Well, I’m almost a week late and a frankfurter short with this Oktoberfest column. For some reason, I think that this festival should be held in late October. However, In Munich, Germany, the birthplace of Oktoberfest, it is a 16-day long festival that begins in late September (the date varies) and runs through the first week of October. Here in the U.S. we stretch the celebration out a little longer.
Oktoberfest is essentially an annual on-going party that began in 1810 to honor the wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the wedding festivities and horse races that lasted five days! Two hundred years later, the party is still going on.
Today, fairgoers come from around the world to the same field where the villagers attended the wedding reception. Every year, six million people attend the world’s largest People’s Fair. They come for the beer, the food, the beer, the carnival-like atmosphere and — the beer. The horse races stopped sometime in the 1960s.
If you watch any OPB travel shows, you’ve seen the 14 big beer tents (aka festival halls) jammed elbow to elbow with jolly drinking buddies. Buxom waitresses serve enthusiastic crowds of up to 10,000 per tent as they sing and sway to beer drinking songs.
Most North American Oktoberfest menus will revolve around some form of Bratwurst Sausage. These big, thick sausages are made of all meat with no filler. In Germany, the meat is usually veal. Here in the USA, veal is too expensive. So, brats are usually all pork, all beef or a combination of pork and beef or veal.
Brats are not for the sensitive palate. They are highly seasoned with a variety of spices that can include caraway (my favorite), coriander, cumin, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg and paprika. The meat can be finely or coarsely ground and this will also affect the brat's texture and flavor.
The mode of cooking is your choice but all Bratwurst must be cooked before eating. Some brats are smoked while others are grilled or simmered in water. Some cooks simmer them in beer for 20-25 min. Those who prefer a milder taste can briefly parboil them until the outside turns white. This will leach out some of the fat and spices. They can then be browned in a skillet or outside on the barbecue grill.
German food is very substantial and I’ll be honest with you, the summer we were in Bavaria I thought that if I ever ate another sausage again it would be too soon! But I do love the side dishes. So today I am happy to pass along two recipes from reader Mary Gary.
Ed and Mary Gary retired to Cottage Grove from California. Their church in the golden state had an annual Oktoberfest dinner and Mary gleaned these recipes from those occasions. She and Ed have also enjoyed German food at Leavenworth and in Austria. The recipes call for using a Dutch oven (a cast iron pot) but any heavy skillet or cooking pot will do.
The last recipe is another traditional way to serve bratwurst and sauerkraut. It is also really good with the new lower-fat-content chicken Italian Sausages. Served in a bun or with a side of buttered mashed potatoes and a dollop of brown mustard on the sausage, your kids might even try it. And you can always substitute hot dogs for queasy stomachs. Enjoy!
1 head red cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 red apple, peeled and chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup raisins
Put coarsely chopped red cabbage and apple in Dutch oven and cover with boiling salted water. Return to boil, cover and simmer 1/2 hour. Add vinegar and brown sugar and simmer 20 minutes longer. Add cinnamon and raisins.
May be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated.
Note: Brats can be cooked separately or added to cooked cabbage and simmered about 20 minutes or until cooked through and no longer raw. Serves 6.
9 medium Idaho baking potatoes
6 slices bacon, cut in ½-inch pieces
½ cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon pepper
¾ cup water
¼ cup vinegar (scant)
Peel potatoes and cook in 2-inches salted water in Dutch oven 20-25 minutes or until firm, but tender. Drain and refrigerate.
In large skillet, fry bacon until crisp, remove and drain. Cook and stir onion in bacon drippings until tender and golden brown. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, celery seed and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring until bubbly. Remove from heat, stir in water and vinegar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Thinly slice potatoes and add with bacon to hot mixture. Stir carefully and heat through.
Note: Above recipes are adapted from “Key Home Gourmet”
2 pounds bratwurst
2 16-ounce jars sauerkraut
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Condiment: Brown or hot mustard
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Layer sauerkraut in a 12X12 glass baking dish and sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Score the sausages and place them on the kraut. Bake for one hour, turning after 30 minutes. Serves 6.
Note: Serve on a crusty bun or with hot, buttered mashed potatoes. Also good with Hot German Potato Salad.