List It Tuesday: Culinary Traditions

Today I was catching up on comments on this blog (sometimes it takes me a while, but almost always I respond!) and made my way over to Daringhue.com where I saw that Tricia wrote a “List it Tuesday” post based on a topic provided by Aimee over at Artsyville.

I didn’t realize it before I read her post, but I really needed something purely fun to do today, and this seems fun. Usually lists totally overwhelm me. I’ve tried and failed to write up lists of “14 Things People Probably Don’t Know About You” or “Things I’m Afraid To Tell You” or “Goals”. Haha.

But seriously, I think I have a hard time remembering interesting thing about myself when there’s pressure to do so, but today’s topic is about food, I can write about food. The actual topic is “Culinary Traditions,” but I think this list is going to be more like “Food Memories”. Is that the same thing? We’ll see.

1. My mom is German and her culinary traditions definitely influenced my food culture in the past and today. I’ve had the great treat of visiting Germany several times in my life, and the greater treat of eating German food in Germany. I don’t even know where to start! I have so many good memories of my times in Germany, and many, many of them revolve around food. Here are a few highlights that come to mind:

  • Kaffee Trinken (literally translates to “Coffee Drinking” but is more like “Tea Time” or “Afternoon Coffee”. Each and every day, tea or coffee and some kind of cake is served at 4pm either at home or out at a cafe. But seriously, this really happened everyday! You can imagine my 10 year old self’s delight!
  • I could write an ode to the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorten (Black Forest Cakes) of the world. If it was an option on the menu or at the bakery, to me it was the only option.
  • The ice cream in my grandmother’s freezer. In particular the tartufo and black currant varieties.
  • The weird frozen mushroom pizzas that were kind of good and kind of like cardboard that I couldn’t get enough of.
  • The schinken (ham)! And the wurst (sausages)! Funny side story: when my cousin who lives in Hamburg was told that we lived near Washington, she thought it was called “Wurst und Schinken” and was very interested in visiting.
  • Milk, fresh from the one cow in my Grandparent’s village. I once went with my Grandfather to get the milk and I saw the actual cow from which it came. I was very impressed by this.
  • Kirschsaft (cherry juice) that you could only buy at health food/vitamin stores. It was pure cherry juice with no apple juice filler, and is probably the most delicious liquid in the world.
  • Baumkuchen which translates to “tree cake”. Baumkuchen is going to get its own main list item.
  • Ritter Sport Trauben Nuss Chocolate and just chocolate in general.
  • Wasser Brötchen (literally translates to water rolls) are the basic breakfast/sandwich rolls in Germany. The baker in my Grandparent’s village made them with milk, not water, and they were the best!

2. Baumkuchen is cooked in a really unique manner. A thin layer of batter is rolled onto a rotating spindle and baked. The layer bakes quickly, and then more batter is added. The baking continues in this manner, layer by layer until it’s done, then it’s covered in chocolate! The outside of each layer browns as it bakes, so when you slice it you can see the rings, much like a tree! I found a video that is kind of long, but gives you a much better idea of what I’m talking about. German bakers make baumkuchen around the holidays, so they are really a special treat. If you ever come across baumkuchen in an Asian market, don’t be tempted. I made the mistake once, and it is nothing like the real thing. In search of that special taste, I found a recipe a few years ago for “baumkuchen spitzen” or “tree cake corners”. Instead of baking on a rotating cylinder, you can build up flat layers on a cookie sheet, using the top broiler to cook each layer quickly. They turned out wonderfully and have since become a holiday tradition.

3. My brother James wrote a food blog at one point. I was just checking it out again, and it’s really good. I kinda forgot how good it is! He was very creative with his recipes, and his writing was pretty frank and funny (check out his post on wasser brotchen failure for a chuckle). He actually tried out his own version of baumkuchen that he admits didn’t turn out so awesome and gave me a shout out for having better results! Ha! Although he doesn’t have time to keep up with his food blog anymore, he’s still an awesome cook, and I always love going over to his house for dinner. Some of my best recent food memories are at his house, trying out a new Indian recipe he’s been tinkering with, taste testing his latest ice cream experiments, or simply sitting and chatting over a cup of tea or some cheese.

4. I, myself, was very interested in cooking and baking from a young age. When I was 5, my kindergarten class put together a cookbook of favorite recipes from all the mom’s of the kids in the class. Our contribution was my grandmother’s southern pound cake recipe, and even at that age, I’d already helped my mom bake many of them! Brownies were my specialty, and I experimented with different recipes. I even tried a “microwave” brownie recipe, which wasn’t so good, but definitely fun! I officially made up my first recipe when I was 11. I made “lemon sage chicken” for my oldest brother (who is 10 years older than me), and I felt very satisfied when he proclaimed how delicious it was. Now, years later, I wonder if it actually was any good. Maybe I should make it again and find out! In recent years, my focus has been more on cooking than baking. I like to cook simple food well, and have investigated new ways to cook meat, seafood, and veggies that diverge from the “old standards” that I grew up with. One of the biggest revelations is how much I like brussel sprouts and red cabbage when they are not cooked to death in a pressure cooker, which was my mom’s usual way of preparing them. That leads me to my next point.

