Germany, Austria, Switzerland
GERMANY, AUSTRIA, SWITZERLAND. These three nations represent the heartland of German-speaking Europe, although their present borders by no means demarcate the farthest geographical extent of German culture and its historical influence. Modern Germany came into existence in 1871 out of an amalgam of petty dukedoms and small kingdoms that traced their origins to the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. Modern Austria was created in 1918 out of the German-speaking provinces of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its borders have been stable since then. Switzerland's political independence began in 1291 with an uprising led by William Tell, but the long struggle was not complete until 1412, when peace was made with the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs, who later created the Austrian empire, were originally Swiss, and the ruin of their castle can still be seen in Canton Aargau. While the political evolution of German-speaking Europe is complex, the culinary divisions are far more distinctly defined.
The largest division is based on religion. Northern and eastern Germany are mostly Protestant (Lutheran), while the South is Roman Catholic. Austria is predominantly Roman Catholic. Switzerland is Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformed (Calvinist). These religious differences have had a great influence on foodways and eating habits. In the Protestant areas of Germany, many older religious festivals were discarded. One of the most important changes, however, was the abolishment of fasting except during Lent. The Protestants also gave up the big Carnival processions and the feasting that accompanied them. The German Pietists in particular abjured drinking, gluttony, and carousing with dance. Thus, northern Germany's food habits became markedly different from those of the South. Differences in religion also affected the movement and acceptance of various new customs such as the Christmas tree, which slowly moved south into Bavaria and Austria during the nineteenth century.
While religion has created an overlying framework for the culinary culture of German-speaking Europe, geography has played a fundamental historical role. The Rhine River Valley, which begins at Lake Constance in Switzerland, has been a major cradle of culture for thousands of years. It was the homeland of the ancient Gauls, whose preference for pork and beer is still deeply embedded in German culture. The Rhine Valley became the most important military region of the Roman Empire, and for a short period of time, Trier, Germany, was the capital of the Empire. The vestiges of Roman culture, such as viticulture, sausage making, pretzels, gingerbread, even half-timbered architecture, have all come to represent core features of traditional culture in these three countries. The most significant geographic feature, however, is the Alps, rugged mountains that form a physical barrier between German-speaking Europe and the Mediterranean. The high mountain regions of Bavaria, Switzerland, and western Austria have evolved a cuisine that is quite distinct from that of the rest of German-speaking Europe. Its focal point is dairying, with milk products and cheese forming the major components.
While the geographic barriers are significant, it is also important to keep in mind that German-speaking Europe is not one monolithic culture. It is composed of many regional cultures and dialects. Alemannic-speaking southwest Germany, Alsace, and Switzerland are home to a very distinct food culture—and the richest agricultural regions—while the Plattdeutsch area of northern Germany, centered on the swampy lowlands bordering the North Sea and the Baltic, offers yet another culinary identity: tea drinking, fish cookery, beer, foods using oats or buckwheat, and very dark rye breads.
Since the 1970s, there has been a revival of interest in dialects and regional cookery and an impressive outpouring of cookbooks exploring local cuisines and food products. This has been a revival in the most literal sense because scholars in all three countries began studying regional foods and foodways in the 1840s; thus the accumulated food literature is extensive and a full century ahead of what has been undertaken in the United States. The Wörter und Sachen (Terms and Objects) movement of the early 1900s was particularly active in recording traditional foods and terminologies. Unfortunately, the National Socialist Party, which came to power in Germany in 1933, employed this research toward political ends. Since 1945, the words ethnisch ('ethnic') and Volk ('folk') in German have carried such a pejorative association with Nazi propaganda that their use is now generally avoided in serious scholarly writings about food.
There is also a sharp dichotomy between the culinary writings of scholarship and the culinary writing of popular cookbooks. Mass-market cookbooks have created the idea of a national German or Austrian cuisine, whereas food scholars have decried this as artificial and misleading, since there are only regional or highly localized cooking traditions, which do not represent the political boundaries of the country. These local traditions often overflow the borders into adjoining countries such as France, Slovakia, Slovenia, and even northern Italy.
The present Federal Republic of Germany came into being in 1945 out of the ashes of the Third Reich. It was assembled from the western German states then under Allied occupation, specifically the forces of the United States, Britain, and France. The eastern German states were occupied by the Soviet Union and became the German Democratic Republic. In 1989, with the fall of Communism, the eastern and western states were reunified. The former German states of Silesia, Pomerania, East and West Prussia, and the city state of Danzig (modern Gdansk) are now permanently incorporated into Poland. Since the ethnic Germans living in those areas were evicted in 1945, the culinary cultures of the German regions incorporated into Poland are a matter of history, although considerable ethnographic material has been preserved from the pre-1945 era. Many traditional recipes from this region, such as Königsberger Klopse (Königsberg dumplings) still appear in many German cookbooks. Refugees from these regions have tried to keep their dialects and cooking styles alive through cooking clubs and similar organizations.
