Historically, German influence on the American diet, from hamburgers and frankfurters to jelly doughnuts and cakes, has been enormous. But, as the author writes in a brand-new Preface, “Americans have begun to realize that Austrian and German cooks have long been adept at preparing foods that are newly fashionable here, whether for reasons of health, seasonality, economy or just pure pleasure.” Many standards foreshadowed the precepts of new cooking, such as pickling, and combining sweet with savory. Alongside old Bavarian favorites, The German Cookbook includes recipes for nose-to-tail pork, wild game, and organ meats; hearty root vegetables and the entire cabbage family; main-course soups and one-pot meals; whole-grain country breads and luscious chocolate confections; and lesser-known dishes worthy of rediscovery, particularly the elegant seafood of Hamburg.
Since Mimi Sheraton first began her research more than fifty years ago, she has traveled extensively throughout Germany, returning with one authentic recipe after another to test in her own kitchen. Today, The German Cookbook is a classic in its field, a testament to a lifetime of spectacular meals and gustatory dedication. So Prosit and gut essen: cheers and good eating!
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Holiday Festivals and Foods
(Festtage und -gerichte)
Holidays and festivals, both civil and religious, dot the German calendar like currants in a Christmas Stollen. Many of these celebrations vary from one part of the country to the other, and change as you travel from the Catholic south and Rhineland to the Protestant north. In addiion, many small towns and villages have festivals honoring their own patron saints or events in local history. There are probably many more holidays than those listed here, in which a cruller is turned this way instead of that, or for which a special-color soup is served. These, however, are the most important holidays and the only ones I could find during a considerable amount of research. Both the Lufthansa and German tourist offices have been badgering their staffs for months to think of more, but with no results. If you happen to know of a feast day in Mecklenburg when everyone eats red currants dyed blue, or a special festival in Pomerania when the treat of the day is Pomeranians’ tongues, I can only offer my apologies for having missed them.
January 6, which is Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Magi, is known in Germany as Dreikönigsabend—Three Kings’ Eve (the cake of that name is the obvious specialty). In midwinter most of Germany celebrates Fasching, a pre-Lenten carnival that reaches its peak on Fastnacht, or what we know as Shrove or Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. This masked and costumed street carnival is at its wildest in Cologne and Munich, where an anything-goes spirit prevails in unimaginable proportions. The things you are supposed to eat on that night are the fried crullers (Fastnachtkrapfen), but I can’t believe that anyone does, considering the alternate (and less caloric) enticements.
Bock beer season falls during Lent also; new spring beer and Bockwurst sausages are the specialties for that time.
Holy Thursday, just before Good Friday and Easter, is known as Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag) in Germany. A creamed green soup made of seven spring herbs or simply of new spinach is served on that day, garnished with hard-cooked eggs that are sliced in half lengthwise and tiny meat balls lightly browned in butter and poached in the soup. Fried or poached eggs on a bed of creamed new spinach is the alternate.
Good Friday, known as Grieving Friday (Karfreitag) is the most important and solemn holiday throughout the country, in both Catholic and Protestant areas. I will never forget being in Munich one Good Friday and being told that any place I wanted to visit was “geschlossen”—closed. Never in my life have I been in a place so absolutely geschlossened. But the churches were open and magnificent, their altars banked with hyacinths, tulips and heavily perfumed tuberoses, and rimmed by rows of glass bowls filled with red, yellow, blue, violet, and pink and green water, each lit from behind by a single candle. Since this is a meatless fast day, various fish dishes are served but none that is especially traditional.
Easter (Oster) in Germany is the time for colored eggs, candy or cake chicks, rabbits and lambs, as it is almost everywhere else. In Bavaria, Easter breakfast includes bread that was blessed in church on the previous day, a custom one also finds in eastern Europe. Throughout Germany, bakery windows are filled with Easter bread (Osterfladen), a sweet yeast coffee cake similar to Stollen or the Italian panettone. But the most dazzling sights of all are the candy-shop windows, crammed with chocolate eggs of every size, some encrusted with almond or hazelnut praliné, others decorated with candied violets or mimosa and sugary sprays of pussy willows—the Kätzchen which are the favorite harbingers of spring and which, incidentally, are what one receives in church on Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) instead of palm fronds. Towering over the candy lambs, bunnies and chicks are the magnificent roosters, with heads and combs of colored marzipan, chocolate bodies and regal tails fanning out in ribbons of chocolate. If anyone can eat after all that cake and candy, the feature of the Easter dinner is ham (Osterschinken), usually served with a purée of fresh or dried green peas.
May I, May Day (Maitag) is a day of picnics, maypoles and the woodruff-scented white wine punch, the Maibowle, or its more sophisticated counterpart, a bombe of woodruff ice and strawberries.
The end of September is the time for Munich’s Oktoberfest, a bit of calendar juggling I have never quite understood, except that the festival ends in October, so perhaps that explains it. For details on the general hilarity, food and beer.
The third Sunday in October is a church consecration day called Kirchweih. It is celebrated mostly in rural areas and is a sort of farmers’ Labor Day. If you were to visit a farmhouse on that day, you would be greeted with beer and either the Kirchkucherl or Kirchnudeln crullers or fritters, depending on which part of the country you were in.
November II is St. Martin’s Day, Martinmas, or, in German, der Martinstag. St. Martin was the patron saint of geese, drinking and merrymaking, and his day is celebrated accordingly. By coincidence, geese are considered to be at their fattest and most succulent during this season; stuffed with prunes and apples, they are served with chestnuts, red cabbage or sauerkraut, and with big dumplings to absorb the rich gravy—a strange fate for geese on the day of their protector.
December 24, Christmas Eve (Weihnachtsabend oder Heiliger Abend) is a meatless fast day for Catholics and the specialty is carp. In Swabia it will probably be cooked with gingerbread or gingersnaps, while in Bavaria the Bohemian method prevails. Though Schleswig-Holstein is Protestant and does not observe the meatless ruling, carp is something of a tradition there also on this night and is served hot, poached, and with clouds of whipped cream and grated horseradish. Rice pudding or soufflé, or rice cooked with milk, is also something of a tradition on Christmas Eve, mostly in northern Germany. Only one portion contains an almond, and the one who receives it gets a special prize.
December 25, Christmas Day (Christtag oder erster Weihnachtstag), should be a day that honors the German talent for superb baking. Dozens of kinds of cookies, large and small cakes, fruit breads and sweet yeast breads like Dresden Stollen are all prepared for this day. Families begin baking four weeks ahead of time, during Advent, and by Christmas Eve, homes are richly scented with ginger, cardamom, anise, nutmeg, vanilla—everything, in fact, except frankincense and myrrh, which probably wouldn’t taste so good anyway. All of this Christmas baking is known as Weihnachtsgebäck. In addition to cakes and cookies, a big feature of a German Christmas is the marzipan or almond paste, which is colored and shaped into fruits, vegetables, animals, angels and all sorts of Yuletide signs and symbols, as well as into the flat glazed hearts studded with citron and cherries which have been favorites of mine since I was a child, though I haven’t been able to find them for years. Goose, with the trimmings described above for St. Martin’s Day, is also served for Christmas dinner, along with a plum pudding which might be flambéed with rum, or covered with Vanilla or Foamy Wine Sauce.
December 31, New Year’s Eve (Silvester), is again a meatless holiday for Catholics and carp is featured. In some parts of northern Germany, especially in Berlin, the fish is served unsealed and each person takes one scale and keeps it as a good-luck token for the year ahead. New Year’s Eve revelry usually winds up at midnight with a hot or flaming wine punch.