Monthly Archives: April 2017

Walpurgisnacht #MayDay #Witches

Praetorius_Blocksberg

What comes to your mind when someone mentions the 8th century? Could it be the introduction of the triangle harp by the Picts in Scotland? Or maybe the reign of Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Or the popular epic poem Beowulf, which could be as old as the 8th Century? Or marauding Vikings invading the coasts of Europe? Or of the Bendedictine nun and English missionary to the Frankish Empire Walburga, later to be canonized on May 1, 870, one hundred years after her death?

St. Walburga was born in Devonshire in 710. She was raised in a Benedictine Abbey during the time her father and brothers travelled as pilgrims to far-away holy lands. After twenty-six years in the abbey, she joined her brother St. Boniface in Germany to help with his missionary work there.

The goal was to strip the Germanic tribes of any pagan tendencies that might still flourish. St. Boniface prided himself as the destroyer of their greatest symbol: an oak tree in Geismar dedicated to Thor. The Germanic tribe believed that when felled, lighting would strike them all down. When Boniface felled the tree and nothing happened, he moved in and converted his counterparts to Christianity.

The eve of St. Walburga’s canonization, April 30, is still associated with pagans and pagan rituals. Traditionally, the eve of the Walburga Feast is celebrated with rites of fertility, bonfires and dancing. Lovers would commit the sex act on the fields to transfer their fertility to the soil, hoping for good yields. Witches were rumored to fly through the night, especially to the Blocksberg, a peak in the Harz Mountains often shrouded in mysterious cloud cover. A birch tree, a symbol of fertility, was erected and was the site of a traditional dance around the May Pole.

The name Walpurgisnacht was coined by Goethe in his play Faust. Today, the night of April 30-May 1 is in many European countries a reason to party. Finnland, Sweden, Holland and Denmark also observe this day that falls exactly a half year away from Halloween. And the first of May is a bank holiday, so enjoy your day off!

How are you spending your May Day?

Magic Me a Meal #history #food

book promo 3 square kitchen lores

What’s for dinner tonight?

Have a look in the pantry, see what you have, what you’re hungry for, and throw together something delicious. There’s a German idiom for just this situation that goes: schnell ein Essen zaubern! And that more or less means: magic me a meal! Let’s go back to the 17th century, specifically in Franconia, Germany: the absence of mod-cons, the hardship and toil and war, and eating whatever one is offered. How can we make a days-old leg of mutton or an old rabbit and some shriveled root vegetables edible let alone taste good? Magic me a meal!

Before we even think of cooking, we have to get this kitchen warm. Unfortunately, we used all the wood during the night because it was chilly and we have to find more wood. And if the fire went out altogether, we need either some embers from another fire or some dried straw, a flint stone, and a knife to get one going. Lug the firewood, light the fire, sit by until it’s burning. Once the fire is going we need water. The buckets are empty. Lug the water from the well, enough to cook with, and for whatever else we may need water for.

Looking in the cellar, I have carrots, onions, and some parsley root that has been stored in dry sand since September. They have shriveled up but they aren’t rotten. Once they are cooked they’ll taste good. A skinned wild rabbit has been hanging here for two days. It smells a bit gamey but it still looks useable. The cellar has a constant temperature summer and winter. (If I had a thermometer, it would probably be around 8° C or 45° F.) We still have some winter apples. These apples store nicely and are also a bit shriveled. In the garden I can dig up a horseradish root. Some kale is still standing in the garden because the spring hasn’t been that warm yet. Kale can stay out in the garden all winter.

We are lucky enough to have a master who is a traveling merchant, so we have pepper and cinnamon. And salt. We would die without salt. Not only does the body need salt to function, we need salt to preserve food. Last autumn, we dried salted deer meat and carp meat. We used all the grain last week and won’t have any more for another week or more. All we have left is old dried bread and ground acorns. The wine is sour but it actually tastes good in the cooking. The chickens have finally started laying again now that it’s spring so we have eggs. Lots of eggs. And the goat is still giving milk.

The fire is burning nicely atop the open hearth and all the chores are done so we can start cooking without being drawn away. Embers are gathered under a metal tripod and small pots set on top. The large iron pot can be hung from the chain rammed into the stone wall if we needed to cook a big meal but it won’t be necessary today. The smoke from the fire goes out the open flue but our eyes are still stinging and watering. The only outside light comes from a small window on the other side of the kitchen.

Chopping onions really makes our eyes water now. We chop some dried deer meat as well and then heat some fat in the pan, throw the onions and the deer meat into the pan, and let it fry. After it browns, we pour a half a bottle of that sour wine over the top. Zisch! Fumes from the sizzling wine and onions fill the kitchen and our mouths water! We sink the rabbit into the Sud, the stock. The sour wine will hide the gamey taste. Add salt, pepper and some cinnamon. In the garden, we pick sage leaves, just a few, some lavender, and a bit of rosemary that survived the winter. And we just gathered some Bärlauch, or wild garlic. This tasty herb can only be found in April and May, so we need to make the most of it. We can preserve some for later but it tastes best when it’s fresh.

