nature

Blueberry festival in Belgium: The Witch and the Black Goat

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While witches have always existed in the Salm valley, just like anywhere else, the folklore group of the Macralles du Val de Salm from Belgium has only been in existence since 1955. Every year on 20 of July, the Macralles gather at a place: called Tienne-Messe to celebrate their Sabbath. This “Son et lumière” show stages amusing anecdotes about what has happened to certain of the people of the Salm valley during the last year, all in the Walloon dialect. Then the next day, they march in procession through the streets of the he Fête des Myrtilles (Blueberry Festival – July 21). The story of the Macralles is drawn from a local legend: the legend of Gustine Makra.

The course of the event: Every July 20 and for 24 hours, the “Neurès Bièsses” (the Macralles) symbolically take possession of the key of the city, and gather on the rocks of Tiennemesse to hold their Sabbath in the presence of their master, the “NeûrBo” (the Black Goat), who is none other than the Devil. This ceremony attracts more than 2,000 spectators every year. The macralleboast, in the local patois, of their harmful activities perpetrated during the year, whose targets are very diverse.

From 7:30 pm, musical and visual entertainment in the streets of Vielsalm

At 9:30 pm: taking the keys to the city; the macralles invade the communal park! During a scenario reviewed every year, they seize the key to the great displeasure of the mayor and the country guard. They then demand power for a period of 24 hours.
The “Neurès Bièsses” (the macralles) then gather at a place called Tiennemesse.
They review funny events and anecdotes of local and regional life. The devil, Neûr Bo (black goat) presides over this ceremony full of magic, terror and laughter. Every year, more than a thousand spectators witness this real sound and light.
Highlights of the Sabbath: – the arrival by the air of witches, with the help of their broom of course! – the establishment of the cauldron where the emmacrallée potion, the “tcha-tcha” will be concocted – the arrival of the devil on an authentic hearse – the enthronements of personalities, greeted by hunting horns and artifices. Not to mention the various more or less skilful attempts of the Country Guard (“the Emmacrallé”) who tries, without much success it must be said, to put an end to the Sabbath and tries to make public order reign!


Who has already once attended the Sabbath in the past should not be afraid to see the same things again from year to year because the Sabbath changes over the years. If we always strive to maintain a common frame to the various performances, we seek above all constantly not to tire the faithful spectators, especially through the use of many accessories and disguises, as well as music adapted and composed by our technical team. The lighting and a studied pyrotechnics make it possible to stage the highlights of the Sabbath, to enhance the play of the actors and the visual effects.
The “Neurès Bièsses” also take advantage of this sound and light show to induct certain personalities, both local and national, and thus confer on them the title of “Baron des Frambâches”. The ritual of enthronement consists in making the future Barons taste the “tcha-tcha” (potion based on crushed blueberries) and to make them ride
and broom and repeat the sentence that will “emmacraller” them forever: “Sôte, Mirôte, oût hayes èt bouchons!”

On the Sabbath are also enthroned the young Macralles nicknamed the ” loumerottes “. The loumerottes only become real Macralles after two years of apprenticeship.
After the Sabbath, a reception is organized and brings together all the members of the Macralles group, as well as the Barons of the Frambâches and the sympathizers. The opportunity for everyone to meet, and to sign the Golden Book, a real treasure illustrated by many cartoonists, each more prestigious than the other…

In addition to the outdoor processions, the Macralles are of course rampant in their own locality; collection of eggs and giant omelette offered each beginning of the year, local entertainment etc. 

By the way every October 31 from 1999 to 2008, the Macralles also organized the Halloween party for children: torchlight procession in the streets of the locality, followed by a ball for all the little devils and other monsters!
Between 2000 and 2010, the Macralles of the Val de Salm were the initiators of 7 “Great Gatherings of Witches”.
The program of these diabolical days expanded as the editions went on: artisanal market ofthewitch, street entertainment: storytellers, fire-eaters, jugglers, magicians, puppet theater, medieval musicians and other troubadours.

In the evening, a large international procession of groups of witches took place: “sisters” came especially from the whole of Belgium, but also from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland; as early as 2001, for the first time in Belgium, the presence of luminous electric floats in the procession, always on the theme of witchcraft, which will dazzle more than one!

For the pleasure of the eyes, no less than 8,000 light points are needed per tank to perfect the magic of the show. The closing evening in the communal park is placed under the sign of fire, accompanied by wild music.

The legend of Gustine Makra: she had managed to awaken the fairies and gnomes from hibernation, but she had also revived tormentors and ghosts, werewolves and demons. Fortunately, the later canonized Gengoux, long ago, managed to conjure up the Beings of Darkness. But now that almost 1313 years have passed, they are about to wake up again… Do you manage to make contact with above- , extraterranean and subterranean creatures and reveal the Mysteries of the Macralle? You can learn the language of the black magicians, who not only uses words, but also sound vibrations –and waves, sound patterns and music? After all, don’t you shy away from fighting Gustine Makra & her Creatures of Darkness, and putting them back to sleep with the appropriate formula.

Yellow crab-of-the-woods mushroom with lamb stew and quark noodle

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These special spring-summer mushroom’s common names are crab-of-the-woodssulphur polyporesulphur shelf, and chicken-of-the-woods. Its fruit bodies grow as striking golden-yellow shelf-like structures on tree trunks and branches. Old fruitbodies fade to pale beige or pale grey. The undersurface of the fruit body is made up of tubelike pores rather than gills.

Laetiporus sulphureus is a saphrophyte and occasionally a weak parasite, causing brown cubical rot in the heartwood of trees on which it grows. Unlike many bracket fungi, it is edible when young, although adverse reactions have been reported.

