A couple of German libraries, assisted by the German Research Council, have scanned all 63,000 pages (g) of 'Johann Heinrich Zedler's Great Complete Universal Encyclopedia of All the Sciences and Arts', published in 1732. It's even searchable. And it's fantastic.
I searched for melancolia in various spellings and came across this recipe for 'Spiced Beer Against Melancholey'. The antiquated spelling and Fraktur script make it a bit hard to read, but the recipe seems to have at least 15 or so ingredients, including young beer, 'hermo-dates(?)', carrot seeds, radishes, white wine, coriander seeds, juniper berries, St. John's Wort tips, and much more:
There's got to be some philologist out there who can interpret the weights, measures, and cooking instructions. We can only hope all the spices are still available.
Let's all get together and whip up a giant cauldron of this stuff and get rid of our Melancholey once and for all! Who's with me?
One of mankind's more regrettable discoveries is that you can eat fish at a certain stage of decomposition and survive. Confusing ought with is, some people then decided that because it was possible to do this, it should be done. If you were ever to be transported back to ancient Rome, you would immediately be confronted with the omnipresence of garum, the fermented fish sauce that was used as a seasoning and widely mocked as repulsive even in Roman times. The Vietnamese also use fish sauce to this day.
But the Swedes take it one step back, refusing to wait until the fish liquefied. A friend recently brought back from Sweden a bulging tin can of 'fermented' (that is, half-rotten) chunks of herring, a Swedish specialty called 'surströmming'. A genteel Swiss food critic described this dish as 'horror in a can' (g) and described a tasting 'party' thus:
The biggest challenge when eating strömming is to vomit only after the first bite, not before. The word 'bestial' aptly describes the odor, the taste is just plain disgusting. Spicy, bitter, tangy, and sour. No-one in the group was able to take more than 5 grams into their mouths.
My friend, who staged a tasting party of his own, reached deep into his richly-stocked clearinghouse of metaphors to describe it:
Unspeakably vile. I managed one bite without throwing up and
couldn’t get down any more than that. It was a taste that resembled a rotting
corpse in a plastic bag left in an alley behind an Indian restaurant in the sun
for a few days. It was like what I imagine it would taste like blowing a
syphilitic homeless man who has pissed himself for the past three days
straight. It wasn’t pungent or offensive in smell beyond a ripe fart, it wasn’t
sharp, or tangy at all, but dear lord – in the mouth, it was like licking the
worst thing imaginable. The sheer sickly putrefaction taste just conjured up
dead flies in the bottom of a cheap beer bottle in a deserted crack house.
In the following video, the indomitable Aussie Louis barely manages to choke down some surströmming, which is really something, seeing as he has no problem eating roadkill and live scorpions.
It's carnival time here in the Rheinland, which means it's time for offensive baked goods! Around here, we have the Mohrenkopf (g). or 'Moor's head'. These appear just in time for the growing controversy in Germany about outdated language in childrens' books (g) and racially-loaded imagery in everyday life (noted right here in 2012 and 2005).
I found this beauty at my local Bader bakery:
He suffered a bit of maxillofacial trauma on the way home, but -- most importantly -- the tiny cowboy hat stayed on. I like to think of this pastry not as a crude stereotype, but as a loving hommage to the unjustly neglected black cowboy. I called him Sheriff Bart (see clip).
Unfortunately, things soon took a tragic turn. Upon removing the tiny hat, it became clear that it had somehow become fused to the unfortunate Sheriff's very skull. The second photograph, in which Bart's soft, foamy yellow brain is clearly visible, highlights his almost-unbelievable composure. How many of us would still be smiling after such massive cranial trauma?
Eventually, to put Bart out of his misery, I ate him. He was delicious.
Every Thursday, I go to my local farmers' market (g) and buy cheese, meat and eggs. The market is held at the Lessingplatz, which has a broken-obelisk fountain presumably in memory of one of the leading figures of the German Enlightenment. It's now the main gathering place for the leading figures in Duesseldorf's outdoor alcoholic scene (g). But those folks fade into the background when the market comes.
This farmer's market is not one of those fancy-pants ones where hipsters in porkpie hats sell arugula while guerilla knitting. No, this farmer's market features actual farmers, with dirt-stained hands, fun regional accents, friendly manners, and solid, unspectacular, delicious traditional (not heirloom) potatoes, which are helpfully marked with their texture (creamy, mealy, firm).
Meat I buy form the Vennbachhof (g) stand. Not just because it's good, but because the saleswoman vaguely resembles a more earthy and organic Heidi Klum. If your lifelong fetish dream was to see Heidi Klum sling giant chunks of raw meat (you know who you are), and she still hasn't responded to your messages, then you need to come to the Rheinland.
