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A Bavarian Christmas Dinner

The Bavarian Alps

The Bavarian Alps

Dec 11,2008
By Jordan Wright

When I imagine my menu for Christmas dinner in Alexandria I conjure up visions of half-timbered houses and quaint villages in the legendary Black Forest of Germany.

Silhouetted against the Bavarian Alps towering evergreens cast their deep blue shadows and the amber lights from cottage windows form haloes across the crisp snow.  Curls of smoke rise up from rosy brick chimneys and waft the scent of smoldering coal and pine resin.  The fantasy continues…

A little girl, clad in her ruffled lace blouse and dirndl, sweetly hums “O Tannenbaum” or “Stille Nacht”, and helps her “grosmutter” prepare the traditional marzipan stollen.  Together they await the visit of the “tomte” or “kobold”, the Christmas gnome who, ancient legend has it, will arrive on this evening for his bowl of porridge.  These are the images that inspire my culinary Christmas.

I have no German heritage as far as I know, but that has never dampened my spirits for the holiday dinner I prepare for friends and family each Christmas eve.  Here in my home in Virginia it might be 50 degrees and raining, a far cry from the swirling snows of Deutschland, but still I invoke the same dear scene.

Bavarian Santa Decoration

Bavarian Santa Decoration

The old French marquetry table is laid with my grandmother’s Royal Copenhagen china.  The annual mystery posited.  Why ever did she have so many plates and no soup bowls?  There is an assortment of crystal goblets…red with a clear base, clear with a green base and all clear…in a semi-circle, the old mismatched monogrammed silver and embroidered linen napery.

Miniature silver bee skeps hold place cards, which everyone switches up to suit their seating preference, and long tapers reflect off a myriad of crystal facets, spinning light onto the guests.  Branches of pine and Nandina berries tumble from vases, and a pair of silver pheasants anchors the tablescape.  Everything is in its proper place under the warm glow of the chandelier.

Tantalizing aromas begin to waft though the house as guests cozy up in front of the fire with steaming mugs of Gluhwein, or a Riesling Sekt Brut if the weather is unseasonably warm, and an assortment of herring, salmon and smoked mackerel canapés with apple horseradish and chervil if it can be found.   In the kitchen I ladle out the soup and take the roast from the oven.  “Dinner is served!” a call that is eagerly awaited.

A selection of German wines has been decided upon.  For the first course a Kabinett or Silvaner pairs nicely with our soup, in which little spaetzle float in the clear dill-spiked veal broth.  Carefully pacing ourselves, we will linger over the warm liquid, in anticipation of our long-dreamed-of Bavarian feast.

A Spatlese or Spatburgunder (compare to a Pinot Noir) rise to the occasion for our succulent crisp-skinned pork roast.  Bone left in and tied up, a generous pocket holds a rich stuffing of prunes, apricots and apples redolent with sage.  On the same platter, slow-braised carrots and onions glisten in the pan drippings.

There is the suitably named “Himmel und Erde”, which translates into “heaven and earth”, and consists of boiled and mashed turnips, potatoes and apples.  Its ordinary ingredients transformed into a cloud-like froth of earthy flavor.  Alongside, a casserole of red cabbage combines with caraway seeds, bacon, honey, and the tang of apple cider vinegar.

There is no purpose whatsoever to serving salad, a course which the Germans rightfully eschew.  The mere thought of a cheese course would be heresy and only undermine the anxiously anticipated grand finale.

The assembled know that this is a once-a-year dinner of great excess.  We cannot calorically justify such a menu in our current urban lifestyles.   But on this night, with those near and dear to us at our table, the memories of Christmas past are reawakened and we enjoy a sweet yet delicate Riesling.

Plates laden with springerle cookies, their bottom layer of crushed anise.  Then pfeffernuse, spiced with black pepper, cloves, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon peel and linzer torte cookies, gleaming with raspberry jam.  More tempting sweets piled high…mandelspritzgeback, the German almond Christmas cookies and lebkuchenherzen, the ubiquitous gingerbread hearts.

At last the marzipan stollen with its dusting of powdered sugar emerges from a long wooden box sporting a rustic wood-burned scene of a German village – bought from the Alexandria Farmer’s Market where the seller had them sent by his daughter straight from the Old Country.

Everyone retires to the comfort of the living room.  A peaceful satisfaction sets in and another log tossed on the ashes sends the fire crackling once more.  It is the perfect denouement for the beautiful Eiswein, a wine of such honeyed depth, it is like pure liquid gold…the nectar of the gods.

My Christmas fantasy has become a family tradition that we look forward to each year.  If you don’t have one yet, just create one.

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