By Jordan Simon Diet of Worms notwithstanding, Martin Luther doesn’t exactly court culinary curiosity. Yet by all accounts, the Great Reformer enjoyed his homemade brews and brats, opining, “Better to think of church in the ale-house than to think of the ale-house in church.” Luther spent most of his life in the adjoining states of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, Germany’s so-called “green heart,” noted for its rich soil (half the acreage is devoted to such crops as wheat, barley, sugar beets, and rapeseed). Indeed, Thuringia’s largest volksfest is the Weimar Onion Market (Zwiebelmarkt), held annually since 1653. This October 7-9 roughly 350,000 visitors from around the globe will descend on Weimar as its ancient cobblestone streets bustle with beer gardens, fairground rides, arcade attractions, 500 stalls, and hundreds of stage performances.
Another local, one Johann Wolfgang von Goethe praised the Zwiebelmarkt as a “famous Market festival,” and adorned his study with the humble bulbs, believing in their salubrious properties. Today foodies can sample many fragrant specialties, such as onion soups, stews, breads and cakes (savory zwiebelkuchen), washed down with Federweisser (young, low-alcohol wine) or koblauch (garlic schnapps, which I can attest won’t replace Jäger as the collegiate shot of choice).
Aromas of garlic, grill smoke, and caraway commingle with caramelized onions and candied almonds on the brisk autumnal air. The Zwiebelmarkt also does a booming biz in klösse (potato dumplings) and the famed marjoram-scented Thüringer bratwurst, prepared according to Germany’s oldest food purity law, dating back to 1432. Vendors offer not only onion-based dishes (and themed handicrafts) but also the market’s signature item, the zwiebelrispe: bright lilac, white and yellow onions cannily woven around a straw core, plaited with herbs and wildflowers. Each year, farmers from nearby Heldrungen, the unofficial onion capital, compete to string together the longest braid, which is then sold for charity. The record, set in 1995, reportedly measured a remarkable 17 feet and was suspended from the city hall tower. Locals also garland themselves for a 10-K run, and crown one fetching fräulein as Onion Queen, bringing tears to a proud mother’s eyes.
WEIMAR ONION TART The VisitLuther folks (www.visit-luther.com), tasked with a decade-long buildup to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, provided a traditional recipe for zwiebelkuchen, which I prepared last weekend. One of my 95 Theses on indulgence(s) pinned to the refrigerator: Thou must doctor. So I used the last of my Vidalia onions and added ¼ lb. of Havarti cheese to the filling;
Butterkäse could also work. Sehr gut! Pastry: 1 pound flour ½ pint milk 1 ½ ounces yeast Pinch of salt, sugar 2 eggs 5 tablespoons of oil Filling: 2 pounds onions 4 tablespoons oil 1 pint sour cream ½ pint milk 4 eggs 1 teaspoon caraway seeds Salt, pepper to taste (Jordan suggests adding ¼ lb. Havarti) *To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the flour, sugar, salt, eggs and oil. Knead well. Cover and let stand for about an hour. *Slice the onions into fine rings. Fry the onions in hot oil, but don’t let them turn brown. Allow them to cool down. *Roll out the pastry base on a greased baking tray, push up the edges, pierce a few times with a fork and let stand for about five minutes. Spread the onions on the pastry. *Whisk the remaining ingredients together and pour them over the onions. Bake in the oven at 375°F for 45 minutes. Serve warm.
Photo credits: Weimar Onion Market (little girl---photographer Matthias Kaiser, woman, and “field” of onion strands), courtesy of the Weimar GmbH Zwiebelkuchen,
http://www.steffensdinners.com/content/zwiebelkuchen_(onion_cake), Onion Sourdough rolls (no recipe, but the image from the admirable SteffensDinners.com blog is both mouth-watering and apropos), http://www.steffensdinners.com/files/images/onion-sourdough-rolls.jpg