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Fastenzeit – Lent

Wolfach_FastnachtAs Germany quietens down after the raucous antics of Karneval those following the religious traditions are preparing themselves for Easter by observing the rules of Lent. Another German word for Karneval “Fastnacht” gives us a hint to its historical and religious background: Fast(ing) Night. The night or nights before the fast! It seems to be in human nature to indulge oneself in limitless debauchery and excess before restricting one’s lifestyle for a certain amount of time.

In general a fast is intended to draw one’s spirit closer to God and gain clearer insight and faith. Even though the term is mainly used in the Christian context, other faiths practice it too (Ramadan [Islam], Baha’I Faith [month of ‘Ala] and Judaism [on Yom Kippur day e.g.] to name a few).

Scrummy fasting meals

While all these religions have different rules for the fast, they have one thing in common: staying away from animal products, especially red meat. For some molluscs and fish are acceptable, but most will recommend vegetable and fruit based recipes. As Germany and the northern hemisphere are still in the grip of winter, most of the dishes are hearty, warming ones.

Rezept "Miesmuscheln Rheinische Art"But I remembered a well-loved classic that could be a nice one to try during summer time here: ‘Muscheln auf Rheinische Art’, mussles Rhine style. In Germany ‘Miesmuscheln’ are the preferred variety, due to their bite size. But I would guess any bite sized mussel or shellfish would do for this recipe.

For four adults as a main:

Ingredients

1kg fresh mussels ( less if Greenlipped ones are used)

1 leek (white part sliced in thin rings)

½ celeriac (diced, you can substitute celery if you can’t find celeriac)

1medium onion (finely diced)

2 medium carrots (finely diced)

1 garlic clove crushed

1 bay leaf

2 whole cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

1 bottle of dry Riesling or cab sav (alternatively use 700ml vegetable broth)

Butter

2 baguette sticks

Method:

Sautee carrot, onion, celeriac and leek in butter until soft.

Add fluid, bay leaf and cloves and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Bring to boil and add cleaned mussels. Mussels NEED to be closed before cooking, they should open during cooking. Discard any that haven’t.

Take of the boil once most are open. Serve with some of the broth and the vegetables and use the baguette to mop up all the yummy flavours!

This definitely qualifies as finger food and you should try using the first set of cleaned shells still attached to each other as a set of tongs for getting the flesh out of the others.

cremige_brokkolisuppe_mit_kaeseFor the vegetarian palate:

Creamed Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:

For four adults as mains:

2 medium/ 1 large broccoli

6 medium potatoes

½ small onion diced

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 tbsp sour cream or ¼ cup of whole milk

Grated parmesan and salt&pepper to taste

Method:

Peel and slice potatoes, trim stems of dried up ends and cut into chunks, dice onion.

Place all in saucepan with enough salted (1tbsp) water to cover and bring to boil.

Cook until potatoes are falling apart and broccoli is softish. Don’t cook it too long, it will lose its colour.

Place the pine nuts with a bit of the stock and some veges in the blender and zap until smooth and silky. Decant into another saucepan and continue to blend the rest of the stock and veges. If you prefer the soup a bit more chunky, zap less. Add the sour cream OR milk and give a good stir and a quick reheat.

Serve with fresh bread, some grated parmesan and fresh ground pepper.

Hope you enjoy these little treats and if you’d like to find out more about Germany and its history and traditions join us on one of our tours. Let us know what you want to discover and we will put you on the right track.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seasonal celebrations in Germany

As we gear up our barbecues and dig out the hats and shorts in preparation of the coming summer, Germany and the rest of Europe get ready for winter. Mind you sitting in my office listening to the rain beating against the windows of our South Wairarapa home you wouldn’t think summer is coming. Anyway, throughout Europe the finishing of the harvest and preparation for winter has been the reason for a range of festivities.

Martinmas aka St. Martin’s dayEl_Greco_-_San_Martín_y_el_mendigo

While Halloween has achieved international fame since its celtic harvest festival beginnings, St. Martin’s day remains a strictly European tradition. The day celebrates in various ways the life of the Saint Martin of Tours. The celebrations on this day cover two aspects of early social life: Thanksgiving for the harvest and the beginning of a fasting period in preparation for Christmas. Even though most of the celebrations have some things in common – food and parades – each country has their way of making them their own unique celebrations. Today I want to focus on the German way of celebrating it.

St. Martin in Germany

St._Martin_in_Duisburg-MündelheimIn modern Germany this is a celebration mainly for the kids, even though I’m sure the adults enjoy it as well. Rural and urban celebrations differ a bit, but they all have a procession in common. Generally starting at the parish church and going to the city or township centre, a procession led by St. Martin is the beginning of the evenings’ festivities. In rural communities St. Martin might even be on horseback, if he’s up to it. During the procession traditional church and folk songs are sung, which sounds impressive if the church choir is present. The children carry lanterns which used to have been made at school and used to depict religious images and scenes. Nowadays lanterns can be bought and come in all sorts of designs. At the end there is a bonfire, size of course depending on the locality.

I remember in my rural home village that the bonfire would be set in the middle of a bare paddock and have the local fire brigade standing by! Afterwards we would be led back to the community hall, get our Weckmann and start doing our rounds of the houses, singing the songs from the parade for lollies and other sweets. Kind of like the trick-or-treating at Halloween, except no repercussions for Scrooges.

Celebrate to beat the winter bluesUlmer_Weihnachtsmarkt_2008-2

This day and all the other activities throughout November and December make it easier to come to terms with the grey, dark and cold climate one has to endure. Every celebration has activities in preparation for it, lantern making, cookie baking, Christmas tree decoration making and then finally in the last four weeks before Christmas visiting family and getting presents ready. The Christmas markets throughout Germany offer a range of traditional crafts and foods to be enjoyed by the adults and the children hover with greedy anticipation over their Advent calendars.

Europe in New Zealand

With a lot of expat Germans in New Zealand, some of these traditions have made it down under: check your local papers for advertisements by the local German play- and learning group for these activities: St. Martins is usually on the 10.11. and any processions should happen then. Guests are normally very welcome and you get to try traditional German baking!

If you’d like to know more please contact us and we’ll do our best to help.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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