I am Ginger, and this blog is my homage to a region whose people live, breathe and talk food. Literally. Growing up in the south-west of Germany, close to the Austrian, Swiss and French borders, my first memories are invariably Christmas cookies – gingerbread houses, lovingly prepared by my mum. Our love for sweets is best illustrated by so-called ‘sweet dinners,’ basically cakes deemed good enough to be served as a main meal. Austria is famous for these ‘Mehlspeisen‘, or ‘flour-based dish’, as they are euphemistically called. When my grandmother served sweet dumplings, nobody commented on the lack of meat (or veg!). Probably because we were too busy fighting over the last drops of custard.
I learned baking from my Mum, who is an excellent baker and cook. She’d always encourage us to help, regardless of how inept we were at it. I wish I had inherited her patience: I often struggle to watch my daughter turn the perfect shortbread pastry into something as lifeless and unhygienic as PlayDoh. Not my mother: calmly instructing us and helping us to cut out gingerbread men or form almond crescents, even we were amazed at how perfect our cookies turned out under her tutelage. Only years later did she admit to baking an entire new batch at nighttime, delicately shaped and without any unidentified objects.
The first cake I baked unaided was a mixed success. To escape the watchful eyes of my parents, I sneaked into the kitchen in the middle of the night. A lack of experience was more than made up for by the unbridled enthusiasm of my 7-year-old self, substituting ingredients I didn’t know or couldn’t find with ones that sounded or looked similar. The finished cake – heart-shaped and on the compact side – was dutifully eaten by my parents. My Dad went as far as to pronounce that if he hadn’t had tried better ones, this, most certainly, would have been the best cake he had ever eaten.
Needless to say I only heard the last bit of that statement.
Over the years I have been able to hone my skills by watching or cooking with friends and family. I still substitute ingredients on a regular basis and mess around with processes, not always successfully. Moving to the UK was the best thing I could have done to develop confidence: in the country of microwave dinners the one that can make spaghetti Bolognese from scratch is king. Unless there’s any Italians watching, who will inform you that a) you should never use use spaghetti for this dish and b) your Bolognese sucks, too.
That’s life in a shared kitchen in a Belfast student flat.
From the Italians I learned about not mixing too many herbs, as well as how – and why! – to make your own pasta. The Chinese students taught me about using vegetables, and my fellow Swabians encouraged me to perfect my Spätzle-cutting skills. My Costa Rican flatmate even tried to analyse my dreams for me, but as insistent as he was on finding connotations, even he had to give up in the end: I really dreamt just about food.
Luckily I met my soulmate in form of a Chilean carnivore, who adapted quickly to Bratwurst but who will never appreciate the glories of the Mehlspeise. Our children are less biased, scoffing down most of the food put in front of them but with a particular weakness for Chilean Empanadas and Brezeln. My son’s signature dish is pesto alla Genovese – not very German, I admit, but nevertheless delicious. My daughter’s speciality is dough. Play Doh, mostly.
For Germans and Chileans alike, food is so much more than a particular diet, or an obstacle to achieving the perfect body. Food nourishes our souls as much as it feeds our bodies, the combination of spices and textures can take us back decades or across oceans. I hope this little blog will inspires you to try some of the cakes, breads and savoury dishes for yourself!
Please get int touch – I’d love to hear from you!