Due to its taste, Laetiporus sulphureus has been called the chicken polypore and chicken-of-the-woods (not to be confused with Grifola frondosa, the so-called hen-of-the-woods).

Many people think that the mushroom tastes like crab or lobster leading to the nickname lobster-of-the-woods. The authors of Mushrooms in Color said that the mushroom tastes good sauteed in butter or prepared in a cream sauce served on toast or rice. It is highly regarded in Germany and North America.

Young specimens are edible if they exude large amounts of a clear to pale yellow watery liquid. Only the young outer edges of larger specimens should be collected, as older portions tend to be tough, unpalatable, and bug-infested. The mushroom should not be eaten raw. Certain species of deer consume this type of mushroom.

Braised lamb with mushroom and green asparagus with quark noodle

Ingredients:1 large onion, quartered, 1 leek, halved lengthwise, 500 gr green asparagus, peeled, 1 large carrot, quartered, 1 garlic head, halved horizontally, 3 thyme sprigs, 3 parsley sprigs, 3 rosemary sprigs, 1 fresh bay leaf, 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, One 8-pound semi-boneless leg of lamb (aitch bone removed), salt, 2 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium broth

  • Step 1 Preheat the oven to 500°. In a roasting pan that’s large enough to hold the lamb, spread out the vegetables, herbs and peppercorns. Season the lamb generously with salt. Set the lamb on top of the vegetables and roast for about 25 minutes, until the lamb is lightly browned.
  • Step 2 Add the stock to the pan and cover the pan with foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 300° and braise the lamb for 2 hours. Uncover the lamb and cook for 1 hour longer, until deeply browned on top and the meat is very tender. Let the lamb rest in the juices for 15 minutes, then transfer it to a carving board. Strain the cooking juices, discarding the solids, and spoon off the fat. Slice the lamb 1/4 inch thick and serve with some of the cooking juices.
  • Step 3 Serve with roasted vegetables and with the quark noodles or with the Italian gnocchi.

Italian bigné for Father’s day and for Pentecote

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Citrus bergamia, the bergamot orange, is a fragrant citrus fruit the size of an orange, with a yellow or green color similar to a lime, depending on ripeness. Genetic research into the ancestral origins of extant citrus cultivars found bergamot orange to be a probable hybrid of lemon and bitter orange.

The word bergamot is etymologically derived from the Italian word bergamotto, ultimately of Turkish origin: bey armudu or bey armut (“lord’s pear” or “lord pear”). Citrus bergamia is a small tree that blossoms during the winter. The juice tastes less sour than lemon, but more bitter than grapefruit. Be aware of that the bergamot orange is unrelated to the herbs known as bergamot, wild bergamot, bergamot mint, or bergamint –and Eau de Cologne mint (the taxonomy of which is disputed). Those latters are all in the mint family, and are named for their similar aroma.

Production

The bergamot is a citrus fruit native to southern Italy. Production is mostly limited to the Ionian sea coastal areas of the province of Reggio di Calabria in Italy, to such an extent that it is a symbol of the entire city. Most of the bergamot comes from a short stretch of land there, where the temperature is favourable. The fruit is also produced in Argentina, Brazil, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and South-East Asia.

Citrus bergamot is commercially grown in southern Calabria (province of Reggio), southern Italy. It is also grown in southern France and the Ivory Coast for the essential oil and in Antalya in southern Turkey for its marmalade. The fruit is not generally grown for juice consumption. However, in Mauritius where it is grown on a small-scale basis, it is largely consumed as juice by the locals. Usualy extracts have been used as an aromatic ingredient in food, tea, snus, perfumes, and cosmetics (but bergamot may cause skin irritation). Use on the skin can increase photosensitivity, resulting in greater damage from sun exposure. One hundred bergamot oranges yield about three ounces (85g) of bergamot oil.

Adulteration with cheaper products such as oil of rosewood and bergamot mint has been a problem for consumers. To protect the reputation of their produce, the Italian government introduced tight controls, including testing and certificates of purity. The Experimental Station for Essential Oil and Citrus By-Products) located in Reggio di Calabria, was the quality control body for the essential oil Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria DOP during World War II, Italy was unable to export to countries such as the Allied powers. Rival products from Brazil and Mexico came on to the market as a substitute, but these were produced from other citrus fruits such as sweet lime.

An essence extracted from the aromatic skin of this sour fruit is used to flavour Earl Gray and Lady Grey teas, as well as confectionery (including Turkish delights). Bergamot is one of the most common “casings” (flavorings) added to Swedish snus, a form of smokeless tobacco product.

Fragrance Bergamot oil is one of the most commonly used ingredients in perfumery. It is prized for its ability to combine with an array of scents to form a bouquet of aromas that complement each other. Bergamot is a major component of the original Eau de Cologne composed by Jean-Marie Farina at the beginning of the 18th century in Germany. The first use of bergamot oil as a fragrance ingredient was recorded in 1714, and can be found in the Farina Archive in Cologne. However, much “Bergamot oil” is today derived instead from eau de Cologne mint also known as bergamot mint, which is a variety of water mint and is unrelated to citrus.

Toxicology

In several patch tests studies, application of some sources of bergamot oil directly to the skin of guinea pig was shown to have a concentration-dependent phototoxic effect of increasing redness after exposure to ultraviolet light (due to the chemical bergapten and possibly also citropten, bergamottin, geranial, and neral). This is a property shared by many other citrus fruits and other members of Rutacea including Rue). Bergapten has also been implicated as a potassium channel blocker; in one case study, a patient who consumed four litres of Earl Gray tea per day (which contains bergamot essential oil as a flavouring) suffered muscle cramps.

