I was born in Frankfurt and spent the first 18 years of my life there. But, I never quite identified with the city as my hometown. My parents were both transplants from somewhere else. Except for the ubiquitous Frankfurter sausages, I rarely ate typical Frankfurt foods growing up. Some of them I even dreaded, in particular Handkäse, the pungent sour milk cheese usually marinated with oil, vinegar, onions and caraway.
Frankfurt’s signature drink, Apfelwein (apple wine), was a different story. My parents always had a case in the basement. It would have never occurred to me to refer to it in Frankfurt vernacular as Äppelwoi or Stöffche. In that respect, I always remained an outsider. I learned foreign languages without much difficulty but was never able to pronounce a single sentence in authentic Frankfurt or Hessian dialect.
Unlike French Cidre, Apfelwein is always tart, and it comes in two basic varieties: clear and cloudy. Mixed with seltzer water, it makes a super refreshing drink called Gespritzer. Diluted like this it seemed harmless enough for a teenager. It depends how much you drink! I recall more than one bike ride with my friend Carmen when we both wondered how the other one was able hold on to her seat.
From the distance, and over time, I have come to realize that Frankfurt is the city in Germany where I have the most roots, despite my parents moving away many years ago, which means no more cases of apple wine in the basement when I visit.
The two Frankfurt foods at the top of my list are Bethmännchen, marzipan candy decorated with three almond halves, and Grüne Soße, Frankfurt’s famous seven-herb sauce. I make Bethmännchen year-round, not only at Christmastime. I started growing sorrel in my garden mainly for Grüne Soße.
The Frankfurt specialty that took me the longest to long for was Handkäse. A few years ago, I found myself ordering Handkäse with apple wine at an apple wine tavern in Frankfurt, and actually liking it.
Eating Handkäse is now one of my rituals at every visit to Frankfurt, just like a tour of my favorite places: the indoor market Kleinmarkthalle, the Eiserner Steg footbridge over the Main, Metzlerpark with its ancient trees, next to Richard Meier’s fabulous light-saturated Museum für angewandte Kunst (Museum for Applied Arts). And the last stop, always: Willemerhäuschen, a classicistic tower-like garden house built in the early 19th century. Poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had a supposedly romantic encounter here with the wife of the owner, Marianne von Willemer. Willemerhäuschen was on my way to elementary school and I always imagined how cool it would be to live there.
I am not quite not sure why Frankfurt was on my mind so much lately, I suppose because the winter here at the East Coast was extremely long, snowy and cold. When it was finally over, the first stanza of the “Easter Walk” from Goethe’s Faust, which I studied extensively in high school, reverbated in my head – the lines about the stream and brook being freed from ice “by the spring’s enlivening, lovely look” and “the valley’s green with joys of hope”.
My Frankfurt nostalgia got to the point where I felt like having Handkäse at home. I was able to procure two real imported Handkäse from New York City. Marinated and on wholesome homemade bread and butter, they were very tasty (and much less smelly than I expected). For full disclosure: I always leave the onions behind because I do not like them raw, I just like the faint onion taste from the marinade.
Handkäse of course must be paired with Apfelwein. That’s where I reached the end of the line. There is, alas, no Apfelwein in the United States. Though I do have a Bembel, the typical blue-grey earthenware jug from which Apfelwein is poured.
I put it on the dinner table with the Handkäse anyway.
This blog post is part of Young Germany Expat Bloggers Blog Hop.
April 29, 2014 at 11:01 pm
I am from Mainz, where I also love “Handkäs mit Musik” when I visit home. Lovely post, including the Faust quote. Made me a touch homesick. Vielen Dank!
April 30, 2014 at 9:35 pm
Glad you liked it. I used to know Osterspaziergang by heart, now I only remember the first few lines – and the end.
October 21, 2016 at 9:16 am
I work for company based in Frankfurt, and I had Handkäs mit Musik on one of my trips there. I made the “mistake” of asking one of my German colleagues why it was “mit Musik”. I was told the Musik comes from you after you eat tne onions. Or maybe they were just having fun with the American? lol
October 21, 2016 at 5:14 pm
Carrie, Your colleague was right. Did he also tell you that you can order the Handkäse “mit Musik” or “ohne Musik” (without the onions)?
