although really, she should have known better since my Grandmother’s tastes lean towards pickled pigs feet, head cheese, and authentic German food. Only recently did she learn that this was her father’s recipe, giving her a new twist on her fond memories of growing up in Germany. Mom tells me that Klinker Spaghetti was what she thought Italian food should taste like all her life. When she finally had authentic Italian food she was surprised that the ingredients were simple and minimal. So when Mom wants “real” Italian food she opts for her family’s version…Klinker Spaghetti. We hope you enjoy!

Grandma and Grandpa Klinker at Marriage Ceremony, 12 Oct 1948


Klinker Spaghetti Recipe

1 1/4 lb ground beef

1 large can tomato sauce

1 small can tomato paste

3/4 cup Water

1 large onion (large dice)

8 oz mushrooms sliced

2 cans light kidney beans, drained

1 tbls Chili powder

1/2 tbls garlic powder

1 tbls garlic salt



1. Brown hamburger. When browned,  drain fat. Add spices, onions, and green pepper. Sauté with meat until vegetables are softened.

2. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste with ¾ cup water. Add more water to the consistency you prefer. We prefer a thicker meat and vegetable sauce. As the sauce cooks, you may want to add even more water if it gets too thick.

3. Add kidney beans and cook at medium low for about one hour.  Add mushrooms and cook for another 30 minutes on low.

4. With 10 minutes remaining, cook spaghetti in salted, boiling water and cook according to package directions.

5. Serve with spaghetti and garlic bread.


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