Today was the final day of Munich’s Oktoberfest, bringing the 200th anniversary festivities to a close after weeks of celebration. While they are bidding a fond farewell in Germany, in the US there are a few ongoing celebrations here and there, and to honor those I plan to explore German food a bit more in depth for the month of October.
I had intended to make homemade sourdough pretzels last week – one of the traditional food offerings at Oktoberfest each year. However, my sourdough starter (which should have been ready by the middle of last week) has been giving me a bit of trouble. At one point I truly thought it had died, but after a few extra feedings it began to revive. It seems to be quite bubbly now…thus my starter has been dubbed “Elvis”…no, Elvis has NOT left the building!!!
This brings us to tomorrow: ‘Pretzel Day’…I have ‘Elvis’, some barley malt syrup and the few other remaining ingredients needed to venture forth. The recipe I am using is a two-day process, so I really won’t know until Wednesday how it all comes together. It involves mixing, resting, shaping, another loooonnnng rest (12-24 hours), dipping and finally, baking. (And then hopefully: eating!)
So let’s raise one of those remaining steins of Marzen to pretzels…Keep those fingers crossed they turn out well, and I will keep all of you posted on the outcome – good or bad. “Thankya, thankya very much!!” for your patience and support!
**Note for those interested: the sourdough starter recipe I am using comes from Nancy Silverton’s “Breads from the La Brea Bakery”, and the pretzel recipe is from that same cookbook. I have made this starter with no problem several times in the past…I’m not sure what was different this time, but it does appear as if it has made a recovery. I will know for sure tomorrow…
Question: When in Germany can you experience March in October? Answer: When you are in Munich drinking a Marzen beer during Oktoberfest!!
Every year at precisely noon on the first day of Oktoberfest the lord mayor of Munich steps forth for the ‘Official Tapping of the Keg’, a traditional ceremony to kick off the festival. It is one that is eagerly anticipated by beer drinkers far and wide. And the beer most associated with Oktoberfest? That would be the Marzen-style brews. The term Marzen (also spelled Maerzen; pronounced ‘Maer-tsen’, NOT ‘Mars-en’) is German for March which is when that particular style of lager is brewed. Back when Oktoberfest first began lack of refrigeration made brewing beer in the summer unheard of due to heat and bacteria issues. Brewers instead prepared their beer in March, and it usually had higher alcohol content – typically 5.0-6.2% – to aid in the preservation process. Once bottled it was put in ‘lagerns’ – German for storage – in this case caves and/or cellars. Often these lagers were located near a water source such as a pond, allowing them to harvest blocks of ice in the winter when the ponds froze over. They used the ice to keep the beer cold until it was ready to be consumed. Actually, some of these cellars are still in use to this day.
Bavarians are very serious about their beer, and VERY PARTICULAR!! Way back in 1516 a ‘purity order’ was established in Bavaria – called “Reinheitsgebot” – making it illegal for its beer to be made from anything but hops, barley-malt (originally just barley) and water. Yeast was eventually permitted as the fourth acceptable ingredient. All of Germany accepted this enactment in 1906; however, as with most rules there are exceptions…loopholes if you will. Some circumstances do allow other ingredients to be incorporated, such as sugar, wheat and even coloring.
Marzen itself is a medium to full-bodied darker lager, having a slightly sweet taste. Bitterness is usually on the low side but varies among brewers. The color may range anywhere from amber to deep copper, with tradition leaning toward the darker brews. It is the historic offering at Oktoberfest. Due to cooler weather October was the time brewers could begin making beer again. They needed to empty out the kegs to make space to store the new batches, so they let their ‘Marzen biers’ loose at Oktoberfest .
So make sure to fill your steins with a proper Marzen on this 200 year anniversary of Oktoberfest…To all of you I raise my stein and cheer ”Prost!”
**the reason barley was the only grain allowed has pretty much everything to do with the fact that they wanted to make sure the wheat and rye were reserved for bread-baking. In other words, it was protection for the bread industry.
**Ales are made with top-fermented yeast. This enables the finished product to be ready quickly, often in only a few days
**Lagers are made with bottom fermented yeast. They need cooler temperatures and take longer to reach full maturity, often 1 – 3 months. Marzen falls into this category.
Oktoberfest is upon us!! Today kicked off the 200th wedding anniversary of Prince (later to become King) Ludwig I and his bride, Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen of Bavaria (try saying that 3 times fast, or even once slowly)… Question: if 100 years warrants a 10K diamond – and according to Google it does – what is the expected gift for 200 years??? I have not discovered the answer, but I suspect it is BIG!
Prince Ludwig I and Therese married in October of 1810, kicking off their new life together with a ‘little’ one-week long celebration. The entire town was invited, something unheard of in that day and age for a royal wedding. The wedding ceremony got the ball rolling on October 12th, and the festivities continued through the week, eventually being brought to a close with a horse race on October 17th. Thus began what many consider to be the most celebrated festival of the world. Oktoberfest has grown and evolved over the past two centuries and has expanded to countries all over the world. Munich locals call it ‘Die Wiesn’, referring to the meadow in which the royal couple was married…and where it is still held today. The horse race – a highlight of the earliest festivals – is no longer included in the many activities; however, many other traditions and events have taken its place. The ‘official tapping of the keg’ is one of the highlights…obviously beer-drinking is directly associated with Oktoberfest and has been an important part of its celebration since around 1818. And of course you really cannot have an authentic Oktoberfest without traditional folk music and men dressed in lederhosen and women in Bavarian dirndls.
I hear the rumblings of ‘but why is it called Oktoberfest when it is held in September?’…As you can see, it did originate in October and was held solely in October for many years. However, as it grew from one week into several it was decided to move the start date up to September. This allowed the festivities to be enjoyed during more favorable weather conditions. Now it begins the third Saturday of September and runs through the first Sunday of October. A special stein is designed each year, and this year’s stein features a portrait of the happy royal couple to commemorate their 200th anniversary. Since 1810 the festival has been held 177 times. Those years which did not see a festival were due to either war or cholera epidemics.
My posts over the next couple of weeks will delve deeper into the history and traditions of Oktoberfest. I will include information on traditional foods and drink served at the festival. My German heritage eagerly awaits this opportunity!