Today, though, I will talk about a specialty that is more often ordered in a Vesperstube or Gasthaus than in an elegant starred restaurant, even though it might also be available in one. That specialty is Schinken (ham). Classical "geraeucherte Schinken" (classical smoked ham) is a traditional German food specialty.
The picture at right shows one of my books on German cooking, its land and its people. The lady on the cover ran a Gasthaus about 25 years ago, and that is where we met her. She was 80 years old at that time.
Hans is my expert on Schinken, so I went to him to get the facts. Choosing a properly fed pig is the most important basis when it comes to eventually having good Schinken or ham. Unless the Schinken is produced by a large manufacturer, where they do the smoking and curing throughout the year, it is generally produced only during the cold months of the year by private farmers. It will keep in a cool, dry room for up to three months. Keeping it in the fridge has a tendency to turn it salty, though it will still be fine to eat.
The picture below is of one of my cookbooks and shows a large piece of Schinken, white asparagus and wine.
A good Schwarzwaelder Schinken (Black Forest ham) is usually recognized by an almost black outside surface. Good Schinken Speck should be two thirds lean and one third fat. Speck is normally eaten with the fingers along with bread--or used as one would bacon, frying it to add to a recipe. In the old days, the saying went as follows: no fork, no butter, no napkins! (One was expected to wipe the fingers on his or her bread!)
The traditional way to serve Schwarzwaelder Schinken is as a piece of approximately 150 to 200 grams in weight and served on a wooden board with a special sharp Vesper knife only. You then slice it thinly into small pieces and eat it with your fingers, accompanied by bread.
Bread and Broetchen are featured on the cover of this cookbook.
A friend of ours some years ago ordered Schinken. It was served on a wooden board along with a sharp knife and some rye bread. Mini placed the Schinken on the bread, folded it as for a sandwich and began to eat--except, she found it hard to chew! We watched her struggle with it. It's not that the smoked Schinken was tough! It was too thick for a sandwich and should have been sliced into small pieces and eaten with the fingers. Her remark at that moment: "What in heck are they serving in this country anyway?" (It was a somewhat stronger version!) After Hans realized Mini was struggling with her piece of Schinken, he explained how it should be eaten. We still laugh about that.
Shown below, a piece of Schinken that Hans had at home.
Hans has had many discussions over the years on how to cut the Schinken: Do you cut it from the fat towards the lean side or from the lean side towards the fat?
He has had people on both sides vehemently take a stand: Some say definitively that one cuts from the fat downwards. The others say, "No, no, no, it's from the lean side towards the fat!" Hans cuts it from the fat side downwards towards the lean side. He says that makes more sense as the fatty part of the Schinken will not tear away with that method. That makes sense to me as well as it is easier cutting away from the fat than into it.
Hans demonstrating how to slice a piece of Schinken. Be sure to cut the rind away from the fat first.
Most people drink beer with Schinken--though a few prefer wine--and along with it a glass of Kirschwasser or other Schnaps, which is good for the digestion. (Try it after a heavy meal; it works.)
A Vesper usually consists of cold dishes, though egg dishes and toasts--various toppings and cheese atop the bread and then broiled--can be offered as well as Bratwurst. The word "Vesper" means a late afternoon or early evening small, but hearty meal. In former days--and still the case for some families--Mittagessen (noon dinner) was the main meal of the day. The evening meal, or Vesper, was smaller, perhaps a bowl of soup, but normally some Wurst (cold cuts, ham)--including Schinken and sausages--some cheese and bread. As most Gasthauses don't serve warm meals until 6 p.m., many people order a Vesper after an afternoon walk.
This past Sunday we drove to the Gruenen Baum (the Green Tree) in Keppenbach, 35 minutes southeast of us.
An inside view of the Gasthaus, at left.
Hans always has a Vesper there and swears it is the best in the area.
Below, another view with our table in the foreground.
The Vesper itself comes on a round board with a smaller board on which to place what you wish to eat at the moment. Not all Gasthauses or Vesperstuben serve it that way, but they do at the Gruenen Baum. (I always have steak with a spicy and delicious sauce, along with her excellent Pommes Frites, also the best in the area.)
The two pictures below show what Hans was served.