Tuesday, September 6, 2011
But Fall also brings back memories from years ago when I used to travel to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest. I am NOT a beer drinker, but there is so much more to Oktoberfest than the beer.
They say smells are one of the strongest memories of all. I believe that is probably true, because every time I smell almonds roasting in cinnamon and sugar in a big copper kettle I am back in the cold, crisp air of Munich in October.
Believe it or not, there's much more to Oktoberfest than beer. From chicken dances and sing-alongs to giant pretzels and gingerbread necklaces, these traditions at Munich's favorite fall festival go beyond the brew -- though there's plenty of that, too.
Oktoberfest traditionally starts on a Saturday in late September and continues for 16-18 days. (This year's dates are Sept. 17-Oct. 3). The official festival kick-off takes place at noon inside the oldest beer tent, Schottenhamel, when Munich's mayor taps the first keg and exclaims, O'zapft is! or, it is tapped! This signals the beginning of draught pouring throughout the fair.
The following day, crowds gather for the 10 a.m. Costume and Riflemen's Parade, miles of more than 7,000 costumed dancers, marching bands, animals, and floats through parade through Munich's center.
Oktoberfest is the world's largest folk festival, and the biggest draw to this day is the free-to-enter beer tents. Fourteen temporary structures range in size from the massive Hofbräu Festzelt -- a favorite among Americans for its revelry and oom-pah bands -- (I LOVE the oom-pah bands) to the 2,900-seat Käfers Wiesen Schänke. Visit the Armbrustschützenzelt tent to try local delicacies like Hendl (a half or whole spit-roasted chicken) and Haxn (pork knuckles). The smaller Fischer Vroni tent offers a large fish selection, including festival favorite Steckerlfisch (grilled whitefish on a stick), along with Würstl (sausages), Knoedel (dumplings), and Brotzeit (snacks consisting of meats, cheeses radishes, and bread) are readily available throughout festival grounds.
Tents feature food and music, are packed with picnic tables and benches that fill up quickly, and while parties of two to three can usually squeeze in beside a group that's already seated, those of 6 or more should reserve a table in advance or visit one of the smaller, less crowded tents. The Augustiner -- a tent known for its family atmosphere and traditional tunes -- is a local favorite.
While donning traditional Bavarian garb is a great way to feel part of the Oktoberfest festivities, I never tried it! Many of the men wear lederhosen (a pair of shorts or three-quarter-length pants sporting either buttoned or zippered fastening), a drop-front flap, and leather suspenders with a front cross strap, and some feature elaborate embroidery. Just add a white shirt, long socks and boots, and top off the outfit with a Trachten hat, or German-style hiking hat, adorned with a tuft of goat hair. Voila! There ya go gentlemen!
Women wear the dirndl which is a flattering ensemble of a bodice, a blouse, and a full-skirt with apron. Where you tie your bow signifies your relationship status: left means single; right means taken. You can actually rent these outfits if you care to. One year I brought home lederhosen for my eldest son and a drindl for my daughter. They looked so cute!
I was always amazed at how the women working the tents could carry six of the large sized heavy glass mugs without any difficulty at all! The beer flows freely at Oktoberfest, but it is all in good fun. I never saw any excessive rowdiness or drunkness on any visit I had there. Remember, when toasting, make eye contact with your drinking compatriot and raise and clink your glasses together, shouting Prost! (Cheers!), before taking a swig.
One of Oktoberfest's favorite snacks is the Brezel (soft pretzel). Festival versions are gigantic, doughy, sprinkled with salt, and best purchased from vendors stationed outside the side and front entrances of each beer tent. And don't forget to check out the "chicken dance." One year while we were attending the Fair with a very French, very dignified business associate of ours, we found him to be quite adept at standing atop a picnic table doing the chicken dance! We laughed til our sides hurt!
For something sweet, stop by a food stand and ask for Gebrannte Mandeln, sugar-glazed almonds cooked in copper kettles and served in paper cones, this is the smell that seems to permeate everything in Munich during Oktoberfest, and one I will never forget...the stuff is addicting!
Since the late 19th century, a Fun Fair has been part of the overall celebration. Roller coasters, log flumes, and a 164-foot-tall Ferris Wheel (Risenrad) thrill visitors. Many amusement park owners actually come here to scope out new rides for their parks. A business and pleasure trip combined!
So, as we go into the Fall season, if you can't actually take a trip and fly off to Munich, hunt some of the local "Oktoberfest" celebrations and join in on the fun. Many of them do a good job supplying the fun and festive atmosphere of "Oktoberfest"
Some of the best: Cincinnati, OH; Helen, GA; Mt. Angel, OR; Fredericksburg, TX;
Soulard, St. Louis, MO; Leavenworth, WA; and Milwaukee, WI.
RECIPE OF THE DAY
This is definitely a "cold weather" hearty dish...but worth the trouble!
1. 1/3 cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2. 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3. 3 pounds pork back ribs or baby back ribs, cut into 3 sections
4. 6 pounds good sauerkraut (in jars or plastic bags), drained
5. 1/4 olive or peanut oil
6. 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
7. 4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
8. 20 juniper berries (optional)
9. 3 large bay leaves
10. 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
11. 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12. 3 cups chicken stock
13. 1 1/2 cups Riesling or Pinot Gris
14. 2 pounds Polish kielbasa, skinned and cut into 2-inch pieces
15. 10 skinless hot dogs
16. One 2-pound piece of boneless boiled ham (3 to 4 inches wide), sliced 1/4 inch thick
17. 2 pounds medium potatoes (about 10), peeled
18. Assorted mustards, for serving
1. In a large, sturdy, resealable plastic bag, combine the 1/3 cup of kosher salt with the sugar. Add the pork ribs; shake well to thoroughly coat the ribs with the seasonings. Seal the bag and refrigerate the ribs overnight or for up to 24 hours.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 300°. Rinse the sauerkraut in cold water and squeeze dry. Set a large roasting pan over 2 burners on high with oil, Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the sauerkraut, juniper berries, bay leaves, caraway seeds, black pepper, stock and wine and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
3. Meanwhile, rinse the pork ribs under cold water and pat dry. Nestle the pork ribs in the sauerkraut and bring back to a boil over moderately high heat. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
4. Remove the pork ribs from the sauerkraut. Cut down in between the ribs. Return the ribs to the sauerkraut and nestle in the kielbasa, hot dogs and ham. Cover and bake until the meats are hot, about 25 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
5. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water, add salt and bring to a boil over high heat; cook the potatoes until tender when pierced. Drain the potatoes and cover to keep warm.
6. To serve, mound the hot sauerkraut in the center of very hot dinner plates and partially tuck in the pork ribs and the kielbasa. Arrange the hot dogs and ham around the sauerkraut. Alternatively, pile the sauerkraut on a large heated platter and garnish with the meats. Serve the choucroute with the boiled potatoes and assorted mustards.
Make Ahead The choucroute can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated for 3 days. Reheat before proceeding.