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21 Mar 2010

Old Swabian Spring Dishes and Customs ~ Seasonal Recipes

Contemporary Swabia is a region divided between Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. It is not only a region but an ethnically distinct culture with a very ancient and distinct German dialect. Swabia was once its own political state and included much of the German regions of Switzerland as well as the modern Alsace in France. My family is mostly from Swabia, which is one of the oldest parts of Germany, with many customs and places related to the Heathen practices of the Suebi tribes that migrated from the Baltic region into present-day Germany as part of the Alamannic Confederation. The First Reich, the Hohenstaufen dynasty, was Swabian in origin. Like the British King Arthur, there is an old Swabian legend that the “heimliche Kaiser” Frederick Barbarossa is buried deep under the Kyffhäuser mountain in present-day Thuringia. Two ravens watch over Germany and when Germany is in need they will awaken and revive this “once and future” (T.H. White) savior and Kaiser who will usher in a golden age much like the promised return of Balder. Swabia has always been a region of suspect religious orthodoxy, a hotbed for heresy and religious radicalism right up to the present. It was the home of the Rhineland mystics, alchemists, and Hermeticists, and has maintained “strange” pre-Christian traditions ever since the conversion.

Glenn Magee writes in his Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition:

“Schelling and Hegel were influenced by such aspects of Swabian cultural life as the…mystical pantheism…and Theosophical Naturphilosophie….Indeed, the Swabians are the mystical people of Germany, notorious for their interest in esoteric, theosophical, and occult strains of thought. Reuchlin, Andreae, Oetinger, Hahn, Mesmer, Schiller, Hegel, and Hölderin were all Swabians.”

Other famous Swabians include the original historical Johann Georg Faust, the philosophers Schelling and Heidegger, Leopold Mozart (Mozart’s father), Diesel and Benz (engine design), Erwin Rommel and Claus von Stauffenberg (both involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler).

I would like to share some traditional Swabian recipes associated with the seasonal period from Landsegen (“Land-Blessing” or “Charming of the Plow”) to Ostara, together with some of their associated customs. Seasonally, the time between these two tides is marked at the beginning by the soil being ready for sowing and at the end by the start of crop growth. After Ostara, Walpurgis marks the point when grain begins to sprout from the new crops, and summer is the time of grain growth and maturation. While the outward festivities of Fasching, i.e. the revelries more commonly known as Shrovetide or Carneval, are the better-known public face of the season leading up to Ostara, it is also privately and inwardly a time of meditative self-examination, moderation, and purification. Some mistakenly believe that this is a Christian custom associated with Lent. It is not, for it was part of the agricultural rhythm of life in Swabia long before there were Christians. Why is this the case?

First of all, it is a time of self-examination and assessment because the household is beginning to use up the winter stores in the root cellar. Harvest time in the fall is a time of plenty. Food and meat are plentiful. The harvest is being brought in, processed, and stored. There is also plenty of meat for two reasons. First, it is hunting season. Second, this is also when a portion of the herd is slaughtered, both for food and to reduce it to a size that can be fed in the winter out of the stores saved up on the farmstead. By contrast, early spring is a time to economize and make ends meet. What was stored from last year’s harvest is beginning to be used up but the new produce and food that is being grown in this new year has not come to fruition.

So, despite Fasching, the time between Landsegen and Ostara is the period between the bountiful harvest and the arrival of the fresh and plentiful summer foods. It is a time of moderation and this fact compels reflection on how well the household has managed its affairs. The word “economics” comes from an old Greek word meaning “how well a household is managed,” and the very origin of the word “ethics” comes from an old Greek word meaning both “how well an ethnic group thrives” and “dwelling well.” For this reason, it is a time of moral self-examination of the family’s character as a by-product of assessing how well the family planned, conserved, and managed to get through this season where things are tight.

It is also a time of purification. There is the possibility that one can get “stuck” in being overly preoccupied with assessing how well the household has thrived through the winter and how that reflects on the character of the family. Part of the purpose of Fasching is to avoid the danger of this preoccupation by celebrating as a community. However, the season’s aspect of purification provides another needed dimension to this time. It provides movement. The old customs are not about “giving up something for Lent,” or for self-debasement. No, the old customs convey a sense of doors opening. It is not just a time of “out with the old” and “in with the new,” but in the full context of the season’s mood, it provides a sense of new opportunities…a chance for a fresh start. This purging aspect of this season encourages you to “get over yourself” and “move on.”

There are a number of customs that symbolize and enact this process of purification as a process of shedding the past and stepping into a new future. The last remnants of death, winter, and all manner of ill lingering from the last year and winter are cast out, purged, and cleaned out of the farm and homestead. First, there is the custom of “springcleaning.” For households that have maintained the old customs (or at least, the memory of them amongst the grandfolk), this “spring-cleaning” involves lighting a small candle from the old hearth fire, putting the old fire out, and thoroughly cleaning the hearth with a special broom. After the hearth is cleaned, a new hearth fire is lit from the candle. Later, this special broom is burned in the huge bonfires lit in celebration of Ostara.

