Dinner in Oberwarngau, Bavaria
Königsberger Klopse with New Potatoes
Though not specifically from Bavaria, this dish of pork meatballs gently cooked in broth is common throughout Germany. It originated in the historic Prussian town of Königsberg, which, after a long history of boundary-changing and alternating ownership, eventually became what is now Kaliningrad, Russia. It contains the typically Mediterranean ingredients capers, lemon, and anchovies - ingredients which are not common in German cuisine aside from this very dish, contributing to its characteristic piquant flavor. Capers are thought to be an appetite stimulant, so this will warm you up for the feast to follow! (Contains gluten, dairy, fish, eggs).
This heavily marinated and braised beef is generally regarded as one of the national dishes of Germany. Typically made with beef, there are regional variations that sometimes use horse, pork or game meats. While its origins are murky, legend has it that the dish came to be when Julius Caesar sent amphoras full of beef marinating in wine over the alps. Given Caesar's death predates the city of Cologne, this is unlikely since it's generally agreed that sauerbraten was mainly popularized in Cologne in the 13th century. Sauerbraten translates to “sour roast” - a fairly tough cut of meat is essentially pickled in a vinegar / wine marinade for several days. This long marinade tenderizes and flavors the meat, and then after hours of braising, the juices are returned to the pan with crumbled gingersnaps, raisins and honey to thicken into a hearty and sweet gravy. German cooks originally would have used leftover lebkuchen, ginger bread, or honey bread to thicken the sauce, but German immigrants to the United States cleverly began adding gingersnaps as a roux to the gravy, and now that has become the standard. (Contains gluten).
Spätzle with Herb Butter
These egg noodles are a specialty of the Swabian region of Germany, which straddles the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Swabian spätzle is so deeply ingrained in the culinary traditions of this region that it is protected as a regional product by an EU designation of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which serves to highlight traditional regional foods (this designation is like a copyright law for foods); thus, our spätzle couldn’t be sold as “Swabian spätzle”, though it is made in the traditional style. We’re using a compound herb butter in place of the traditional plain butter for frying just prior to serving. While this is not necessarily traditional, it was suggested by my Grandma Joyce, and so has Grandma’s seal of approval. Centuries ago, the pasta was shaped by hand and scraped off of a cutting board directly into the cooking water, and the shapes were thought to resemble small birds - spätzle translates literally to “little sparrow.” (Contains gluten, eggs, dairy; vegetarian).
This warm dish of braised red cabbage is commonly served with sauerbraten. Its name translates to “red leaf”, and there are variations of it throughout Germany. In Bavaria, it is traditionally a slightly sweeter preparation, with the addition of apples and brown sugar. Though cabbage is native to the Mediterranean region, it traveled to Germany via Italy and Greece, and spread widely throughout the country by 1500 CE - although it was primarily used for its healing properties when used as a poultice. Eventually, it was incorporated into the German diet, and is a culinary staple today. (Contains dairy; no gluten).
This creamy cucumber salad provides a lighter complement to the rich dishes in this menu. As with almost every other dish, it has both sour and sweet components, and indeed, the sour-sweet pairing is fairly characteristic of German cuisine. The cucumber itself is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables; it originated in India, and was likely brought to Germany via the expanding Roman Empire around the 1st century CE. Today, Bavaria produces more cucumbers than any other German state. (Contains dairy; vegetarian, no gluten).
These cookies are traditionally a Christmas treat in Germany, but they are so delicious and so important in Bavaria that we decided to include them with this menu. Though lebkuchen are baked all around Germany, they are a fixture at the famous Nuremberg Christmas Markets. First baked by monks in the 13th century who used communion wafers as a base for the wet dough, Back Oblaten are baking wafers now made exclusively for the purpose of baking Lebkuchen. There are regional variations and countless recipes for lebkuchen, but this particular version is unique to Nuremberg, and “Nürnberger Lebkuchen'' holds a protected status similar to that of Swabian spätzle. It is called Elisenlebkuchen, and contains a high percentage of nuts and nut flours, and very little wheat flour. The other ingredient crucial to all lebkuchen is lebkuchengewürz, which is the blend of spices that give lebkuchen their characteristic flavor - cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, star anise, ginger, mace, cardamom, and nutmeg. (Contains gluten, nuts, dairy, egg; vegetarian).
Beer holds a special place in the hearts of Bavarians. With strict laws governing it’s production and one the largest celebrations of beer in the world, nothing pairs better with Bavarian food than Bavarian beer. Despite the limitations of the Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law), there are numerous styles of Bavarian beer, ranging from the light and quaffable (Oktoberfest styles are brewed specifically for their drinkability) to dark and smoky (Rauchbier is made in the old-world style by toasting the malt over an open fire, thus imparting the beer with a distinct smoky flavor). Whatever your preference, Bavaria has a beer for you, and Arbor Farms Market has an excellent selection from some of the most iconic breweries in Bavaria. Prost!
The tiny hamlet of Oberwarngau - encompassing a geographic area of approximately 0.5 square miles, and with a population of about 800 people - does not have a lot going on in the news these days. There are arguments between farmers and mountain bikers, discussions of when the church bells should ring, and some fairly familiar small-town skirmishes about water quality and childcare. Oberwarngau, though, happens to be the hometown of my (Forrest’s) great great grandfather, a piece of family history I only recently learned while consulting my Grandma Joyce for this menu. The small town also shares the culture and history of Bavaria, the largest state in Germany.