Our main course is simmering away and we can think about side dishes and maybe even a dessert! So, carrots, old bread, ground acorns, eggs, milk, apples, cinnamon. Fresh kale and horseradish. Do we have any honey left? We decide to make a savory porridge out of water, carrots, onions, and ground acorns, salt and pepper. That will fill the belly. There will only be a mouthful of meat per person anyway. We put all of it in a pot and allow the savory porridge to simmer along side the rabbit. And how about a handful of chopped kale fried in fat with a bit of salt and topped with some freshly grated horseradish and a spoonful of rare goat’s cream?

Dessert: just because this is historical doesn’t mean we have to suffer! Old bread, milk, yes we have honey, apples. Let’s make a pudding. We heat the milk and apples and add the honey. The master also knows a beekeeper who is high up in the guild so we can get honey. It seems to disappear rapidly though. (I love honey.) Whisk in two eggs and watch it thicken. Then pour it over the pan filled with dried bread, set the pan on top of the hearth in a warm spot and hope it thickens more. If we had a fire in the oven we could bake it. But the oven is outside and we only stoke that up when we’re baking bread.

The rabbit should be done by now so we thicken the stock by crumbling the old bread into it. After spending the last two hours cooking, we are tasting our dishes more than we have to. The people we are cooking for hover around the kitchen like wolves who have smelled blood. We settle at the table and after a prayer of thanks to those forces we believe in, the room quiets at the task of devouring our delicious meal! Magic *

(I wrote this article for Donna Huber’s Girl-Who-Reads blog. Check out her site!)

St. Stephen’s #Cathedral in #Passau #MondayBlogs

A documentary about St. Stephen’s Cathedral with music from Quetsch-Bassiges GraZien Ensemble www.blasmusik-woelfl.com and thanks to Pia Olligschläger from the Passau Tourismus e.V. www.tourismus.passau.de

Situated in Lower Bavaria where the river Ilz and the river Inn join the Danube lays the city of Passau. Built on the highest point in the old town is the St Stephen’s Cathedral. St. Stephan’s as we see it today was built in 1668 after a devastating town fire destroyed the late gothic cathedral that stood here before. St. Stephen’s is well known for the impressive pipe organ, built in 1733 by Joseph Matthias Götz. It was considered the world’s largest organ until the organ in the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles took over that honor in 1990.

St. Stephen’s is a bishop’s cathedral and was founded in the 8th century. Since then it has always stood on this very spot. This is the fifth cathedral to stand here, the other four having been destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt. The plans for this cathedral were made by Italian baroque master Carlo Lurago. The interior stucco works and the frescos were also done by Italian baroque masters. The two towers of St Stephen’s shape the cityscape of Passau.

Passau, die Dreiflüssestadt or the City of Three Rivers.

What Inspires a Novel? #MondayBlogs #GermanHistory

Medieval and early modern Nuremberg was considered a free imperial city, an independent city-state, until its absorption into the Bavarian kingdom in 1806. As an independent city-state, Nuremberg was free to rule itself without being subordinate to the surrounding territorial leaders. The only one they had to answer to was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

In Nuremberg a closed caste of merchant families, termed ‘patricians’, ruled the city. Only members of these families could be part of the city council. These families were strictly documented and numbered between 37 and 42. The term patrician comes from ancient Rome, meaning either a member of the upper class or a hereditary title given to the aristocracy.

One family name that has survived this time period as more than just a street name or a plaque on a monument is the name Tucher. The Tucher family can trace its roots back to the 14th century and are still present in the Nuremberg landscape today. The first Tuchers were probably in service to the count of Castell and the first documented family member joined the Nuremberg city council in 1340.

A couple of good marriages here, a few successful business decisions there and the stance and the assets of the family grew. The early modern period saw the Tucher family as one of the most influential and richest families in Nuremberg, their businesses spreading throughout Europe.

During this time period, many of the merchant patrician families in Nuremberg withdrew from their businesses, opting for the lifestyle of the landed nobility. The Tuchers also owned quite a bit of property around Nuremberg but the Tucherschloss in Nuremberg was the main residence.

Built between 1533 and 1544, this Schloss on the Hirschelgasse is the inspiration for the home of the fictitious character from The Master and the Maid, Sebald Tucher. The building was for the most part destroyed in WW2 but was rebuilt in the sixties and now houses a museum. It is open to the public. Here’s a link to their website: Museum Tucherschloss

Here’s the book trailer for The Master and the Maid: #booktrailer The Master and the Maid #historicalfiction