Spoonfuls of Germany


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Getting to know Hugo, or: Food in motion

Hugo

Earlier this summer, after I did a Facebook post about elderflower syrup, a German follower asked me whether the cocktail “Hugo” was also known in America.

Hugo is made of Prosecco, seltzer water, and a spritz of elderflower or lemon balm syrup. A barman in Tyrol invented the cocktail in 2005. From there it crossed the Alps and conquered Germany’s hip bars. For those who prefer to sip Hugo in the privacy of their home, Hugo is sold bottled and pre-mixed.

In case you wonder how the name came about – the inventor told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that he named the cocktail Hugo because that sounded better than Otto. And he emphasized that his original Hugo was not made with elderflower syrup but with lemon balm syrup.

Since lemon balm was growing abundantly in my garden this summer, I thought it was time to catch up with the real Hugo. All I can say is, no wonder the drink became so popular. And it is very easy to make, even if you have no experience in cocktail mixing like me.

Hugo made me think of all the other food trends, big and small, that have emerged in Germany since I left. Here is my (personal and eclectic) list:

Simply put, there are two big opposing groups. On one side there is a growing number of Germans mindful of the foods they buy and eat, and they are willing to spend the money and the time to prepare it. On the other side, there are those who go for quick and convenient prepared foods and fast food even if it takes a toll on their health.

From my vantage point on the other side of the Atlantic I do not pay too much attention to the second group because I have enough of that around me in the United States. I rather explore the aspects of the food scene in Germany that are positive and inspiring.

And there are plenty of exciting things happening in Germany food-wise! The number of farmers who sell their products directly on the premises – the stores are called Hofladen in German – has skyrocketed in recent years. Local artisan food producers make anything from preserves, honey, vinegar, and specialty oils to wholesome baked goods, charcuterie, cheese, and much more, often bringing back forgotten or almost lost traditions.

Gardening, one of the Germans’ favorite hobbies, is becoming even more popular, and in the 17 million home gardens in Germany people are growing more and more food and not just pretty flowers. Almost half of the new leases for allotment gardens called Schrebergärten in Germany (on their history see my blog post from last year) go to young families with children.

Heirloom vegetables such as Mairübchen, a tender white turnip, and Melle, a type of greens similar to spinach, are making a comeback, and so have rutabagas, a vegetable what was associated for the longest time with wartime and famine (I also wrote a blog post on those last winter). And elderberries, one of my favorites.

Elderberries ripening

Luckily elderberries also started to appear in more places in the United States so I included my grandmother’s recipe for Elderberry Soup with Farina Dumplings in the latest edition of my cookbook. Elderberries have just started to ripen in my garden, and it looks like it will be a good harvest so we’ll be eating a lot of that antioxidant-packed soup this winter.

Holundersuppe

Another big trend in Germany is the increasing number of vegetarian and vegans. It made the news last year when, for the first time, there were vegan offerings at the Octoberfest in Munich.

To cater to the cooking crowd, cooking shows have mushroomed in Germany. I never watch cooking shows but when my father mentioned to me a program called Land und lecker (literally translates to “Countryside Yummy”) that he thought I would enjoy, I ended up watching several seasons beginning to end. Six women living on farms in rural areas take turns visiting each other, and in each episode one of the women cooks an elaborate meal, which the others then rate.

There was an element of reality TV show suspense to it, especially at the end when the winner was announced, but it provided a great glimpse into the lives of the women. The program was so successful that the broadcaster, WDR, followed suit with a program about noblewomen visiting and cooking for each other in their castles and estates (Von und zu lecker) and a program about immigrant women from different countries (Bunt und lecker).

And then there is the Kochhaus, a food store that calls itself “Das begehbare Rezeptbuch” (“The walk-in recipe book”). All of the ingredients for a specific recipe are displayed on their own table, and you can buy them exactly for the number of servings you need. Kochhaus caters to those who want to cook at home but are too busy to figure out the logistics of shopping. When The New York Times reported about Kochhaus in 2010, there was just one store, in Berlin. Today there are 12 stores in seven German cities.

Kochhaus is certainly not the way I, or anyone I know, got into cooking but whatever it takes… And if it means cooking with organic, locally sourced ingredients, like Kochhaus claims it offers, even better. Just get cooking!

Hugo Cocktail

There are several variations of Hugo. Below I included the recipe for Lemon Balm Syrup. For the Elderflower Syrup recipe, see my gardening blog.

Lemon balm syrup:

2½ cups (565 ml) water

2½ cups (500 g) sugar

2 cups packed lemon balm leaves (free of pesticides and other chemicals)

2 teaspoons citric acid

1 organic lemon peel

Hugo:

4 fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoon lemon balm syrup or elderflower syrup, more to taste

2/3 cup (140 ml) chilled Prosecco

A spritz of seltzer water

Ice cubes (optional)

½ slice of organic lemon or lime

1. For the syrup, put the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until the sugar is entirely dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the citric acid.

2. Lightly crush the lemon balm leaves and place them in a jar or in a bottle with a wide mouth. Add the lemon peel.

3. Add the hot syrup and cover. Let stand for 48 hours.

4. Strain though a fine sieve into a saucepan and bring to a quick boil. Let cool, then pour it into a sterilized bottle with a screw-top or a tight-fitting cork. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

5. For a Hugo cocktail, put mint leaves and syrup in a glass. Add Prosecco and a spritz of seltzer water. Add ice cubes if desired and garnish with half a lemon slice.