Italian bigné for father’s day with bergamot oil

I have an Italian friend, Luca who is fond of bergamot! He has told me several times that his “Mama” prepares the best Bigné with it. But what is bigné? -I asked him on the other day. And he was laughing meanwhile told the next:

“In my village the well known and beloved dolce (dessert) is the Bignè di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s beignet/Father’s Day Cream Puffs) they are deep-fried choux pastry puffs and filled with pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. There are many version of this delicacy. My mom’s recipe is for the Roman version of Bignè di San Giuseppe, it’s heaven on Earth,-exagerates Luca just thinking of it and licks his lips meanwhile continues the story of the Bigné. “The cream filled puffs are surprisingly light and fluffy and on the top of that they are easy to make.

“To find the appropriate word to describe this sweet “extravaganza” that used to reign in Luca’s family for Father’s Day (celebrated on March 19th in Italy) is difficult, while they have become a mixture of three region’s: his mother Franca, is from Palermo, Sicily, and his father, Salvatore is from Naples. After living Sicily for Tuscany, Luca’s parents moved to Pontremoli, because of his father’s job. So in this recipe THREE different traditional treats appear to celebrate Father’s day. They had: Zeppole di San Giuseppe from Naples, Sfinci from Palermo and Bignè di San Giuseppe from Rome. To make it clear you need some more elaborate explanation:

“The Sicilian Sfinci are deep-fried too but covered (yep, on top not filled) with the cannoli filling (ricotta with sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate chips) on top and then sprinkled with pistachios. Candied cherry and orange complete this pure joy.

The Neapolitan Zeppole are baked or fried, topped with cream pastry and crowned by an amarena flavored cherry.

And my mom’s version is the Roman variety in which the method for make Bignè is the same as pate à choux or éclairs. It’s pretty precise, so “Cara Silvestra”(that’s me) you need a scale. 

Ingredients for 50 Pastry Puffs: 500 g water, 125 g butter, 7 g salt, 300 g all-purpose flour, SIFTED a couple of times (don’t skip this step), 500 g eggs (usually 500g are from 10 eggs but check by weight them, they need to be the same weight of water) at room temperature, Vegetable oil for frying

For the Pastry Cream: 460 g whole milk, 6 egg yolks 120 g sugar 60 g corn starch, bergamot orange juice and rind or Lemon rind and Vanilla extract, icing sugar to dust for final decoration

Instructions:

Starting with the pastry puffs Note: you can make one day ahead the choux pastry dough and keep it in the fridge.

In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted completely. Reduce heat to low and add flour. Stir the ingredients vigorously until a ball-shaped dough forms and a white film forms on the bottom of the saucepan (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and let it rest a few minutes so it’s not too hot for the eggs. Add just one egg at a time and incorporate well each before adding the next one. Do this until you have a thick cream. It’s possible that you won’t need all the eggs.

In a deep saucepan heat the oil to 370 degrees (If you don’t have a frying thermometer place a toothpick into the oil if it starts bubbling all around the temperature is good). Use two tablespoons to scoop out the dough and drop it carefully and gently into the hot oil, by using one spoon to push the dough off of the other. Do this for about 4 bignè at a time, do not crowd them in the pot. Cook until golden and puffy, turning with a slotted spoon to fry evenly on all sides. (If they brown too quickly it means the oil is too hot). The bignè require long frying, like 7/8 minutes as after 3 minutes you will notice they will pop and almost double in size and they have to keep frying to be fully cooked. When done place on a paper towel and let them cool.

Now make the pastry cream: This recipe is particularly made for the bignè because it’s very thick and it’s perfect to fill the puffs. I like to use the Montersino method (he is a famous Italian Pastry Maestro) to make this pastry cream because it’s quick and super easy. My mother has made it many times without failing so I really recommend it. Basically, you wait for the liquids to slightly boil, add the eggs beaten with the starch, and wait few seconds without touching it until it makes a big bubble. After that, all you need is just to whisk a for a little and it’s ready. More specifically: In a medium saucepan heat the milk with vanilla extract/bergamot or lemon rind. Meanwhile, beat very well the eggs with sugar, add cornstarch and mix gently with a spatula. When the milk starts bubbling on the sides of the pan it’s time to pour the mounted eggs and wait, without stirring. As soon as the milk goes over the eggs making a small volcano it’s time to quickly whisk the pastry cream for a few seconds and it’s ready! Remove the lemon rind (I love to eat it when it’s cool) if you used it, and cover with cling film touching the pastry cream to avoid the creation of any film on top. When the cream has cooled, it’s time to fill the bignè. Using a skewer or a piping nozzle make a hole in your pastry bun and fill with pastry cream using a piping bag. Pipe more on top and dust with powdered sugar. 

Volcano asparagus from Rome

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Volcano asparagus, in Italian is puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago is a variant of chicory (chicoria intybus). The heads are characterized by an elongated shape (about 40–50 cm), light green stems and dandeliom shaped leaves. ‘Puntarelle’ shoots have a pleasantly bitter taste.

Applications

‘Puntarelle’ are picked when they are young and tender and may be eaten raw or cooked. Often used as a traditional ingredient in the Roman salad called by the same name, they are prepared with the leaves stripped and the shoots soaked in cold water until they curl. The salad is served with a prepared dressing of anchovy, garlic, vinegar, and salt, pounded and emulsified with olive oil.

When do you happen to choose the warm version of puntarelle here are the directions: fry them in some olive oil add two garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the salted and peppered cod fish in some flour and fry in an other pan. Serve fish with the puntarelle.

