It seems the month of October brings out our need for special celebrations across the world. The fall signals that the pleasures of summer are at an end and we must face the rigors of winter to come. Hence we have devised activities since ancient times to postpone contemplation of the approaching change.
Our joyous Halloween celebrations really date back to the more somber Celtic origins of All Hallows’ Eve, with humans’ contemplation of death and the spirits of the “netherworld.” Other old-fashioned harvest festivals have evolved in local celebrations focused on food and fun. The annual Damariscotta Pumpkin Festival is eagerly awaited each year by everyone near and “from away.”
The most frenzied of these festivals undoubtedly is Oktoberfest, which originated in 1810 in Bavaria as a wedding celebration for a crown prince, However, it has now evolved like the foam of an overflowing beer stein into a colossal celebration not only in Munich, Germany, but it has also found followers in many parts of the world, including the USA. The official two-week celebration spans the end of September into October, with the spirit of it remaining strong through the rest of the month.
If you missed an expensive trip to Munich earlier this month, you may still celebrate at home. Traditional foods such as sauerbraten and spaetzle may be a bit tedious to prepare, but there are easy alternatives. All you need are: bratwurst, red cabbage, potato pancakes, and beer.
Bratwurst and beer are easily obtained from the store and the numerous Maine breweries. Bratwurst can be grilled or cooked, though I have it on good authority that bratwurst is cooked in beer if you are originally from Milwaukee. Red cabbage and potato pancakes are especially tasty and are not very time-consuming to prepare as described below.
Wine-braised red cabbage and onions
Quarter a small head of red cabbage and slice thin (about 6 cups). Halve a medium red onion and slice thinly. Render 2 slices of bacon in a 3-4 qt. pot. Set the bacon aside and saute the sliced onion and cabbage in the bacon fat for 10 minutes, with stirring.
Stir in ½ cup red wine, ½ cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. ground cloves, 1 tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, 2 tsp. sugar, and 2 thinly sliced cored apples. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes with occasional stirring until all the liquid is absorbed and the cabbage is soft.
Serve in a shallow dish surrounded by additional sauteed apple slices that have been cooked briefly in butter with 2 tbsp. sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the crumbled bacon on top. Red cabbage can be reheated several times and the flavor will continue to improve.
Peel 4 large potatoes, grate quickly on a box grater, and turn into a colander to drain. In a medium bowl, beat 2 eggs with 3 tbsp. flour, ¼ tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Grate a medium peeled onion into the eggs and mix.
If you like a little spice in your potato pancakes, finely chop a little habanero pepper and add to the eggs at this point.
Squeeze all the juice from the potatoes in a paper towel and stir in the egg mixture. Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil in a 12-inch pan to hot and fry ¼ cup amounts of the potato mixture in pancake form for 4-5 minutes to a side until browned and cooked through. Set aside to keep warm and continue in batches with the remaining potato mixture.
Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream.
“In Munchen steht ein Hofbrauhaus (In Munich stands a Hofbrauhaus)
Eins, zwei, g’suffa! (One, two, drink up!)” – from “Hofbrauhaus-Lied”
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in Waldoboro. She is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)