nature

Germanize yourself for Xmas

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Schmuck (Xmas decorations made of glass), Advent, Feuerbowlzange, (glogg or mulled wein), Orange punsch and Eggpunsch (eggnog), Bratwurst (fried saussage, the best one is from Nürnberg), Rehburger (minced deerburger), Steinpilz mit Sahne (champignons with cream sauce), Reibekuchen (grated and fried potato, Rötzli in Swiss)- but you can buy Salzkartoffeln, Bratkartoffeln, Kartoffelbrei, Kartoffelpuffer, Kartoffelklöße/-knödel, Kartoffelauflauf/-gratin, Kartoffelsalat, Kartoffelsuppe, Rösti, Ofenkartoffeln, Kroketten, Stampfkartoffeln, Kartoffelecken, Pellkartoffeln, Pommes frites, Petersilienkartoffeln, Rosmarinkartoffeln-boerenkool-cabbage, and smoked salmon. And I almost forgot from the list the iconic curry wurst-saussage. It is also among of the German popular culture. (The former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is still a noted fan of curry wurst. By tradition, every candidate for the mayor of Berlin is photographed at a curry  wurst stand!)

From these names of foods and drinks I know that the advent is here! I’m sure from experience that the Germans are the biggest advent fans in the world! I didn’t like Christmas very much before I ‘d moved to Germany but here I “fell in love” with the advent season. Every year I really looking forward to it. According to the Advent calendar -which means usually at the end of November- I place a beautiful advent wreath on the table of our dining room. I try to buy a wreath with three violet or purple and one pink candle, and I know now that I must light the pink candle on the Third Sunday of Advent! You see I could get a bachelor degree from Advent knowledge. But advent also means of many different events such as markets, fairs, wine drinking and concerts! Among the most attractive events my favorites are the next:

Tollwood in München (the meaning of the word is mad dog)

“Cowboy boots instead of winter boots”- that’s the motto for this year’s Tollwood winter festival in Munich’s Theresien wiese, the huge area where Oktoberfest is held. Canadian contemporary circus group Cirque Éloize have brought their show “Saloon” to Europe for the first time: expect upbeat piano music, swinging saloon-doors, and stunning acrobatics, theatre and dance. The festival, which this year concentrates on “sustainable mobility”, tries to educate visitors about the advantages of carpooling, public transport and cycling. The festival includes stalls and food kiosks, and hundreds of artistic performances. Over 70 percent of the events are free, but tickets for the others can be bought online. (23 Nov-31 Dec)

Circus Krone (also in München) is Europe’s biggest circus opens for its winter season on Christmas Day. One of the few circuses to have its own permanent building, this Munich troupe is one of the best. Once an integral part of European entertainment, circuses of this quality are now few and far between. Although many are put off by these institutions, Circus Krone emphasizes the importance of treating their animals well. From breakdancing to trapezes, and llamas to lions, it certainly promises to be an impressive display. (25 Dec-31 January)

Chocolate festival in Thübingen, from 29 November-4 December

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, then you would be mad to miss Germany’s biggest chocolate festival at the beginning of December. Taking place in Tübingen’s old town, the festival brings together over 100 of the top international chocolatiers from all corners of the world. Across six days, you can sample chocolates from Africa, South America, Europe and more. Alternatively, you could sip on some of the best drinking chocolate around, or swat up on your choco-knowledge by attending courses and demonstrations. The festival also places a lot of emphasis on the chocolate-making process, promoting fair treatment of the 14 million people whose livelihoods depend on chocolate production.

Xmas garden Berlin: from 17 Nov-7 January

As the twilight falls, the magic begins” is the motto of the 2018 Christmas celebrations at the Berlin Botanical Gardens. The show includes a fairy tale landscape in which visitors can wander through one and a half kilometers of “breathtaking light shows, bright dream forests and magical light figures” far from the packed crowds of Berlin’s Christmas markets. At the end of the adventure, there are a variety of food stalls offering local culinary specialties, as well as fire pits to gather round. For the more athletic, there is also a 300-metre squared ice rink. Xmas market You can’t be in Germany in December without visiting a Christmas market, but the tricky part is choosing which one to visit.

Click here to see ten of Germany’s most unmissable Christmas markets, ranging from the über-traditional to the totally wacky.Trauschitz 2014 024

 

 

The “Zwin”, a park for bird lovers

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On the eastern end of the Belgian coast (with the border of the Netherlands), near Knokke there is a very important nature reserve, the “Zwin Nature Park”. A swampy hollow directly connected with and occasionally invaded by the sea. The beauty of the place lies in the variety of different environments, it contains, from brackish waters to expanses of mud flats and salt marshes which are home to a variety of bird species, such as sandpipers, geese and stilts.

The park

The park is well-known for its centre for treatment of wounded animals and its stork repopulation centre. The project by Coussée & Goris aims to increase awareness of these issues by opening the park to visitors and allowing them to view animal species close up in their own habitat. The inspiration of the design of the buildings’s from military fortifications appears strongest in the observation centre to the north, overlooking the sea, with offset concrete walls recalling bunkers, and in this case they convey an idea of progressive distancing of man in relation to the environment and vice versa.