To make salad: Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice.

Cut the leaves from the puntarelle and begin to slice off the tender stalks from the puntarelle.

Cut into matchsticks either with a knife or using a puntarelle cutter. Discard the hard woody part of the puntarelle. Add the puntarelle to the ice water to leech the bitterness out. Add the puntarelle to the ice water and soak until it curls up, about 1 hour.

When the puntarelle are ready, strain in a colander, and spin them dry in a salad spinner or dry with tea towels.

The Lord of the Snowdrop

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Valentin Wijnen, the Belgian “galantophil”, has a unique collection of snowdrops, the largest and most diverse in Belgium. He has more than 650 named and about 150 unnamed snowdrops in his collection. This means that almost all 21 snowdrop species are represented in his garden, along with several groups of brand new snowdrops in yellow and green colours.

Walking in the Snowdrop Empire

The snow has already melted when we arrive in Hoeselt, in Februari, in the former French town. We’re welcomed by rain and gusty winds, – the valey of Haspengouw provides of the wet climate of the precipitation, -but when we see the Snowdrop man’s house, our bad mood have gone.

Above the gate there is an inscription, says: “Grakes Heredij.” The name initially suggests that Valentin chose an English-sounding name for his English garden from this side of the Channel, but when the Lord of Snowdrop rushes to our greeting, he quickly makes it clear to us that “Grakes” (Gerard) was his grandfather’s nickname, and that where snowdrop paradise is now, was a heredij. “Heredij,” in the local dialect, means “beautiful house, well organized garden. Like this one.” -he adds, with no small pride.

-“When snowdrops come out from under the snow, I’m still as impressed as I was when I was a child.”- That’s how Mr. Valentine starts the tour. And how his passion for snowdrops arose, he says: -“My parents and I lived near vicinity of a park belonging to a monastery. There was a lot of galanthus blooming,- that’s the botanical name for snowdrops,- well, one day I dug up a few and took them home. Of course, my parents weren’t happy, but when they saw that I just couldn’t get enough of seeing the flowers, they put up with it. And that love has been going on ever since.”- My youngest daughter and I then look stealthily at each other and find that when Mr. Valentin talks about his snowdrops, he behaves like a young man in love. One thing’s for sure, his enthusiasm is perceptible. -“Snowdrops are my muse, they are the best part of the spring.” –he continues.-” I can’t help but I have a strong, excited feeling every year when these flowers appear. It’s as if the arrival of spring is ringing bells to my ears. Besides, why else would they call them snowdrops? (In German they are called Schneeglöckhen, means: Snowbells)

As we walk through his empire, we soon find out that Valentine and his wife Melanie’s romantic garden is a work of art. Everything carefully designed, divided by theme or color, with historical and decorative elements made them individual. -“I prefer the English garden style.”- Valentine notes. -“I’ve been loyal to this from the beginning.” -Well, the result of his obsession became a magnificent garden that couldn’t be more perfect.

Mr Valentine then tells us all about snowdrops and his impressive collection during our walk. Some of them have their own tribes, such as Galanthus Melanie or Galanthus Jolie, which he named after his wife. Valentine’s Day, a Galanthus nivalis, is a type of snowdrop that was discovered by Mr Valentin’s wife in their garden on February 14, 2004. This variety is the first registered, reverse pokuliform snowdrop, which means that all six flower leaves are the same. This is the most treasured place in Mr Valentin’s garden, where the most valuable and rarest types of snowdrops can be found.

Chess flower-or snake heads

-“Of the approximately 6-7 snowdrop species included in my culture, you can see nearly 300 varieties, including several natural and garden hybrids. A lot of my own kind carry my salute to my grandfather on my behalf. Grake, whose real name was Gerard Schoefs and was a postman, but he is remembered by his beautiful garden by everyone.”-Valentine says.

The garden behind the house, where there is a gorgeous blue veranda and conservatory, complete with a few garden rooms, populated with sumptuous ornaments and antiques. The shelves, the boxes are packed with all sorts of blue decorative elements, and the many accolades, awards and diplomas are also kept here by Valentin.- “Blue dominates the conservatory!”-somebody says aloud.- “That’s because it fits the bluish-gray hue of the snowdrop leaves.” -answers Melanie.- In addition to snowdrops, Christroses, Crocuses and Muscari, they are present throughout the garden, carefully labelled for all species. The “galanthophile” Valentin, the enthusiastic snowdrop collector and identifier, then pulls out a mirror to examine the snowdrop bell just in front of us. -“Because it’s kind of powerful, it’s worthy of being in the best part of the garden, among the best group. It’s still one of our best Galanthus nivalis.”-judges he his hibrid.- “This became the Galanthus Valentin’s Day as the first pterugiformes Galanthus nivalis recognized by the Dutch KNBV (Koninklijke Nederlandse Bloembollen Vereniging) Committee. The term “pterugiform” refers to the flower anatomy in which the outer petals take the shape of the inner petals. If they’re exactly the same shape, we’re talking about “perfect” pterugiform snowdrops.” -The explanation is a little bit beyond us, but we nod fervently. As we leave the garden, we see real, fanatical “galanthophiles” slipping on their knees on the wet ground to photograph the flowers. At the back of the garden there is an authentic vegetable garden and a chicken-hen house, also with photogenic chickens.

