For many Germans, Austrians and Swiss, a traditional recipe is as essential to Christmas Eve as saying “Amen” in church. They often cook on Christmas Eve what their grandparents ate as holiday food. Christiane Keders peered into six Christmas pots.
When it gets dark on December 24, the streets empty and people celebrate behind their windows the most important family party of the year: Christmas. Nearly 80 percent of Germans celebrate Christmas with their relatives. Every family has its own rituals. For the children Christmas Eve gifts are certainly the most important. For many adults something else is almost more important: Christmas dinner. Many recipes that come to the table on Christmas Eve have been enjoyed in the family for generations.
Roter Heringsalat (Red Herring Salad), Gerrit Beyer (31), Bremen
In Gerrit Beyer’s house a fish dish is eaten on Christmas Eve: herring salad. Gerrit Beyer comes from northern Germany. For generations the women in his family have made the herring salad on the day before Christmas Eve. “It is always made by the oldest in the family,” the business manager reports. He finds it a very practical recipe for Christmas: “Even though there is too much chopping involved, it is easy to prepare and also keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week—that way you can have it for longer!”
Ingredients (for four people): 3 pickled herrings, 300 grams potatoes, 2 apples, 2 red beets, 2 onions, 2 tablespoons capers, 3 pickled cucumbers, 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon mustard, salt, pepper, sugar, 2 eggs, 2 baguettes
1) Wash, fillet, and dice herring.
2) Boil, peel and dice potatoes and red beets. Dice apples and pickled cucumbers. Finely chop onions. Mix herring, potatoes, red beets, apples, pickled cucumbers, onions and capers in a large bowl.
3) Mix oil, mustard, vinegar, pepper, sugar and a small amount of salt. Pour over other ingredients and mix well. Season once more to taste and place in refrigerator.
4) Hard-boil eggs, chop in quarters and lay decoratively on salad. Serve with baguette.
Weihnachtskarpfen Blau (Blue Christmas Carp), Ursula Detering (66), Düsseldorf
According to Christian practices, the week before Christmas was once a period of fasting. December 24 was also a fasting day, so fish was eaten. For several hundred years carp has been a popular holiday food. A particular tradition is to put a scale from the fish in one’s wallet after dinner. This supposedly brings money to the wallet’s owner in the New Year.
Ursula Detering is also familiar with this tradition. Her family has eaten carp for Christmas since she was a small child. She didn’t like the meal when she was a child, the 66-year-old says, but “because one eats so many sweets during Christmas, it isn’t so bad then!” She can still remember the smell of sour vinegar coming from the kitchen. And she remembers something else: “Christmas was always associated with tears for us,” she says – not because the family always fought with each other, but because of the horseradish. As soon as the freshly-grated horseradish came to the table, tears came to everyone’s eyes.
Ingredients (for 8-9 people): 15 litres water, 2 carp (2-2.5 kilograms each), ½ litre white wine vinegar, 5 large onions, at least 2.5 kilograms potatoes, 8 tablespoons salt, 4 teaspoons juniper berries, 375 grams butter, 4 tablespoons black peppercorns, 9 bay leaves, 2 stalks horseradish
1) Buy carp on morning of December 24 and place in refrigerator. Only work with wet hands so that mucus does not get damaged.
2) Bring water with salt, pepper, juniper berries and bay leaves to boil in large pot. Let simmer one hour to make strong stock. Stock should taste slightly over-salted.
3) Heat vinegar to near-boil und pour on carp so that carp takes on a blue colour. Place carp in lightly simmering stock; do not boil. Let simmer 20-30 minutes. When dorsal fin comes out easily, fish is fully cooked.
4) Serve with boiled potatoes, melted butter and freshly-grated horseradish.
Kartoffelsalat mit Würstchen (Potato Salad with Sausages), Elke Schamberger (47), Munich
This classic among typical Christmas dishes is surprisingly simple: potato salad with sausages. This recipe is particularly popular in Germany, and is also very practical because it can be prepared quickly. It is a simple food that should remind one of the poverty of Mary and Joseph. Whether the potato salad is made with mayonnaise, as in the north, or with oil and vinegar, as in the south, is as variable as the type of sausage.
Elke Schamberger has a delicious recipe from her mother, who made the potato salad with mayonnaise. Because Elke Schamberger now lives in Munich, she makes it with vinegar.
Ingredients (for four people): 1 kilogram potatoes, 2 onions, 4-6 pickled cucumbers with liquid, 4 boiled eggs, ½ litre meat broth, salt, pepper, 8 sausages (Wiener sausages or others)
1) Boil and slice potatoes.
2) Dice onions, pickled cucumbers and eggs.