The old customs preserve the memory that this “spring-cleaning” also used to involve cleaning the figures of the guardians of the household, called the Husing (home sprite), and that of the farmyard, the Taterman (in western Swabia and in the Alemannic regions of Switzerland where there is some Roman influence due to some families partly having Roman ancestry, the old customs might preserve the memory of these two figures also being called the Lar or Genius and the Silvester – from Silvanus). In some households this practice is preserved in the guise of cleaning the abode of “the Bishop” or “the Saint” and in some, the Christian figure sits across the room from what looks like a gnome with a blue lantern. This gnome is what is left of the Husing from Heathen times. Some of the grandfolk remember that the Christian figure that sits across the room from the Kobold (hobgoblin) is there to keep watch on him. Hazel, Holly, and Elderberry sprigs are put around the household figures and at the heads of beds.

As Ostara approaches, preparations are made to build huge wheels stuffed with all manner of quick- lighting material (including those special brooms) that will be ignited on the tops of hills and rolled down them as great fire-wheels. Alternatively, huge bonfires are built. Another old custom involves the decoration of boiled eggs. In some Swabian villages or households, it is customary that the water that the eggs are to be boiled in has to be drawn from a running brook or stream at midnight. Once the eggs are boiled and decorated, there are a variety of old customs associated with the eggs. One is that the water the eggs were boiled in is saved for a special purpose. Immediately before or on Ostara, green sprigs are dipped in this special water and used to sprinkle the household figures (if any), hearth, livestock, land, and family members as a purifying blessing.

After Ostara, the ashes of the great bonfires are used in a similar manner. Farmers gather up the ashes and dust the fields and livestock with them. In one place, at least when my grandfolk were growing up, a huge pig was dusted with these ashes and paraded around. People would try to brush up against it or touch it to get some of its ashes for good luck, fertility, and prosperity. In older times, I’ve been told, the dusted pig (or pigs) pulled a little cart with the viagra canada Fasching Queen in it. Some households would have the children break open little toy pigs filled with candy around the activities of the egghunt (note: to anticipate a question that has been asked before, the origin of the modern
piggy bank has no connection with this old custom). A young woman may give her boyfriend a single egg to call the relationship off or give him six eggs to tell him it is time to get married.

Of course, there is no German gathering that does not involve food and drink. Although Bavaria (which contains part of Swabia) is justly famous for its beers, southwestern German cuisine is also noted for its wines, and Swabia in particular for its cider. Swabian cider can be made of apples, pears, or both. Traditionally, it was the peasant and country-folk “wine,” whereas wine proper was associated with the Church, nobles, and Romans. Swabia produces both red and white wine. Some choice Swabian reds are Lemberger and Schwarzriesling (also known as Trollinger), while the choice whites are Riesling, Silvaner, and the wine that is the “heart” of Swabia, the Kerner.

Even in Germany, modern supermarkets have largely replaced the seasonal and local traditional foods. Some have developed the mistaken sense that the seasonal and local variations in cuisine were purely a cultural matter or “life-style” choice. Actually, on the contrary, the dishes and foods that are traditionally associated with this time of year reflect the agricultural cycle. The meats, vegetables, and fruits tend to be those that have been smoked, cured, fermented, pickled, cellared, or packed in salt, oil, or vinegar during last year’s harvest. These methods were the traditional methods of food preservation before the age of refrigerators. Some contemporary Heathens are relearning these old methods as part of an attempt to homestead and go “off the grid.” There are also many health benefits to eating foods that have been preserved in these ways, especially with fermented foods. Perhaps on some future occasion I will have the opportunity to share some of these traditional methods of food preservation. For now,

I’d like to share two Swabian recipes that are seasonally associated with this time of the year and its customs.

The following two recipes form a meal with Roast Pork and beer.

Krautauflauf (Sauerkraut Casserole)

1 small onion
2 oz. bread without crust (preferably light)
9 oz. cream
3 oz. butter
11 oz. sauerkraut
2 egg yolks, save 1 egg white and stiffly beat
salt, pepper, sweetener

Preheat oven to 325 F. Chop onion and dice the white bread small; reduce cream down to 1/2. Fry the onion in 1/3 of the butter without browning. Loosen the sauerkraut and add it to the onions. Gently fry the bread in the rest of the butter and add to the kraut-onion mixture along with the reduced cream. Allow it to cool until cold. Stir in egg yolks. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg white. Add seasonings to taste. Fill into little cassolettes (mini casserole dishes) or custard dishes. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Take out and serve with Bauernküchle and the roast pork.

Bauernküchle (Peasant Cakes)

½ onion
1 oz. butter
2 T pearl barley
4 ½ oz. sauerkraut
4 T white wine
1 lb raw potatoes
2 eggs
4 oz. bread without crust (preferably light)
salt, pepper, nutmeg and 4 oz. clarified butter

Brown the finely diced chopped onions lightly in the regular butter. Cook the sauerkraut and pearl barley in the white wine. Add the fried onion and allow mixture to cool completely. Meanwhile, grate the peeled raw potatoes. Mix with cooled sauerkraut mixture. Add the eggs and crumbled bread. Season to taste. Shape mixture into flat cakes and gently fry until golden brown in clarified butter. Serve with the kraut soufflé on left and roast pork.

Article and recipes by Thomas Muether.

    1 comment to Old Swabian Spring Dishes and Customs ~ Seasonal Recipes

    • Thanks for that. I moved to England when I was really young, and I really want to rediscover my heritage. I’ve been trying out a lot of random greek recipes, and the best I’ve found yet is these greek recipes – it totally remind me of my childhood. I dont remember much of it except for the lovely smells and delicious food on every street.

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