And that’s when we get to the end of our walk, thanking Mr. Valentine and his entire family for coming with us, patiently answering our questions, and for naming the flowers to get to know the members of the family by name, who, as to the real celebrities, gave their names to some sort of snowdrops. Galanthus nivalis-hatch snowdrops “Melanie S” (after his wife Melanie), Galanthus elwesii -“Senne’s Sunrise” (after his son, whose name is Senne) is a magnificent snowdrop variety, a sign that it is relatively large in stature, with a stalk up to 20-25 centimeters in height. It sprouts as early as November, and sometimes begins to flourish at the end of December. Its leaves are wide, greyish green, and the outer side of the inner shroud leaves, depending on the variant, is green at the base and tip, or only at the tip, or green all the way through. Galanthus Elwesii, “Sweet Alice” (after her mother Alice) and Galanthus nivalisRobert Wijnen” (after Valentine’s father). Finally Melanie offers us a delicious soup, with coffee and cake.

-“You always have to be sure of the style of the garden. And the most important thing is the harmony.” With this advice, says good bye Mr. Valentine. Well, I think he did it perfectly.

If you want to immerse yourself in a world that is still quite unknown in many parts of Europe and want to enchant in the realm of magnificent snowdrops, Valentin Wijnen’s garden is open to visitors, after prior arrangement!

Celebrating Midsummer night in the vodka belt region

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Midsummer is the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, and more specifically the northern European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice or take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary among different cultures. The celebration predates Christianity, and existed under different names and traditions around the world. In Scandinavia, young people visited holy springs as “a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the River Jordan

On Saint John’s Eve and Saint John’s Day, churches arrange Saint John’s worship services and family reunions also occur, which are an occasion for drinking and eating.

In Denmark, the solstitial celebration is called sankthans or sankthansaften (“St. John’s Eve”). It was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day where the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people.

Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although they are built in many other places where beaches may not be close by (i.e. on the shores of lakes and other waterways, parks, etc.) Bonfires are lit in order to repel witches and other evil spirits, with the burnings sending the “witch” away to Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day. Some Danes regard this tradition of burning witches as inappropriate.

As in Denmark, Sankthansaften is celebrated on June 23 in Norway. The day is also called Jonsok, which means “John’s wake”, important in Roman Catholic times with pilgrimages to churches and holy springs. Today, Sankthansaften is largely regarded as a secular or even pre-Christian event. In Western Norway, a custom of arranging mock weddings, both between adults and between children, is still kept alive. The wedding was meant to symbolize the blossoming of new life. Such weddings are known to have taken place in the 1800s, but the custom is believed to be older.

In Sweden, the Midsummer “Midsomer” is such an important festivity that there have been proposals to make the Midsummer’s Eve into the National day of Sweden instead of June 6. (In Denmark and Norway, it may also be referred to as St. Hans Day.)

Acquavit (vodka) sherry, elderberry drink

In Sweden originally a pre-Christian tradition, the holiday has during history been influenced by Christian traditions and the celebration of Saint John, but not as much as to it changing name, as in neighboring Norway and Denmark. A central symbol nowadays is the ‘midsummer pole’, a maypole that is risen on the same day as midsummers eve. The pole is a high wooden pole covered in leaves and flowers. Participants dance around the pole and sing songs. One another Swedish midsummer tradition is that girls should pick seven flowers from seven different fields. The flowers should then be put under the pillow during the midsummer eve night. This night is supposedly magic and the girl is then while sleeping supposed to dream of her future husband. Another tradition common in Sweden is to make midsummer wreaths of flowers. Greenery placed over houses and barns was supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, though most people no longer take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstång, maja coming originally from the month May, or vice versa. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole.

Other traditions include eating pickled herring with fresh potatoes, often the first from the seasons harvest, served with sour cream and chives, and often accompanied by drinking snaps. It is the biggest holiday of the year in Sweden, and with Sweden being a part of the vodka-belt, getting drunk and feasting all the whole day and night is common.

Recipe

Farmer girl in veil” Swedish dessert

In melted butter fry 350 gr bread crumble or use the German pumpernickel bread. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to it. When it is golden brown pour the crumble into a bowl and let it cool.

Make layers: smear evenly from this crumble to a cake plate, then add apple mousse, then add one layer crumble again and smear raspberry jam on the top, add one more bread crumble layer…etc.

Whip 500 ml cream stiff, flavor with vanilla sugar and cover the crumble cake with it (not only the top but the sides as well). Decorate the cake with raspberry coulis. Easy and delicious midsummer’s cake!

In Sweden Midsummer’s day is a Saturday between June 20 and June 26, but as is usual in Sweden the actual celebration is on the eve, i.e. a Friday between June 19 and June 25. Midsummer’s Eve is a de facto public holiday in Sweden with offices and many shops closed

Saint Sophie’s day is over

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The Ice Saints are St. Mamertus (or, in some countries, St. Boniface of Tarsus), St. Pancras and St. Servatius. They are so named because their feast day fall on the days of May 11, May 12, and May 13 respectively, known as “the blackthorn winter” in Austrian, Belgian, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, North Italian, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Swiss folklore.

In parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the period from May 12 to May 15 is often believed to bring a brief spell of colder weather in many years, including the last nightly frosts of the spring. Pupils of Galileo confirmed this weather pattern for the years 1655-70 and reported a marked cold snap over the days of the Ice Saints. However, in 1902 William Dines, President of the Royal Meteorological Society, used modern statistical techniques to demonstrate that the Ice Saints were a myth, brought about by selective reporting. On the other hand, a review from 1941 to 1969 showed that 13 May was usually the warmest day of the month, and was followed by a sharp drop in temperature.

In 1582, the replacement of the Julian calendar by the Gregorian calendar involved omitting 10 days in the calendar. So if the folklore predates the calendar change, then the equivalent dates from the climatic point of view would be May 22–25.