3) Mix potatoes, onions, pickled cucumbers and eggs. Pour meat broth and liquid from pickled cucumbers over mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let marinate two hours.
4) Heat sausages in hot water and serve with potato salad.
Selchwürste oder Selchrippen (Smoked Sausage or Smoked Pork Ribs), Bettina Brandstätter (31), Dellach im Drautal (Kärnten, Austria)
In Austria as well as Germany there are as many Christmas recipes as regions. There is meat or fish, fondue, large menus or simple salads. A typical Christmas food in Kärnten is smoked sausage or smoked pork ribs with sauerkraut. Bettina Branstätter cooks this meal for her family according to a recipe from her grandmother: “The recipe is rather simple and fast,” said the mother of a small daughter.
Ingredients (for four people): 1 kilogram sauerkraut, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/8 litre broth, 1 teaspoon juniper berries, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic, 4 tablespoons diced toasted bacon, 8 smoked sausages or smoked pork ribs, salt, caraway seed
1) Boil sauerkraut, bay leaf, caraway seed, juniper berries and pressed garlic clove 20 minutes in as little salt water as possible. Pour mixture through sieve and set aside in large bowl.
2) Heat butter in pan and briefly roast flour in butter. Dice onions and add to pan. Roast onions until they take on the same colour as the flour. Gradually add broth while stirring. Let cook 15 minutes, then lightly salt. Stir in with sauerkraut and diced bacon.
3) Place sausages or ribs in boiling water and cook 15-20 minutes.
4) Serve sausages or ribs and sauerkraut together with dark and white bread, mustard and horseradish.
Gefüllte Gans (Stuffed Goose), Heike Weelborg (36), Velbert (North Rhine-Westphalia)
After a simple food like potato salad with sausages, many families eat the famous Christmas goose: the fasting period is now at an end. In Heike Weelborg’s family there is already goose on December 24. She buys the goose at a nearby farm. “It’s a bit strange,” the social education worker says, “when I go for a walk in the fall with my small son, and we pass by the field where the geese graze. Then I always think that one of them will end up in my oven.” It tastes good to her anyway. This year her one-and-a-half-year-old son Lucian will try goose for the first time.
Ingredients (for 4-6 people): 1 goose (gutted), 4-6 apples (russet), 3-4 tablespoons curry, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, crushed juniper
1) Rub outside of goose with salt and pepper.
2) Peel apples and cut into small pieces.
3) Mix curry, salt, pepper and juniper and fill inside of goose with mixture.
4) Add apples and close cavity. Stab breast and thigh with needle.
5) Place 1 cup water in oven dripping pan beneath goose. Lay goose breast-up on baking pan and roast at 220° Celsius.
6) Reduce temperature after one hour to 180° Celsius. Turn goose and roast approximately three hours.
Rehrücken (Saddle of Venison), Heidi Lüdi (59), Zurich
When Heidi Lüdi cooks for her family on Christmas, there is always a full menu: Flädlesuppe (pancake soup) with bread, Nüsslisalat (lamb’s lettuce), Rehrücken (saddle of venison), Rotkraut mit Kastanien und Spätzli (red cabbage with chestnuts and spaetzle), and for dessert, fruit salad with whipped cream, coffee and a baked Christmas treat. The Swiss woman cooks everything herself. With that she has too much to do: at least twelve people come to her Christmas parties. “The good thing about it is that there are always a lot of people able to help me,” she says.
Ingredients (for 6-8 people): 1 saddle of venison (approximately 2.5 kilograms) without skin, 400 grams bacon strips, 2 onions, 2 carrots, ½ bunch parsley, 50 grams butter, 300 millilitres cream, 5-6 pears, 1 small jar cranberries, 250 millilitre wild game stock, 1 tablespoon flour, salt
1) Rub salt and pepper well into saddle of venison and garnish with bacon strips.
2) Chop onions, carrots and parsley into small pieces and lay with roast on baking pan.
3) Preheat oven to 180° Celsius. Brown roast 40-50 minutes; inside should be pink. Periodically pour hot water over roast while in oven. Remove bacon in last ten minutes and let back of roast brown. Pour cream over saddle of venison.
4) Carefully cut small and large filets from bone. Collect flowing juice and mix later with sauce. Place bones on hot plate and lay meat once again on top.
5) Cook pears in hot water until they soften. Cut in half and fill with cranberries. Place pears decoratively around saddle of venison. Cover with aluminium foil until serving.
6) To make sauce, collect roasted vegetables and remaining contents from baking pan, place in pot.
7) Season with salt, pepper, and cream to taste. Add wild game stock and let boil well. Mix flour with water and add to sauce. Cook until sauce becomes creamy.
8) Serve with parsley, cranberries, fresh spaetzle and red cabbage with chestnuts.