Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Celebrating Spring with Good Food and Good Friends

It is almost Easter and the countryside is ablaze in all its glory.  We have had an early and spectacular spring.  The wonderful scent of lilacs now greet us as we pass them by.  The iris is coming into bloom, and our peonies will not be far behind.  My favourite spring flower is the lilac, with the blossom on the left in bloom this week at the edge of our property, a bush we didn't know we had.  It was not there last year.  I am delighted. The white lilac on the right sits just behind the fence of the Gasthaus Kleiner Meierhof, one we frequent and where we sat outside last evening.  The iris is in our garden area.
The cherry trees, forsythia and other earlier blossoms are now gone, but those large, black cherries to come I can imagine eating soon, one after the other, until the bowl is empty.  Our tree has thousands of cherries now waiting to ripen--for us and the birds.  You can see the new cherries on the branches at left.  
The apple trees showcase their lovely pink blossoms, with their scent reminding me of my childhood in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and our apple trees in the back yard.  The yellow transparent apples ripened first and I ate many of them, but always when they were still slightly under-ripe (usually hiding that I was eating them as we weren't supposed to eat unripe apples!).  
The chestnut tree in full bloom just beyond our yard also reminds me of those in Charlottetown; they grew along the other side of our gangway and fence, in the neighbours' yard.  My sister Carol and I remember those two large trees that are no longer there, but back then I would look out our dining room window--almost on a level with the top of the trees, as we lived on the third floor of our grandfather's apartment house.  To see the chestnut blossoms emerging meant spring. 
We would watch the pigeons, too, which nested in the eaves of that house next door and gaze at the baby birds as they learned to fly.  I now see many birds--male and female, thrushes and finches--in our backyard here in Germany, looking for twigs to make nests for their babies to come.  A sign of spring that we always listen for is the call of the cuckoo.  This year, through the open bedroom window, early in the morning, I heard a cuckoo calling for a mate on Sunday, the 9th of April.
It is also Spargel time, that renowned and long-awaited white asparagus that people all over Germany celebrate.  We have seen fields and fields of them this year in our area, far more than in previous years.  All have been under plastic but now, the plastic off, they are being dug from the ground to head to the restaurants, Gasthäuser, supermarkets, roadside stands--and home kitchens.  We shall soon have our first "Spargel Essen," with Hans doing the cooking.  He serves one of the best white asparagus dinners I have ever had.  A great cook we knew, Herr Rosen, made wonderful Spargel dinners at his Gasthaus in the 1980s, ones we both still remember.  Hans organized many of those evenings for Canadians who were here with the military--as we were ourselves.

The display below was outside a Vesperstube we visited last week high in the hills. Many, including us, decorate branches with eggs for Easter.

For Easter Sunday, we shall have a special meal at home.  Hans plans to make Beef Wellington, perhaps not the usual Easter dinner, but one that is unbelievably good and fit for any occasion.  It is a lot of work, but, in the end, it is perhaps the most delicious meat dish we have been fortunate enough to enjoy.  That dinner, though, is still several days away, so I shall write about that later.

Burg Sponeck

These three pictures I took in January.

Just outside Jechtingen, down a narrow country road, lies the Burg Sponeck.  It dates back to 1285.  Many times we walked along the wooded area nearby and many times we walked up the short hill and road to the old fortress ruins.  The family lives behind the gates in the fortress today, having renovated it inside and out a few years ago, while being careful to retain its original architecture, as it is a historic and protected structure.

Jechtingen in the Kaiserstuhl and the Gasthaus-Winzerstube Sonne

Several times a year we pick up our two elderly lady friends in Freiburg and head to a Gasthaus known for its good cuisine.  One week after the first day of spring, at the end of March, we picked up our friend Lina, who is almost 95, and along with our friend Monika (younger than all of us), we went to a family-run Gasthaus in Jechtingen, about one kilometer from Burg Sponeck.  Anita, age 84, who usually comes as well, was unable to join us that day.
Hans and I know the Gasthaus Sonne-Winzerstube well, one we've gone to many times over the years.  Built in 1626, it is a typical family-run, Gutbürgerliches Gasthaus.  It is simply decorated but warm, with wooden floors, a supporting (tree) post that was added in 1819 in the centre of the room and deep-set windows (depicting the age of the Gasthaus) that are flanked by draperies.  Most often we stopped there to have a bottle of wine in the afternoon when out for a drive--always a Gewürtztraminer Spätlese or Auslese from that town--something we had done in January, after our visit to Burg Sponeck, as shown below.

Herr Gass is a chef and took it over from his parents some years ago.  His mother was always in the Gasthaus until she died at the age of 88 a year ago.  She would sit at the Stammtisch next to the Kachelofen greeting those who came in.  Now, Herr Gass and his wife work together in the kitchen.  During the quiet part of the day, one of them will be in the Gasthaus greeting and serving guests.  They have two teenage sons and are hoping one of them will be interested in taking it over from them someday.

