A full version with recipes can be found at the Slow Travel Berlin website. more...
Full version with recipes can be found at Slow Travel Berlin. more...
I've been a big fan of Felicity Cloake's Perfect column for the Guardian ever since it started. more...
A full version with recipes can be found at the Slow Travel Berlin website.
This period in the calendar is perhaps the hardest for a cook. Winter crop vegetables are mostly past their best, but most of the spring harvest has yet to come in. In fact, historically, in northern Europe, early spring gave rise to the expression “the hunger gap” to designate the paucity of produce.
Of the winter crop, leeks and cauliflower are still looking good and I’m hoping the first of the new potatoes should be making an appearance soon. Generally, you should look for small potatoes with papery skins that rub off easily. You will find them at supermarkets, but as they’re better eaten when freshly dug, you’re probably better off visiting one of the weekly food markets in Berlin and buying direct from the producer. There is a specialist potato stand, Kartoffel Krüger in the Arminiusmarkthalle in Moabit, but most of the other Wochenmärkte like Winterfeldtplatz or Boxhagenerplatz also have stand holders selling new potatoes as well.
They are best cooked simply, in salads or just boiled with a little butter. The recipe here uses new potatoes with another fresh ingredient that will be making its first appearance soon: samphire. Admittedly it is at its best in the summer, but the fresh salty little shoots can still be eaten now. Samphire is a bit harder to get your hands on, but most fishmongers will carry it, or order it in if asked.
Spring lamb – which, confusingly, comes from animals born in the autumn – is a traditional main course for spring celebrations like Easter or Passover dinners. Although there are a myriad ways to prepare lamb, for a large family or community gathering, my preferred way is a simple roast. Although lamb can be eaten rare – and is often very good that way – I like it best when it is slow-roasted, filling the house with tantalizing smells over a several hour period.
Lamb is a boon to the ethical cook, as it is always free-range. Sheep, like goats, are a good way for farmers to make use of shrubby hillside and poor soil, as these animals are at their happiest nibbling tough plants and scrubby grasses. There is no such thing as intensively reared lamb.
But although it is easy enough to find lamb in Berlin, it is not always easy to find excellent lamb. The Germans have a long-standing love affair with the pig and eat very little lamb. Much of what you will find comes from New Zealand, and whilst it would be sensible to eat Kiwi lamb in the Antipodes, it doesn’t make so much sense for us in Europe.
Welsh lamb is superb, but although Galeria Kaufhof theoretically carry it, we were told by a butcher at the Alexanderplatz store that they almost never stock it, as it is too expensive to sell well.
Olaf Willert, from the Eichhorn sheep farm in Rüdnitz, sells his own organic lamb at Kollwitzmarkt every Saturday. A taciturn man with a big grey beard, it is easy to imagine him roaming the hilltops with a shepherd’s crook, tending to his flock. The reality is probably more mundane, but whatever his methods, they clearly work very well: the meat is excellent, and probably the best reliable source I’ve found in Berlin.
Seasonal fruits are non-existent at this time of year. This scarcity, combined with the lack of vegetables, might once have meant serious hunger, or even starvation for northern Europeans. But these days, we’re luckier. I for one see a lack of fruit as all the excuse I need to eat chocolate for dessert.
Like many rich desserts, this chocolate torte makes use of eggs – also traditional at this time of year. Unlike sheep, many chickens lead a miserable existence, so when buying your eggs, you should try and make sure they come from a reputable source. The happiest chickens are those with space to run around outside, which – the recent scandal notwithstanding - the organic (“Bio”) label is supposed to guarantee.
All photos by Kristi Korotash