A little bit of a different post today!!
Since it is never too early for the Christmas spirit, please welcome Emma Hamilton to Chouett.
It is very evident that Emma’s love of food does not just resides in her cooking, but also through her words and how she shares every tastes and scents and places while savouring it.
Something tells me that after reading this, you will be hungry.
Christmas Markets in Germany
The snow was falling from the dark sky and was already crunchy and glittery underfoot. Lights were twinkling in the bare trees which seemed to stand guard over the small Christmas Market in Ahrtal, one of Germany’s wine producing regions. I breathe in deeply, drinking in the romance of the whole scene. My woolly hat sits warm upon my head and my poncho keeps me warm as I absorb the prettiness of what I’ve found.
The towns in this part of Germany are nestled between steep slopes covered in vines. Enough cottages, and Tudor style “fachwerk” or half-timbered houses give the old towns in this region a sprinkling of gingerbread magic and allow you to ignore the not-so-picturesque-sixties-built houses that spread away from the pretty town centres.
In another small Rhein town, straw is sprinkled on the cobble stones paving the market square. The town hall looms above us and geese honk in the frosty air. Women and men are dressed in medieval sack cloths and a huge wine barrel is perched on top of a smouldering fire to make a medieval hot tub. Sitting in the middle of it is a jovial man, sipping from a pewter mug of mead. He calls periodically for friends to join him, although most people seem to prefer to huddle nearer to the bar or brasserie. More lights twinkle and German Christmas songs parp from speakers strung up around a wooden hut serving medieval mead, mulled wine and beers. As I ooooh and aaaah over the scene, deciding whether I want to try a glass of local wine, warmed with cinnamon and other Christmas spices and mellowed with a shot of brandy or rum, the man in the hot tub jumps out and he’s naked! I stifle a giggle but realise that no one else is at all surprised as he dances across the icy cobble stones to replenish his drink. “Welcome to Germany – Land of public nudity, and erm brilliant Christmas markets which last the full month of advent.” Perhaps, I thought, this is a recreation of what it was like in medieval times. I was yet to learn that Germans are often quite happy to swan through saunas and hot tubs naked without a care in the world.
But back to the Christmas market; now I’m pushing through the crowds of Cologne expecting a big wheel and a strong commercial feel. What I find though is a magical land of fairies and legends. Lit stars and paper lanterns hang everywhere, from trees and lampposts and the medieval feel is here too, despite the big modern town gathered all around us. We order reiberkuchen, grated potato cakes fried till golden in sizzling oil and served with a side of warm, spicy apple mousse. Later, after browsing, we nibble on a smoked salmon steak sandwich and drink down another glass of spiced wine, I buy a paper star light and a “rauchermann”, a carved wooden Father Christmas, who smokes delicate incense cones through his wooden pipe and fills the house with the smell of celebration and tradition. My excitement increases.
Huge Christmas trees stand near the church or cathedral at the entrance to the markets. They are hung with red stars, gold baubles or just simple white lights. The food showcases the best of local produce and traditions -venison sausages might be served, or wild boar goulash; mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce, baked potatoes, caramel nuts and cake after cake after cake. One of my favourite discoveries was the Lebkuchen or Gingerbread covered in Chocolate nougat mousse and a milk chocolate jacket; you can only manage one a day, but once eaten it’s hard to imagine tea time without them. They are only made at advent in my local bakery and already, I’m salivating at the thought of them. Last year, I bought up their whole stock, all fifteen, to amused, and slightly shocked looks, and brought them back to the UK so that my whole family could try them.
I love Christmas wherever I am in the world, but the German Christmas markets are second to none. Every town, every village has one and for the month of December they become the meeting place for friends and colleagues to hang out and have fun. A shopping destination for those looking for carved presents, ornaments, pottery and local food, they are most of all, a magical window into the spirit of Christmas past and present. The lights, the food and the magic serve to make the build up to the big day even better and even after three years and many evenings spent visiting them in December, they will never lose their magic for me. Cologne’s markets start on the 22nd November this year, and I’m already counting down for the magic to begin.
Christmas Cravings by Emma Hamilton is published on 20th November, price £0.99 in eBook. Find Emma and all of her incredible recipes on Instagram: EmmaHamiltonAuthor