The birds

Many thousands of birds land each year at the Zwin to brood, to spend the winter or to look for food. There is a constant coming and going of birds in the Nature Park; in spring many return from their wintering area in the deep south to land at their brooding areas in the north; in autumn they set out on their journey in the opposite direction. Numerous species of birds follow coastlines and use estuaries and other nature areas to rest for a while or to find food (You can compare it with aircraft that must make as stop during a long-haul flight to refuel at an airport). For very many migratory birds that follow the coastline, the Zwin is an important layover point on their long journey. Thus the Zwin area is an airport, but one reserved exclusively for birds, the ‘International Airport for Birds’!

Species which can always be observed in the area are: the cormorant, white stork, curlew, oystercatcher, redshank, grey lag goose, little egret, black-headed gull and common kestrel. Birds which are absent during a certain period of the year are: the skylark, avocet and shelduck.

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A rare landscape

Mudflats are flooded by the sea twice a day, at high tide, and feature no or hardly any vegetation. Seeds find no foothold here. The salt marshes on the other hand feature a rich flora which has adapted to its surroundings. Between the most low-lying spots on the mudflats and the most elevated areas on the salt marshes, a transition occurs from wet to dry, from salt to sweet, from largely to hardly influenced by the tides. Salty mudflats and salt marshes are rare along the coasts and river mouths of Western Europe. This is why they enjoy European protection.

The most elevated areas of the mudflats are not flooded as often as the most low-lying ones, so certain plants are already able to thrive in those elevated areas.
Salicornia grows in these most elevated zones. The seeds of this small plant can of course only find a foothold on pieces of land which are no longer flooded by the sea on a daily basis. Salicornia also grows in the more low-lying salt marshes. The plant manages to store enough water to be in balance with the highly salty environment in which it grows. The bright green, succulent and articulate stems serve to store the water.

The Zwin park is very interesting since its territory is especially unique as a salt marsh area. The salt marsh is the plain which is regularly flooded by the sea; not every day, but during occasional floods caused by storms or spring tides. The nature of the plants which thrive here is influenced by several factors, such as the duration of immersion by the salty seawater and the difference in altitude in the area itself. Each plant searches for its own level where it thrives best. The salt marsh features characteristic vegetation. Here, you can only find plant species able to tolerate the influence of the seawater. These plants are called ‘salt-tolerant’ plants or ‘halophytes’.

Armed against the salt

Visiting the Zwin I’ve learned that this territory is not an easy biotope to survive in. And yet, some plants and animals are well adapted to this salty environment. In order to survive in the salty water, the plants have some characteristic adaptations which arm them against the salty environment. They develop in such a way that they can go without water for quite some time. For this purpose, most salt-tolerant plants have thick, succulent leaves or stems where they can store the water they have absorbed for a long time. Salicornia and annual sea-blite are such plants. They have so-called ‘water reservoirs’. Another type of salt-tolerant plants are pubescent plants. Their leaves are covered with either hairs or bladders. The function of these bladders is to retain a layer of air, thus preventing or slowing down evaporation. Sea purslane is an example of these pubescent plants. Its leaves are covered with small bladders, which give the plant a silvery-grey color. Most salt-tolerant plants, such as salicornia (a pioneering plant) and sea purslane, absorb seawater until they reach a saturated state. Common sea lavender is even able to excrete the excess of absorbed salts! When the weather is sunny and warm, salt crystals can sometimes be found on the bottom of the leaves.

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Advent in the Forest Kasten

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Since I love spending as much time as I can in the nature it was a big moment when I’d found a farm with a beer garden in the forest nearby from our village (near München/Bavaria). When I stopped at the property I discovered the history of the “Forsthaus Kasten” on the front door. I revealed that it’s a family and excursion beer garden located in the nature protected landscape Forst Kasten (Forest Kasten) near the Forstenrieder Park, southwest of Munich. Surrounded by nature, the beer garden and the hotel are an ideal destination for walks or bicycle rides through the forest. It can be reached by car, by bike or on foot.

The history

The history of Forsthaus Kasten dates back to the beginning of the 13th century. In those days the Heilig Geist Spital zu München (Holy Spirit Hospital) was founded to take care of people in need. In 1308 the property “Gut zu Kastel” was sold to the hospital. Due to additional acquisitions and donations, the property increased in area until 1750 to its present size of 800ha. In 1899 the restaurant Forest Kasten opened, from where the forest ranger of this time sold small meals to passers by. Since 1990 the current leaseholder, Johann and Johanna Barsy, have been managed the restaurant and beer garden. The beer garden has about 2,000 seats in the self-serviced area, which is divided into several sections. Guests can unwrap their own food on beer garden tables in the main area with large trees and gravel ground or under sun umbrellas on a meadow next to cherry trees. The food stalls offer traditional Bavarian meals and snacks, prepared from regional products and spiced with herbs from the property’s own herb garden. Fresh Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick) is also sold in the beer garden. On Sundays bread is baked in a stone oven next to the self-serviced area. The serviced area with 120 seats is located on the terrace under a large sun shade. The beer served is Paulaner and a Mass Helles costs €7.80 (May 2018). All beers are drawn straight from the tap. They also bake bread in an outside stove.