St. Mamertus is not counted amongst the Ice Saints in certain countries, whereas St. Boniface of Tarsus belongs to them in other countries (Flanders, Liguria, Czech Republic, etc.) as well; St. Boniface’s feast day falling on May 14. St Sophia, nicknamed Cold Sophia (German kalte Sophie) on May 15 can be added in Germany, Alsace (France), Poland, etc.

In Poland and the Czech Republic, the Ice Saints are Pancras, Servatus and Boniface of Tarsus (i.e., May 12 to May 14). To the Poles, the trio are known collectively as zimni ogrodnicy (cold gardeners) and are followed by zimna Zośka (cold Sophia) on the feast day of St. Sophia, which falls on May 15. In Czech, the three saints are collectively referred to as “ledoví muži” (ice men or icy men) and St. Sophia is known as “Žofie, ledová žena” (Sophia, the ice woman). Sisymbrium sophia, called the Sophienkraut in Germany, and it’s named after her.

In Sweden, the German legend of the Ice Saints has resulted in the belief that there are special “järnnätter” (Swedish for “iron nights”) especially in early June, which are susceptible to frost. The term likely arose out of mistranslation of German sources, where the term “Eismänner” (German for “ice men”) was read as “Eisenmänner” (German for “iron men”) and their nights then termed “iron nights,” which then became shifted from May to June.Eisheilige-kalte-sophie

 

The castle of Hex and its rose garden

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After discovering the rose and herb’s garden of the remarkable castle Heks/ Hex in Belgium I decided to participate in a cook course led by Claude Pohlig. But before sharing my wonderful experience with you I’d like to introduce you to the history of the castle:

The Hex Castle is situated in the village of Heks, about halfway between Sint-Truiden and Tongeren, 3km south of Borgloon (Looz in French). It is a classical castle built for a Prince-Bishop of Liège. It is renowned for its French-style gardens and English-style park.

History

Private residence of François-Charles von Velbrück (1719-1784), Prince-Bishop of Liège between 1772 and 1784, Hex is a jewel of Rococo style almost unrivaled in Belgium.

François-Charles von Velbrück was born near Düsseldorf. In 1735 he became canon priest of the cathedral of Liège then in 1756, Archdeacon of Hesbaye. Between 1757 and 1763, he served as prime minister under Prince-Bishop Jean-Théodore of Bavaria.

As a ruler of the Principality of Liege, Velbrück was remembered as an enlightened philosopher and humanist, a nature lover, a patron of the arts, and an exponent of free education. He endowed Liège with an academy of painting, sculpture and engraving, a free school of drawing for mechanic arts, a free school of surgery, as well as free courses of mathematics and public law. All this, combined with a lasting time of peace during his whole rule made of Velbrück one of the most beloved prince-bishops of Liège in history.

In 1770, François-Charles started the construction of his château in Hex, on an estate where his father François-Joseph had erected a hunting pavilion. François-Charles was struck by the beauty of the Hesbaye region, in the County of Looz. Upon his death, as the castle was a personal possession, it didn’t go the the Principality of Liège but was inherited by François-Charles’ family, passed to the Marchant d’Ansembourg, and eventually to the Counts of Ursel.

Description

Completed in 1772, Hex castle was built in the middle of an exceptional natural site, covering 5 hectares (12.5 acres) of formal French-style gardens and 60 hectares (150 acres) of English-style park. The terrain is hilly, with 60 meters of difference between the highest and lowest point.

Most remarkable of all is the collection of roses, which includes a variety not found anywhere else in the world: the Rosa Velbruck Indica Centifolia, named after the original owner of the property. Let’s also note the Chinese garden and the potager (vegetable garden).

The park was inspired by the works of the celebrated English landscape-architect “Capability” Brown, and was on of the first of the kind on the continent itself. It has the status of natural reserve. The castle is U-shaped and has a front façade of 19 windows in length (on two levels). The interior of the castle was designed in opulent Louis XV and Louis XVI styles. Some rooms have Chinese decoration. There are no less than six living rooms, each of a different colour. The main dining room is decorated with magnificent wood panelling by Liège artist Tombaye.

The castle itself cannot be visited, but the gardens and park are open to the public for the Festival of plants twice a year (2nd weekend of June and 2nd weekend of September in 2020). Guided tours start every hour. Admission is 7.5 € per person (dogs are not allowed).

The rest of the year, group (max. 35 people) tours can be arranged through written request, 3 weeks prior to the visit. The tours take approximately 1h30min to 2 hours, and can be held on weekdays between 10:00 am and noon, or between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. The individual fee is 7.5 €, with a minimum of 150 € for the whole group (so if the group is composed of only 10 people, the fee will be 15 € per person).

Cooking with Claude Pohlig:

It was a carless Sunday in Brussels, when a large part of the square in front of the royal palace was clad with grass and food and information stands about agriculture and organic food. Some bought sweets and were elegantly clad. Some stood in line to eat ice cream. Some took time to be handed information about all sorts of things, such as tap water or traffic in Brussels or different types of organic cheese. Of course there was a lot of tasting to be done. Soon I hit upon some heirloom tomatoes that looked very familiar to me. Indeed, I had hit upon Claude Pohlig’s temporary, but professionally run food court! I wandered on, to the information stand of the Brussels Slow Food movement, and next door I met Anne, from the blog Les jardins de Pomone, whom I was happy to meet in personShe and her husband know a thing or two about real food too: that’s food coming straight from a garden. Anne made me taste the leaves of the stevia plants, never had before. And Brussels was just the beginning! After I tasted the Pohlig’s dishes, I decided to take part in his training at Hex Castle! And I did it in September.

