Erntedankfest- Germany’s Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the US. But, like many other countries, Germany knows how to give thanks too. It’s called Erntedankfest .It’s celebrated at a different date and the traditional food isn’t the turkey, but otherwise, the spirit is the same.


Giving thanks after the harvest has successfully been brought in, is one of the oldest traditions known to man. Romans, Egyptians, Celts and many other cultures worshipped the gods with festivities and offerings of food and wine. Sometimes the celebrations went on for days and, of course, there was no common date because it depended on the climate and harvest of very different countries.

Erntedankfest as celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church is first mentioned in the 3rd century.  There are basically two dates in Germany: 1st Sunday in October for the Catholics and 29th of September for the protestants. But, German regions are free to change the dates a bit.


Both religions celebrate Erntedankfest in a church. The altar is richly decorated with baskets full of fruit, vegetables and bunches of cereal.

Theatiner Kirche Munich

Theatiner Kirche Munich

After the mass, the food is often distributed to the poor. Or else, particularly in smaller communities, a huge meal is prepared to which each and everyone is invited. Beer and wine flow freely and the whole thing often becomes one big party.

An essential symbol of Erntedank are huge, elaborate crowns, woven from straw, which are often displayed in the church. In southern regions, a procession precedes the offerings and mass in church. Carriages take part, decorated  with flowers, straw, streamers and bows and sometimes horses and oxen participate too.

Another custom is to weave effigies from straw which at the end of the day are burnt.


One traditional dish is chicken. This has its origin in a habit from the times when potatoes were harvested by hand. The farmer had to give a chicken to his laborers once they had finished bringing in the potatoes. Hence this chicken feast was called Potato Chicken or Kartoffelhahn.

Otherwise, there is no really typical Erntedankfest food, as opposed to the traditional turkey in the US.

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

First picture source: Steve Collins for Wiki Commons


Turron, Cagatios and other Spanish Christmas Treats

Christmas is approaching fast and, like many other countries, Spain has her own sweets and treats. Let’s take a look.

Last week, I made my way to Jijona, also known as ‘the cradle of turron’. It’s in this little village some 20km north of Alicante, in the middle of almond groves, that Spain’s Christmas sweet no. 1, turron, was ‘invented’.


Surprisingly, the sweet, often called the Spanish nougat, doesn’t have a very long tradition. In the 18th century El Lobo, the most famous company, started to produce turron, grinding almonds, mixing them with sugar, honey  and egg white, stirring and stirring, then cutting it into squares.


The turron museum of Jijona documents the making of turron, all by hand in the beginning, to today’s modernized production. There are basically two kinds of turron: very hard one, often with pieces of almond in it and soft one which is mostly made in Alicante. Over the years, this traditional Christmas sweet of Arabic origin, has undergone varieties. Now there is turron de chocolate, turron with candied fruit and much more.





Let’s turn to a custom which I first saw on a Christmas market in Barcelona. The caragtio is a piece of dried tree trunk, dressed up as Papa Noel and with his backend covered by a blanket. During the time approaching Christmas, the cagatio is fed with apples by kids, because, so the story goes, when he is kept well fed and warm with his blanket, at Christmas he will ‘shit’ sweets and little presents which the kids find under the blanket.


If you fear for your teeth, stay away from the hard variety of turron and enjoy polvorones instead. They are little cakes, often compared to biscuits, which melt into almond and butter flavored powder as soon as you get your teeth into them. They are very dry and crumble easily that’s probably why they are wrapped individually and want to be handled with care until they reach their final destination: your taste buds!

The best polvorones are made in Southern Andalucia.

The 6th of January is the day when Roscon de Reyes is eaten all over the country. It’s a large, round bread, glazed and topped with candied fruit and powdered sugar. Hidden in the dough is a coin or a figures of baby Jesus. Who ever finds one or the other will have good luck during the coming year.


Feliz Navidad!

La Cite du Vin/Bordeaux

Come with me on a tour of Bordeaux’s brand new landmark: La Cite du Vin. The only thing which surprised me was that it took so long to come into being. Bordeaux is after all the capital of wine and THE appropriate location for an outstanding wine museum.

Well, here it is, opened only this year. La Cite du Vin  is much more than a museum, it’s also an indoor amusement park and an architectural masterpiece. Designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazieres, the 55m high building rises into the sky close to the river Garonne. The shape alone is food for discussion.


To me, frankly, it looks like a boot whereas it is supposed to represent a decanter or wine glass which no doubt is more appropriate.

Be prepared for high tech and..darkness. I am a great museum fan, but, I’ll say so right from the start, this is not my favorite. But, go and judge for yourself.

The entrance

The entrance

The huge structure spreads over 10 levels and you follow the parcours permanent right to the top. Along the way you learn everything there is to know about wine. History, cultivation, commerce, transport, you name it, you will find it.

At the entrance you are provided with massive earphones and a hand held gadget because interactive is the key word of this museum. Huge screens tell stories whilst an audio guide whispers into your ear. The screens, displays and images are the reason why this place is so very dark, something that made me feel claustrophobic. Everybody shuffles around with their earphones and gadget, it resembles zombie central. Nobody can talk to anybody else and discuss the exhibits and you can’t ask any questions either because an audiotape doesn’t answer.

I liked the mural about ancient wine cultivation and the bottles, encrusted with shells, recovered from the sea.