An adventure park with a climbing scaffold, trampoline and minigolf course entertains the kids. During the summer months music bands play regularly on a stage in the beer garden. Major football tournaments are shown live on a big screen. From March/April to October and depending on the weather, the beer garden is open between 11am and 11pm on weekdays and generally already at 10am on weekends.

For two years I’ve become a regular visitor of the Kasten and it was my great surprise when last year on 6th of December the Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated over there with the Krampus Night (Krampusnacht), with the wicked hairy devils. If you didn’t know that creature then here is some explanation: he accompanies St. Nicholas, (who in Europe concerns himself only with the good children, while Krampus is responsible for the bad) who dispensed gifts, while Krampus (es) supplied coal and Ruten bundles! Here in Bavaria it is also customary to hold a Krampuslauf (devil run) and offer a Krampus schnapps, a strong distilled fruit brandy. These runs are usually held by Perchten/Bertha as well who is similarly wild pagan spirits of Germanic folklore and sometimes female in representation, although the Perchten are properly associated with the period of winter solstice. Last year it was a “grosse Kino”- (a great movie) as the Germans express themselves when they enjoy something very much! So this year I’m sure I’ll be participated on the event again!06-krampuslauf-2014

Forest Kasten is closed on Mondays and during the months of January and February.

 

A brilliant day out in Bokrijk

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Bokrijk is a park and historic museum complex in the municipality of Genk in the Province of Limburg, Belgium. It’s well known for its open-air museum which displays a large collection of historical buildings from across Flanders, presenting the history of rural life in Belgium. The domain is 5.5 square kilometers in area and hosts an important botanical garden (arboretum) and also Flanders’ largest open-air playground..

The history of Bokrijk

On March 9, 1252 Arnold IV count of Loon and Chiny sold a forest, that was situated between present Genk, Zonhoven and Hasselt, to the abbey of Herkenrode. This forest was called Buksenrake (‘buk’ =beech, ‘rake’ = a part of land). The name later evolved into Bokrijk. The Cistercian abbey of Herkenrode (in Kuringen near Hasselt) built an abbey farm, dug out fish ponds and started forestry practices. The abbey farm was cultivated by lay brothers and from 1447 onwards functioned as an ordinary tenant farm. It remained the abbey’s property until the years of the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1797 French Revolutionaries seized all properties of the Cistercian abbey and the same year they sold it to a private investor from Maastricht.

Subsequently, the buildings were neglected by many owners until 1890. In that year the Maris-Vanhese family demolished the residential area, but left the outbuildings. They built a neo-classical castle, but were unable to complete it. In 1896 it was sold to the Count de Meeus who did finish the castle. The Count owned a local iron mine until the outbreak of World War I. During the war he sold the land and castle to a Jewish family from Germany. In 1919 the Belgian State seized the land and sold it to the Central Credit Bank of the Farmer’s Union. They set Bokrijk up as a model farm. Due to a crisis and eventual bankruptcy of the Farmers Union, the model farm failed.

The open air museum

On the 21 March 1938 the provincial government of Limburg acquired Bokrijk. Governor Hubert Verwilghen inspired the acquisition. Verwilghen strived for the creation of a public domain that would combine culture and nature. His vision would be realized years later under the dynamic impulse of provincial governor Louis Roppe. On 6 October 1953 the Provincial Council of the Province of Limburg decided to create an open-air museum in Bokrijk. With the post-war industrial revolution and the increasing development projects of the 1950s, Flanders’ living environment was drastically changing. Agricultural buildings of important cultural and historical value for Flanders were disappearing from the landscape. Dr. Jozef Weyns was appointed to coordinate the project and remained in function as first conservator of the Open Air Museum of Bokrijk. The museum opened to the public on 12 April 1958 as contribution of the province of Limburg to the Expo’58 (Brussels World’s Fair).

Nowadays there are 148 authentic buildings that form the heart of the heritage collection. Also in the collection are some 30,000 pieces of everyday life from the 17th century to 1950. It has been designed to be interactive and includes staff who take on the roles of people from different time periods. The oldest building dates back to 1507. Although the emphasis is on farms and farming, there are other examples of village life such as a Smithy, a School, a Church, a Brewery an Inn and several craftsmen buildings. Due to changes in Belgian heritage law, buildings can now only be preserved in situ. So the collection of buildings in Bokrijk that had been moved here from all over Flanders can no longer happen.P1160483

The museum’s preserved buildings are centred in three clusters on the site which are arranged by the geographical region of origins

“Kempen”. This region lies between the Scheldt polders and Maaskant in north-east Flanders. The museum has reproduced the traditional timber based farm dwellings typical of the region as it was over a century ago.

“East and West Flanders”. The region of the museum that represents East and West Flanders has no village setting. Instead there are a number of buildings that show the characteristic work places and housing.

“Haspengouw and the Maasland”. The region of Haspengouw is known for its fruit and traditional square farmsteads. In the museum this region is represented by a copy of the village of Ulbeek as it would have looked in the 19th century. The buildings are arranged around the village square with two ponds and predominantly lime trees. Actors provide interactive experiences in the church and the school.P1160531

Additionally there is a fourth area dedicated to The Sixties in the south-west corner of the site (it is a must for music lovers).

