Beyond Sausages & Sauerkraut: Why German Cuisine Is Far From Europe’s Wurst
Think of German cuisine, and a few of the well-known classics will probably come to mind: a giant Schnitzel with a big plate of potatoes; Black Forest gateau; pork knuckle with sauerkraut and dumplings – all washed down with a very large beer.
But though these are much-loved traditional dishes that are regularly consumed in and around various parts of the country, it’d be unfair to think the Germans are eating pork and potatoes every day.
Not only is the German cuisine a fiercely regional one, but it’s also heavily reliant on the changing of the seasons, and fresh fruit and vegetables are celebrated throughout the year as they come into season: white asparagus is feasted upon in late spring and early summer; stone fruits, figs and berries are on the menu during the hottest months; and mushrooms followed by nuts, roots and brassicas fill German larders during the winter. There’s even a time and a place for drinks: young wine, mulled wine, ice wine and punch; even the beer’s seasonal in Germany. So, keeping all that in mind, here are 10 seasonal German cuisine favourites that you might like to pick from the menu on your next visit.
Grüne Sosse, or Grie Soß (Green sauce)
A cold herb sauce from Frankfurt, Grüne Soße is traditionally made with seven specific herbs: sorrel, chervil, chives, parsley, burnet, cress and borage. Mixed with other ingredients that might include onion, vinegar, mustard and Quark or yoghurt, it’s most commonly served with halved, hard-boiled eggs and boiled potatoes, but it’s also excellent with white fish, slices of roast or boiled beef or even a warmed-through chunk of Fleischwurst. You’ll find Grüne Soße on the menu in Frankfurt and throughout the federal state of Hessen, the official season beginning on Grünerdonnerstag (Green Thursday, the day before Good Friday) and ending with the first Autumn frost.
Spargel mit Hollandaise (White asparagus with Hollandaise)
The Germans go mad for white asparagus, holding festivals, crowning white asparagus queens and even making Schnapps from it. In the regions it’s produced – and harvesting it is back breaking work, since each spear has to be carved out of the earth by hand – you’ll find special white asparagus menus at restaurants and inns when the season’s in full swing. The most classic German way to eat white asparagus is with boiled potatoes and Hollandaise sauce or a good drizzle of melted butter and some cooked or cured ham optionally on the side.
Erdbeerbowle (Strawberry punch)
Seasonal cuisine isn’t just about eating. Strawberry punch is a very refreshing (and often potent) alcoholic drink that’s popular at festivals throughout the summer, particularly in fruit-growing regions. Made with dry white wine and Sekt (German sparkling wine), the chopped strawberries are usually complemented by extras according to taste, from a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon to a generous glug of fruit liqueur; a lovely fruity alternative to a glass of wine or beer during the hot summer months.
Rote Grütze (Summer berry pudding)
Not many desserts say summer like a red berry pudding, and Germany’s version, Rote Grütze, is a nostalgic childhood treat for many people, too. A mix of warm spices and seasonal berries: black- and redcurrants, strawberries, raspberries and/or cherries. It’s available ready-made in supermarkets throughout the year, and you can make it any time with frozen berries, but there’s nothing like a freshly made bowlful with a good dollop of vanilla custard.
Federweisser (Fermenting young wine)
Come early autumn in Germany’s wine regions, it’s worth going on a hunt for a bottle of Federweisser, young wine that’s still fermenting when you buy it. It’s sold in loosely capped bottles to allow the gasses produced during the fermentation process to escape. You’ll do well to remember this as you drink it: Federweisser might taste like a sweet, innocent grape juice, but the alcoholic content increases as it ferments, even once you’ve drunk it. Consume it with care, and have a slice of the traditional onion cake (Zwiebelkuchen) accompaniment alongside.
Apfelkuchen (Apple cake)
There are probably as many recipes for German apple cakes as there are apples (maybe). Whether you want a plain cake or one embellished with marzipans or raisins, glazed with jam or covered in crumble, Germany can fulfill all your apple cake dreams. I love a northern German sunken apple cake (Geschlupfter Apfelkuchen), which is not too sweet and perfect with a cup of afternoon tea (or coffee, if you’re having it the German way). Apples are of course available year-round these days, but the cakes made with apples that have fallen from the tree at the end of the garden or in the orchard down the road will always taste superior.
Schweinemedallions mit Pfifferlingen (Pork medallions with chanterelle mushrooms)
When it comes to seasonal restaurant menus, wild mushrooms – in particular chanterelles and porcini – are celebrated almost as widely as white asparagus in some parts of the country. You’ll find them in soups or stews, served with pasta or dumplings, but nothing says autumn in Germany to me like an evening in a wine tavern with a glass (or two) of local Riesling and a plate of pork medallions with a wild mushroom cream sauce.
Kastainensuppe (Chestnut soup)
The smell of roasted chestnuts is not an uncommon one during Germany’s winter months: popular at Christmas markets as well as at pop-up stalls on the street, they’re a standard festive treat towards the end of the year. You can eat them right out of a brown paper bag just so, or buy them fresh at the market and roast them yourself before turning them into a German chestnut soup, a gloriously creamy, luxurious and surprisingly filling affair to warm you up on a cold winter’s night.
Grünkohl mit Pinkel (Kale with Smoked Pork Sausage)
To many kale lovers, the idea of cooking it to within an inch of its life is an utterly horrifying one, but for the northern Germans, slowly stewed is the only way to eat it. Cooked gently with onions, pork fat or bacon, oats and potatoes, the Germans serve their kale with a smoked pork and oat sausage called Pinkel, and they’ll do it all winter long.
Wildschweingulasch mit Spätzle (Wild boar goulash with egg noodles)
Different meat is so widely available throughout the year nowadays that it’s easy to forget that game is, technically speaking, seasonal produce. The Germans love eating venison, goose and boar during the winter: they roast their game meats, turn them into sausages and pâté or serve them in big hearty stews. Wild boar meat is very lean, so it’s usually cooked slowly with a fatty cut of bacon as well as onions, herbs and red wine; the resulting goulash tastes wonderful with those famous little German egg noodles called Spätzle, perhaps with a blob of cranberry jelly on the side.
About The Author
Christie Dietz is a freelance food & travel writer. Originally from London, she’s been living in Wiesbaden since 2010.
Her blog, A Sausage Has Two, focuses on regional, seasonal German food and drink, culinary traditions and gourmet travel; she’s also written for The Guardian and Fodor’s Travel (Germany Guide 2016), been featured in German news publications including Die Welt, Sterne magazine and Das Bild, and was shortlisted for a YBF award in 2016. You can follow Christie on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.