Friday, January 04, 2013

Germans and Apples

Because apples keep so well, fall and winter are good times to know about some dishes using apples. The Germans have a sort of love affair with the apple and I'd say their most popular fruit juice is apple juice. By German, I mean people of German background, not just the nationality German; so, people in Germany, Austria, about 2/3 of Switzerland, much of Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, much of Alsace and a fair part of Lorraine, as well as a part of northern Italy.* Even if you're a "picky" eater, please don't turn you nose up at some of the combinations until you have at least tried them. I believe I've told this little story before, but it bears repeating. Back in the 1980s I was traveling on a train (common transportation in Germany, and Europe in general) between Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, which are only about 20 miles apart. An American couple, likely in their 60s, was sitting across from me. Americans were frequently encountered in the area due to the large American military presence in what was then West Germany, but these folks were tourists. I started a conversation with them and found out they were from Seattle, so somewhere in the neighborhood of 5500 to 6000 miles from Germany. They were headed for Frankfurt and they wanted to know about places to eat, as this was their first trip to Germany. Since they would be getting off the train at the main train station in Frankfurt, I immediately recommended the "Dippegucker Restaurant am Hauptbahnhof," which simply means "the pot looker restaurant at the main train station." The lady then said she was afraid to try German food, as she might not like it, and that they would probably just go to McDonald's (McDonald's has many outlets in Germany, all of which sell beer and wine). So, she traveled about 6000 miles to eat a hamburger she could have gotten on any street corner in America? While it's been many years, I have to believe it took a great deal of self restraint on my part to keep from smacking her, kicking her in the shin, or calling her a "blöde Kuh," if not all three. ("Blöde Kuh" means stupid or silly cow, in German).
A pretty common German dish in many areas comes from Berlin and is simply "liver and onions," but the recipe includes sliced apples with the onions. For Germans, the liver is usually calves liver, but the substitution of beef or pork liver will not condemn you to prison, and while some Germans have told me the apples have to be green, like Granny Smiths, I've used Red Delicious for years and I have yet to turn into a pillar of salt, so use what you have and, by the way, I leave the skin on the apples. Here in America, you may see this dish on the menu of German restaurants as "Berlin Liver," or perhaps, "Berlin Style Liver."

Then there's "Himmel und Erde," or "Himmel un Ääd" in some Rhineland dialects, which means "Heaven and Earth." The dish is simply mashed potatoes and apples; that is, the (lightly cooked) apples are mashed in with the potatoes. The name idea is, the apples represent the "heaven or sky," as they come from a tree, and the "earth" is represented by the potatoes, which have to be dug out of the ground. There are variations on this dish, depending upon the area, and some Germans use pears instead of apples. In the south, in Bavaria and Austria, I've seen recipes simply calling it "Puree of Apples and Potatoes." Germans often serve it with blood sausage (Blutwurst), Bratwurst, or liverwurst (Leberwurst). To give it some texture, I often don't completely mash the apples up, or if I don't have fresh apples, I add the store bought chunky apple sauce from a jar after the potatoes are mashed. Now if you think potatoes and apples don't go together, see the next listing.

Speaking of potatoes, potato pancakes are common in German areas, and they are usually accompanied by apple sauce, which is pretty common in the U.S. too. See, you've probably had potatoes and apples before. The standard German word for potato pancakes is "Kartoffelpfannkuchen," but there are a number of dialect terms and recipe variations like,  "Reibekuchen," "Döbbekuchen," "Döbbekooche," "Dibbekoche," "Dippedotz," "Reiberdatschi," "Rievekooche,"  "Grumbeer Pannekuche," and others. Some Germans believe the potatoes should be freshly grated, while others use potatoes first boiled in their skins. Besides the potatoes, there is some onion added (either grated or finely chopped), as well as some flour and salt. To this base recipe some regions add chopped bacon, or even whole strips of bacon are placed on top and the dish is finished in the oven. In the past, lard was commonly used for frying, but nowadays oil is more common.

Swiss Germans make a fried apple dish (Apfel Bröisi), which is thin bread slices fried in butter and sugar, then apple slices are added and fried further until the apples are soft. The dish is topped with fresh dabs of butter, sugar and cinnamon. 

Germans add apples to sauerkraut or to red cabbage (called Rotkohl, Rotkraut, or Blaukraut, depending upon region). In some areas, especially in Austria and Bavaria, apples are cored, stuffed with raisins and walnuts or hazelnuts (sometimes cranberries and lemon zest are added too) and are baked in white wine, butter, and sugar, which combine in a syrupy sauce, to which apple brandy (Schnapps) can be added. The finished dish, called "Bratäpfel" (baked apples), or "Besoffene Bratäpfel" ('drunken' baked apples, because of the wine and schnapps) is often served with warm vanilla sauce, made with heated milk, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla.

If you're in the German state of Hessen (often Hesse, in English), you'll want to finish your meal with a nice glass or ten of apple wine, which is really like hard apple cider, and is a specialty of Hessen in general, but particularly of Frankfurt. The standard German word for this drink is "Apfelwein," but there are variations in Hessian dialect, including ""Ebbelwoi,"  "Äppelwei," or "Stöffche," and you can get it by the glass ("Rippenglas;" that is "ribbed glass," which has ridges for a good grip) or the "Bembel" (a stoneware jug), and after a few of either, you won't much care what name the Hessians call it ... ah ... at least that's what I've heard.  

* Alsace and Lorraine are parts of eastern France.  

Apple-This noun goes back to Indo European "abol," "abel," the exact meaning of which is unclear, but which had to do with "produce of trees and vines," and there are forms in other, non Germanic, languages too. Its Old Germanic offspring was "aplaz," which meant "fruit, nuts." This gave Old English (Anglo-Saxon) "aeppel," which meant "fruit," and later this became "appel," before the modern version. It wasn't until the 1500s and 1600s that the meaning narrowed to the specific type of fruit we now call an "apple." Translations of the Bible over time generally used "forbidden fruit" in the Garden of Eden, but some translations called this fruit "apple," from the general meaning of the word back then. Common in the other Germanic languages: standard German "Apfel," all sorts of German dialect forms like "Ebbel," "Appel," "Apel," "Äppel," "Äbbel," "Epfel," "Ebbfe," "Opfe," Low German Saxon and Dutch "Appel, West Frisian "apel," Danish "aeble," Icelandic "epli," Norwegian "eple," and Swedish "äpple." 

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Blogger Seth said...

I eat applesauce and sour cream with my potato pancakes. You've made me hungry. All those dialect terms, Jonnie should like this. Where's he been I wonder. Hope he's OK.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Hopefully he's just watching the German language movies he said he was getting for Christmas.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Johnniew said...

Here I am. I had health problems and I havent been out. I loved this article and I think I could use a glass or ten of that hard apple cider.

9:50 AM  

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