Friday, October 17, 2008

The Food Calendar

The Bavarian calendar seems to be calibrated more by food than by the ancient designations of the months: Starkbierzeit (strong beer time) ushers in the year with the higher-alcohol beers that eased the way through the strenuous Lenten dietary restrictions. Then, along with the first greening of spring comes Baerlauchzeit (wild garlic time), closely followed by Spargelzeit (asparagus time) and Erdbeerenzeit (strawberry time). By mid June, the chanterelles (German: Pfifferlinge; Bavarian dialect: Reherl) begin to appear in the markets. These golden, trumpet-shaped mushrooms that exude the scent of apricots, ease the pain of the disappearance of asparagus, an event that happens every year on the same day: June 24. Walking through a market, one need not see the Pfifferlinge piled high in bins in order to know they have made a return—the subtle scent is enough to draw your attention.

Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) are definitely not unique to Germany. They grow wild around the world and are one of the most prized mushrooms for cooking—and eating. Most of the chanterelles sold commercially here come from further to the east—this year the markets were filled with mushrooms from Styria (Austria), Lithuania and Belarus. To find local Pfifferlinge, I had to go to the small, independent green grocers.

Chanterelles have a substantial bite, as satisfying as a piece of meat, and a delicate flavor that intrigues the taste buds. Between June and November, mushroom hunters concentrate their search on dry, alkaline ground near spruce and beech trees, as well as under oaks and pines—all found abundantly in the Werdenfels region. Since Pfifferlinge grow in the same area year after year, you can pretty much count on a supply—once you know where to look. But like any treasure of gold, no one is too excited about broadcasting the exact location. Perhaps part of the reluctance to share is due to the decrease in the numbers of Pfifferlinge growing locally—in the past four decades their numbers throughout Germany have significantly declined, possibly due to pollution. A saying that dates to the 16th Century, “It’s not worth a Pfifferling,” provides a definite clue that this mushroom was once more abundant.

One of the earliest German recipes for Pfifferlinge comes from Das buch von gutter spise (The Book of Good Food), considered to be the earliest known German cookbook. It dates to 1345–1354 and was compiled by Michael de Leone, the chief clerk of the Archbishop of Wuerzburg, Albrecht von Hohenlohe. The surviving portion of the manuscript is in the collection of the library at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. Although the digital version, , does not include the recipe, it still offers a glimpse into the communal life of a busy 14th Century religious community often shadowed by the Black Death—and raises the intriguing question of who was actually doing the cooking and trying to follow the vague instructions that de Leone provided.

appear in many guises on restaurant menus. My favorite dish is Pfifferlinge cooked in a cream sauce seasoned with herbs and ladled over a bread dumpling (or two). It’s a soul-satisfying combination that, paired with a Riesling, produces a state of pure contentment. But other choices abound—Pfifferlinge with a filet of beef, a Pfifferlinge omelette, or a meal-sized salad with sautéed Pfifferlinge and bacon. I suspect that most of these mushrooms on restaurant plates come from commercial dealers—but in a small town, the restaurant may be able to obtain the mushrooms locally. More than once I have seen people walk into restaurants with buckets brimming over with just-picked mushrooms.

Pfifferlinge—and other wild mushrooms like the Steinpilz (porcini)—are not inexpensive dishes to order in a restaurant. I suspect this results as much from the labor costs as it does from the raw ingredient. Cleaning Pfifferlinge can be time consuming, especially if the mushrooms are small. But cooking the mushrooms is quite easy and I am happy to cook them at home several times a week during their season. Following are two easy recipes—the hardest job is cleaning the mushrooms. Once that is done, you’re just about home free.

Pfifferlinge with Pasta
(serves 1—can be easily doubled)

4 oz. chanterelles, washed and dried
1 Tbl. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
Salt, pepper, and a few flakes of hot peppers
1 clove garlic, minced
1 slice bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto, chopped
Chopped mint (1½ Tbl. fresh, or several pinches, dried
A splash of lemon juice or white wine
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 oz. spaghetti

Wash and dry the chanterelles. Check the gills for specks of dirt and gently wash or brush them away. Dry the mushrooms thoroughly by wrapping them in a clean dish towel.