At the ground floor there  are also shops where you can buy wine and a Café. To enjoy this kind of museum cum amusement park you have to be a fan of high tech, otherwise you might run outside after just 40 minutes as I did, to let me eye rest on the waters of the Garonne and enjoy the sunshine after all that darkness.

For quite a detailed guide please consult:

Apart from the eye catching shape of the building, it has, in my opinion, nothing in common with the Sydney Opera House or the Guggenheim in Bilbao to which it is compared, both of which  I have visited.


Canneles – Bordeaux’s Sweet Secret

My recent trip to Bordeaux was very much dominated by food. I was invited by the fabulous Hotel Le Saint James. On arrival, I was greeted with a cup of coffee, accompanied by two golden brown canneles. Even the sugar cubes, specially made for the hotel, come in the form of canneles. Cute.

This was my first encounter with Bordeaux’s signature cup cake and subsequently I learned all about it, including how to make them.


They are bite sized little cakes, generously flavored with rum, a hint of vanilla  and baked until golden brown. They have to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and won’t keep more than a day because then they get all limp.

The name comes from the crenellated forms they are baked in. In Bordeaux families, the forms are like an heirloom, much appreciated and passed on from generation to generation. The older they are, the better the canneles. There is a modern version made from plastic, much looked down  upon by true canneles  connoisseurs.

According to our tour guide, the hilarious ‘ Mr. Butterdish’ ,the best canneles are made in Caneles Baillardran (  in Bordeaux. If you want to make them yourself, you can buy the forms anywhere in the many shops along Bordeaux’s  pedestrian shopping street Rue Saint Catherine.

Bruno Beurrier aka Mr. Butterdish

Bruno Beurrier aka Mr. Butterdish

At the Hotel Le Saint James, I had the opportunity to participate in their Cote Cours cooking class. The charming chef Celia Girard taught us, among many other things, how to make proper canneles.

Celia Girard

Celia Girard

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients for 20 canneles

600g milk

60g butter

2 eggs

40g egg yolk

180g of flour

300g of sugar

100g of rum


Boil half the milk with the butter. Add cold milk. Mix flour with sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl mix eggs with egg yolk. When the milk is only warm, pour in flour and sugar mix, then egg mix and finally the rum. Mix well and let the dough rest in the fridge over night.

Grease molds and pour in the mixture nearly to the brim. Bake in 180C preheated oven until  caramelized between 45 and 60 minutes depending on the oven.

I added a few raisins and ground almonds because it goes very well with the rum flavor.

Be warned: they are addicitive!


Wielding the cooking spoon – Hotel Le Saint James/Bouliac

Last week, I did something I have never done before. Kindly invited by the fabulous Le Saint James Hotel in Bouliac near Bordeaux , I jumped at the chance to improve my cooking skills beyond scrambled eggs and pasta.

Le Saint James Hotel

Le Saint James Hotel

The hotel owned vineyard

The hotel owned vineyard

Cote Cours are the magic words of a cooking course offered by the hotel to guests and other interested parties alike. Celia Girard, sous-chef to 2star chef Nicholas Magie who is in charge of the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, runs the classes. Given my very basic cooking skills, I was a bit apprehensive. Would she notice and maybe look down her nose at the beginner who didn’t even know how to dice an onion properly?

Far from it! Celia is not only a master cook, but also charming, with a great sense of humor and endless patience. There were six of us, mostly food writers and travel writers like myself.

Celia in her kitchen

Celia in her kitchen

It started great with donning pink aprons. Sooo to a glamourgranny’s taste. I felt like a pro already. My ‘mistake’ was to wear rings though. But, I didn’t get told of by Celia but rather by my fellow pupils. Oh well, next time I’ll know better.


We prepared starters, a main course and a desert, all to be eaten afterwards at a huge round table in the super modern kitchen. Ok, I didn’t wield a cooking spoon, but I’m a master knife wielder by now because I finally know how to chop an onion, finely and without cutting my finger off.

The finished main course. Hake in fig leaves

The finished main course. Hake in fig leaves

Celia’s emphasis is on the freshest products and, if at all possible, anything that grows in the region. Therefore one of the main ingredients were seps, a big and fleshy mushroom, delivered on the spot by a local farmer.


What impressed me was that nothing gets wasted. We had to peel the mushroom stems and the peel was kept. So were the ends of shallots and onions, stems of parsley etc. It all went into a pot with boiling water and converted into a delicious mushroom broth to which later pieces of mushroom, cream and butter were added to make a tasty mushroom cream, poured over the fish.

The difficulty started, even for my seasoned foodie companions, when we had to roll up the fillet of fish, placed on a fig leave in cling film. It needed to be rolled and folded just so… not an easy task. The fish then sat for 5 minutes in a steam oven and came out juicy and tasty. Added to this was a mixture of grapes, crushed hazelnuts and fresh figs, a beautiful combination of flavors.

Rolling the fillets of fish

Rolling the fillets of fish

One of Bordeaux’s specialties are canneles, a sort of cone shaped cup cake, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, flavored with a generous helping of rum. I even got creative and suggested to add a few raisins and crushed almonds which go nicely with the rum.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

I’m happy I got the chance and I can only recommend the cooking class. There are several kinds, one even for kids. Prices vary from €85 for a three course meal to €30 for the kiddy class.

I did of course learn something but the most important thing was the great fun which was had by all. Merci Celia.