There are now thirteen states comprising modern Germany. They include, from north to south: Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen, Brandenburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, Sachsen, Thüringen, Hessen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, and Bayern (Bavaria). Each of these states is further subdivided into smaller regions, some with very distinct local cuisines. For example, the wines and foods of Franconia in northern Bavaria are quite different from the rest of the state; the Pfalz, the southernmost area of Rheinland-Pfalz, is world famous for its wines, and locally well-known for its figs and chestnuts and its onion pies.
It is important to know these German states because popular cookbooks tend to treat regional cookery on a statewide basis—thus, there are Bavarian cookbooks, Saxon cookbooks, and so on. The most detailed cookbooks in terms of local cuisine, however, are the ones that focus on a particular valley or county (Kreis ), such as Annelene von der Haar's Das Kochbuch aus Ostfriesland (The East Frisian cookbook), which deals with an area bordering on the Netherlands. The Frisians are the brunt of many German jokes about gluttony and thickheaded farmers, so this cookbook carries far more symbolism for the German reader than it would for outsiders. A unifying theme in most of the regional cookbooks written today is nostalgia for rural life in the village and a closer tie to nature, even to wild foods. In reality, preindustrial Germany was a harsh place for peasants, and recurring famine was commonplace.
Dietary patterns of preindustrial Germany. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, mass poverty and famine were integral parts of daily life in most of German-speaking Europe. The majority of the population subsisted on grains that were either eaten in the form of thick gruel cooked in milk or water or converted into flat cakes, coarse breads, a variety of small rolls, dumplings, noodles, and thick soups. (Baker's goods, such as Lebkuchen, Gugelhupf, Strudel, and Austrian Nockerln, were rarely made in the home and were eaten only on special occasions.) The grains were rich in carbohydrates and, when consumed in quantity, covered daily energy requirements. Fava beans, lentils, and peas helped to offset the shortage of protein in the grain-based diet. Analysis of the diet in poorhouses and hospices for which records survive has underscored anecdotal evidence of a widespread lack of many vital vitamins and minerals. Thus, various degrees of malnutrition were common in the countryside.
Meat, fish, and butter, as well as eggs, were reserved for special occasions. In general, it was much more common for peasants to sell these food products at market than to eat them themselves. As a result, urban dwellers consumed much more meat, fish, butter, and eggs than their rural cousins. Meat was held in such high esteem that it was viewed as a prerogative of only the well-off and persons of high social rank. It was also abundant only for short periods of time (such as in the fall) and remained expensive well into the nineteenth century. The high status of meat consumption became so ingrained in German culture that today, now that Germans have a high standard of living, meat in some form is usually consumed with every meal. This is nowhere more evident than in the flesh-rich pages of the late Hannelore Kohl's Culinary Voyage through Germany (1997), which is a fair representation of what middle-class Germans like to eat.
Most German historians today agree that, by 1800, many of the rural poor and a large portion of the urban working class expended 70 to 80 percent of their income on food, normally in the form of barter. This imbalance was exacerbated by the low consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables until the 1860s. The full value of these foods was not recognized by popular cookbook writers until the 1920s, when there was a large surge of interest in raw foods, fruitarian diets, vegetarianism, and spa cuisine. The German cinema shifted concepts of physical beauty by featuring women who were obviously thin, whereas in the past, a Rubenesque figure had been considered the desired norm. Many books like Sophie Sukup's 1927 Iss Dich Schlank ! (Eat yourself thin!) proclaimed a new dietary regime based on raw and garden-fresh foods.
Until that time, most fruits and vegetables had been consumed in preserved form, which lowered the vitamin content. Cane sugar was well known to confectioners, and the rich used it in ample quantities, but it never played a role in the German working-class diet. Sugar did not enter that diet in a large way until the introduction of beet sugar. Most German sugar-based products today employ beet rather than cane sugar. Gram for gram, beet sugar is now so much cheaper than meat that it has replaced meat in the form of junk and snack foods.