We really enjoyed every single minute in Bokrijk. It showed clearly and realistically how people used to live and worked in these dark ages. Old country houses, barns, churches, many historic buildings had been moved “brick by brick” to this beautiful site. The many old farmhouses, wind/watermills and even a whole section of old town housing from Antwerp were so amazing. There were several buildings that were manned by craftspeople demonstrating old traditional trades (Lots of old fashioned games to play well set out with instructions in English as well). There were members of staff dressing in period costumes in most of the houses and enacting life in the past. To sum up there was plenty to see even by hop on and off coach and there were cafeteria facilities on site. We spent easily a full day in this lovely “museum” with our kids. At the museum shop professional photographer takes pictures (for 5 euros) of you in old vintage clothes.

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The oddest and longest pumpkin festival

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Though the Germans aren’t known for their Halloween celebrations (there are more European traditions like Reformationstag and Martin’s day), they are very into pumpkins. Generally referred to as “Kürbis” which means “squash”, this is a fall staple that must be consumed in mass quantities like Spargel in spring and summer.

So what better place than Germany for the largest pumpkin festival in the world? Taking place on the grounds of a spectacular palace, Schloss Ludwigsburg, over 450,000 pumpkins are on display during Ludwigsburg Kürbis ausstellung (Pumpkin exhibition).

There are 800 different kinds of pumpkins on display from edible to decorative, bumpy to smooth, mammoth to skinny and curvy. With themes like “Pumpkins in Flight” or “The Pumpkin Circus is Coming to Town!” “Rome”(this year) pumpkins are transformed into elaborate action scenes and art pieces acrobatics, clowns, knife throwers and more.

Hundreds of thousands of festive pumpkins are on display every day, but there are several can’t miss events during the festival. It runs from 1st of September until 5th of November! Here is the event calendar:

Pumpkin festival Grounds

The largest pumpkins of the festival are on display again, this time being cut into by famed pumpkin artists. Watch as they cut into orangey flesh to create giant, organic masterpieces. Watch for famed US Pumpkin carver Ray Villafane and his team from 15th to 18th of September. The audience will judge which giant pumpkin is best transformed.

Pumpkin regatta Sunday, September 18 at 12:30 South Garden, Blühendes Barock

It is surprising what will float…like a pumpkin. The annual pumpkin boat race is a highlight of the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival. Daring canoeists try to steer hollowed-out giant pumpkins across the lake as fast as they can

German Pumpkin Championship on Sunday Oct 2 at 13:30 in the South Garden Blühendes Baroque

The heaviest pumpkins from Germany step up to the scales. So far the German record was 812,5 kg (1,791 lbs). Ludwigsburg-17

European Pumpkin Championship on Sunday October 9 at 13:30

Following the German Championship heavy weights from around Europe will compare their girth for this competition. In 2013 the world heaviest pumpkin was 1,053 kg (2,322 pounds) making first in history to surpass the 1,000 kg mark.

Giant Pumpkin Carving on Sunday October 16 at 10:00

Halloween pumpkin Carving Sunday October 22 and 29 at 10:00 Carving tents by the pumpkin sales stand if you are missing seeing jack’o lanterns on every corner, watch the experts carve Halloween pumpkins into sinister smiles and try your skills at an artistic design. There is even the chance to win great prizes!

Smashing pumpkins Sunday November 6 at 12:00

Pumpkin Festival grounds to celebrate the end of the season, the winning pumpkins are honored with horrific pummeling. The winners of the Weigh Off are smashed to bits and visitors can take home some of the giants’ seeds. And besides there are plenty interesting programs such as:

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival for the Kids

The grounds are a fall wonderland for kids and adults alike, but kids can really run free at the Märchengarten -Fairy Tale Garden. Not quite medieval, this kids’ area was built in 1958 and includes interactive sites like a Rapunzel tower, miniature train and boat ride. Children can also observe dioramas of classic German fairytales, some recognizable…some not so much.

And gastronomy:

All things Pumpkin are on the Menu

What fun is looking at all of these delicious pumpkins if you can’t eat any of them? Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival is happy to oblige with tons of pumpkin-inspired foods and drinks.

Find pumpkin on Flammkuchen (like pizza), in sausage and in Maultaschen. Try Kürbis spaghetti with pumpkin seed pesto or pumpkin burgers and pumpkin fries, find pumpkin in strudel, and in Sekt (champagne) and pumpkin schorle-a non alcoholic beverage with bubbles.

And don’t miss Germany’s biggest bowl of pumpkin soup! Served daily from 11:00 until 17:00 on the weekend of September 24th and 25th. Visitors can enjoy a delicious dish of the record-breaking soup and contribute to charity as 1 euro of each bowl sold is donated to charity.

And if you want to bring a little pumpkin home, there are plenty of delicious pumpkin products. Stands offer everything from pumpkin chutney to pumpkin ketchup to cinnamon-sugar coated pumpkin seeds. Bring your own jug to fill with fresh-pressed apple cider. Take the opportunity to sample everything.  IMG_20150920_172316

 

September is mushroom time!

