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, http://cs-people.bu.edu/akatlas/Buch/buch.html , 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.

Pfifferlinge
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.

3 comments:

Camera Trap Codger said...

My old friend Reno is an expert chanterelle hunter, and now that I've seen him in action and know his hunting secrets I'll be collecting some myself this winter. We'll definitely try the recipe. Great post, Margie.

AmericanGirl said...

This is a really interesting blog! Thank you for posting. I am an American living in Munich now and love learning everything you have posted. I have a blog as well about travels from my point of view if you are interested: http://i-wanted-an-adventure.blogspot.com/

Have a great week!

About Margie said...

Thank you for your vote of confidence! I will check out your blog, too! I have ignored my poor blog these last months because I've been writing some other material but I WILL publish more on the site this year!