Fill a medium sized pot with water and bring to boil. Cook spaghetti until it is done.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in frying pan, sauté onion until it begins to brown. Season with salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Add garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds until the garlic gives off its fragrance. Add bacon and cook until it browns (if you are using pancetta or prosciutto, add it with the chanterelles—it shouldn’t brown. Over high heat, add chanterelles (chop them if they are too large) and season them with the mint. Sauté until they begin to give off their liquid. Add lemon juice or white wine and allow to simmer for two or three minutes.

Drain spaghetti. Turn the spaghetti into the pan with the chanterelle mixture. Heat for a few seconds, tossing the mixture constantly. Serve in a heated bowl strewn with the Parmesan cheese.

Scrambled eggs with Pfifferlinge and Potatoes
(serves 1—can be easily doubled)

4 oz. chanterelles, washed, cleaned and chopped if large
1 onion, sliced and quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil
Chopped mint, burnet or parsley
1 slice bacon, diced
1 or 2 small, firm-cooking potatoes, thinly sliced (I don’t peel them)
2 eggs
2 Tbl. cold water
Salt and pepper

Wash and dry the chanterelles. Check the gills for specks of dirt and gently wash or brush them away. Dry the mushrooms thoroughly by wrapping them in a clean dish towel.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Add onions and fry until they begin to brown. Add garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Add chanterelles and cook over high heat until they give off their liquid. Season with the herbs and a bit of salt and pepper. Remove the mushroom mixture to a bowl.

Add a bit of oil to the pan and then the bacon. When the fat begins to render, add the potatoes, toss to coat and then let them brown. Remove the pan from the heat and return the mushroom mixture to the pan.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and add 2 Tbl. cold water. Season with salt and pepper. Beat.

Return pan to the heat and allow the mushrooms to get hot. Toss in the eggs and scramble.

Serve on a heated plate.

With a salad, this makes a very satisfying meal.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

There Went the Sun!

Listening to BBC early yesterday morning, I was jerked awake quite rudely when I heard the announcer talking about the sun crossing the equator, thus officially beginning autumn. Autumn? Where did summer go? Were those three or four sunny days several weeks ago our summer? And there is still so much that I wanted to write about for the blog—about the midsummer’s eve celebrations with the fires that glow along the mountain ridges, about the beer fests, about the flowers gathered from the fields to celebrate Assumption Day in August. On the other hand, that just leaves me with some ready-made topics for next year.

At any rate, our weather turned fallish before the official astronomical event occurred—all last week clouds hovered overhead and the temperatures followed the pattern set by stock markets—they fell. The change (in temperature) was dramatic enough to warrant pulling out heavy sweaters and long-sleeved clothes. Leaves have taken on a yellowish tinge, the color of the geraniums spilling out of window boxes is a bit less brilliant, and we had a heavy frost mid week.

Two friends, Cheryl and Susan, and I decided a short trip in search of the sun was in order. We tossed our overnight bags into the car and headed south early Friday afternoon. The road from Partenkirchen leads past the new Olympic-sized ski jump at the edge of town, then through exquisite Alpine scenery and lush green meadows dotted with sheep and cows. Finally, as the road clings to the edge of a mountain, spectacular views of the valley of the Inn River spread out far below and the road begins a descent into Innsbruck. Passing another Olympic ski jump outside of Innsbruck, we follow those seductive signs to Brenner Pass, the gateway to Italy. About 90 minutes after leaving home, we were in Italy, following the Autostrada past castles and fortresses, the toll booths of the Middle Ages.

After a short stop to fill up on cappuccino, we were back in the car, passing Bolzano, home of the museum where the Ice Man sleeps in an ice-encrusted, glass-walled room. Mountainsides filled with terraced vineyards sped by the car windows. Finally we left the Autostrada and turned onto a road heading west toward Lake Garda. About four hours after leaving Partenkirchen, we emerged from the mountains into the lakeside town of Malcesine, our destination. We quickly found our hotel and walked back to town, down a rock-paved path.