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2014 karácsony Belgium 103September is a great month for avid collectors, avid eaters and avid chefs because this is when wild mushrooms are seriously hitting the scene. It is on the continent that the enthusiasm for the fungal wonders of nature is most apparent, while in Belgium and Germany we seem always to have been afraid of picking and collecting (maybe is a toadstool?). The cep is the prime wild mushroom-cépe to the French and porcino (little pig) to the Italians. Its round shiny cap looks like the Victorian penny bun, but it will now cost rather more than that. They form trees, in clearings in the woods, and around the edges of woods.

Available too the chanterelle, which is also known as girolle. They are quite often thought to be exactly the same, but are actually different strains of the same species. The girolle is found between months of May and July but it is available between midsummer and autumn as well. And of course in the autumn you also find the black Périgord and the white Alba truffle. They are very precious to the French and the Italians, and how special I have just learned in France, in the home of the truffles.

The black diamond market

On the first Tuesday of August, the main street of an otherwise undistinguished town in south west France was magically transformed by one of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping and important events in the entire French culinary universe-the opening day of the truffle market in Lalbenque-.Truffle brokers and special restaurant supply buyers from all over France, the UK and beyond would flock to Lalbenque on the Tuesday market day, momentarily swelling this small town’s population by up to a thousand. They were all there for only one purpose, attempting to acquire specimens of perhaps the world’s pre-eminent culinary delicacy.

(Lalbenque is 25 kilometers south of Cahors, and it is the largest truffle market in south western France, and from early December until early March, hundreds of kilos of France’s ‘black diamond’, (Tuber Melanosporum), will be sold in Lalbenque’s weekly truffle market (another truffle market is held at Richerenches in the Vaucluse)

The major of Lalbenque told me that all the fuss about the truffle began in the 18th century, when the French gastronome and author Brillat-Savarin described these truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen”. It resulted that by 1900, France produced 1,000 metric tons of Tuber Melanosporum a year, but incessant demand and the resulting over-harvesting has reduced today’s annual harvest to a mere 20 to 40 metric tons.

Exactly how Lalbenque and Quercy (the capital of the territory) assumed such an important culinary role is not clear-says the mere-but the scrubby calcareous soil of the surrounding area abounds with the twisted small oak trees whose roots have a symbiotic relationship with and host the growth of truffles.

Meanwhile he tries to reveal the secret of the truffle we walk to the market. I can tell you that already itself is simultaneously picturesque and unusual. Specially on market Tuesday, beginning around 2pm, when sellers stand shoulder to shoulder behind benches running in a long line along the main street, displaying the truffles they are offering that day in a basket set on the bench in front of them. Some sellers have but a few truffles, while others have a bounty exceeding several kilos. About a meter in front of the benches is a strategically positioned rope that prospective buyers dare not cross.

The buyers, usually numbering in the several hundreds, stand in front of the rope and engage in discreet conversations with the sellers. Most conversations revolve around weight, since sales prices are calculated in grams and kilos, but occasionally a forward buyer even asks to have a basket handed to him across the rope for a brief inspection, requests that are often declined.

Nervous smiles are exchanged on both sides of the rope, because both buyers and sellers know very well what is about to come. -At exactly 2.30 pm, a rapid fire series of events very quickly ensues. Not a moment before or after, a policeman whistle is sounded, the rope drops to the ground, the buyers charge forward, earnest and somewhat frantic negotiations ensue, and five minutes later, the market is over for that week. What is remarkable is that even though all sales have truffle weight, as well of course quality, as key value drivers, you will never see a scale at Lalbenque. Sellers will tell you what their basket weighs when you ask, but verification is considered an insult.

The opening day of the truffle market at Lalbenque is always the first Tuesday of every month. It is of particular interest because the elders of the organization that runs the market, the Syndicat des Trufficulteurs, in December parade through Lalbenque in long, black ceremonial robes and plumed Three Musketeers-type hats, with golden medallions hanging around their necks. With much ceremonial flourish, the Mayor of Lalbenque declares the market to be open.

Prospective sellers at the Lalbenque market are required to arrive early, and are ushered into a back room at the Marie where syndicat experts sniff, poke pinch, examine and otherwise take steps to assure that this particular batch of truffles are genuine Tuber Melanosporum, and not Chinese counterfeits. The Chinese truffle, Tuber Sinensis, is a decidedly inferior culinary product that is often passed off as a Perigordian black truffle. It is frequently joked in culinary circles that half of the Perigordian truffles sold in London, Tokyo and New York are Chinese. But not at all in Lalbenque. The syndicat verifies Tuber Melanosporum botanical correctness, which gives comfort to buyers and presumably emboldens bidding.

The laws of supply and demand have driven the price of Perigordian black truffles to stratospheric heights. You can expect to pay upwards of €500 a kilo for good quality truffles at Lalbenque (€900 in Paris), and considerably more if summer weather has not been conducive to truffle growth.