Below is the Kachelofen, a glazed, tiled heating stove and the Stammtisch (the local's table) against it, with a bench along the oven.  The supporting tree post from 1819 can also be seen on the right side.  These last four pictures of the interior I took in January.

About twenty years ago we stopped at the Gasthaus for an evening meal.  We were driving a brand new Corvette that Hans parked just outside, near the door, and in we went.  We ordered dinner and wine, enjoying a lovely meal.  I now forget what we ate but I don't forget what happened next.  Herr Gass came over to the table and told Hans that he had left his park lights on in the car.  Hans thanked him, but replied that the car was new and therefore that should not be a problem.  About an hour later we said goodbye, got into this brand-new car and it refused to start!  So much for new cars and Hans' trust in them.  (Though, in all fairness, the car had probably sat out there for about four hours or so.)

The two pictures below were taken in 1989, shortly after buying the car.

As the Wirt was too busy just then to help jump-start the car, we decided the only alternative was to stay the night.  Luckily they had rooms and one was available.  I was not exactly pleased with this turn of events, but no doubt it was a good choice if for no other reason than that we had had a fair amount of wine over the course of the evening.  The following morning was a Sunday and after breakfast (included with the overnight stay), with Herr Gass' starter cables and his help, we headed for home.  Today it is a pleasant memory and a tale to relate.
Below, Lina at the back and Monika at left, along with me
On this Sunday noon hour with our friends we had wine for dinner, which wasn't Gewürtztraminer.  That particular wine goes beautifully with a goose or duck pate or with Münster Käse, for example, but not usually with a dinner.  Munster cheese in North America is not the same as that produced in Germany and Alsace, France.  We have bought ours a number of times direct  from a farmer in the Vosges mountains of Alsace and that is the best.  That is also where it is renowned and where Münster Käse originated.  It is made from raw cows' milk and has a soft orange rind and a very distinctive and strong odour.  (A cheese to keep well covered when not being eaten!)

Hans and I chose the same meal, sharing a platter of pork fillet with an herb and garlic sauce, potato croquettes and a platter of fresh vegetables topped with hollandaise sauce.  All of it superb.

Monika ordered wild boar steak with mushrooms, shown below (the mushrooms cover the wild boar).  She also opted for the potato croquettes and pronounced it all as being flavourful and delicious.

Lina ordered Reh with Pfifferlingen, which is venison with chanterelle mushrooms.  It looked delicious.  Lina, though, was not happy!  The reason Lina was so unhappy was because Schinken had been added to the Pfifferlingen.  That is the usual way to cook those mushrooms as nearly always will the slightly smoked-type, diced bacon be part of that dish.  She didn't eat another bite of the Pfifferlingen though she did eat her venison and said that it was excellent.  She told the young waiter that the menu should have stipulated that the mushroom dish included Schinken.  Each time he came to the table--a very personable young man and the nephew of the Wirt--she brought it up.  Lina always speaks her mind!  He humoured her and eventually she smiled and said little more about it.  We suggested that she should have asked if Schinken was part of the dish, as in the Schwarzwald that is the way it is usually served.  (The Kaiserstuhl, though not really in the Black Forest, is part of that culinary area.)  
Lina's venison, chanterelles and croquettes
Lina and I had dessert after dinner (both of us had ice cream, mine with a chocolate sauce and hers, scoops of different flavours). That helped to make up for the Pfifferlingen that she loves but didn't eat.  Hans ended up eating the mushrooms for her and enjoyed them immensely.  He did agree that perhaps there was a bit too much Schinken with them, but that they were excellent (though for Hans, who loves Schinken, it likely wasn't too much at all!)  Both Monika and Lina had salad before their meal; cranberry sauce accompanied both the wild boar and the venison. 

The drive through the countryside in the sun, back to Freiburg, took us through some lovely villages, which ended a very enjoyable afternoon--Pfifferlingen and Schinken or not!

Note:  As in most Gasthäuser and restaurants, meals are served from about 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. for Mittagessen (noon dinner) and between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. for Abendessen, the evening meal.  (Local Gasthäuser sometimes serve somewhat earlier in the evening, perhaps starting at about 5 p.m.)  More and more Gasthäuser are no longer open in the afternoons after the noon hour meal, but we have learned which ones are, so when out for a drive, we can always find a place in which to stop for a beer or a glass of wine.

Most Gasthäuser, if open during the afternoon, will usually offer some cold food, such as a cheese plate, a Schinken or ham plate (both with bread) and sometimes a warm egg dish or Bockwurst.  A few Gasthäuser serve warm food all day, but that is not usually the case.

The Gasthaus Sonne-Winzerstube in Jechtingen is open all day, except on Wednesdays, their weekly Ruhetag or day of rest.  It can be found on its website via "Google" by typing in the name of the Gasthaus, the town and region (Kaiserstuhl).


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