The last three days of 2013 I spent in Franconia, Germany. First I stayed overnight in Bamberg (see my previous blog about smoked beer) then on 31st of December I left for Bayreuth. The funny name which sounds in German exactly as the capital of Libanon Beirut, is circa 245 kms far from Münich.
Sightseeing in Bayreuth
The city experienced its Golden Age during the reign (1735–1763) of Margrave Frederick and Margravine Wilhelmina of Bayreuth, the favourite sister of Frederick the Great. During this time, under the direction of court architects, Joseph Saint-Pierre and Carl von Gontard, numerous courtly buildings and attractions were created: the Margravial Opera House with its richly furnished baroque theatre (1744–1748), the New ‘Castle’ and Sun Temple (1749–1753) at the Hermitage, the New Palace with its courtyard garden (1754 ff) to replace the Old Palace which had burned down through the carelessness of the Margrave, and the magnificent row of buildings in today’s Friedrichstraße. There was even a unique version of the rococo architectural style, the so-called Bayreuth Rococo which characterised the aforementioned buildings, especially their interior design.
But the town is best known for its association with the composer Richard Wagner, who lived in Bayreuth from 1872 until his death in 1883. The Wagner’s villa, the “Wahnfried”, was constructed in Bayreuth under the sponsorship of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and was converted after World War II into a Wagner Museum (but unfortunatelly when I was there it was still under construction). To the north of Bayreuth there is the Festival Hall called Festspiele on the Green hill, an opera house specially constructed for and exclusively devoted to the performance of Wagner’s operas. The Festspielhaus after lots of struggling finally opened on 13 August 1876 with Das Rheingold, at last taking its place as the first evening of the complete Ring cycle; the 1876 Bayreuth Festival therefore saw the premiere of the complete cycle, performed as a sequence as the composer had intended. The 1876 Festival consisted of three full Ring cycles (under the baton of Hans Richter). At the end, critical reactions ranged between that of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who thought the work “divinely composed”, and that of the French newspaper Le Figaro, which called the music “the dream of a lunatic”. Amongst the disillusioned were Wagner’s friend and disciple Friedrich Nietzsche, who, having published his eulogistic essay “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth” before the festival as part of his Untimely Meditations, was bitterly disappointed by what he saw as Wagner’s pandering to increasingly exclusivist German nationalism; his breach with Wagner began at this time.The festival firmly established Wagner as an artist of European, and indeed world, importance: attendees included Kaiser Wilhelm I, the Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, Anton Bruckner, Saëns and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.Wagner was far from satisfied with the Festival; Cosima recorded that months later, his attitude towards the productions was “Never again, never again!”Moreover, the festival finished with a deficit of about 150,000 marks. And since that very first festival every summer, Wagner’s operas are performed at the Festspielhaus during the month-long Richard Wagner Festival, commonly known as the Bayreuth Festival. The Festival draws thousands each year, and has persistently been sold out since its inauguration in 1876. Currently, waiting lists for tickets can stretch for 10 years or more.
In 1886, the composer Franz Liszt died in Bayreuth while visiting his daughter Cosima Liszt, Wagner’s widow. Both Liszt and Wagner are buried in Bayreuth; however Wagner did not die there (Rather he died in Venice in 1883, but his family had his body brought to Bayreuth for burial). I could visit the Franz Liszt museum and it was worth to pop in because of its rich collection of Liszt’s letters, memorabilias etc.
The Franconian cuisine
According to Cosima Wagner the Franconian cuisine is irresistible. She used the umbrella term for describe it which means that for all dishes with a specific regional identity belonging to the region of Franconia. There are several dishes which are also famous beyond the borders of Bavaria such as Nürnberger Lebkuchen, Bratwurst, Kissinger (pastry) or the wines of Franconia. However most people think of the typical and supraregional known “Nürnberger Bratwürste” when they talk about Franconian food. But beyond the famous “Nürnberger Bratwurst” Franconia produces a variety of other bratwursts, such as the bratwurst of Ansbach where the sausage is additionally flavoured with salt, pepper and marjoram. For a mid-afternoon snack (which is called “Brotzeit” in Bavaria) it is common to spread raw sausage meat on peasant bread and add diced onions as a topping with salt, pepper and paprika seed. In rural areas this is called Tartarbread though it has nothing in common with the real tartar which is made of raw beef. And of course beside the sausages there are plenty other choises such as pork, wild games and fish dishes as well. There are many restaurants offer carps of own keeping, self hunted venisons and home-baked cakes.