Until the end of the nineteenth century, a large majority of the rural population in German-speaking Europe was self-sufficient in terms of supplying daily food needs. Most households oriented their menus according to what could be obtained in the nearest market, and these menus did not vary greatly through the course of the year. Regional customs and the season determined the rhythm of consumption, but by today's standards, this cooking would be considered monotonous, nutrient-deficient, hard to digest, even at times disgusting because of the heavy-handed use of lard and other animal fats. It is ironic that with the prosperity which Germany has enjoyed since World War II, culinary writers have painted a picture of the past that is much rosier than what actually occurred—a truism for most European peasant cookeries. Rich dishes that were only eaten on rare occasions are now treated like daily fare, and restaurants specializing in traditional cookery, especially establishments catering to tourists, provide menus that resemble old-time wedding banquets rather than typical meals. This is not to say that German Europe has not created a cuisine with many noteworthy dishes, yet it is true that these dishes have lost much of their original cultural context.
Germany's food revolution. German Europe's gradual transition to a modern diet began in piecemeal fashion. In parts of Prussia, in some of the more enlightened dukedoms and principalities, cottage and small-scale industries were encouraged during the late 1700s. This created a cash economy that allowed the workers more freedom to purchase luxury items like tea, coffee, and chocolate. Northern Germany's dynastic ties to the British crown opened northern ports to English colonial goods. It is not surprising then that port cities like Hamburg and Lübeck now fall within the German "tea belt," while southern cities like Munich are solidly within the confines of the Kaffeeklatch.
Tea drinking in the north also brought with it a new preference for white bread and butter as a side dish, and this culinary troika soon displaced the traditional gruels served at breakfast and during main meals. In the south, coffee drinking moved northward out of Austria, accompanied by a preference for sweet pastries eaten with the coffee. This trend also pushed aside traditional gruels, substituting in their stead such innovations as coffee soup (Kaffeesuppe ), where bits of bread or cake were crumbled into the coffee so that it could be eaten with a dainty spoon.
The rise in white-bread consumption tied to coffee and tea revolutionized German milling practices and changed German agriculture. The growing bread demand caused a shift away from traditional grains like millet, buckwheat, barley, and oats in favor of rye and wheat. Oats underwent the largest decline in consumption even though they were often the grain of choice in many German-speaking regions for hundreds of years. They have continued as a crop largely for cattle fodder, although they are beginning to return as a health food. In spite of the large shift to bread, there were pockets in rural areas where the older gruel-based eating patterns persisted into the early twentieth century.
The second factor in the German food revolution was the coming of the potato. Potatoes had been known in Germany since the 1500s and were grown as curiosities in many botanical collections. Some of the earliest European depictions of the potato appeared in German herbals, yet the plant was largely despised even as cattle feed. Only after the devastating famines of 1770–1771 and 1816–1817 did the potato achieve widespread acceptance. This occurred in concert with efforts by several German monarchs to encourage the peasantry to rely on potatoes rather than grains and bread as a mainstay of the diet. This promotional effort was in part self-serving since the governments at that time realized that potatoes were cheaper than bread, easy to store, and more reliable than grain, especially in Germany's climate. In terms of yield, potatoes also fed more people per acre than grain. Thus, for a combination of reasons, the potato became one of the "pillars" of modern German cookery, especially in the north. In the south, where flour-based dumplings were a dietary mainstay, the potato never quite achieved the same central dietary role. To this day, the potato is still only a side-dish food in southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is also converted into dumplings in those regional cuisines.
The third factor that played a decisive role in the German food revolution was the increase in alcohol consumption, especially in the form of spirits or hard liquor. Grain and fruit alcohol was distilled by many peasants in the seventeenth century, but this was mostly to make good use of the residues from wine pressing or from cider. Furthermore, the distilled beverages were treated more as medicine than as social drinks. Around 1800, German chemists discovered that spirits could be distilled from potatoes, and this opened the door to what is known in Germany as the "Brandy Plague" (Branntweinseuche ). The plague spread in step with the rising popularity of potato production, especially among the large land holders in northeastern Germany. The benefits were obvious: potato Schnaps provided yet another source of income for the landowner. Furthermore, the potato scraps left over from distilling could be used to fodder pigs (yet another sideline business). But cheap Schnaps weaned peasant drinkers away from beer to such an extent that production ceased in many areas of Germany, with the result that beer brewing became concentrated in the hands of large urban breweries. The unspoken side effect of the Brandy Plague was the concomitant rise in alcoholism. However, in traditional wine-growing regions, old drinking habits prevailed. The Brandy Plague never touched the Mosel Valley, the Pfalz, or the vineyard villages of Swabia.
After its establishment in 1871, the Second German Reich experienced rapid industrialization and a tremendous population explosion. The growth in the population of cities was accelerated by migration of labor from the countryside. Due to technological improvements in agriculture, the food supply throughout German Europe increased dramatically, and meat consumption rose with it. Fear of food shortages and famine very quickly disappeared almost within a generation. Only after World War I and during World War II did Germany suffer again from widespread food shortages. Today there are roughly 230,000 registered food products available in German stores on a daily basis.
