Saturday, October 29, 2011

Autumn Celebrations and Fests

September and October herald the autumn celebrations in both Canada and Germany.  For young and old it is a time to be thankful for the bountiful harvest, for the trees changing colour during usually sunny, beautiful days and for fresh root and trailing above-ground vegetables in all the markets.  Thanksgiving in both countries is in early October, just one week apart; in the United States, about six to seven weeks later.

The picture at left shows the fall vegetables at a market near Berwick, Nova Scotia, taken the day before I returned to Germany in mid September.

The picture of the grapes on the vine was taken by Hans in the Kaiserstuhl, south of us here in Germany, in September.  The forecast for the grape harvest this year is that it will be both plentiful and of good quality. 
The market below, one of our favourites, is held in the countryside in Freiamt--about 30 minutes southeast from us--every Friday afternoon. 
Onion tarts and new wine are traditionally served together.  The onion tart has a pastry crust, with sour cream or creme fraiche (sometimes sweet cream) mixture spread on top and covered with onions and Schinken (similar to bacon).  It is then baked in a special oven. That first new wine is sweet and with each week that passes it become drier and clearer (note the colour of the very new wine in our glasses below).  Some of that wine is kept for the fall harvest period and onion tart time; most of it goes into barrels and will not be sold until the following year.

Below is the Zwiebelkuchen we had at the Freiamt market with our glasses of Neuerwein from the newly pressed grapes.  

Zwiebelkuchen (Onion Tart) - The pastry for onion tart is not like North American pie crust.  There are various recipes for it, depending on where it is made.  The crust will be made with flour, sometimes yeast is added, salt, milk or water or sometimes light cream, sometimes an egg, butter and sugar.  The topping will include either sour cream or creme fraiche (often a combination of the two) or sweet cream.  One that the German cook at former Canadian Forces Hospital Europe made had fresh cream and eggs in the topping.

Our friend Monika uses flour, yeast, salt, a little water and a little oil for her crust.  For the topping, she mixes together 200 grams of sour cream (about three-quarters of a cup), 1 egg, salt and pepper.  She cuts smoked Schinken (or smoked bacon)--amount wished--into narrow strips.  She slices about a pound of onions (or the amount wished) and  puts them into some sour cream to soften them, leaving them in the cream for two to three hours in the fridge.  (Or instead, as some recipes call for, saute the sliced onions in a little bacon fat until soft, but not browned.)  Note:  Sour cream in Germany is naturally soured, not artificially as it is in North America; therefore, it is much milder in taste.

Assemble:  Spread the onions and bacon over the crust.  Pour the cream mixture over all.  Bake in a hot oven, about 400F to 425F (200C to 220C) (depending on your oven), for 35 to 40 minutes.  Don't let it burn; cover it lightly if necessary during the early baking.

Autumn also heralds many Oktoberfests, one of which is our favourite and it takes place each year on the last weekend of September.  Those celebrations are held at the Gasthaus Linde in Wallburg, just seven or so minutes from where we live.  Now we make sure that each year we return from Nova Scotia in time to attend.  This is the same Gasthaus where I go for chicken every week, so I know it well--and they know me well, too!
Albrecht and Waltraud:  the Wirt and Wirtin at the Gasthaus Linde
The Oktoberfest at Rust, which I wrote about a week ago, and the one at the Linde are a contrast in size.  In Rust, it is a huge hall with a thousand people in it.  In Wallburg, it is small, friendly, warm and personal.  As we would say in Germany:  Gemütlich!  Both fests have good food, lots to drink and great live music.

Below, a view of the area, showing Hans in both.

The Linde set up for their fest in a covered area behind their Gasthaus, with the traditional benches and picnic-style tables covered in the Bavarian blue and white colours.  Red geraniums (still perfect from spring), hung from the walls as did blue and white banners.
Below, a good view of the area (geraniums in the back) with the band master (forefront) taking a break

The table service was excellent, with the servers or waitresses in Trachten as was the case at Europa Park's Oktoberfest.  (I did err in my blog post about that when I said the servers at Europa Park wore Black Forest Trachten.  They actually wore Bavarian Trachten as did those at the Linde and as did I.  These two fests are, after all, Bavarian-type fests.)  What stood out at both was the number of people wearing the traditional dress, more than we have seen in the past few years.  This, too, added to the Gemütlichkeit.  My own dress I bought two years ago, wearing it on a number of similar occasions.

