The beginning of Oktoberfest started on Saturday (the 19th) and lasts through October 4th. Morning sickness got in the way of checking out the Oktoberfest activities in the area and cooking last year, so we are definitely making up for it this year. Check out the blog this week for German and German-style recipes. I have also linked previous German and Oktoberfest recipes from the blog, plus more from other bloggers. I would also like to share with you a book I just finished reading, Beyond Bratwurst: A History of Food in Germany (Foods and Nations).
While it is not a cookbook and there are no recipes, Beyond Bratwurst: A History of Food in Germany (Foods and Nations)is a fascinating read for those wanting to learn more about the history behind food in Germany. It is exceptionally detailed, dating all the way back to the foundation of permanent settlements and crops in the Neolithic Age to the promotion and backlash of processed foods in the Present Day.
The author, Ursula Heinzelmann, is a freelance German journalist and writer from Berlin. She has contributed to the following publications: Effilee, Slow Food, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Gastronomica, Saveur and Culture, the word on cheese. She is also the author of Erlebnis Essen – vom Duft der Erdbeere und der Würze des Teltower Rübchens (2006), Erlebnis Kochen – Manifest für eine Küche ohne Rezepte (2007), and Food Culture in Germany (Food Culture around the World).
Chapters are divided based on era: German Food: A Complex Dish; From Gruel to Sourdough Bread: The Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages; Fresh Meat and Lac Concretum: The Roman Age, 1st Century BC to 5th Century AD; Christianity, Social Stratification and Medicine: The Early Middle Ages, 5th to 11th Century; Luxurious Feasts and Terrible Famine: The High Middle Ages, 11th to 14th Century; Butterbrot and Saffron: The Late Middle Ages, 14th and 15th Centuries; German Food Writing: The Early Modern Period, 1500 to 1648; Coffee, Sugar and Potatoes, 1648 to 1815; Potatoes without Salt and Soup Kitchens: Pauperism, 1815 to 1871; Stock Cubes and Baking Powder: The Industrialization of Food, 1871 to 1914; Hope and Hunger, Vollkornbrot and Swedes, 1914 to 1949; Kasslerrollen and Toast Hawaii: Post-war Indulgence, East and West, 1949 to 1990; and Spaghetti and Rouladen: Regionality in a Globalized World, Reunified Germany since 1990.
This book isn’t just about the food and dishes popular in German history, but also the social aspects surrounding it. You will learn about manners, social etiquette, the development of kitchens (plus how they were managed and everyday chores), and the introduction of appliances such as refrigerators and microwaves. Government involvement in the form of laws and regulations, plus the importation and exportation of goods are also mentioned.
I particularly enjoyed the interesting tidbits and facts. Weak beer (2 percent) was once safer than water. During the High Middle Ages, pregnant and nursing women were encouraged to consume certain foods, but avoid others. The advice for wet nurses to avoid sharp foods such as onions, garlic, vinegar, and pepper is actually coming around again as foods to avoid with colicky infants. Almond milk (almonds soaked in water) was used as an alternative to dairy milk for vegan fast days. Cooking vessels following World War II were often made from military hardware such as helmets.
On a personal level, I loved reading about the history of many places I have visited. Germany’s oldest city, Trier, was mentioned during the times of the Holy Roman Empire. Walking through Trier a few years ago and seeing all the Roman ruins (Porta Nigra- city gate and the Imerial Baths) up close was quite the experience. While I was too young to remember, I lived in Germany during the reunification and enjoyed reading how food was influenced on both sides.
The development of popular German dishes are scattered throughout the book, including Lebkuchen, Thueringer Kloesse, Currywurst, Kalter Hund, and Toast Hawaii. You will learn about the beginnings of many brands that are still popular today, such as Maggi, Knorr, and Dr. Oetker. Influence from outside regions and cultures is also explained. Venetian merchants brought spices from Asia during the 10th century. The Slavs introduced buckwheat during the High Middle Ages. Coffee, sugar, and potatoes were imported from the Americas. Guest workers were brought in during the labor shortages of the 1960s from Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, and Yugoslavia. Turkey in particular has left a heavy influence with the introduction of the Doenerbuden (Doner kebab stands). Italian immigrants brought Ice Cream Parlors, Pizzerias, and Italian-style twists on German foods (such as Mailänder Art). When I was in Germany, ice cream trucks and Eiscafés were still mostly run by Italian-Germans.
Germany has had many dark times in its history that led to famine, malnutrition, and disease: the Great Famine (which exacerbated the Great Plague a few years later), the Thirty Years’ War, World War I (Kohlruebenwinter- turnip winter), World War II, and the rebuilding period following the war. Rationing during WWI and WWII are explained in detail with types of food available and caloric consumption. These times often led to the emigrants that settled in Holland, America, Brazil, and Australia.
Food writing and journalism are also highlighted. Cookbooks in Germany had their beginnings in medical texts. Prescription and recipe even share the same word in German: das Rezept. Heinzelmann mentions many of the most notable cookbooks and magazines over the years.
The book ends with current food trends, plus a listing of the top dishes today (Spaghetti bolognese, Spaghetti with tomato sauce, Schnitzel, Pizza, Rouladen, Asparagus, Sauerbraten, Lasagna, Steak, and Nudelauflauf making the top ten).
I have not personally read them yet, but other books in the collection include: Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India (Reaktion Books – Foods and Nations)and Al Dente: A History of Food in Italy (Reaktion Books – Foods and Nations).
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from The University of Chicago Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Here are the German recipes available on the blog:
And other recipes featuring pretzels and beer:
Plus more from other blogs: