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Reaping the benefits of Germany's seasonal mania

The Local · 26 Sep 2011, 14:22

Published: 26 Sep 2011 14:22 GMT+02:00

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I was never hungry as a child. Not that people were starving in '70s suburban America. I mean, I was never hungry. My family was overweight decades before it was trendy.

As long as I can remember, my parents never warned us not to snack lest it spoil our dinner. Instead, they always put out a little board of cheese and crackers. "Wouldn't want you to starve to death before the food is on the table," my father liked to say. It never occurred to me that this might not be the norm until I was in college and my grandparents started dropping off.

Rather than moments of sorrow, the hours preceding and following the funerals were marked by excuses of why we needed to eat local delicacies. My grandparents lived in the Midwest. Local delicacies were always fried and never delicacies at all. The funerals were Roman orgies of potato chips and fried pork products.

And donuts.

My first real girlfriend was the first to show me the pleasurable side of food. She was an East Coast Italian-American and was as annoyingly proud of East Coast Italian food as all East Coast Italian-Americans. But she taught me there was more to food than just stuffing it in your gob to mask feelings or participate in familial rituals. Food actually tasted. And sometimes it could taste better if you were a little hungry.

My German wife taught me my second important food lesson – that food is, actually, seasonal. This may seem obvious to most people – and should be to someone who spent summers on a farm – but let's remember that I didn't realize pimentos didn't grow inside olives until well into my 20s. Like I said, we just ate. We didn't think about what we ate.

Back when the Berlin supermarket Kaiser's was little better than its East German predecessor, I used to moan in the produce section – "This is the 20th century! Why can't I get fresh [seasonal produce] any time of the year? We can back home."

Now I'm embarrassed I ever said it.

My disinterest in seasonal foods also made me an outspoken critic of Spargel season – white asparagus season. I annoyed my friends so much with my cynicism that one gave me an asparagus cookbook as revenge. I could never understand why Germany would collectively go bonkers over a simple vegetable. During Spargel season, even brothels seem to have a special asparagus menu that relies heavily on hollandaise.

Story continues below…

Then one day, off-hand, in the upgraded Kaiser's, my wife said, "Oh I love winter. It's the only time you can get mandarin oranges." Really? I thought. I guess that explains why they were always in my Christmas stocking. For over 30 years, I wondered why we always got mandarins at Christmas. And suddenly I understood seasonal food – it's not so much about the food as the season.

This has all brought me much closer to the things I eat. I've now visited pigs that later became zesty bratwurst, killed and cleaned a half-dozen fish and picked my own strawberries and blueberries and turned them into jam. All that effort made me realize how good spring must have tasted after long winters in the days before southern European greenhouses – so good that even white asparagus seemed a delicacy.

And so now, as the days grow shorter, I mourn the end of yet another food season I only discovered when I'd moved to Germany – the end of Eis Spaghetti.

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Your comments about this article

21:29 September 26, 2011 by catjones
There's a downside to the 'local food' movement as discovered in New England after the recent floods that wiped out entire farms. The Local restaurants and markets instantly lost their suppliers.
22:18 September 26, 2011 by Thinkfirst
Please do not blame your ignorance on being from the US. I would venture to guess that your family would have been, as you say, lazy and obese no matter what country they lived in. I am from America (the Midwest) in fact and I have always eaten local when possible, been aware of what crops are grown during what season, where my meat comes from etc. Being from the Midwest makes "seasonal" foods something to look forward to and if you missed out on things like rhubarb, sweet corn, zucchini, etc. then that is your family's fault, not the United States. I also have never been to a funeral that served potato chips and donuts after the service. My deceased relatives would probably killed us if we had. Again, I think this is a family issue not an American issue. I will say I appreciate the fact that I can get fresh fruits and veggies back home the majority of the year due to imports and am proud to come from America, you should be too, after all that is where your story begins and that is where you were given opportunities to be able to live abroad. Please do not lump your family's disasterous eating habits to americans in general, they are simply not true.
02:41 September 27, 2011 by Joseph Thomas
Thank you Thinkfirst!!! I grew up in the 60s and 70s in the Midwest and have lived in Missouri nearly 50 years. I've been to probably over 200 funerals in my life and have never seen a single donut at one of the funeral gatherings. Potato chips...maybe two or three of the 200 funerals. I've seen vegetable trays and fruit trays at almost all of them, many times from local farms. I see the same percentage of fat people in both countries, and I'm in both countries yearly. (The rate of weight increase actually appears to be greater now in Germany). Sometimes, Americans in Germany feel the only way they can get attention is to critique habits in the US. It's a travesty when the information is false. There are enough true silly generalizations about BOTH countries one could talk about, without creating false ones. The donuts may be true for the family in the article, but it's a cheap generalization that is heavily false. It's fun to joke amongst close friends about the true fun silly differences between countries, but the article above has a purpose that is dishonorable, arrogant, and both Un-German and Un-American.
11:39 September 27, 2011 by MissCalifornia
Another American here, middleaged, have lived all over the USA and many other parts of the world. I grew up appreciating food as a seasonal joy--raspberries and rhubarb in summer, oranges, artichokes, and dungeness crab in winter, apples and pears in the fall...not all Americans are clueless about food, nor do we all live on donuts, fried butter, and potato chips. I have not eaten "fast food" since high school (and even that was never my choice). But...now that I live in Texas, where the produce is ubiquitous and mediocre, I have an even greater appreciation. I can choose from among many varieties of tomato on any day of the year, and not a single one will taste anything like a tomato--the same is true for fruit. It's always Spargelzeit in America...but it tastes better in Germany.
17:37 September 30, 2011 by Portnoy
People I think you need to re-read column. I said nothing about it being America v Germany and said IT WAS MY FAMILY.