The wind kicked up white caps on the lake and windsurfers, sails billowing in the breeze, whipped across the lake’s surface, providing a stark contrast to the castle with its 14th Century fortifications built at the lake’s edge. Walking through town, we noticed several buildings named after Goethe, one of Germany’s —no, the world’s—greatest writers, poets, and natural historians. He had passed through Malcesine on his “Italian Journey” (1786-1788) and had managed to raise the suspicions of the local ruling family, who thought he was a spy when he was discovered drawing pictures of the castle.

We found a small restaurant and ate dinner on the patio at the edge of the lake with the silhouette of the castle in the background. The meal was simple but satisfying—pizzas for Cheryl and Susan and a plate of pasta with a sauce based on fish from the lake for me and huge salads of fresh greens for all of us. Oh, and wine, too, of course—local wine, probably from a vineyard we had passed on our way south.

The next morning, I found my way to the hotel’s breakfast room and had already made considerable progress on my first cappuccino of the day. Thus fortified, I walked over to the buffet table and found a plate full of small, green figs. I put one on my plate, along with cheeses and fresh bread, and had just bitten into the fig when Cheryl and Susan appeared. The juicy sweetness exploded on my tongue and perked up every taste bud I had. They, too, came back to the table with figs to savor along with the more usual foods of breakfast. And no wonder the figs were so good: the hotel owner had picked them from his yard the previous evening and the delicate fruit had traveled only a few feet to the table.

We spent most of the morning walking around the small market in the center of town. Cheerfully colored table cloths, purses and belts, and tables full of pottery competed for shoppers’ attention. That, of course, built up an appetite, a problem easily addressed at one of the cafés nearby.

On our walk through town the previous evening we had noticed people sitting in cafes drinking from tulip-shaped glasses filled with a liquid the color of a sunset on a summer day. It was time to order our own and try this stunning-looking aperitif. We found a quiet corner in an outdoor café and in no time had our own glasses sitting in front of us. A toast, then a taste, and we knew we had a new favorite in this Aperol spritz.

Although Aperol was first made in 1919 in Padua, it is now produced by Campari. The recipe, which remains secret, most likely includes rhubarb, orange and cinchona, the tropical plant from which quinine is derived. Not only could we enjoy this pre-lunch drink, we could feel positively virtuous because we were building up our resistance to malaria! Plates of bruschetta rounded out this very satisfying lunch. Best of all, we had discovered a way to capture some of the golden sun and bring some sunshine back to our Alpine town.

Aperol Spritzers

2 parts Aperol
2 parts sparkling wine (Prosecco, Sekt, etc.)
1 part soda or seltzer water
ice cubes
slice of orange

Combine all ingredients in a tulip-shaped glass and serve.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Oman in Garmisch

20 June

On my way to the grocery store to buy milk for the weekend, I noticed a sign announcing a concert for this evening by a military band from Oman. A musical program in the park is not unusual—on almost every evening during the summer, some sort of concert is scheduled there: perhaps it’s the local brass band performing Bavarian music or an orchestra playing light classical melodies or Big Band music. But a band from Oman is definitely not usual and a concert, with an orchestra playing in the band shell framed with blossoms on a pleasant summer evening seemed like a perfect way to spend a few hours.

The park, in the center of Garmisch, is a local treasure, a place to relax and recoup one's spirit. Throughout the park, carefully laid-out flower beds always seem to be in full bloom and vistas of manicured green lawns are groomed to perfection. Plenty of comfortable benches and Adirondack chairs under lindens or chestnut trees provide a place to settle in for the afternoon with a book. Small fountains spout water and create gentle gurgling sounds reminiscent of mountain streams; a labyrinth offers meditative opportunities; and a barefoot path lures visitors to shed shoes and walk over pine cones, small pebbles, grass and mud. Nearby, a Kneipp foot bath leading through the ice cold mill stream helps remove the mud accumulated on the barefoot path and stimulate feet until they tingle pleasantly.