5. My mom’s a good cook, and of course I learned a lot about cooking from her, but I have crated my own versons of many of her tried and true recipes. I’d say we are both intuitive when cooking, and we both take risks, but we approach cooking in different ways. If I had to sum it up, I’d say that I am more precise and pay attention to details, whereas she is much more carefree and puts ingredients together just to see how it’ll turn out.

6. When my dad was left to his own devices, he had 2 go-to “recipes” if you can even call them that. He would cook eggs in a frittata style with whatever was on hand, usually including some kind of meat and cheese, or he would cook “hamburger”. Not *A* hamburger, but hamburger. He’d fry up hamburger meat. No frills. Sometimes I’ll cook up one of these dishes when I’m short on time, and I can practically hear my mom saying, “you really are your father’s daughter!”

I think that’ll do for now. I have a lot more memories that I could share that revolve around food, but I think the ones listed are the most prominent, and probably the most influential to the way I approach cooking and eating.

I know this is pretty different from my regular posts. Lots of writing, and no images, but I hope you enjoyed the little peek into my Culinary History!

If you’d like to see more lists, check out the others participating on Artsyville!

15 thoughts on “List It Tuesday: Culinary Traditions

  1. Good stuff. I’m going to have to get the kids to read this.

    A couple other family food traditions that stick with me are the sage sausages Pup used to make. He also made a killer chili.

    From Mum’s creations I love some Zwiebelkuchen and also the Pflaumenkuchen or what I guess could be translated into Rhabarberkuchen. Speaking of which, I need to get mum to make the later two this summer.

    From Germany I would also add the pretzels from the same bakery in Steinbach. When I was over there was also the first time I’ve ever had a cured ham (Schwarzwälder Schinken) over an single piece of rye bread. That is still something I go back to as an easy comfort food.

    p.s. Southern Pound Cake…. drool. :)

    • I’d love to know what they think if they read it! I say “yes!” to all those kuchens! In fact, I bet we could get her to make a zwiebelkuchen sooner rather than later! Oddly I don’t remember the pretzels as such, but do fondly remember the Schwarzwälder Schinken!

  2. Thanks so much for triggering a very fond childhood memory of Baumkuchen! My mother had a boss that was German and every year he would order several beautiful and delicious Baumkuchen cakes for the office. The smell, the taste, every bite savored! I’ve yet to find any pictures online though of the type that we ate. These cakes were hand layered in individual rings that stacked to form a cone or tree shape, with obscenely delicious German dark chocolate lacing between each ring and then smoothly coating the entire cake. It was a work of art in itself, but the taste and texture of it, was like nothing I’ve ever experienced since in my 50+ years.

  3. Oh, you made me think of so many delicious foods. :) I love Schwarzwälder Kirschtorten. :) We had a lot of German influence in my country so I’m familiar with these foods. :) Great list!

  4. This is so wonderful! What a fascinating list of your family’s culinary traditions!
    I was in “Wurst und Schinken” last weekend. Never again will I visit DC without thinking of sausages and ham :)

    Thank you so much for participating, Anika! xo

    • Haha! Even I still think of it often when I see “Washington” even though I live nearby! Thanks for starting this topic! It was a fun one!

  5. Cooking/Baking feels like another art form, doesn’t it?! I’m just getting more into trying new recipes as well and it’s truly growing on me. It started by wanting my family to eat more healthy, unprocessed foods and it has me making homemade soups, bread, cakes and crackers.

    • It totally does! You can really have fun experimenting with food and trying new things, and by making it yourself, it becomes a real creative outlet!

  6. Thanks for bringing back memories of the years we lived in Germany. I think I knew every konditori in the country! (sorry about that spelling…I’m sure it’s wrong!)

  7. Fun post. I also discovered that I love brussel sprouts when I grew up and started cooking on my own. Broccoli too. Actually, any vegetable that doesn’t come from a can, or get cooked down to mushiness. Ha!

  8. Hi Annika,
    even though I was about to switch off my laptop for tonighht, I have to make a quick comment:
    Baumkuchen, Kaffeetrinken… Yes! :) That’s what’s happening here everyday – even weekdays. (Well, not the Baumkuchen part, obviously as it is hard to come by, even in Sweden)
    I love this special time with my kids (I work from home and by the time my oldest comes home from school, he asks: “Wann machen wir Kaffeetrinken?!” and my young one asks: “Can we have those … again?!” (whatever his favorite Kuchen is at the time)
    Ha – I’ll read more through your blog, for sure :) (I found you on Daisy Yellow’s blog list…

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