Here I am with Hans' beer stein in front of me and my own glass of Weinschorle, a mixture of half white wine and half carbonated mineral water.  I find that at fests the white wine is not to my particular liking as it is generally just a normal table wine or everyday wine.  Weinschorle is a good substitute and has only half the alcohol content.
The Oktoberfest weekend at the Linde began on Saturday evening with food and live music; then, again, on Sunday morning for Frühschoppen; once more on Sunday evening and, lastly, on Monday evening.  Live music, food and beer were part of all the celebrations.  (Bavaria is known for its beer and Oktoberfest is traditionally a beer fest!)  Waltraud told us later that on every single day or evening all the benches were filled.  One night they had to bring in more tables to accommodate the crowd.  Each year, as it becomes more and more known, it becomes more and more popular.
Here I am (centre) in mid morning, with things just getting underway
Hans and I went for Sunday morning Frühschoppen at around 10.30, which traditionally begins after church services.  Throughout the year many Gasthäuser have Frühschoppen on Sunday mornings, although it is usually just the men who go after church, sit at the Stammtisch and enjoy a beer and conversation, while their wives go home to prepare the traditional Sunday Mittagessen or noon dinner.  For a fest, everyone goes to Frühschoppen--men, women and children--and partakes in the food that is offered along with beer and wine and, of course, soft drinks and mineral water. 

The band started playing at 10 a.m. and they continued until 3 p.m., with breaks just every half hour--and not for long.  That band is also one of the reasons that brings us there.  They are fantastic.  They call themselves "Die Lustige Funfzigers" (The Happy Fifty-Year Olds) and all, with the exception of perhaps three or four, are now well over 50 (there are more than 25 of them altogether).  The average age is 66, which means many of them are now in their 70s, one of them being in his late 80s.  They play the music we love:  marches, folk music, popular songs, polkas and drinking songs.  Clap along music!  And, as at the Europa Park Oktoberfest, lots of "Prost, Prost, Prost!" ringing throughout.
Hans doing his bit:  Prosit!
Hans' favourite piece of music at a fest and one of his favourite at any time is "Alte Kameraden," military marching music.  Below, this was the piece of music on their music stands and it was played specifically for him as he had requested it, something he does each year.  It is all about "old or former comrades."  Everyone clapped to that wonderful marching music.
The cost of the food and drinks at a fest is always reasonable--usually less than at the regular Gasthaus prices--although with less choice than if ordering from a regular menu inside the Gasthaus.  (At a fest, it will nearly always be a special menu outside and also inside if the fest is taking place there as well).  Here, at the Linde, as at Europa Park, Bavarian specialties were the order of the day.  

Below is the food I ordered:  Schweinebraten and Sosse, Rotkohl and Kartoffelbrei (roast pork and gravy with red cabbage and mashed potatoes).  That is a typical Bavarian meal and also one found all over Germany.  Delicious!  I gave Hans' recipe for red cabbage in my blog of December 16, 2010.

Hans ordered Haxen mit Kartoffelsalat und Brot (pork hock with potato salad and bread).  The potato salad was not made with mayonnaise but with broth.  Hans said his meal was also excellent.

