Sometimes I crave to write down a few of my thoughts simply in order to keep them organized, preserved, and all in one place. I swear I am not going to make it a full-blown two-thousand-word article with clear beginning, climax and ending. Just scribble whatever comes to mind in any shape and form. Usually I fail. Let’s see where we end up this time.
This post is written in honor of my local seasonal eating in the month of May. I realize it would have been much cooler to make a New Year resolution of eating local and seasonal food and start in January. But first of all, I already eat local and seasonal most of the time. Second, I can’t turn back time and even if I could, 2020 is definitely not the year to do that.
So what am I blabbing about here anyways? In April, after weeks of self-isolation and rare walks around the neighborhood, I finally allowed myself to venture as far out as the Old Town. The center point of Nuremberg’s Alt Stadt is a beautiful cobblestoned market square with red and white stands selling produce year round.
I’ll be honest with you I’ve never been a huge fan of the market. Wait, let me start again. When we moved to Nuremberg I was excited to see a farmers’ market right in the center of historic Old Town. But upon a closer look I discovered mountains of oranges, pineapples, and dried papaya — not something you normally find in Germany.
I even tried to shop there once, but ended up paying thirty euro for five tomatoes, three apples and a box of raspberries. Afterwards I decided to stick to supermarket. That was one and a half years ago.
The main reason preventing me from buying produce at the market was my lack of German. Entirely my bad, I know. I am working on it. In between papaya stands one can actually find local butchers, bakers and farmers. But when you can’t ask the essential questions like “Where do these strawberries come from?”, “How many kilometers did the radishes travel?” and “Is this the new crop or the last year’s one?” it’s hard to choose wisely. I was scared, lazy to do the work, and steered clear.
Then I decided to master my mom’s pan-fried potatoes. What does that have to do with anything and when are we going to talk about seasonal eating, you ask? Well, I told you from the start this post was not going to be a coherent story, so please indulge me. Ok, my mom’s potatoes!
My mom makes the best pan-fried potatoes that are nicely browned and crispy and oily and impossible to replicate. I asked her for the recipe which she, of course, doesn’t have. She did share instructions and a few tricks that I followed religiously only to get soggy potatoes.
I continued to experiment with pans and oils and timing unsuccessfully. Then I thought maybe I am using the wrong type of potatoes. So I jumped down the rabbit hole of exploring the kinds of potatoes Germany has to offer. That’s how one day I came across a guide to German potatoes written by Christie of A Sausage Has Two blog. While her article was incredibly useful I still didn’t quite nail my mom’s life-changing fried potatoes, but once I do you’ll be the first to know.
Anyhooooo… apart from that potato post, Christie also wrote awesome seasonal food guides for every month of the year in Germany which got me inspired. I followed her on Instagram (not a stalker, just genuinely interested) where she shares daily walks to her market in Wiesbaden to pick up veggies, fruits and meats.
And then it all came together. My first walk to the Old Town after weeks of quarantine, the May guide to seasonal foods by Christie, and the first beautiful spring crops by local farmers. I found myself back at the market looking for Fränkische Erdbeeren (Franconian strawberries) and Fränkische Spargel (Franconian asparagus) signs — that much I can understand in German.
Now we are safely back to my market story, hope the fried potato derailment was fairly entertaining.
Didn’t you say you were already eating seasonal food anyways, you might ask. Yes! Yes, I did. I guess the big difference is that in May I’ve been eating foods that are not only local and seasonal, but new to me. Two ingredients in particular were central in my cooking during the month of May: white asparagus and rhubarb.
With the former I made a classic German plate of steamed asparagus, ham, and boiled potatoes served with butter. The most spring-time-appropriate dish there ever was. This was my go-to lunch in May. Simple, but prepared with fresh ingredients, incredibly satisfying.
Once, I decided to be a little more sophisticated and make a white asparagus cream soup popular in the south of Germany. Mine was not the authentic German Spargelsuppe as I haven’t used any particular recipe, but it was a creamy asparagus soup nonetheless. Served with freshly baked bread from a bakery near my house, it was lovely.