All of these sociological and economic changes in German diet did not go unnoticed by cookbook writers. German-speaking Europe, like England, has a long tradition of middle-class cookbooks that may be studied as barometers of culinary change. The first of these is doubtless the Kuchenmeistery, a pamphlet cookbook first printed in Nürnberg about 1485.It was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century, after the appearance of a number of general reflections on the culture of eating, that a true "bourgeois cuisine" began to take shape in German culinary literature. This is referred to in German as bürgerliche Kochkunst, a concept which has no precise analogy in English.
The underlying themes of this literature were economy, rational meal preparation, taste improvements over traditional recipes, and new meal regimes under the rubric of Hausmannskost (fare for the working husband). This new literature for "plain kitchens" as opposed to aristocratic kitchens appealed to urban housewives. The great German classic of this genre was the Kochbuch für die gewöhnliche und feinere Küche (Cookbook for plain and elegant cookery) written in 1845 by Henriette Davidis, the daughter of a Westphalian minister. This book passed through new editions almost every year until 1900—long after the author's death in 1876. Davidis also wrote the first cookbook on the preparation of horsemeat in 1848, and a collection of her recipes was published for German-American immigrants in Milwaukee during the 1870s. She was in every respect reigning queen of the kitchen of imperial Germany.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was a growing recognition in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland that cookbooks had become a mirror of the whole culinary culture. This led to a realization that the peculiarities of regional cookeries promoted feelings of regional identity and even a sense of nationalism. Cooking literature turned abruptly away from French cuisine in favor of regionalisms, even regional dialect food terms. In some cases, this genre has evolved even further, as in the case of Swabian cookbooks printed entirely in Swabian dialect.
It is possible today to dip into these regional cookbooks to extract a few examples of some of Germany's best-known traditional dishes: gefüllter Saumagen (stuffed pig's stomach) of the Pfalz; Specktorte (bacon tart) of Saarbrücken; Panhas (scrapple) and Rievkooche or Reibekuchen (shredded potato patties) of Nordrhein-Westfalen; Schleizer Bambser (sugary potato dumplings) of Thüringen; Christmas Stollen (fruit cake) of Saxony; Nürnberg Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Schmalznudeln (deep-fried yeast dough), and Franconian Blaue Zipfel (sausage stew) of Bavaria; Käsespätzle (cheese spaetzle) and Schupfnudeln (finger dumplings) of Baden-Württemburg; Pommischer Mandelkringel (ring-shaped almond cake) of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and Rote Grütze (pudding of mashed tart fruit with oatmeal and cream) of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Not the least of course are Sauerbraten and the German pretzel. German pretzel bakeries have even gone so far as to underwrite the continued growing of spelt wheat (Triticum dicoccum, var. spelta ), the ancient grain associated with pretzel making since the early Middle Ages. Spelt, under the label of Grünkern (dried unripe whole grains) has also become a symbol of the latest wave in German cookery: green cuisine or ecological fare.
Green cuisine (Ökokost). This concept came into being through the German Ecological Movement (called the "Greens"), which promoted a total reassessment of the food chain and its connection to the environment. The movement had its roots in German health-reform movements of the late nineteenth century but adjusted those concepts in more modern terms. Essentially, green cuisine is a cookery in which all agrarian products must be free of artificial ingredients, additives, and chemical taints; only food in its most natural form is acceptable. In general, this type of food is grown by farmers who follow organic growing methods and is very closely connected with the mainstreaming of vegetarianism. Although the Green Party has many followers in Germany and wields considerable influence in several regional parliaments, the overall market for such food was small until 1999. The outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease caused a large drop in meat consumption and sent many German consumers in the direction of Ökokost. The market sector for this type of food has now trebled, but it is still not the choice of a majority of Germans.
German cookery today. Prior to World War II, Berlin was Germany's cultural and culinary capital, although Munich was arguably the "Berlin of the South." With the massive destruction of Berlin's downtown area during the war and the movement of the capital to Bonn, the center of gravity shifted decisively to Munich. Munich remains today the country's most energized culinary center and has attracted many new and creative chefs. It is also home to the Oktoberfest, which is known throughout the world for its beer and sausages. The Oktoberfest began in the early nineteenth century as an agricultural fair showcasing the products of Bavaria. It was intended to encourage Bavarian agriculture and a sense of national pride (at the time, Bavaria was an independent kingdom). Today, the event has become a tourist mecca and the conduit for a type of tourist cuisine called "Bavarian cooking" that has been replicated in mini-Oktoberfests all over the world.