The beer came from Bayern as it did at the Europa Park.  At the Linde, they had Löwenbräu, another well-known Bavarian beer.
As a note of interest, the original (first) and largest Oktoberfest is still at the "Wiesn" in Munich.  This is and was a great Oktoberfest, one to which we shall return, next year perhaps with friends from Canada. 
Autumn is a time to enjoy nature and the bounty from the fields and gardens; a time to visit the markets and to sit in the sun with a good glass of beer or wine.  It is also the time to reflect on life's pleasures and one's own life, to think about family and friends near and far, present and past and, most of all, to be thankful for all that we have.
The Thanksgiving display at the beautiful  350-year-old pilgrimage church in our small town
May you all have had a wonderful Thanksgiving and beautiful autumn season and may our friends and relatives, who live in the United States, enjoy theirs in November.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Germany's Oktoberfest Days: Sausages, Pretzels and Beer

Our Canadian and American family and friends usually celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner and all the trimmings.  Here in Germany--although good food is also important--this is the time for many fall fests.  This year we have enjoyed several, one of them with good friends visiting from Canada, a wonderful day for us all.  The largest Oktoberfest in our area is at Europa Park in the town of Rust, about a 30-minute drive from our house.  Our friends had arrived in the area at the perfect time.

Two views of Europa Park before entering:  the one on the left from outside in a parking area; the other, inside the fence but not inside the amusement park itself.

Europa Park is a huge entertainment park in the manner of Disneyland and Disney World.  It is the largest seasonal theme park in the world, with 4 million visitors a year.  Each year it becomes larger, with new rides, new buildings and new live entertainment, attracting families and others from all over Europe and beyond.

The picture below:  Blue and white are the colours of Bayern.  The beer glasses (each is a Mass--1 Liter) are also Bavarian, with the label of the Hofbräuhaus on them.


In late September and early October the owner brings in a band and entertainers from the Hofbräuhaus in München.  There is no cover charge and no cost other than for any food and drinks that one might order.  This year, a Mass of beer (1 liter) cost Euro 8.80.  Not cheap, but the entertainment was free.  The largest Oktoberfest in the world is held in Munich each year during the last week in September and the first week in October, with the most famous beer hall being the Hofbräuhaus, which is open all year.  The beer hall has nothing to do with the Oktoberfest, but they do have a huge tent during that period along with another 13 or so other large tents erected for the celebration.

Below, on the left: Bob, me, Jean and Leslie; on the right foreground, Erin.  Hans took the picture.

Jean, Leslie and Hans in the picture at left; Hans and Erin in the one below right.
Our friends Jean Robertson and Leslie and Bob Climie with their daughter, Erin, all of whom had recently arrived in Germany on holiday (from Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Ontario) joined us at the Oktoberfest in Rust.  The hall, which is large, had as many people as we have seen there (we've been several times), perhaps about 1,000, maybe more.  We had gone early, so we were fortunate to find a front row table.  Everyone sits next to another at picnic-style tables and benches stretching in long lines throughout the hall.  At a fest, everyone, young or old, gets into the spirit of the day or evening.  Before you know it, you are "prosting" with someone across from you or with someone beyond you.

Jean and I

The server beside Bob is dressed in Black Forest-style Trachten. 

The young girl opposite is also dressed in Trachten.

The fest brings to mind another visit to the Europa Park back in the early 1990s.  In years past, Hans organized medieval dinner evenings there for Canadian friends and colleagues who were still here (before the closure of Canadian Forces Base Lahr in 1993 and 1994).  These dinners were held during the winter months when the park was closed.  (It still offers many forms of entertainment during those months, including the medieval dinners.  The park closes for the season this year on 6 Nov 2011, re-opening in early April 2012.)  On that particular occasion in 1993, we were one of the last to leave, getting home a little after midnight.

We had, of course, drunk quite a lot of red wine, as it flowed throughout the dinner--all as part of the price, which at that time was 95 Marks per person, steep for that era.  Today, it costs 69 Euros per person, about $35 per person more than in 1993.  We both felt at the time that it was well worth the cost as it included a six-course meal, all the wine you could drink, and entertainment that included a juggler and minstrels.

The group of us below at the dinner in June 1993, less than two months before Canadian Forces Headquarters Europe and Canadian Forces Hospital Europe--where each of us worked--closed.