Two notes on the soup. First of all, how beautiful is this hand-painted soup bowl of mine? I recently found myself browsing through vintage dinnerware accounts (after realizing I only have a set of IKEA plates that I am sick and tired of) and when I saw these Villeroy & Boch set I ordered it straight way.
Second note, completely unrelated to the first one, is on soup decoration. I left the tips of asparagus, as the most precious part, off when blending the soup. My intention was to put the tips on the top just like on those pretty Pinterest pictures… and you know what happened? They all sunk to the bottom. I even tried stacking them up, but as you see that didn’t work either. The soup turned out wonderful, though.
My mom seeing how much asparagus I am cooking these days sent me this 1994 issue of Burda magazine that was popular among Russian women for all things domestic, but especially sewing and cooking.
“So you had asparagus back then?” I asked mom since I can’t remember ever trying it in my childhood. “Nope. We had almost nothing [of mentioned in the magazine], we read it to draw inspiration”.
I also bought green asparagus: simply boiled and served with tuna salad from my neighborhood fish shop. I don’t have too much time for cooking these days, as you might have noticed.
Finally, and this is a paragraph I am adding just before clicking “publish”, last night I tried an asparagus tarte! It was our family’s first dining out in three months. On a whim, we stopped to have lunch at Globo, my favorite restaurant in Nuremberg — organic, seasonal, creative. So it wasn’t a surprise to see white asparagus on their menu in May, it was a surprise, however, to have asparagus in the form of mousse layered on top of sponge cake! I simply had to show you!
And then there was rhubarb. Not at the restaurant, we are now back to my home kitchen. It all started out with picking up a few bright pink stalks at the market. “Ah… it’s that weird vegetable people put in cakes? I don’t like it” was my husband’s reaction.
I had no idea what to make of rhubarb and whether I myself like it. I vaguely remember trying it once and not being particularly excited. But everyone deserves a second chance, right? So I made this light ricotta rhubarb cake one late night. As soon as I got the tin out of the oven my baby woke up and I ran to him. The next morning I woke up to this.
I feel like I need to make cake more often in this house because my husband apparently thinks that’s how you cut a piece of cake. He didn’t love the rhubarb all that much (he did eat the cake anyways), but I became a rhubarb convert.
After the cake success I also made rhubarb jam and ginger rhubarb syrup for spritzers. The former found its way into a beautiful, light as air cream cheese dessert. The recipe was created for me by my talented friend and chef based in Saint Petersburg Sasha Zherebtsov.
As for rhubarb ginger syrup, it was inspired by my latest trip to Berlin when I tried Rhabarber Schorle for the first time. Gotta love German language! And Schorle, which is essentially a non-alcoholic spritzer — fruit juice or syrup diluted with sparkling water. I made it twice! I used this recipe for guidance but swapped more rhubarb for strawberries because Franconian strawberries cost nine euro per kilo at the moment. I feel like doing anything to them but putting them straight into my mouth is a sin.
I’ve been also looking at these rhubarb ginger white chocolate cookies from The Guardian (they are going to happen, I’ve already bought white chocolate) and dreaming of rhubarb strawberry crumble (maybe when the price of strawberries goes down).
To think that a few weeks ago I had to watch a YouTube video on how to prep rhubarb! Do I cut off the ends? Do I peel it? Is the green part edible? Yes, no, absolutely. And now look at me: do I make a crumble? Do I bake cookies? This is the fun part of using new ingredients.
I am looking forward to June and fresh raspberries, red currents and gooseberries. None of these are particularly new to me — my grandma had every kind of berry in abundance at her dacha (Russian country house with a garden).
However, I mostly had those berries fresh or in a jam, so I am excited to try new ways of cooking them and sharing my successes and mishaps with you. I might also share the story of my grandma’s garden and how I hated it with all my heart. Must be illegal to admit things like that on the peak of farm-to-table movement.
Ok, rant over. It still came to almost two thousand words. If you made it to the very end, thank you for navigating through this incoherent mess of words! You are free to get back to your life now and maybe make a Rhabarber Schorle while rhubarb is still in season!