As I walked toward Richard-Strauss-Platz and the entrance to the Kurpark, the nasal whine of bagpipes (Dudelsacken--pronounced ‘doodle-zahken’ auf Deutsch) sounded through streets much more accustomed to the oom-pah-pah of brass bands. Who knew the Omanis played Scottish bagpipes? (Well, I suppose it is called O'Man, but that's would be Irish, not Scottish, wouldn't it?) As I found out later, Oman had been heavily influenced by Britain because of its strategic location on trade routes to Asia, although the country had never succumbed to colonialization.

Ten band members stood in formation around the fountain, sounding—and almost looking—like they just came in from Scotland. Like their Scottish counterparts, they wore plaid kilts, but one man was draped in a leopard skin, an animal which I am sure hadn’t seen the glens or lochs of Scotland.

I followed the bagpipers into the Kurpark and was immediately swallowed by a huge, milling crowd. Usually I trot in at the last minute, find a table at the outdoor café, and order a Milchkaffee (café au lait), and happily settle in for the durationbut not tonight. The park was jammed. All the seats in the café were occupied and the benches near the stage were packed with people. I milled around in the crowd and discovered information tables supplied with stacks of books, DVDs, and glossy pamphlets on Oman.

And food alert!! A selection of desserts was being passed out to the concert goers: small bowls of a sweet, marmalade-like dessert with walnuts and a spice, perhaps saffron, accompanied by little spoons, and two kinds of baked sweets, one very sweet and crumbly, and the other with a moister, custard-like texture. During the entire performance, local girls dressed in Dirndls walked through the crowds with trays, offering generous portions of the sweets to everyone in the park.

I eventually found a seat, which was a stroke of luck because the concert lasted an hour and a half. Three bands, all from Oman, performed. Almost all of the music was Western, and a good portion of it was American. And as always happens here, when the opening notes of “In the Mood” and “Moonlight Serenade” were played, the audience murmured its appreciation and approval. It was quite remarkable to sit in a Kurpark in Germany listening to a band from Oman, its members dressed in kilts and playing Glenn Miller’s music, music banned as "degenerate" here during the 1940s.

What occasioned all this effort? It turns out that the sultan of Oman is vacationing at his villa in Garmisch. Well, he certainly announced his presence and made himself very welcome! It was a super PR job, and a very generous gesture. What an amazing world we live in!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Munich: Happy 850th!

June 14

Munich is a city that knows how to celebrate. When it comes to planning an 850th birthday party, here’s a city with plenty of history to provide a focus and plenty of past experiences hosting huge events: think no further than the annual production of Oktoberfest! It’s no surprise then, that over the course of this summer, Munich has set aside three weekends to celebrate the anniversary of its founding. A mere 850 years may be barely middle age for a European city, but Bavarians have a knack for finding reasons to celebrate and 850 years is no small achievement, after all. For the first round of birthday parties, June 14 and 15, even the weather cooperated. The rain that had been a constant for the previous two weeks retreated and the sun made a valiant effort to penetrate the clouds.

Of course, my way of celebrating this auspicious day included a fair amount of eating. By the time I hopped off the train at the Hauptbahnhof, about 9:30, I was famished, despite having put away a normal breakfast several hours earlier. So I headed for the Viktaulienmarkt, the large, open-air market in the heart of the old city. Among the stands of fresh fruit and vegetables from nearby and around the world, several vendors specialize in freshly squeezed juices. These are not just the usual orange and grapefruit juice, but juices based on the season—like apple-asp
aragus in the spring or a hot elderberry ginger juice in the winter. I ordered a glass of carrot-apple-ginger juice and drank it while I sat people watching under a linden tree.

