Friday, November 25, 2011

altes Gemüse: old world and new world

 This post could also be titled "super fun facts for food nerds", or, a clever title from an article I found, "back to our roots, vegetables from grandma's garden." Root vegetables! Eating like 19th-century peasants in Germany! :)

I eventually decided that the Gemüsekiste (veggie box) is probably not the best option...since after a week we still had a bag of potatoes, three beets, a spaghetti squash, and no onions...probably better to just buy what I need/want at the local organic market, which is literally around the corner from where we live, every Saturday. And to try to simulate the excitement of new vegetables, I decided to try to move out of my comfort zone when choosing veggies.

Last Saturday was the first time I found kale at the market. You can't buy it in normal grocery stores here. So I was really excited, and chatting with the farmer guy at the stand, telling him how kale is rather popular in the States right now (I think Duluth declared kale to be their "community vegetable of the year" or something). So he was like, "Oh, do you like altes Gemüse? You should try this..." I hadn't heard the expression "old vegetables" before, but gathered from the context he was referring to heirloom varieties and not to stale veggies. I was intrigued. I told him "Yes, do you have something I should try?" And he sold me this huge knobby thing (pictured above), which turned out to be a Steckrübe (rutabaga), and some black radishes (pictured above). Two new things to try (lots of vegetable googling). Also got some Rosenkohl (rose-cabbage = brussel sprouts) and some more of this winter lettuce, and apples. It was a nice assortment.

The radish tasted like a normal radish: peppery and crisp. I put it raw on a salad with some of the greens, and mango, avocado and red pepper. Very good. The brussel sprouts we sautéed with bacon and olive oil, and put pine nuts and parmesan on them. Also good. By the way, if you don't know what brussel sprouts look like when they grow out of the earth, click here. It will blow your mind. We used the rutabaga on Thanksgiving, when we made a root vegetable gratin with gruyère and layered sweet potatoes, potatoes, rutabaga and beets in thin slices. The beets made it look pretty (sorry, no picture. you must believe me.)

But back to this strange, knobby-looking thing, and altes Gemüse, what used to be good old peasant food. We have had a lot of (I know, nerdy) fun looking up these strange vegetables and where they come from. There is so much fascinating history of colonization, exploration, and the industrialization of farming in these vegetables (and their virtual disappearance). The invention of trains, refrigeration...this totally changed what people ate and when they could eat things. And can you believe that Europe didn't have POTATOES or TOMATOES until they "discovered" the Americas? Amazing! I think I never recovered from learning that fact. This is a good point to not get too nostalgic about veggies. Are we glad that everyone is "re-discovering" heirloom vegetables? Yes! Are we also glad that we can eat things like mangos and avocados? Yes!

So anyways, some fun facts about these crazy winter root vegetables:

Parsnips used to be a main source of nutrition in Germany, into the 18th century, but they have a growth period of 7 months, so they were replaced by potatoes.  

Some older people still connect some kinds of turnips and rutabagas with war time, and don't like to eat them because it reminds them of those times of hardship. 

In Germany in the supermarket you can buy a bundle of vegetables called "Suppengrün" to make vegetable stock. Often this includes celeriac, carrots, pieces of these larger roots.

On my list of things still to try: Topinambur (sunchoke or Jerusalem artichoke), Teltower Rüben, Schwarzwurzeln, or Winterspargel (scorzonera? "black roots"), Wirsingkohl (savoy cabbage).

More reading on this topic: "Altes Gemüse," Die Zeit
Altes Gemüse, neu entdeckt, Die Welt
Zurück zu den Wurzeln -  Gemüse aus Großmutters Garten
German recipes with root vegetables: fancy, from Essen und Trinken

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading this after eating a few parsnips and turnips meself for lunch! Your brussel sprouts look awesome. Might have to copy you there...