April 30, 2014 at 8:21 am
There are very few dishes I’ve tried in my life that I really, truly can’t stomach but I’m afraid Handkäse (mit Musik!) is one of them. I’ve tried it two or three times and just can’t understand it. Apfelwein, on the other hand… 😀 Lovely post and photos!
April 30, 2014 at 9:40 pm
Frau Dietz, If I had to chose between Handkäse and Apfelwein, I would always pick the latter!
April 30, 2014 at 1:29 pm
I don’t know if this information is of any interest to you because I don’t know where you live on the east coast.
I am from Frankfurt but I spend a year as an Au Pair in White Plains in Westchester County, NY and there is a Wine and Liquor store where I actually found original Possman Äppler. It didn’t come very cheap though. If I recall it right it cost about 8$ per bottle but when I got homesick it was worth the money. If you want me to look up the exact name and adress of the store for you just tell me. I’d be happy to help you 🙂
April 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm
Oh yes, please let me know! I am only a couple of hours from Westchester. You can also send me an email if you like: email@example.com Thanks.
May 1, 2014 at 6:24 am
Wonderful post with the superb photos!
Did you hear that Heinz Schenk died at the age of 89? My grandmother used to watch his TV show (rather famous in the 60ies and 70ies) every time, for me as a child it was astonishing that people got obviosly a bit drunk of Äppelwoi all the time served to the guests during being on TV.
I never liked Handkäs when my parents, my sister and me visited my aunt Johanna who was living not far from Frankfurt, nowadays I like it.
May 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm
Oh, I really, really miss Handkaes with caraway and vinegar! I wonder if there is a receipe to make my own? Never liked aeppelwoi, though my Dad always had it on hand,LOL. How I remember the smell coming from the restaurants in Sachsenhausen, ick.. was not pleasant to my nose.
(I used to work in Frankfurt and many times used my bike to commute there, of course I was a lot younger then.)
May 12, 2014 at 10:33 am
Emmi, I have never seen a recipe for homemade Handkäse but I am sure it can be done, with the proper cultures and cheese-making equipment. – Funny that you are mentioning the smell coming from the Äppelwoi restaurants in Sachsenhausen, I dreaded that too, and unlike the foods, I do not miss it.
August 15, 2020 at 5:16 pm
My grandfather told me his grandmother used to make it in their kitchen. Unfortunately that skill/recipe is lost to time forever… 😦
April 3, 2017 at 9:25 am
I miss both Handkase and Appenwoi! My 78 year old mother is currently staying with me in London and comes from Waldorf near Frankfurt where I spent summers staying with her family as a child. We’ve been reminiscing about Essen food and I’ve found a recipe for Handkase which I will give it a try, as I haven’t found it available online, but only have a fridge and not a cellar in which to drain/ferment it :(. I’ll post again if it works!
April 9, 2017 at 11:40 pm
Yes please, I’d like to know how it turns out.
March 4, 2018 at 5:45 pm
I would like to have the recipe for Handkäse.
April 12, 2019 at 9:38 am
Seeking out my father after having been taken 21 years earlier to Texas there was much to learn, the language, the customs, the foods.
I readily adapted and loved the brotchen, better at some bakeries than others, the wursts at butcher shops in my birth city of Mainz.
There literally were butcher, baker, and grocery shops on every corner.
And they were to die for.
But then there was the Mainzer Handkasse! As much as I love cheese I could more readily have been forced to eat a porcupine, which very much disappointed my father, his wife, his friends and neighbors.
I’ll hand it to ya…. you’ve got guts!
Top of the Day!
April 12, 2019 at 10:03 am
Thank you Dieter! Your comment made me laugh out loud and I couldn’t help but sharing it on my Facebook page. I am quite certain it will make other Handkäse dreaders come forward so if you are Facebook check it out: https://www.facebook.com/SpoonfulsofGermany/