I finished the glass but still felt peckish. I noticed as I walked by one of the
market’s cafes that I could get a Weisswurst, just one Weisswurst, not the usual pair. That was exactly what I wanted. What better way to begin celebrating Munich’s birthday than by eating a sausage native to the city? Weisswurst even has a birthday, 22 February 1857, (also an occasion for celebration) and a birthplace, a butcher shop on Marienplatz, within a stone’s throw of where I sat.

, made of highly perishable fresh
veal and pork, seasoned with fresh parsley, onion, pepper, mace, and lemon, is meant to be consumed fresh—so fresh that according to local tradition Weisswurst must not hear the church bells ring noon. Although the development of refrigeration has made observation of that tradition optional rather than mandatory, a few restaurants, including the nearby Weisses Braeuhaus, refuse to serve the sausage after the 12 o’clock bells. So Weisswurst is still considered breakfast food here, along with a chewy, salty pretzel, sweet mustard, and a glass of Weissbier (wheat beer). This trinity of accompaniments is set in stone as indelibly as the Ten Commandments.

I ordered my Weisswurst and Brezn (pretzel), but since it was not yet 10:30, I decided Weissbier probably wasn’t in my best interest. Showing highly uncharacteristic virtue and restraint, I settled for a rhubarb spritzer, hoping that no one I knew would happen by and see me. The spritzer, a bit sweet and a bit sour, turned out to be a more than satisfactory stand-in for the beer.

The snack was just enough to give me the strength to face the crowds gathering on Marienplatz for the opening ceremonies of the birthday party. As I walked into the square, jammed with people both seated on benches at long tables and standing, I jostled my way through the crowd to get a view. On the stage the Schaeffler dancers performed.

The Schaeffler were the coopers, the beer barrel makers, long an integral craft in Munich. Their dance dates to 1517, one of the numerous years that the plague penetrated the walls of Munich. Life in the city had come to a standstill. Only two of the city gates were open and very few people were allowed to enter. Any coins brought into the city had to be soaked in vinegar and letters were fumigated with smoke upon arrival. Finally, the disease seemed to have retreated, but Munich’s citizens continued to huddle in dark rooms, behind tightly shut windows. Streets were empty except for gravediggers.

During these grim days, a member of the coopers’ guild understood that the town’s residents needed a bit of comic relief and organized the members of his guild to participate in a performance that would cheer the local population. The coopers marched to the marketplace and began performing a circle dance with boughs of evergreen. The sound of music and celebration penetrated into the dark rooms and people flocked outdoors to the marketplace. Church bells began to ring, calling people to services of thanksgiving. People were reunited with old friends and acquaintances they were certain had died. Thanks to one man’s idea and the support from his guild members, the dark mood had been banished and the city returned to life.

The Schaeffler dance still survives. The mechanical figures in the Glockenspiel at the Rathaus perform it twice daily high above Marienplatz. But seeing it danced by humans requires planning: it’s performed once every seven years (during the pre-Lenten Fasching celebrations), and for special occasions, such as an 850th birthday.

At noon, I stood in Marienplatz and listened as church bells all over the city pealed the hour. This time the ringing did not have to summon a frightened population—the whole city already seemed to be packed into Marienplatz, waiting for the ceremonies. The chiming of bells gave way to strains of Carmina Burana and extravagantly-clad dancers performing some of the songs from that medieval cycle of poetry. Teams of horses pulling the Loewenbraeu and Spaten Braeu beer wagons neighed along to the music from the fringe of Marienplatz in front of Becks, the fashionable department store.

At the the Alte Rathaus, Munich’s medieval city hall, a man dressed as a baker howled from an iron cage. An actor in a living history performance, he played the role of a baker who had not maintained the expected high standards of cleanliness, which resulted in illness for his customers. An actress, obviously enjoying her role, taunted him and egged on spectators.

By 1 pm I could feel hunger gnawing away once again. Back at the Viktualienmarkt, I bought a Bratwurst, Semmel (a crusty roll), and a (finally!) a Weissbier and sat in one of the beer gardens, munching away. A Spanish family sat next to me and struggled with a Weisswurst, trying to eat it like any other sausage. I showed them how to remove the skin and eat it properly, like a true Muenchnerer. (To see a demonstration of how to eat a Weisswurst, see the link at the bottom of this posting.)