Cooking with truffles

Myriad culinary applications of truffles exist (I even saw a recipe for truffle ice cream!), the local recipe book of Vino Veritas offers a few brief suggestions here in Lalbenque. The biggest mistake a would-be truffle chef can make is muddling the delicate and subtle nuances of truffles with other flavors. The food applications that show off truffles the best, in my opinion (but consider please I’m not an expert), are those made with eggs it was Mussolini the dictator’s favorite, rice or potatoes, and very little else. Very little preparation of the truffles themselves is either necessary or desirable. You want to maximize the surface area of the truffles you are using and then heat them for just a bit to bring out the volatile odor elements. Take a one euro vegetable peeler (the expensive truffle shavers are a rip-off), place shavings of truffles in a small saucepan with butter, heat under very low heat for just a few moments, add the truffles to the balance of your chosen dish, and be prepared for oral ecstasy.

Be aware of the shelf life of fresh truffles is about three weeks and it looses its weight day by day. Store them in a tight-lidded container in the refrigerator submerged in aborio rice, which allows a little air circulation but not too much, and facilitates the most delicious risotto long after the truffles themselves have been consumed!

Stuffed cabbage roulade with chanterelle rice

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Medlar liqueur and cake

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The medlar or common medlar is one of the goofiest fruit in the world. It can be a large shrub or small decorative tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. It belongs to the rose family and a host of small golden fruits in the autumn. They’re prepared similar to rose hips or backside-scratchers. The fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when bletted.

It’s latin name is Mespilus germanica which is not logical since it is not ingenuous in Germany rather in Bulgaria, in Turkey and in Hungary. The fruits are hard and acidic, but become edible after being softened, ‘bletted’, by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes on a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to the consistency and flavor reminiscent of apple sauce. This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled. Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw and is often eaten as a dessert, or used to make medlar jam or jelly. They are used in “Medlar cheese”, which is similar to lemon curd, being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter. So-called medlar tea is usually not made from M. germanica but from wolfberry or goji, which is sometimes called “red medlar”.

Cultivars of Mespilus germanica that are grown for their fruit include ‘Hollandia’, ‘Nottingham’, and ‘Russian’, the large-fruited variety ‘Dutch’ (also known as ‘Giant’ or ‘Monstrous’), ‘Royal’, ‘Breda giant’, and ‘Large Russian’.

Medlar in literature

A fruit which is rotten before it is ripe, is used figuratively in literature as a symbol of prostitution or premature destitution. The fruit gets a lot of derision because I’ve been told that in England, they’re referred to as dog’s backsides (arse)…although I did read that the French call it cul de chien.

In literature it is mentioned for example in the Prologue to The Reeve’s Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer’s character laments his old age, comparing himself to the medlar, which he names using the slang term “open-arse”.

In William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, Apemantus forces an apple upon Timon: There’s a medlar for thee; eat it”, perhaps including a pun on “meddler”, one who meddles in affairs, as well as on rottenness

In Measure for Measure, Lucio excuses his denial of past fornication because “they would else have married me to the rotten medlar.

In As You Like It, Rosalind makes a complicated pun involving grafting her inter locuter with the trees around her which bear love letters and with a medlar “I’ll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar. Then it will be the earliest fruit i’ th’ country; for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar. The most famous reference to medlars, often bowdlerized until modern editions accepted it, appears in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio laughs at Romeo’s unrequited love for his mistress Rosaline.

Medlar jam and cake

To return to the present time I don’t think medlars aren’t really popular or even known. For one thing, they share the same name as loquats –nèfles. And, frankly, I don’t know too many people, except my grandma who make their own jam from it. Which works out great for me because I give out homemade jam for gifts.

Before I forgot, my grandma told me once that in Hungary people pick medlars after the frost, which breaks the flesh down as well. SoI plucked a few kilos from the tree of my friend’s and brought them home in order to make medlar jam. I used my grandma’s recipe’s, and as well British cooks’s, (such as Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater) for guidance because I didn’t know much about how to deal with medlars. Mine took a bit of coaxing to be bletted. I did a little searching around for advice and most advise putting them in a cold place, in a single layer. A few experienced cooks suggested the refrigerator as the place to do it, and I did not realize when I bought it, but was surprised that my refrigerator did indeed have a “bletting chamber.” The first thing you need to know is that medlars need to be bletted, or left to soften and “rot” to a rusty-brown color!

Yet almost a month passed and my medlars were as good as new. As in, they were still rock-hard. So I took them out and put them near a chilly window. And let it behold, those little “arses” softened right up. (Although I think I picked mine a little less-ripe than they should have been.) Next up was cooking them then letting them strain overnight, similar to making apple jelly. Once the liquid is left to strain overnight, you might take a look at the brownish liquid and think that you’ll made a mistake by listening to me. Even I thought there was something wrong. But as I cooked the vicious, murky liquid with some sugar, the final result was a few jars of quivering, shimmering, rosy-red beautiful jelly. I only got two-and-a-half jars from three pounds of fruit, though, so I doubt I’ll be giving these precious jars away. In which case, I’d better get my own “derrière” in gear and find more free fruit, and make more jelly.

