Best Advice For German Food Starts With A Family Memory

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Weisswurst and sauerkraut. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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German food can be quite inaccessible. Many people think of it as heavy or they aren’t sure exactly what it is beyond sausages and sauerkraut. But what’s wrong with starting off with sausages and sauerkraut, especially for a cold winter party? This all came to mind because of an old family photo I came across while scanning.

It was of my mother sitting on the terrace of the General Walker hotel in Obersalzberg, Bavaria, in 1954. It dawned on me that nine years before this was the Berghof, Hitler’s Alpine retreat. The U.S. Army captured it in 1945, and the property became a hotel as part of the U.S. Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC).

My father was stationed with the Air Force in France at the time, and we often vacationed at U.S. Armed Forces retreats. In the photo, my mother, Helen DeYeso Wright, enjoys the sun on the same terrace where Hitler sat only some years before with Hermann Goering. During the same visit, I played nearby with my sister dressed in Bavarian costumes my parents bought.

The early 1950s was a time before the West German economic miracle, and the Germans were a vanquished and humbled people, ashamed but confused about their recent Nazi past, fearful of Soviet Russia, and very friendly towards Americans. I asked my mother about that time and she told me that the area was beautiful. She described Hitler’s bunker, which still existed in 1954.

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The author and his sister play in Bavarian costumes at the former World War II retreat that became the General Walker hotel in Obersalzberg, Bavaria. Credit: Harold I. Wright

The Germans in the mid-1950s, she said, were very friendly and my parents opted to eat in town rather than at the General Walker, which only served American food. My parents wanted German food, and although neither one of them were beer drinkers, they downed their steins of lager with, as she called it, those “big fat sausages” (weisswurst), spaetzle, sauerkraut, roast potatoes and “really fantastic” apple strudel.

Bavarian sausage traditions

To this day Bavaria is sausage central, where hearty and delicious food is still enjoyed by beer-loving Germans and tourists so far removed from those horrible times it’s hard to believe it happened there at all. At that moment I realized I wanted to sink my teeth into some weisswurst. A Bavarian weisswurst mit sauerkraut is not hard to do, because you’re only reheating as you will have bought the weisswurst and the sauerkraut and the mustard, hopefully from your nearest German delicatessen.

Weisswurst, literally white sausage, is a traditional Bavarian sausage made of very finely chopped veal and pork fat back flavored with parsley, lemon, mace, ginger, onions and sometimes cardamom, though different sausage makers make it a bit differently each time. Traditionally it is eaten with a warm soft pretzel and sweet mustard. In the rural tradition, it is eaten in the method known as zutzln where the sausage meat is squeezed out of the casing with one’s teeth directly into the mouth.

Once you find weisswurst at a delicatessen or grocery store, you can boil it before serving, or you can boil and then fry it.

Finding weisswurst harder than preparing it

The best advice I can given about having a weisswurst mit sauerkraut party in the middle of winter is to visit a local German deli and buy their freshly made sausage, not pre-cooked or packaged weisswurst from the supermarket. There are plenty of German delis all over the country and a quick Google search will turn one up for you. The same goes for the sauerkraut. Mail order is a second option, although weisswurst are highly perishable and you’ll need to have your sausage shipped express, overnight in a cold pack.

Bavaria Sausage of Wisconsin sells sauerkraut and Bavarian mustard as well. The beer you should be able to get everywhere, and only Bavarian lager will do. Prost und gutes Essen! (Cheers and bon appetit!)

Top photo: Weisswurst and sauerkraut. Credit: Clifford A. Wright


Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast." His latest book is "One-Pot Wonders" (Wiley).

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