Touchy touchy.
14:03 October 3, 2011 by Joseph Thomas
Nothing touchy about knowledge of how an audience will react to phrasing. If one knows how readers will try to feed preconceived notions about a place, you know if your writings will nourish that or not. You wrote, "My grandparents lived in the Midwest...." (There's no doubt to any reader that these words set the setting for which the following sentences proclaim behaviors that would certainly appear pervasive there).... Local delicacies were ALWAYS fried (WOW). "Funerals were Roman orgies of potato chips...". If I were a German reading this, it would definitely paint a picture in my mind not just of your family, but of an entire region. Trying to correct biases and prejudices (not yours but those of readers in both lands) is not "touchy" behavior, but admiration of truth. Having said that, I do enjoy your articles!
17:22 October 4, 2011 by jbaker
Potato Chips and Beer, that is a good meal! Though Pretzels with mustard or Horse Radish and Beer are better- add in some Herring and you are in Heaven! Local farming is the way to go - you need to can and preserve to get through the non-growing season. My great grandfather always had a couple of barrels of sauerkraut in the barn to help get through the winter(home made of course with your own fresh cabbage and vinegar and spice).
09:32 October 5, 2011 by heyheyhey
@ Joseph Thomas.........

shut up.
20:44 October 9, 2011 by lwexcel
I have lived in quite a few regions in the U.S. and I must say that I simply never gave any attention to what it was that I was eating. Funnily enough I never took any time to think about the fact that I could purchase tomato's year round, or figure out how beans actually looked if they were not being poured out of a can. It just never occurred to me when I was younger. My parents grew up in farming households in the south that took quite a bit of pride in cooking meals. Somewhere between their childhoods and raising their 4 kids of their own they began to turn towards convenience and away from the healthiest and most seasonable choice.

When I met my, then girlfriend and I moved in together we began to research what seasons which fruits and veggies were actually grown. Going to local fresh markets has also really helped with that. As I read the story above I did not get the feeling that the author was trying to blast mid western eating habits, it just seemed that he was pointing out how many families no matter what their regional location may dictate do opt for convenience and turn away from picking their foods by season.

DISCLAIMER*****This post in no way represents the opinion and living standards of any other person, animal, or insect that has ever heard of, visited, or lived in the Southern United States ;-)
18:24 October 12, 2011 by twisted
My wife and I discuss food in general quite often and I have to say that I think one certainly eats better here in Germany than one would in the U.S. As a qualifier though, I do have to admit that I haven¦#39;t lived in the U.S. since 1971 although I would visit ever few years for a month or so. I loved my mom¦#39;s cooking and as I think about it, she used very few ¦quot;prepared¦quot; foods….almost everything was prepared from scratch. But still, whenever I was in the U.S., I would gain weight…today I think about it and wonder if it had anything to do with the way food in the U.S. is raised or grown….genetically-modified plants, hormone-fed beef and chicken, and that sort of thing. As I understand it, it is almost impossible to buy any corn, beef or chicken that isn¦#39;t raised or fed with products produced by ADM in the U.S. I know the claim is that it isn¦#39;t harmful, but I for one am not convinced. I hope that Germany sticks to its purity requirements when it comes to food.
23:03 October 13, 2011 by ozzy2530
whoever attacks this article and its author doesnt have good reading comprehension. another bad trait they (the americans) have...

good article..thank you author
10:35 October 14, 2011 by joeleyva
Totally agree with the author; I am experiencing that... Keep writing Portnoy!
22:23 October 14, 2011 by Thinkfirst
Interesting that the previous two comments are from users that just joined to comment on this article...did your friends agree to stick up for you Drew?
13:55 November 6, 2011 by MaKo
So let's see, if those 'attacking the article and its author' don't have good reading comprehension, I have to wonder what it is that those attacking Americans on the basis of a handful of comments might be lacking...
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