Throughout the afternoon at Odeonsplatz, a few blocks north of the Viktualienmarkt, folk dancers from all over Europe performed and craftsmen, including the coopers, demonstrated their trades. Crafts associated with home-making were concentrated in the Alte Hof, one of the courtyards of the royal palace. Children participated in some of the tasks required to run a home—or a palace—before the days of modern conveniences. Kids helped cook a pot of stew over an open fire, washed dishes in a big basin, took turns at doing laundry in galvanized metal tubs, and tried their hand at throwing pots and bowls on a pottery wheel.

Throughout the summer some of the major restaurants in Munich are offering a special meal for 850 cents in honor of Munich's 850th. I tried the rendition at the Rathskeller, the restaurant in the vaulted space under the Rathaus, the neo-Gothic City Hall on Marienplatz. The waiter presented a plate with a juicy stuffed pork chop, vegetables and a generous serving of barley seasoned with herbs. I drank a wine from Franken, the wine-producing region in northern Bavaria, and thought it was a very good meal that I would not mind repeating.

With just 45 minutes until I had to catch the U-Bahn to the train station, I headed out to the central courtyard of the Rathaus and found a place to squeeze in among the long tables and crowded benches. A Bavarian band played traditional dance music and I chatted with the people sitting next to me. I boarded the train to Garmisch with several minutes to spare, ready to sit for a while and contemplate the next round of the 850th celebrations in July.

For more information (and amusement), have a look at these links:

Historic photos of Munich:

How to eat a Weisswurst:

Schaeffler dance:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's Spring . . . Somewhere!

7 June

I got up before the birds began their chorus this morning. Snug under my feather comforter, I opened my eyes to a leaden sky and a fine, penetrating rain and suspected the still-snoozing birds were smarter than I. But I had a schedule to keep and by 8 a.m., I was on one of the local buses, heading to Glentleiten, a folk life museum of Oberbayern, the Bavarian administrative district which includes both Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich. Earlier in the week I had signed up for a seminar on traditional spring plants and their uses. Of course, I had anticipated walking among blooming plants under blue skies and mild temperatures. The reality? Well, let it be noted that today, 7 June, I wore my down coat and huddled under an umbrella.

Glentleiten’s head gardener, Peter Miller, and his assistant greeted the dozen or so people who turned up for the program. They led us through a series of gardens with typical plants from the 8th and 11th centuries up to the 1940s. Moving through each garden and time period, the plant species became more diverse, the result of trade, contacts abroad, and immigration. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the influence of the Americas was very pronounced as evidenced by the proliferation of squashes, tomatoes and beans, all crops developed by American Indians.

As we walked through cultivated plots and fields of wild flowers, Herr Miller talked about the horticultural history of the plants and supervised as we harvested what we would transform into our lunch. Anyone non-forager might consider much of what we picked to be weeds—sour grass, stinging nettles (yes, they really do sting—painfully!), plantain, and yarrow all grow wild and abundantly in the fields and meadows. However, the local farmers and herbalists value these plants, which have been eaten in this region for centuries, prizing their high vitamin and mineral content and healing properties. We also gathered more familiar herbs, dill, savory, burnet, borage, a wild spinach called Guter Heinrich (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), crisp rhubarb, and to my great delight, huge piles of elderberry blossoms. Picking the elderfowers competed with plucking a basketful of rose petals from bushes of the fragrant Rosa gallica var. officinalis, the rose used by the apothecaries, for the most enjoyable task of the day.

After spending an hour and a half jumping over puddles and mud holes in the gardens, I was chilled to the bone despite my coat. I think most everyone else was as well and we retreated happily to a small building with a massive open fire place built of rock, a roomy dining area with a long table, and kitchen. When we entered the dining room, the Kachelofen, a tiled stove traditionally used to heat Bavarian homes, was fired up and producing a warmth that my bones welcomed. I parked myself next to it, soaking in the heat, and sipped a hot elderflower tisane.