Medlar, bananas cake

Ingredients: 6 eggs, ¾ cup heavy cream, ¾ cup vegetable oil, 2½ cups all purpose flour, 3 tbsp baking powder, ½ cup hazelnut flour, 16 ripe Bermuda bananas or 10 regular bananas, 1 cup of medlar purée, 4 cups sugar, a pinch of salt, dashes of vanilla and lemon juice 

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three one-quart kugelforms and dust with flour. Add sugar to eggs, beat until stiff then set aside. Purée bananas, then add vanilla and lemon juice, medlar or loquat purée, heavy cream and vegetable oil. Combine egg mixture with banana mixture.

Mix flour, hazelnut flour, salt and baking powder together. Fold well into banana batter. Fill forms three-quarters full, place on baking tray to ensure browning, and bake for 45 minutes.

Unmould as soon as possible after baking to avoid sogginess and let cool on rack. Bread freezes well if wrapped tightly and frozen same day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer fruit delicacies

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During the month of June and July, so many home-grown summer fruits are at their best, among cherries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, loganberries and tayberries, and of course the inimitable strawberry. I love cherries in the hand, a great snack, but they equal pleasure cooked, both in sweet and savory dishes. It is said that they are over 2000 varieties of cherries in the planet, and in parts of Italy they claim to have been growing them for at least 2000 years. Most cherries are derived from two species-the sour or Morello cherry and the wild or sweet cherry.

Gooseberries seem to be a particularly British and Hungarian fruit to me, and in fact there aren’t many gooseberry recipes from other countries in Europe. Like cherries, they can be used in both sweet and savory contexts, poached and plain, baked in sweet pies or pounded in a fool, or famously, as a tart sauce to accompany mackerel. Raspberries are one of my favorite fruits, and the best in June and July, when the summer days are long. But the prime June-July for me is the strawberry. The original fruit was the wild variety of fragaria vesca, which is native to both North America and northern Europe (it is thought to be circumpolar that by some botanical miracle, it passed across the pole). The name in English comes from the Anglo-Saxon streow, to scatter or strew, and refers to the runners which stray out from the plant in all directions. Both garden strawberries and wild or Alpine strawberries are at their peak of perfection during these summer months, exemplified by their appearance at many European summer sporting occasions.

Cointreau champagne raspberries or strawberries

Served almost iced on a hot day provide probably one of the coolest and easiest of desserts. A spoonful of sweet vanilla whipped cream, is all that is needed to complete this dessert.

serves 4

Ingredients: 450 g raspberries, 1 teaspoon of finely grated orange zest, 3-4 tbsps of champagne, 1 tbsp of icing sugar, plus more for sprinkling, 2 tbsps of Cointreau

for the vanilla whipped cream: 1 vanilla pod, 150 ml double whipping cream, 1 heaped tbsp of icing sugar

Directions: Blend 100 gr of the raspberries with the orange zest 3 tbsps of the champagne and the tbsp of icing sugar, then strain through a fine sieve. The extra tbsp of champagne can be added for a stronger flavor, if needed. chill until ready to serve.

Separate remaining raspberries between four dessert glasses or bowls, then sprinkle each portion with icing sugar and the Cointreau. These can also be refrigerated until needed.

To make the vanilla whipped cream, split the vanilla pod, scraping the seeds from each half. Add the seeds to the cream in a chilled bowl, along with the icing sugar. Whisk until soft-peak stage and the cream is ready to serve. The addition of the icing sugar to the cream will help maintain the creamy consistency for up to 1 hour comfortably, providing i is kept in refrigerated.

just before serving, spoon the champagne raspberry sauce over each bowl of raspberries, offering them with the flavored whipped cream.István király 132

Forgotten treasure: the purslane

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798068-960x720-portulak-in-eiersauceLast week I found a weird herb in our local super market. On its label was written: portulak, in English purslane. When I asked the shopkeeper what a “heck” is it, she didn’t have the faintest idea about the herb. It must be a forgotten herb- she added shrugging her shoulders. -Okay, in spite of this I decided to buy it since I like to discover new stuffs. 

Then at home I started to google about the purslane and I have found the next: Common purslane, also known as (verdolaga, portulak, pigweed, little hogweed, red root, pursley) is an annual succulent in the family Portulacea. It contains more omega-3 fatty acids in particular than any other leafy vegetable plant. What?-I exclaimed. I thought omega-3 fatty acids just exists in fish, but not!

Further more studies have found that purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid as well. It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, C, B,  E, carotenoids)-super!, and dietary minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Also present are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish betacyanins (visible in the coloration of the stems) and the yellow betaxanthins (noticeable in the flowers and in the slight yellowish cast of the leaves).- I checked my pot plant and yes, the google was right about the colors! Both of these pigment types are potent antioxidants and have been found to have anti-mutagenic properties in laboratory studies. I will see after eating them!

In traditional Chinese medicine. Its leaves are used for insect or snake bites on the skin, boils, sores, pain from bee stings, bacillary dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, postpartum bleeding, and intestinal bleeding. Use is contraindicated during pregnancy and for those with cold and weak digestion. Purslane is a clinically effective treatment for oral lichen planus. (I don’t want to experience any above mentioned illness or pathological disorders, but in any case it’s good to know!)