Visiting Mr Pohlig in castle Hex: The middle-aged, lean, good looking master chef himself was digging in boxes, but his assistant chef was preparing the lentil flour crêpes. As a starter I took a soup made with orange-colored tomatoes, quinoa and purple basil. Next, I chose the beef hamburger dressed with a pumpkin patty, and a mayonnaise with fresh herbs, served with a salad featuring pale yellow carrots. Taste bombs. In short Claude Pohlig, Michelin star chef does catering with what Michael Pollan calls real food! Here are two recipes of mr Pohlig:

Lavender pancake with salmon

Ingredients: 25 ml milk, 2 eggs, 100 g flour, 2 lavender twigs, 4 slices smoked salmon, 25 cl tick cream, pepper, flowers and herbs

Preparation: Make pancake dough with the flour, milk and eggs. Add the lavender flowers and leave the dough for 24 hours rest. Bake the pancakes in cleared butter or in a mixture of half butter, half oil. Place a slice of smoked salmon on each pancake and a spoonful of thick cream. Add flowers and garden herbs to your own preference. Season with some freshly ground pepper before serving. gambero-rosso-tym-k-lejeune

Rosehip cake with nuts 

Ingredients: 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) of earth balance, or other vegan butter, room temperature, 1 cup sugar, 2 ½ cups flour, ½ cup rosehips, loosely packed, with the inside seeds and hairs removed, ½ cup almonds or hazelnuts

Methods: 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line an 8×8 inch pan with parchment paper, next finely chop the rosehips and almonds and set aside.
2. Using a hand-mixer, whip the vegan butter. Add the sugar and whip until it is fully integrated and fluffy. With the mixer on a low setting, add the flour, rosehips and almonds half a cup at a time until it has all been added.
3. Scoop the batter onto the baking dish covered with parchment paper and use your hands to push into an even layer across the entire pan. Make as smooth as possible, or use a fork to add texture- the cookies will not smooth in the oven. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until it has turned more golden but not brown- they will still be fairly soft but will harden as they cool.
4. Use the edges of the wax paper to lift the cookie dough from the hot pan and place on a cutting board. While still hot, cut down to the desired size and shape and then allow to cool completely before serving.

5. I prepared cream with Philadelphia cream cheese, adding sugar and whipped cream to it. I decorated with rosehip marmalade and ground hazelnuts.

hagebutten-nuss-torte

Claude Pohlig is a Michelin star chef, works for Cuisine potager as a caterer and gives cooking lessons in the castle of Hex etc.

After ski party in the Alps

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The Zugspitze lies southwest of Garmish-Partenkirchen and, at 2,962 m above sea level is the highest peak in Germany. Both the valleys and the Alpine Foreland have been heavily influenced by the last ice age. The lakes were partially formed by groundwater filling the hollows carved out by the glaciers. Later the lakes silted up and formed moors like the Murnauer Moor (Moos in German). In the early Iron Age this so called Werdenfelser Land was settled by Illyrians. Even at this early stage there were close contacts with Upper Italy over the route of the present-day Brenner-Scharnitz road. From about 500 B.C. Celts invaded this region and mixed with the indigenous population. In turn the Romans conquered the Celts around 15 B.C. and annexed the region to the Province of Raetia. Occasionally the Romans adopted settlement and river names of Veneto-Illyrian or Celtic origin, some of which have survived to the present day (Partenkirchen – Partanum, Isar – Isara).

The trade route -that was already established by 195 A. D. -was upgraded. The Via Claudia Augusta now ran from Augsburg via Partenkirchen and Mittenwald to the  Brenner Pass and continued to  Bozen (Pons Drusi), where it formed a junction with the older Reschen Pass branch. The Roman road station of Partanum was the predecessor of modern-day Partenkirchen. After the collapse of the  Roman Empire and the end of the Migration Period of Bajuwaren settled from about the 6th century A.D. in the valleys.

From the Middle Ages until the Thirty Years’ War, the Werdenfelser Land was subject to the Prince-Bishop of Freising, not the Duke of Bavaria (the region derives its name from the medieval Werdenfels Castle north of  Garmisch-Partenkirchen). The castle acted chiefly to secure the military and trade route that ran through the Loisach valley and linked trading posts in Italy and Upper Bavaria.

The Werdenfels Castle,- erected by Duke Otto of Wittelsbach in 1180 -it is found in the northwest of Partenkirchen,- was transferred in 1294 to the Prince-Bishopric of Freising. Control of the northern approaches of the important European trading route by the Freising archbishopric enabled the population of the County of Werdenfels to become relatively wealthy over a long period of time. It is sometimes called the Goldener Land after the wealth derived in the Middle Ages and Renaissance from the traffic along this Rottstraße, the main route over the Alps to Augsburg.

With the onset of the Modern Period there was a significant economic boom in as a result of stronger trade relations with Italy (fuggers). The nickname Goldenes Landl (“Little Golden Land”) for the Werdenfelser Land comes from this period. This development was ended by the Thirty Years’ War and the population became impoverished. Later wars, such as the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Succession in the early 18th century and Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century, also severely affected the population. In 1803, as a result of Napoleonic rule, the Prince-Bishopric of Freising was toppled and the Werdenfelser Land was given to Bavaria. Since 1889 the advent has become of a new source of income as the new railway link with München brought tourists to the region.

Garmisch, the Werdenfelser Land museum

The cultural centre of the land is the town Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The twin towns are famous for their winter and summer facilities. For instance after skiing is a perfect program to go to the Werdenfelser Landmuseum (it is in Garmisch). After visiting the museum you will realize that it’s not just a small town museum experience, it is also an interesting property. The building was the house of a rich merchant in the 17th century, (even the street in which the museum resides is also fascinating with the many facade painted houses).