Shortly after getting home that night, I realized that I did not have my reading glasses.  Unbeknownst to Hans (who had gone upstairs), I headed back to the park.  The gate was still open and the lights were on.  The building in which we had had dinner, however, was locked.  So what to do?  I wandered around hoping to find someone, but I finally had to give up, so headed back to the gate.  Lo and behold, it was now locked and I could not find another exit!  I sat on a bench to decide my next course of action.  By now, it was at least 1 a.m.  Not a soul was in sight, so I concluded that I was locked up there for the night.  (I had no cell phone as one would have today.)  The next thing I knew, a guard with a dog--barking and snarling--came toward me.  The guard asked what I was doing there.  In my poor German I nervously tried to explain about my "Brille," luckily a word I remembered.  I talked as fast as I could and thankfully he understood me and believed me.  He led me to the gate, unlocked it and out I gladly went.  I breathed a sigh of  relief when I climbed into my car and set off once more for home--without, of course, my glasses.

Both of us in our bibs at the dinner.  The spots on us were on the negatives received, so it is not that we were sloppy!

The morning after the night before, I said nothing.  Instead, I went back out to the car, ready to go back to the park.  First, though, I did a thorough search of the car.  And there, on the floor between the seats, were my glasses!  It had been too dark the night before and perhaps because of the wine or because I was tired, I had not found them then.  It has ensured that I have never forgotten that Medieval Dinner at Europa Park.  It also has ensured that I was very careful at the Oktoberfest this year!

Below is the certificate Hans received as the organizer and go-between for Europa Park and Log Branch HQ

Back to the present with Bob, Jean and I in the swing of things, though I seem to be working at it!  We are waving and clapping to the music, along with others

The six of us ate, drank beer and wine and soft drinks, clapped our hands to the live music, held arms and sang and swayed back and forth together--sitting and standing, but not on the benches as many of the younger crowd did, although it was tempting; in earlier days I suspect most of us would have done so.

Below, a view of a part of the hall with a group standing on the benches

Note that both Hans and I were in Trachten.  That means wearing traditional dress.  Both the Schwarzwald and Bayern are known for theirs.  That of the Black Forest is different than that in Bavaria, though all Trachten have similarities.  Hans and I were in the Bavarian style dress; the servers were in Black Forest style. 
A young woman serving a salad, pretzel, bread and soup.

The food at the Oktoberfests usually keeps to the theme; in other words, Bavarian specialties.  

Weisswurst is one such specialty and served with it is a Laugen Pretzel, along with sweet mustard that is made in Bayern.  For me, the mustard is as important as those white sausages, perhaps even more important.  (That mustard would also be excellent spread over a pork loin or shoulder before placing it in an oven to roast.  Of course, not everyone likes it, as one of our friends did not care for it, perhaps because of its sweetness.) 

 Weisswurst and a Pretzel

A sharp knife always comes with the sausages as the skin is removed before eating them.  There are several ways to remove the skin, but a good friend, who had grown up in Munich, showed us the way she had been taught as a child.  Hans now demonstrates to other friends how to do it her way.  Each time I have Weisswurst I have to remember all over again as I keep getting it wrong!  

The key is putting the fork into the sausage correctly and then placing the knife correctly.  For those who wish to do otherwise, some simply cut the skin down the length of the sausage and then remove the skin all at once.  Others cut the sausage into sections and remove the skin from each section.  Our late friend Linda's way is more fun!  The pictures below show how to do it her Bavarian childhood way. 

The fork is placed at the end as you see below left and right.  The knife is placed above it on a similar slant as the fork (almost touching it).  The last picture, below centre, shows the fork holding the piece of sausage and the tip of the knife holding onto the skin and slowly removing it, while lifting with the fork the piece that is being cut--minus the skin.  Much easier, of course, watching someone do it in front of you.  Hans demonstrates every time for me, although I think I got it right at the fest the first time!

Note the mustard on the Bavarian plate.  These pictures were actually taken at home when we had them a while ago.

The ingredients shown on the jar of mustard are as follows:  water, brown sugar, mustard seeds, brandy and spices.  Of course, the spices make a difference and they are not mentioned.

Below right, the mustard from the jar in our Bavarian dish. 


The young crowd standing and clapping on the benches beside us and Hans on the right with a filled Hofbräuhaus beer glass.

The day of the Oktoberfest was a day to remember for all of us.

Hans saying goodbye to Leslie and Bob