No time for lollygagging, though, we had lunch to prepare. We began by separating and laying out our morning’s harvest on long, wooden tables to see what ingredients we had to work with. Then, with a staff member’s supervision, we began cooking a typically Bavarian meal, but one that bore no resemblance at all to the huge platters of pork roast, sauerkraut and dumplings most people consider to be traditional fare. For the next 45 minutes, we washed, chopped, diced, and cooked. We arranged individual salads of tender greens, arugula, and finely minced herbs garnished with nasturtium and borage blossoms and tossed with a sweet-sour oil and vinegar dressing. We cubed potatoes then fried them brown and crisp over an open fire in a big iron pan. We strewed them with handsful of minced herbs, scooped it all into an oversized bowl and set it on the Kachelofen to keep warm until the rest of the meal was prepared. We pounded the arugula into a pesto using a locally produced rape seed oil.

Finally we prepared the nettle leaves and elderberry fritters. We coated each leaf and umbel individually in a tempura-like batter and then plunged them in small batches into another cast iron pan over the open fire. This turned out to be a great way to deep fry something--the smoke from the wood fire covers up the nasty smell of the hot oil and given the nature of the fireplace, little clean-up was needed!

Most surprising of our preparations, visually and flavor-wise, turned out to be the rose gelee. We emptied the small basket of petals into a pot, covered the petals with water, brought it to a simmer, then added Gelier Zucker, a sugar with pectin already added that is widely sold in this region and used to make jellies and preserves. In no time, the rose gelee was ready to bottle, a gorgeous, fragrant pink that not only smelled like a rose, but tasted like one as well. We spooned the gelee onto slabs of Bauernbrot, a two-foot round of sourdough rye bread baked in the museum’s brick oven, along with hunks of homemade butter.

To quench our thirst, we drank more of the elderberry tisane and rhubarb lemonade, a drink that anyone with an over-abundant rhubarb crop would appreciate.*

By the time we finished eating, the sun began to break through the clouds. The birds had decided it was safe to leave their roosts and as I retraced our earlier route through Glentleiten's gardens, raindrops sparkled like crystals on the leaves and flowers—a beautiful day after all, just in time for the return trek to Partenkirchen.

*The recipes we prepared were of the “folk” variety—they are not set in concrete, were handed down from mother to daughter, and do not have exact measurements. However, to prepare the rhubarb lemonade, simply slice rhubarb into a large pot and cover with water. Add a bit of sugar, lemon slices and citric acid (the citric acid prevents spoilage). Bring this to a boil and then remove from the heat and let sit overnight. Strain before serving. I did not discard the strained rhubarb--I used it in my breakfast muesli.

Bavarian desserts and drinks such as the rhubarb juice are not highly sweetedned. Try using some restraint on the amount of sugar you add to the rhubarb—after all, rhubarb is a spring tonic, for “cleansing”, so excessive sugar is not the goal here!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gathering the Daily Food

5 June

The end of the week is in sight, a signal that I must restock the refrigerator and pantry. Adherence to this weekly routine helps me to avoid waking on Sunday morning and realizing the main ingredient for the evening’s dinner is not in the refrigerator. If that happens here, you’re out of luck—almost every shop in town is shuttered until Monday morning. If I am missing an essential ingredient, I must either substitute it, find a different recipe or eat out.

Food shopping strategies that I learned in the US are not always effective here. In Washington, during the winter, I make a sweep of Whole Foods and Safeway and come home with just about everything I’ll need for the week. In the summer, I switch to the farmers’ markets, mostly the Sunday market on Dupont Circle or the New Morning Farms Saturday market, as the source for most of my fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meats. And I still make the occasional foray to Safeway and Whole Foods for the non-perishables.

If you want good quality food, shopping in Garmisch, and Germany in general, tends to be much more decentralized. The grocery stores suffice for any staples you might keep on your shelves, but I wouldn’t want to depend on these chains for fresh fruits and vegetables. Judging from the contents of carts that I notice as people stand in line to check out, I don’t think too many Germans rely only on the supermarkets for fresh produce either.