The best German cookery is found in small restaurants and inns, often in the countryside and not far from vineyards. There has been an attempt by many chefs to lighten up the traditional cuisine, to explore unusual local produce, and to reinterpret recipes according to new dietary demands, such as less fat and smaller portions of meat. Whether this trend will lead to yet another German food revolution, only time will tell.
The Republic of Austria was created in 1918 out of the German-speaking provinces of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Modern Austria consists of eight provinces plus the capital city of Vienna, which for elective purposes is treated as a province. From east to west, the provinces include Burgenland, Niederösterreich, Oberösterreich, Steiermark, Kärnten, Tyrol, Salzburg, and Vorarlberg. Each of these regions is remarkably different from the other in spite of the small size of the country. Much of the western part of the country straddles extremely high mountains, and this alpine environment has played an important role in the development of regional foods and foodways.
The economic development and general trends experienced by Germany during the nineteenth century also occurred in much of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with famine and poverty widespread in the countryside. Much of the wealth was concentrated in large cities, especially Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, where the landed aristocracy congregated. When Vienna was cut off from its Slavic and Hungarian provinces in 1918, much of the former industrial development lay outside the borders of the new country. The great imperial city found itself at the hub of a wheel with only a few remaining spokes. Due to the rugged terrain of the western provinces, that region continued to be largely agricultural and pastoral and remains so even today, although tourism and skiing are important sources of local income.
Any discussion of the food culture of Austria must first take into account the enormous historical influence that Vienna has had on the foods and eating habits of the country. But Vienna's role in this culinary evolution is relatively recent. The city was not a capital during the Middle Ages, and during the eighteenth century, when it was home to the Habsburg monarchy, it was still a small town by European standards. It was not until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that the city established itself as a major center of culinary activity. Vast sums of money were spent during that period and gave rise to the lighthearted party life for which the city became famous. This reputation continued to grow rapidly as Vienna's wealth attracted culinary talent from all over Europe, yet the city did not take on the grand imperial appearance it has today until after the medieval city walls were demolished in 1857. However, several cultural themes came together in a unique way that gave rise to a distinctively Viennese way of life.
The first of these was coffee. There is a degree of murkiness about the origins of coffee drinking in Vienna, yet there is solid archival evidence that it was being drunk in private homes as early as 1665. The first public coffeehouse opened in 1683 and after that, coffee (along with chocolate and tea) became a common beverage in Viennese establishments frequented by men. It is fairly clear that the coffee habit came to the Viennese via the Turks living in areas then occupied by the Ottoman Empire, but the reasons for coffee's eventually preempting other exotic beverages cannot be ascertained from the historical record. Perhaps it was the association with Turkish luxury, or the fact that coffee could be consumed with very sweet foods to offset the bitterness. Whatever the reason, coffee found a natural marriage with sweet pastries in Vienna, and this union of bitter-and-sweet became the keystone of the Viennese coffeehouses of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, Vienna became the gateway for coffee drinking throughout the Upper Danube Basin. The coffee habit also moved west into southern Germany and Switzerland—accompanied by the silver trays of rich pastries.
Viennese pastries were not invented in Vienna, although they were undoubtedly refined and perfected there. Most of the pastries trace their cultural origins to Bohemia or Hungary or to some other far-flung part of the old Austrian Empire. It was the coming together of these various festive foods that made the Viennese dessert table so distinctive. It was, in fact, a cornucopia of the best Central Europe had to offer. The idea that Vienna had acquired a cuisine of its own began in cookbook literature intended for women who lived in more provincial parts of the empire but who wanted to be thoroughly up-to-date. Anna Dorn's Neuestes Universal-oder Grosses Wiener-Kochbuch (Newest universal, or large Viennese cookbook), issued in 1827, is one example of this genre. It lies halfway between the older aristocratic cookbooks composed by royal cooks or anonymous noblewomen and the later bürgerliche Kochkunst of Germany. Like the first Polish cookbook, Austria's first cookbook was written by an aristocrat, although the author is as yet unidentified. The cookbook was called Ein Kochund Artzeney-Buch (A book of cookery and household medicine). It was published at Graz in Steiermark in 1686.