Stop to blow its trumpet!- I thought after having learned all those facts about the purslane, I’m totally convinced to eat it.

It has an extensive distribution, assumed to be mostly anthropogenic, throughout the Old World extending from North Africa and Southern Europe through the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to Australia. The species status in the New World is uncertain: in general, it is considered an exotic weed, however, there is evidence that the species was in  Crawford lake deposits in 1350-1539, suggesting that it reached North America in the pre-Columbian era. –Come on it was a weed!!! Given to pigs!-

Scientists suggested that the plant was already eaten by native Americans, who spread its seeds. How it reached the New World is currently unknown. It is naturalized elsewhere, and in some regions is considered an introduced weed.-You see I ‘ve told you!

Purslane in the history and in the kitchen

Purslane is widely used in East Mediterranean countries, archaeobotanical finds are common at many prehistoric sites. In historic contexts, seeds have been retrieved from the Samian Heraion period dating back to the 7th century BC. In the 4th century BC, Theophrastus names purslane, andrákhne as one of the several summer pot herbs that must be sown in April. As Portulaca-portulak it figures in the long list of comestibles enjoyed by the Milanese given by  Bonvesin de la Riva in his “Marvels of Milan” (in 1288). In antiquity, its healing properties were thought so reliable that Pliny the Elder, advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil. A common plant in parts of India, purslane is known as sanhti, punarva, paruppu keerai, “gangabayala kura”, or kulfa. (OMG I have eaten kulfa at my best friend’s house! It was divine, If I have thought…)

Although purslane is considered a weed in the United States, it may be eaten as a leaf vegetable. It has a slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Mexico. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Purslane may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked as spinach is, and because of its mucilaginous quality it also is suitable for soups and stews. The sour taste is due to oxalic and malic acid, the latter of which is produced through the pathway that is seen in many xerophytes (plants living in dry conditions), and is at its highest when the plant is harvested in the early morning.

Australian Aborigines use the seeds of purslane to make seedcakes.

Greeks, who call it andrakla  or glystrida, use the leaves and the stems with feta cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. They add it in salads, boil it, or add it to casseroled chicken.

In Turkey, besides being used in salads and in baked pastries, it is cooked as a vegetable similar to spinach. Similarly, in Egypt, it is cooked as a vegetable stew. Called Bakleh in Syria and Lebanon, is eaten raw in a famous salad called fattoush, and cooked as a garniture in fatayeh (triangular salted pastries).

In Albania, known as burdullak, it also is used as a vegetable similar to spinach, mostly simmered and served in olive oil dressing, or mixed with other ingredients as a filling for dough layers of byrek.

In the south of Portugal, baldroegas are used as a soup ingredient. In Pakistan, it is known as qulfa and is cooked as in stews along with lentils, similarly to spinach, or in a mixed green stew.

Although often identified as a “weed”, purslane is a vegetable rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, a cultivar, sativa, is shown here being grown in a ceramic pot.

My purslane salad looked like this! And yesterday I also prepared an omlette with purslane, fried in butter!purslane-salad

Purslane also finds mention in a translation of the Bible as a repulsive food. Job’s question in Job 6:6: “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt or is there any taste in the slime of the purslane?” whereas the King James Version translates this verse as “Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?”

 

Chess flower for Easter

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P1110317.JPGI bought a chequered lily last week (Fritillaria meleagris) as I decided to choose it for being our major Easter decoration. I discovered it couple of years ago in Germany and since it has been my favorite flower of the Lent. It is a Eurasian species of flowering plant in the lily family. Its common names include snake’s head fritillary, snake’s head (the original English name), chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, guinea flower, leper lily (because its shape resembled the bell once carried by lepers), Lazarus bell, chequered lily, chequered daffodil, drooping tulip or, in northern Europe, simply fritillary.

The name Fritillaria comes from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box, possibly referring to the chequered pattern on the flowers although this derivation has been disputed. The name meleagris means “spotted like a guineafowl. The common name “snake’s head” probably refers to the somewhat snakelike appearance of the nodding flower heads on their long stems. Vita Sackville West called it “a sinister little flower, in the mournful color of decay.

The flower has a chequered pattern in shades of purple, or is sometimes pure white. It flowers from March to May and grows between 15–40 cm in height. The plant has a button-shaped bulb, about 2 cm in diameter, containing poisonous alkaloids. It grows in grasslands in damp soils and river meadows at altitudes up to 800 m.

Fritillaria meleagris is native to Europe and Western Asia but in many places it is an endangered species that is rarely found in the wild but is commonly grown in gardens. In Croatia, the flower is known as kockavica and is associated by some with the country’s national symbol. It is the official flower of the Swedish province of Uppland, where it grows in large quantities every spring at the meadows in Kungsängen (Kings meadow), just outside Upsala, which gives the flower its Swedish name, kungsängslilja (Lily of Kings meadow). It is also found for example in Sandemar Nature Reserve, a nature reserve west of Dalarö in Stockholm Archipelago. It is also a symbol of the Italian Botanical Garden Alpino di Pietra Corva.P1110301.JPG