German Schnittchen, the open-faced, bite-sized sandwiches served on a board, instead of a plate, at dinnertime, are cultural manifestations of the square, fuddy-duddy German lifestyle known as “spießig” in German. In the same ilk as garden dwarfs, if you know what I mean.
The small boards on which Schnittchen are served are impractical. The crumbs fall off. The whole sandwich itself can slide off, before reaching the living room sofa if you don’t carry it perfectly upright.
Schnittchen as a dinner fare are usually not consumed at the dining table. They are an invention from the 1950s, and the genuine form of the German TV dinner. Schnittchen also became a popular fingerfood passed around to guests to go along with a glass of wine or beer. Schnittchen are a quick fix when people show up impromptu and you want to feed them something.
The most famous Schnittchen incident is the skit by the German humorist Loriot, in which housewife Frau Hoppenstedt lets three salesmen for wines, vacuum cleaners and life insurance into her apartment and all of them end up plastered from sampling the wines on the living room sectional with a pile of Schnittchen.
In my family, we never had Schnittchen because we never ate dinner in front of the TV. We usually had a warm meal at nighttime. The 1970s board (bought at the coffee chain Tchibo, more about that in a previous blog post) I salvaged from my parents’ a few years ago was used as a cutting board, and not as sandwich board. The bottom of it is scratched and worn but the top is still in perfect condition, and I hold onto it with nostalgia because the bright green flower pattern instantly transports me back to my childhood.
So, no Schnittchen tradition in my family but I brought back a few boards again from my recent trip to Germany. Not necessarily to serve Schnittchen; I like using the boards to cut or serve cheese or bread. But I admit, once in a while I do make myself a real Schnittchen. It is easy to eat at my desk, and the neatly cut bite-sized pieces have a taste of homey goodness that a regular sandwich doesn’t have.
Maybe it is not that odd that Schnittchen taste that way for me. They represent something that has been lost in many families – that someone, and that someone usually being the wife or mother, takes the time to prepare them instead of popping a pizza baguette or some other convenience food into the microwave, a habit that becomes more common in Germany too. On each of my visits to Germany I walk up and down the supermarkets aisles noticing they nowadays do not look much different from any American supermarket filled with convenience foods.
While Schnittchen as a food are a relic of time when moms and grandmas lovingly made them, the boards themselves are by no means outdated. Today they are sold as Frühstücksbrettchen (breakfast boards) and I am always surprised at the huge selection, with hundreds of patterns and funny, daft or cheeky slogans. It’s the German form of bumper stickers, just that they are on the breakfast table.
I passed on boards with dancing cows and cute kittens, and slogans like “I only drink beer on days ending in -y” and “No breakfast is perfect without a few dog hairs”, and bought the plainest wooden boards I could find. Because when I am making Schnittchen once in a while, it has to be in true old-fashioned style, without any distraction.
February 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm
Your posts are balm for the soul! They resonate with my feelings and settle the ache for my other home. Thank you thank you!
February 8, 2016 at 8:25 am
Thank you, Marie, I am so happy to hear that, what a wonderful encouragement to keep writing my blog posts!
February 7, 2016 at 2:15 pm
We used the boards in the evening with broths hen & lunch meat every day at the kitchen table.
February 8, 2016 at 8:27 am
Katie, Sounds like there was heavy use of those boards for their proper purpose in your family 🙂
February 7, 2016 at 10:31 pm
February 8, 2016 at 8:34 am
You mean recipes in general? See here: https://spoonfulsofgermany.com/recipes/ Or for the Schnittchen? The top one is ham on buttered pumpernickel bread and homemade Mexican sour gherkins, and the bottom one is buttered homemade herb whole wheat bread with lacey Swiss cheese and thinly cut cucumber. The recipes for the gherkins and the bread are on my gardening blog, I put a link from the images to the recipes so just click on the images to get to them.
February 13, 2016 at 12:47 am
Thank you for this! Love your posts too!
February 8, 2016 at 2:31 am
Yummy – love schnittchen!! You’ve done them so beautifully!
February 8, 2016 at 8:29 am
Well for full disclosure I dressed them up for the photo, but a Schnittchen that is not somewhat nicely decorated and neat is just not a Schnittchen…
February 12, 2016 at 9:29 am
February 8, 2016 at 1:23 pm
Thanks again for bringing up memories to my childhood supper (german: Abendbrot)! I do remember this board on the 2nd photo, there were even boards in the form of a tomato and a green green pepper on our table (as well bought at Tchibo’s). But those boards only were used for family supper. If there were “sudden geusts”, Schnittchen were offered on oval porcelain plates, there was even a special one with shapes for hard boied eggs. This was the high-end-one, used for more formal family reunions with cold buffet.
We never had supper in front of the TV: we did had none, because my mother was of the opinion that this was somekind of an infernal machine.
February 8, 2016 at 2:59 pm
While I am not German (my Husbands family is Polish but has similar traditions) this totally resonates with me and makes me realize how important the food we lovingly prepare for our families that is not taken from a microwave but real food lovingly prepared and arranged. I still do things like this today as often as possible and know that my Son will also have these memories. Thanks for such wonderful postings.
February 10, 2016 at 11:20 am
My friend Marianna made her own sauerkraut, 500 cookies at Christmas (not believe till one of her 4 sons brought down from another room. She made over 40 cakes for a weeding. This around 1972. When I came back for a visit in 1992, I could not believe all the American type frozen foods. Then I was served Pillsberry Breakfast Strudels at her daughter-in-laws apartment!!
February 23, 2016 at 8:22 am
Mexican gherkins sound exciting! I remember my surprise to find many homes in the UK in the 80s and 90s had done away with a dining table altogether! We had Schnittchen for New Year’s, pumpernickel with home-cured gravad lax …
March 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm
Memories of a wonderful 15 years spent in Germany owning a Deli came rushing back. Ty
March 5, 2016 at 5:24 pm
Thank you, glad to hear that it triggered memories for you. I just finished my latest post about a fictional German deli in the US.
March 5, 2016 at 5:48 pm
Have it bookmarked to read later…..
May 7, 2016 at 11:51 am
Ha ha! My 87 year old mother still uses these impractical boards nearly every day. With accompanying crumbs everywhere.
September 15, 2017 at 2:21 pm
May I ask where you purchase these? My husband had two from the 1970’s that were his grandmothers and held a great deal of sentimental value. We lost everything in the Louisiana floods in 2016 and these were a great loss for him. I’m trying to surprise him with some for Christmas this year, but I can’t seem to find where I can purchase them. Can you help?
September 17, 2017 at 12:18 pm
Teresa, That’s awful, sorry to hear, and a wonderful idea that you are trying to replace them. Plain wooden ones are available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Camden-Rose-Sandwich-Platter-Cutting/dp/B0065P8F5G but I imagine that you are looking for colorful ones with a pattern and I don’t know of any place that sells those in the US. They can be ordered online but shipping from Germany is very prohibitively expensive. I wish I had a better answer for you.