Another theme in Vienna's culinary evolution was the creation of a furniture and decorative style now called Biedermeier. It took shape during the 1830s and drew upon neoclassical themes for its inspiration. Vienna produced some of the most extraordinary furniture during this period, combining blond Hungarian oak with dark woods from the hinterlands, and then furnishing coffeehouses and restaurants with the most voluptuous combinations of color and classical ornament. This style of design found its counterpart in foods, and many surviving cookbooks, especially the hand-illustrated ones for professional bakers and chefs, offer an amazing array of richly ornamented dishes so refined in appearance that they must have startled the country bumpkins accustomed to seeing only dumplings and tarts on special occasions. Viennese cooking continued to evolve throughout the nineteenth century, but it never escaped its core identification with Biedermeier style. If this essence of Viennese cuisine could be expressed in a few words, then it has been captured succinctly in Joseph Wechsberg's essay "Tafelspitz for the Hofrat," which describes in minute detail the art of preparing a very special Viennese, and only Viennese, cut of beef.
The third theme in the evolution of Viennese cookery is the Heurigen. These are extremely informal family-owned snack-houses whose primary function is to sell light foods to accompany year-old local wines. Authentic Heurigen are owned by small-scale vintners who sell their own wines and no other. When the houses are open, the owners hang a pine branch or a wreath of evergreens over the door. Menus consist of cold cuts, bread, sausage, walnuts, perhaps even some home-cooked food, but the meals are not considered dinner. After the close of the business day, Viennese flee to the countryside to spend a relaxed evening in their favorite Heurigen. This social institution is very firmly established, but there are also faux Heurigen whose primary clientele is tourists seeking out "the Heurigen experience." These houses are easy to spot because they are surrounded by buses and cars with foreign license plates.
There are over 140,000 acres of vineyards throughout Austria, mostly planted in the native Grüner Veltliner (for white wine). This has given rise to Heurigen far beyond the Viennese countryside. While this development is doubtless good business for small places in out-of-theway locations and is especially beneficial to large commercial wineries, the two institutions are not the same. For Viennese, the Heurigen experience represents a momentary return to the countryside, a reality check against the oversophistication of city life and an opportunity to taste "real" Austrian food of the sort grandmother used to make. This interest in culinary roots is something that took shape after World War I, after the country shrank to its present size, and especially after the coming of the automobile, which made evening trips to the country possible.
It is significant that Katharina Prato's great Austrian classic Süddeutsche Küche (South German cookery), which first appeared at Graz in 1858 and passed through more than seventy editions, made no mention of Austrian cuisine. Prato was from an aristocratic family, and her world view, like that of other Austrians of her day, encompassed the empire and its most refined culinary riches, not the food of the peasants. By degrees, the Heurigen have taken this view in the opposite direction, and this has moved hand-in-hand with Austrian scholarship on the country's most interesting traditional foods and customs.
The list of individuals who have contributed to the formation of a new Austrian culinary identity is indeed long, but two names do stand head and shoulders above the rest. They are Ernst Burgstaller and Anni Gamerith. Both were scholars with an ethnographic approach to their subject, although Gamerith was also intensely interested in traditional horticulture and actively helped to preserve endangered heirloom food plants. Burgstaller's Österreichisches Festtagsgebäck (Austrian festive breads and pastries) is a model of what can be learned about a country by studying its foods on a village-by-village basis. Burgstaller's maps outlining regional customs and foods have formed the basis for many regional food studies that have followed, such as Brigitte and Siegfried W. de Rachewiltz's Tiroler Brot (Tyrolean bread). On the other hand, Gamerith's literary output was huge, and many of her studies take a holistic approach to food. Lebendiges Ganzkorn (Living grain) followed the entire story of whole-food grains in Steiermark, their agricultural history, the old horticultural knowledge surrounding their planting and harvest, the old methods of milling and storage, and finally, their conversion into food and bread, including recipes.
Food in Austria today. Gamerith's approach may have been influenced to some extent by the writings of Rudolf Steiner, whose theories on biodynamic agriculture not only originated in Austria, but are still widely practiced there to one degree or another. Because of the lack of large open agricultural lands, Austrian farmers have concentrated on intensive agriculture on small plots of land. Organic farming is extremely popular, and the country supplies a large amount of its own food. Interest in heirloom fruits and vegetables is high and is well-coordinated under the grass-roots organization Arche Noah (Noah's Ark), which is headquartered at Schloss Schiltern. The most recent trend in Vienna's leading restaurants has been a turn away from the old imperial cuisine so popular with tourists, and the placement of new emphasis on seasonal local produce and traditional cooking methods. Thus the cuisine of the countryside is now finding new status on high-end menus in the creative hands of numerous young chefs.
Tourism still plays an important role in Austrian cookery, but the differences between native Austrian fare and what tourists consume are growing ever wider. Travel writers and food journalists created a Viennese experience that the tourist still seeks out, such as a requisite slice of Sachertorte, a dish of Kaiserschmarrn, coffee at Demels, and the ever-present tins of Mozartkugeln (chocolate balls). This is culture for outsiders, a caricature of Austria as highly packaged and as devoid of "authenticity" as the blaring echoes of The Sound of Music that roll through the cobblestone streets of Salzburg every summer day.