The Museum reflects the history, culture, folklore, life style, from the surroundings of the Bavarian and Tirolean areas. The walls are full of lovely old paintings & some fantastic black & white photos of local life. Some interesting rooms made up – for instance the carnival masks, the nursery was particularly nice. Artifacts from pre-Roman time periods to the present, provide a view of the historic significance of this small community, through which a Roman supply route stretched through to Vienna, Austria. And all of it just for 1 euro entry! There is a leaflet in English but all the exhibits are in German only. Its on 3 floors with no lift. To sum up my visit I went away impressed. So it’s well worth a visit when you are in the area.

I ate in a local restaurant a fish dish in mustard sauce, it was divine!p1170756

 

 

Witch-hazel blossoming in Vogelsberg

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Vogelsberg (Bird’s hill) is a large volcanic mountain range in the German Central Uplands in the state of Hesse, separated from the Rhön Mountains by the Fulda river valley. Emerging approximately 19 million years ago, the Vogelsberg is Central Europe’s largest basalt formation, consisting of a multitude of layers that descend from their peak in ring-shaped terraces to the base. The main peaks of the Vogelsberg are the Taufstein, 773.0 metres (2,536.1 ft), and Hoherodskopf, 763 meters (2,503 ft), both now within the High Vogelsberg Nature Park.

Vogelsberg is not a former shield volcano, but comprises many individual volcanoes, which are superimposed. Thus it consists of a multitude of overlapping basalt terraces, which descend from the Oberwald, -the high central plateau, 600 to 773 meters high, in series of stepped rings to the edges of the mountain region. Its present appearance, which is reminiscent of a large flat, shield-shaped volcano with a central dome, is the result of an interplay of uplift processes and  ablation acting on all sides. The division of the Vogelsberg into individual  natural regions is based, on the one hand, on the  relief of the mountain range from its highest point towards the outside and, on the other hand, on its river catchments which radiate outwards: the catchments of the Eder, Lower  Fulda, Main and Lahn. The Vogelsberg massif has stone runs of basalt and tuff, raised bogs and areas of ancient woodland. Numerous hiking trails cross, not only the Oberwald, but also the rest of the area.

Oberwald

The Oberwald (351.2) is the heart of the Vogelsberg and is entirely wooded; its outer boundary roughly follows the 600 meter contour line. In outer areas of the Vogelsberg, by contrast, there is a tapestry of green pasture, arable fields and woodlands.

Large parts of the Oberwald are protected. For example, the beech wood in the Taufstein Nature Reserve has been left to manage itself since 1906. On the northern slopes of the Taufstein are large stone runs of basalt.

Numerous rivers and streams rise in the Vogelsberg, and flow radially from its highest point in all directions of the compass. In clockwise order, the rivers of the main catchments are the Schwalm, Lower Fulda, Kinzig, Nidda and Ohm. Often a well known river is fed by several almost equal tributaries. In recent years the Eurasian lynx has returned. There are rumors about wolves being sighted in the region. Sightings have been confirmed in an area north of the Vogelsberg. Wildcats are also said to exist in the region, although they, like lynxes, are notoriously hard to spot. As in most of Hesse, wild boar are present in large numbers.

Vogelsberg’s sport activities

The Vogelsberg is known for its winter sports areas on the Herchenhainer Höhe and Hoherodskopf (Alpine skiing and 55 km of loipes). In summer, apart from hiking, cycling is well catered for on the numerous long-distance cycling routes such as the Volcano Cycleway. Moreover, there are regular RMV buses, the so-called Vulkan Express running from Büdingen, Stockheim, Nidda, Hungen, Mücke and Schlitz via  Lauterbach at weekends to the heights of the Vogelsberg. These buses are equipped with bicycle trailers. The majority of bus routes run to the Hoherodskopf and so may be used in combination.

The Volcano and Southern Railway Cycleways are tarmacked and may also be used by inline skaters. There is a large network of signposted cycleways in and around the Vogelsberg Nature Fitness Park around the highest summits and also 70 km of signed mountain bike routes.

The Hoherodskopf is the touristic centre of the region. Here you will find the Nature Conservation Information Centre for the High Vogelsberg Nature Park and a tourist information centre for the town of Schotten, which are open daily all year-round. From this point, three nature trails have been set up, covering in the fields of geology, nature and sensory perception.  There is a summer toboggan run, a tree ropes course, numerous hiking trails and several restaurants.

What can we see now in the Nature park? The blossoming of the Witch-hazels!

Witch-hazels or witch hazels (Hamamelis), are a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelicadea. The North American species are occasionally called winterbloom. (The name witch in witch-hazel has its origins in  Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning “pliant” or “bendable”, and is not related to the word witch meaning a practitioner of magic “Witch hazel” was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm . The use of the twigs as divining rods, just as  hazel twigs were used in England, may also have by folk etymology, influenced the “witch” part of the name).

The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 10–25 feet tall, rarely to 40 feet tall. The genus name, Hamamelis, means “together with fruit”, referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. H. virginiana blooms in September–November while the other species bloom from January–March. Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 38 inch (0.95 cm) long, containing a single 14 inch (0.64 cm) glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 30 feet (9.1 m), thus another alternative name “Snapping Hazel”. They are popular ornamental plants, grown for their clusters of rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to expand in the autumn as or slightly before the leaves fall, and continue throughout the winter. Numerous cultivars have been selected for use as garden shrubs. hama