The only problem is that, as a little dankeschoen, meat-Heidi always gives me a chunk of Teewurst (tea sausage).Why is this a problem? Because then I have to eat it. Now, as Teewurst goes, the Teewurst from the Vennbachhof is probably excellent. But I can't stand Teewurst. The problem with it, as with most German sausages, is that it's hopelessly under-spiced. This means you can actually taste what the sausage was made from. I usually discreetly put the Teewurst out on my balcony, where the creatures of the night feast upon it.
If I wanted to taste organ meat -- and I don't -- I'd just buy a jar of pate. The entire reason sausage exists, if you ask me, is to take the parts of a mammal that nobody in their right mind wants to think about, grind them up, and load them with delicious spices that start a party in your mouth. The best sausages -- which are almost all Polish and Hungarian -- thrust the question of what parts of the animal they're made from far into the background, where it belongs.
I have a Theory about this. Back when European mankind first had the glorious idea to make sausages, powerful Germany could afford the best organ meat, and therefore had little to cover up with spices. Those countries on the 13th-century version of the Eurozone periphery were left to make what they could from the leavin's -- eyes, anii, ears, hoof gristle, what-have-you. To distract themselves from the content of their casings, they turned to huge amounts of garlic, dill, onions, and other dangerously intense 'ethnic' flavors that are much too stimulating for the German palate.
That's my Theory and I'm sticking to it. Fortunately, last night, a friend came by, and I was able to force the Teewurst onto him. Although he doesn't like Teewurst either, he had little choice but to be a nice guest and eat it. I ate a quarter of it out of solidarity. Gad, that hideous brain-like texture...
growing macabre fascination with “last meals” offers a window into one’s
true consumption desires when one’s value of the future is discounted
close to zero. But in contrast to popular anecdotes and individual case
studies, we created an empirical catalogue of actual last meals – the
final food requests of 247 individuals executed in the United States
during a recent five-year period. Our content analyses reveal three key
findings: 1) The average last meal is calorically rich (2,756
calories) and proportionally averages 2.5 times the daily recommended
servings of protein and fat, 2) the most frequent requests are also
calorie dense: meat (83.9%), fried food (67.9%), desserts (66.3%), and
soft drinks (60.0%), and 3) 39.9% requested branded foods or beverages.
These findings are respectfully consistent with a model of
environmentally contingent temporal discounting, and they are consistent
with studies of how food is used to mediate feelings of stress and
distress. Given that some people who are warned about the ill effects
of obesity might counterintuitively engage in unhealthy overconsumption,
the findings also suggest further study relating to the artificial use
of mortality salience in campaigns against obesity.
Now, those of you who are German-powered™ will have noticed the strange title to this photo essay: Eiterquellen translates literally as 'sources of pus.'
Yilcch! Why is this? The answer is as simple as it is disgustinglicious. One of the most popular sausages you will find at these stands is my favorite sausage in the world, Käsekrainer (g), a variant of Slovenian Krainer sausage which has been filled with cheese (Käse). When you cut it open, it looks a little bit like this:
Are you beginning to grasp the scabrous secret behind the title of the photo essay? No? Then let me take you by the hand. In Vienna dialect, a Käsekrainer sausage is affectionately known as an Eitrige (the pus-filled one), after the German word for pus, Eiter. If you think this tells you a lot about the Austrian mentality, you are correct, sir.
So, a sausage stand is one place you can get a 'pus-filled one'. Next time you're in Vienna, I'll be the one at the wurst stand with pus dripping down my chin from an Eitrige im Schlafrock ('Eitrige in a sleeping-gown', basically a croissant).
The ZDF sent a reporter to take a chainsaw to the rapidly-crumbling mythology of Germany's excellent, pure beers (h/t HM). The resulting 30-minute special is here (g). Sorry, I couldn't find an embed link. The executive summary:
German beers regularly fail on the international tasting circuit because they're bland and uniform, reflecting a lack of innovation in the German beer market. American beers routinely win highest honors because they're more diverse and high-quality.
The German beer industry has become hugely concentrated owing to massive mergers which have shut down many smaller breweries.
The biggest German beer brands all taste alike and have no character.
The much-hyped German beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) is actually full of loopholes that permit all sorts of shortcuts and chemical additives like the BASF-produced PVPP (which, to be fair, is only used in processing and doesn't stay in the beer).
Germans' primitive beer palates are, in part, caused by the woefully limited range of beers available at mainstream commercial outlets. Most of the really interesting micro-brewed German beers are destined for export to more adventurous consumer markets -- primarily in the US.
A sobering picture, so to speak, but not one that will be unfamiliar to readers of this blog. The report saves the best for last, in which during the 2012 Beer awards, the blind taste testers award top honors in traditionally German beer categories such as Alt, Kölsch, Hefe-Weizen and Pilsner to breweries from Arizona, Texas, Australia, and Iceland, respectively.
Yet there's a happy postscript: Germans are beginning to emerge from their dogmatic Reinheits-slumber and awaken to the glorious worldwide diversity of beer, thanks to stores like Bier-Beer (g) which stocks over 300 foreign beer brands...