Modern Switzerland began in 1291 with the confederation of the three original cantons: Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. After that the confederation grew piecemeal fashion with the addition of several new cantons after the Swiss declared independence from foreign domination in 1648. The last cantons to join the confederation were Neuchâtel, Valais, and Genève in 1815. This created the modern borders of the country. Today there are twenty-three cantons, the largest being Graubünden, Ticino, Valais, Berne, and Vaud. While the country has four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansh), German is the dominant language, especially since it is the language of business and banking. However, it is not the oldest language of the country.
Romansh or Rhaeto-Romance is a relic language surviving from Roman times. A mixture of Latin and Celtic, it was at one time spoken over a much larger part of Switzerland than the present Engadin region in Graubünden where it is now centered. The Romansh Badrutt family brought this cultural milieu to world attention when it established luxury hotels at St. Moritz. However, sister dialects of Romansh were spoken in Austria and, during the early Middle Ages, over much of what is now Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. In culinary terms, it is the Romansh culture of Switzerland that provides a direct link to the cookery of ancient Helvetia. When the Swiss think of the roots of their culture, and about symbols of cultural identity, it is Romansh and the ancient Helvetians that come to mind. This is their idea of Swissness and is the reason the country's currency bears the name of the Helvetic Confederation.
In spite of the fact that the Swiss gained political independence in 1648, the country never evolved a national food identity. Today, most outsiders probably think of fondue or Emmenthaler cheese when they think of Switzerland, but the Swiss are fiercely loyal to their cantonal identities; thus it is much more reasonable to discuss the cookery of Bern, or of Vaud, or of Zürich, than to lump everything together into one pot. While it may be overly simplistic to break the food story down into the major Swiss language groups, it is true that the cookery of the German-speaking cantons is different from the cookery of the French and Italian cantons—yet with a great deal of overlapping.
The peculiarities of Swiss cuisine have been studied in minute detail by the Swiss themselves, and there are innumerable books tackling the subject. For example, Werner Meyer's Hirsebrei und Hellebarde (Millet mush and halberds) traces the shifts in Swiss diet that occurred during the late Middle Ages and the 1500s. From a cantonal standpoint, the best studies thus far are those by the Swiss food historian Albert Hauser, who launched a series of cantonal food histories with the publication of Vom Essen und Trinken im Alten Zürich (Eating and drinking in old-time Zurich) in 1961. This was followed by similar studies of Bern and other cantons.
Since the Renaissance came early to Switzerland, and since Basel became a great center for the study of humanism, Swiss books dealing with culinary topics have appeared steadily since the 1500s. Yet a peculiarly Swiss identity did not begin to appear until the eighteenth century. Mostly it took the form of cookbooks written for the wives of rich burgers, as in the case of the anonymous Bernisches Koch-Büchlein (Little Bernese cookbook), which is known from its second edition of 1749 (and recently reprinted in facsimile). It first appeared about 1720, although no copies have survived of that edition. The contents of the cookbook, while Swiss in the use of the Bernese dialect of German, make no effort to cover Bernese culinary specialties. It is more of a guide to what was then fashionable, with many adaptations of French recipes.
The same could be said of other cantonal cookbooks, such as Crescentia Bohrer's Freiburger Kochbuch (Freiburg cookbook), published in 1836. It was not until later in the nineteenth century that the word "Swiss" begins to appear in cookbook titles, no doubt the result of a rising sense of nationalism. One of these books was Jenny Lina Ebert's Die Schweizerische Köchin (The Swiss cook), which was published in 1870 and 1871. Like Bohrer's, Ebert's cookbook embraced bürgerliche Kochkunst, and the fact that she used the feminine Köchin is significant. This was a book intended for housewives.
The overwhelming body of Swiss culinary literature has been written by men for professional cooks. This phenomenon is due to one very important contribution the Swiss have made to the food world: the development of the hotel industry and hotel cookery. The English discovered Switzerland's Alps during excursions to Italy. The romantic landscapes, the quaint chalets, yodeling peasants, hillsides covered with goats, windswept meadows, glaciers—it was a universe far removed from the apple orchards of Kent. It began with the English renting rooms in farmhouses, but the astute Swiss were quick to observe that more rent-paying Englishmen and their families could be packed into country inns with expanded sleeping and dining arrangements, and thus the hotel industry was born. The construction of the Swiss railroad system made it possible for middle-class tourists to reach most parts of the country. By the 1860s, Switzerland was dotted with hotels situated in scenic locations, and considerable advertising copy was devoted to the fact that the fresh mountain air, the crystal-clear glacial waters, and the fresh cheese and butter were far healthier for the constitution than the thick coal smogs of London. In order to run these hotels profitably and efficiently, the Swiss also established training schools in management and in hotel cooking. They are still masters of this industry, and hotel chefs the world over are quick to mention their Swiss diplomas.