Returning to Cosima Wagner, her favourite restaurants here were the Eremitage and the Eule (Owl) as she mentioned many times in her diary book. Beside of these restaurants she also dined in the Golden Anker, in the Bürgerreuth, in the Hotel Fantasie etc. But she praised the most the Owl so that I decided to have a lunch, “my bread time” over there. As I read that the restaurant owners have been trying to keep their authentic recipes since its establishment (1839) I had had a great expectation. And I wasn’t disappointed at all! After finding a cosy place near the fireplace as I was so hungry I immediately started to browse the menu cart. When I came across with the funny names of the courses I couldn’t help laughing at them such as: Nibelungen soup duos, Wotans deer ragou with wild mushroom and lingonberry, Siegfried dragon schnitzel, Hagen pork roulade, the Walkürs’s breasts, (chicken and turkey fillets), Brünnhilde steak, Senta’s dream (sweet water fishes), and the vegetarian dishes under the name Green Hill and the desserts were devoted to the Goddess of Freya. (if your knowledge is great of the Wagner operas their names sound really frenetic). I choose the guine-fowl with raisins, marinated overnight in red wine and alongside with kohlrabi, my husband wanted to taste the goose with red cabbage (see on the pictures below). Both dishes were divine, not to mention my home made pasta!
Ingredients: 1 1/2 kg guinea fowl, 8 rashers streaky bacon, 2-3 garlic cloves, 1 onion, 250 gr raisins, 75 gr walnuts, chestnuts, 3 tbs tomato purée, 3-4 carrots, 2 db chalk of celeriac, kohlrabi, o,5 l red wine, 1 l vegetable stock
1. Wash and unpit the raisins. Cut them into two. Put in a bowl an pour over red wine. Cover and keep it in the fridge overnight.
2. Wash and wipe out the bird the inside cavity. Then pat it dry with a kitchen paper. Salt and pepper. Mix the butter with some seasoning, then push and spread some under the skin over the breasts, and rub the rest over the legs. Lay the bacon across the breasts, smoothing over, and season with some more pepper.
3. Next day prepare the filling: Soften the onion in the butter very gently, then stir in the sage and cook for 2 mins more. Scrape into a bowl with the chopped walnuts, breadcrumbs, chestnuts and egg and mix together well. Season generously. Add raisins as well then push the stuffing into the cavity (any extra can be rolled into balls and baked in the oven for the last 20 mins cooking time).
4. Fry the bird in a pan in a little oil or butter, place alongside the finelly chopped vegetables, onion, carrots etc and pour over red wine. Then place into the baking tray and roast the fowl for 15 mins, then lower the temperature to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and roast for a further 35-45 mins for a 1 kg bird (or longer if bigger – use the timings for a roast chicken). Time to time check the bird whether it is done or not by piercing the inside of the thigh with a knife and making sure the juices are clear, not bloody. Meanwhile soaté the kohlrabi in the butter. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and caramelize it. Salt and pepper to taste and pour over 2 tablespoons of mirin or balsamic vinaigrette.Lift the guinea fowl off the onions, and vegetables onto a platter. Loosely cover with foil, top with a towel (to keep it warm), and rest while you make the gravy.
5. For the gravy: Spoon a tablespoon of the fat on top back into the roasting tray, pop on the hob over a low heat (make sure your roasting tray is suitable or transfer contents to a pan), and stir in the flour until it isn’t dusty anymore. Gradually stir in the stock, plus any meat juices after you’ve discarded the rest of the fat, and bubble gently until thickened. Add 3 tablespoons of tomato pürée and 1 spoon of honey. Season with salt, pepper, and pinches of sugar if it needs it, then strain into a gravy jug and discard the onions. Serve with the guinea fowl, spooning out the stuffing as you carve, plus the sauce and plenty of vegetables.