The earliest known inhabitants of modern Bavaria were ancient Celtic tribes, who settled there in the 5th century BCE. The Romans conquered the area at the beginning of the common era, and sustained control until the 5th century CE, when Germanic tribes defeated the Romans; it was one of these tribes (the Baiovarii) that gave Bavaria its name. In the 7th and 8th centuries CE, Bavaria was Christianized by Scottish and English monks, and in the 8th century CE, it became part of the Holy Roman Empire. This is something that sets Bavaria apart from the rest of Germany - its current population is much more Roman Catholic than that of greater Germany, which leans more Protestant (though both religions are in decline across Germany). Bavaria was an independent kingdom allied with France until it joined the Germanic Federation forces opposing Napoleon in 1815 and its current status as a German state was established in 1919. More recent history does, of course, include a terrible chapter of Adolf Hitler and Naziism. The first concentration camp was built at Dachau - just outside of Munich - in 1933. Though there was much Nazi support in Bavaria, there was also substantial opposition to its anti-Catholic rhetoric.
Bavaria covers a vast 27,500 square miles - about one-fifth of the entire area of Germany. Its population of 13 million, however, comprises only 15 percent of Germany’s population, most of whom still live in small, rural villages. Despite its relatively small populace, Bavaria has had an outsized impact on German cuisine. The Allgäu region in the very southwest corner of Bavaria is Germany’s lead butter- and cheese-producing region. Traditional Bavarian food is hearty fare - lots of roasted meat and potatoes, pasta, dumplings, bread and cheese. The stereotypes that many people have about traditional German garb and food are largely rooted in the traditions of the Bavarian Alps - Alpine attire (Lederhosen for men, dirndl for women), stomp-dancing (Schuhplattler), and sausages.
And then, of course, there’s the beer. Germany’s famed Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) originated in Bavaria in 1516, and decreed that beer can have only four ingredients: hops, barley, water, and yeast. Though the law was originally intended to prevent grains that could be used for bread-making from being used for beer-brewing (presumably because everyone would choose to make beer over bread), it has remained in place for over 500 years, and indeed, the law was adopted throughout Germany in 1906. There are slight modifications to the law that allow modern brewers to experiment in their craft, and to produce more complex beers for export; the law is not without detractors, but for the most part, it is a point of pride for Germans. The famed Oktoberfest celebration originated in Munich in 1810 in celebration of a royal marriage; today it draws millions of visitors and lasts for two weeks, ending on the first Sunday of October. Oktoberfest celebrations all over the world seek to replicate the Bavarian tradition of gemütlichkeit, or cordiality. Most Bavarians are very proud of their heritage as distinct from that of the rest of Germany, and identify as Bavarian first, and German second.
Bavaria is a land of great natural beauty - high plateaus, mountains, rivers, and dense forests. It is also home to many medieval castles and palaces, the most famous of which is Neuschwanstein (the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom castle). Bavaria’s truly inordinate number of picturesque castles is due in part to its importance in the Holy Roman Empire, but largely to the fantastical vision and drive of King Ludwig II, the “fairy tale king.” Though there are competing theories, the mountains, forests, and castles of Bavaria are a supposed backdrop to many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Though the Grimm brothers were born and raised outside of Bavaria, their collections of folk tales were intended to draw a unifying thread through folk legends that were passed from generation to generation throughout the countryside of Germany. Though it is easy to write their work off as children’s fare, the brothers are, in fact, credited with the birth of the study of modern folklore. You might be familiar with the Disney versions of many of the tales (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.); these are a minute sampling of the collected tales, and a very whitewashed sampling at that. See the resources section if you want to add a dark (but highly didactic!) twist to your dinner!
Featured Recipe: Rotkraut
Makes 8-10 servings
1.26 kg red cabbage, halved, cored and sliced to ¼ in thickness (about 1 medium red cabbage)
200g smoked slab or thick cut bacon, cut into ½ in cubes
300g yellow onion, minced (about 1 large onion)
300g granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½ cubes (about 2 large apples)
1 cup dry red wine
130g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp chili pepper
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
3 juniper berries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons salted butter
Heat a dutch oven, or similar large, heavy bottomed pot with lid over medium high
Add the bacon and cook until it begins to crisp and turns into lardons and some fat has rendered out, remove and set aside
Add the onions and saute in rendered bacon fat until translucent.
Add the apples and saute for 4-5 minutes.
Add the cabbage, stir to coat and saute until just beginning to sweat, just a few minutes
Add the wine, brown sugar, salt, cayenne, cloves and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch into the vinegar, then add to the pot along with the butter; stir until butter is melted. Simmer, uncovered, 20 more minutes, or until most of the liquid has cooked off and the cabbage is very tender.
Remove the bay leaves before serving
Recipes Inspired By:
My Grandma, Joyce Lickers, whose grandparents immigrated from Bavaria in the early 1900s
The Daring Gourmet, an excellent online resource with recipes from all over the world but particularly exceptional recipes for German cuisine
Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
A succinct history of Bavaria
Most popular cheeses of Bavaria
Enjoy this slideshow of the fantastical castles of King Ludwig II
Brief plot summaries of selected Grimm’s Fairy Tales