In concert with the movement of tourists into the country there was a movement of Swiss talent abroad. Overcrowding of farmland, food shortages, and economic downturns convinced a number of Swiss to emigrate and to apply their talents elsewhere. Dolf Kaiser has traced this migration in his book Fast ein Volk von Zuckerbäckern? (Almost a nation of confectioners?), which outlines in great detail how Swiss from Graubünden came to manage the great hotels, confection shops, and cafés of Europe. This emigration included the Delmonico family, which established a well-known restaurant in New York, as well as many, many other famous names in the world of food: Café Josty in Berlin, the restaurant Köhl in Odessa (Russia), the Café Chinoise in St. Petersburg, Café Tosio in Warsaw, Klainguti & Company in Genoa, and the Café Gilli in Florence, to name a few. If there were one cookbook that served as a text for this expatriate Swiss food network, it was Giacomo Perini's richly illustrated Der Schweizerzuckerbäcker (The Swiss confectioner), which was published at Weimar, Germany, in 1852. Because it was written for a small circle of confectioners and thumbed to shreds, very few copies now survive, and it is today one of the rarest of all Swiss cookery books. Furthermore, the term "Swiss" in this context does not refer to a national style of cooking, but to an established reputation among Swiss confectioners for a high level of professionalism.
Swiss confectioners were especially renowned for their chocolates. In 1876 the Swiss confectioner Daniel Peter created milk chocolate by combining milk powder with the chocolate formula. His powdered milk had been manufactured by Henri Nestlé as a product for babies, but it became obvious from this discovery that greater money could be made with this new kind of chocolate. Nestlé's name has been associated with milk chocolate and instant chocolate ever since. Nestlé is now a large international corporation headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland. Another Swiss contribution came from Rodolphe Lindt, who in 1880 developed the technique for conching chocolate, a process that permitted much firmer and more highly ornamental candies, as well as the ability to insert fillings.
Swiss cooking today. Tourism has to some extent "decantonalized" modern Swiss cooking. In order to meet the expectations of foreign visitors, Swiss hoteliers and restaurateurs are quick to supply a roster of well-known menu items like fondue, raclette, rösti (grated potato pancakes), Basler Leckerli (Basel-style gingerbread), Zürich Hotpot (Gumbis ), and a long list of recipes based on lake fish. In Swiss home cooking and in the cooking of the small inns frequented by the Swiss themselves, especially places where there is a fixed Stammtisch (reserved tables for regular local customers), the food is decidedly different and at times far superior to hotel fare. There is also a strong movement to capture traditional dishes in cookbooks with a highly localized focus. Fritz Gfeller's Rezepte aus dem Emmental (Recipes from the Emmental) represents an attempt by the chef of a popular country inn to take the farmhouse cookery of his famous valley and put it into a cultural context with stories about each recipe and the rather remarkable local characters connected with them. Dialect recipe titles like Zueguet-Schnitzu (Schnitzel in the style of a Zueguet farm) tell us that this is a cookbook intended mostly for Swiss eyes.
Likewise, Aargauer Rezepte (Aargau recipes) by Dora Schärer, Betty Pircher, and Yvonne Fauser is also a collection of local recipes, but one assembled by three instructors in schools of home economics. They have taken rustic traditional foods and revamped them according to modern cooking techniques and food presentation. This is an important strand in domestic Swiss cooking because it is an attempt to insulate the nation's cuisine from the homogenization of the European Union, to which Switzerland does not belong.
Finally, it goes without saying that some of the most famous French restaurants in the world are not inside France. The Swiss penchant for high professionalism and artistic creativity in food are perhaps strongest in Suisse romande, in the French-speaking cantons facing Lake Geneva. One of the recent culinary heroes of that region is Fredy Girardet, a native of Canton Vaud, whose restaurant in the village of Crissier has been recognized as one of the world's great culinary meccas.
See also Balkan Countries; Central Europe; Chocolate; Christmas; Cookbooks; France; Gamerith, Anni; Gingerbread; Italy; Low Countries; Middle Ages, European; Pastry; Potato; Sausage; Shrove Tuesday ; United States, subentries on Ethnic Cuisines and Pennsylvania Dutch Food.
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William Woys Weaverwith material on Germany from Hans-Jürgen Teuteberg