My impressions of supermarkets here are generalizations; some of my friends seem to have much greater success finding fresh fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets. Several supermarkets offer a decent array of produce, make efforts to source food locally and create appealing displays.

But overall, while chain stores sell produce more cheaply than greengrocers, the supermarket fruit and vegetables can look pretty industrial, often tired, sometimes limp and uninspiring. Peppers and tomatoes come pre-wrapped; lettuce, sometimes sold by the head and other times in see-through bags, can look wilted; onions are stuffed into net bags that discourage close inspection and hide any major defects. Most supermarkets sell organic fruits and vegetables, but they may be only marginally better than the non-organic produce.

And then there are the store hours. Supermarkets generally open from 7 or 8 am to 8 pm—six days of the week. And if you must do your grocery shopping late in the day, expect to find scarce pickings.

The quality and prices of produce sold in the chains illustrate a negative influence of globalization, an influence also evident in many US mega-stores such as Wal-Mart. According to an Oxfam study, transnational supermarkets with their huge marketing arms, buy mass quantities of food from developing countries at prices that do not provide the local workers, often women, a decent return for their labor.

Comparing what these supermarkets sell with other available sources for fresh, local products, I opt for the smaller shops. For me, gathering and eating my daily food must be an aesthetic experience, something that appeals to my senses of taste, smell, touch and sight. Eating is a political act, and supporting exploitive aspects of globalization ruins my appetite.

So, I buy most of the fruit and vegetables I eat at small, independent green grocers or at the weekly market in Garmisch or Partenkirchen. Two shops are nearby, within a five minute walk. The owners take pride in displaying their produce attractively. After you have gone to the shop three or four times, you’ll be recognized and often addressed by name. Most of the fruits and vegetables available now have been shipped from Greece, Italy, or Spain, but German strawberries and asparagus are also abundant at the moment. Most produce is not truly local because with the exception of strawberries, apples and Damson plums, crops produced nearby aren’t prolific enough to be sold in markets.

The hours for these green grocers are even more challenging than the chains—my favorite shop opens about 8 am, closes around 6 pm (depending on business) Tuesday through Friday. On Saturday it closes at 1 pm and remains closed until Tuesday morning. Of course it is also closed on holidays—and Bavaria has a lot of holidays!

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, two separate, rival
towns until the 1930s, has two weekly markets. Every Thursday in the Rathaus (City Hall) parking lot, the Partenkirchen Wochenmarkt takes shape, beginning about 8 am. Walking among the various stands, I can buy local jams (dandelion and elderberry blossom jams at the moment); trout not long out of mountain streams and smoked in the market; flowers, herbs, and plants for the garden and balcony; fruits and vegetables from farms near Lake Constance; Alpine cheeses flavored with herbs; organic sheep and goat cheeses made just a few miles south of Partenkirchen; organic lamb chops, an array of antipasti, and other local foods.

A similar but larger market takes place in Garmisch on Friday. Vendors in both markets pack up by early afternoon, so if you work, taking advantage of either of these markets is a challenge. And to be truthful, if you work, it is difficult to patronize the smaller markets. The only real opportunity is Friday afternoon, (the work day ends around 1 pm on Fridays for many people here) and Saturday morning.

As I write this, it’s now Saturday afternoon. A small Turkish festival is underway several houses down the street from me. Strains of Turkish music float up through my open windows, mingling with the laughter of children bouncing on one of those huge, garish inflatable toys. Shops have closed, but the refrigerator is stocked well enough to get me safely through to Tuesday morning. And, just as an extra piece of security, I checked out the edible offerings at the fest earlier today: long skewers of beef sizzled over hot coals, a huge hunk of meat for succulent doner kebab stood ready for carving nearby, tables of dolmas, kibbe, stuffed peppers and eggplant, bourekas and baklava beckoned. No chance that I’ll go hungry this weekend!