Archive for the ‘Die Prato’ Category

When you play chess, it is important that you develop a defensive strategy to avoid the premature loss of pieces. Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) also need to protect themselves. One weapon in their arsenal is the pigment anthocyanin, which is responsible for producing vibrant reds, purples, and blues in leaves, blossoms, and fruits. Anthocyanin functions as an antioxidant. Though oxygen is necessary for life, you can get too much of a good thing. Antioxidants ensure that chemical reactions with oxygen within an organism do not get out of hand.

In contrast to its cousin the blueberry (Vaccinium cyanococcus), which only contains anthocyanin in its skin, the bilberry contains anthocyanin in its skin as well as in the flesh of the fruit. This is why eating and preparing bilberries can lead to blue lips, blue teeth, and blue fingers. For the knitters reading this blog, click here and scroll down to Färben mit Heidelbeeren to see the results of using bilberries to dye wool.

Though medicinal properties are attributed to both blueberries and bilberries, the latter have more, most likely due to this double dosage of anthocyanin. The benefits of bilberry consumption include improved night vision, the inhibition or reversal of macular degeneration, and the stopping of diarrhea.

As they are difficult to cultivate, bilberries must be gathered in the wild. True to the Ericaceae family of which they are a member, the shrubs grow in acidic soils and have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. Their roots can grow one meter deep.

The Riffl, as it is called in Styria and Carinthia, is a kind of wooden comb used to harvest bilberries. I have heard it is prohibited because it removes not only the ripe berries but also the unripe ones as well as branches. The several times that I have gathered Schwarzbeeren, as bilberries are called here, I have picked them by hand.

Despite the colder than normal winter, the markets are now full of the beginning of the bilberry harvest. After perusing Die Prato, I only found two recipes for bilberries, one of which I share with you below.

Pfannkuchen mit Schwarzbeeren

3 eggs

30 g (3 Tbs) flour

30 ml (3 Tbs) heavy cream

100 g bilberries

butter for frying

Beat the eggs until uniform. Add the cream and flour and mix well.

In a pan, melt the butter. Add a quarter of the batter and spread so it is even. Sprinkle bilberries on top of the batter. Fold the batter once to form a semi-circle as if you were making an omelette. Fry until both sides are brown. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

I couldn’t resist tweaking the recipe and tailoring it to my individual taste. Here I used buckwheat flour and topped it with fresh bilberries, a dusting of cinnamon, and dollops of Topfen.


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Meet Katharina Prato

Man kann den Mädchen nicht genug empfehlen, das Kochen mit Ernst zu lernen und mit Liebe zu betreiben, denn es hat oft einen entscheidenden Einfluß auf ihr späteres Lebensglück.

One cannot recommend enough that girls learn to cook seriously and do it with love, for this often has a decisive influence on their later happiness in life.

– Katharina Prato

Katharina Prato (1818-1897, Graz, Austria) was a woman who took cooking seriously. Whether she did it with love, I cannot say, but her interest in cooking greatly influenced the course of her life. The first edition of her monumental cookbook Süddeutsche Küche (Southern German Cooking) was published in 1858 in Graz, the 80th edition nearly one hundred years later in 1957. In successive editions it grew from 348 to 1048 pages, a weighty tome indeed. Her intention was to teach budding housewives how to cook.

I have in my possession Prato: Die gute alte Küche, a newly edited version of Die Prato, as it is often referred to, with comments by Christoph Wagner from 2006. This book reproduces the text from the 24th edition from 1895, though thankfully in modern typeset and not in Fraktur script, like the original editions of Süddeutsche Küche that can be found in used bookstores.

The book starts out with a glossary of Austrian culinary expressions. Like Americans and the British, Austrians and Germans are divided by a common language. To take just fruits and vegetables as an example, Austrians and Germans disagree on what to call potatoes (Erdäpfel vs. Kartoffeln), cauliflower (Karfiol vs. Blumenkohl), horseradish (Kren vs. Meerrettich), apricots (Marillen vs. Aprikosen), and plums (Zwetschken vs. Pflaumen). They do, however, agree on standards for mass and weight.

When Austria adopted the metric system in 1876, so did Katharina. From then on, the recipes in the cookbook only used kilograms and liters. The next section of the cookbook deals with measurements and weights and includes a conversion chart from the old system into the metric system.

In the last section before the recipes begin, Katharina introduces basic cooking vocabulary and techniques. No vocabulary is too basic. One entry describes what it means to mix.

Rühren: Etwas, um eine Mischung zu bewerkstelligen in einer Schüssel oder Casserolle, mit dem Kochlöffel in die Runde bewegen.

To mix: To move something in a circle using a spoon in order to effect a mixture in a bowl or a saucepan.

I appreciate her thoroughness and her ability to present her ideas in a clear and straightforward manner. It can often be more challenging to describe what is basic than to describe what is complicated.

My interest in “Die Prato” stems from a desire to try out traditional Austrian recipes – those that are meatless, at any rate – like soups, Knödel (dumplings), and perhaps some of those fancy cakes you can get in a cafe but normally don’t attempt to make yourself. In upcoming posts, I’ll use Katharina’s recipes to introduce you to various Austrian dishes. Any requests?

Recommended reading: Thümmel, Erika, “Von Kuheutern, Wildschweinsköpfen und Kalbsohren” in Unterholzer, Carmen and Ilse Wieser (Hrsg.) Über den Dächern von Graz ist Liesl wahrhaftig: eine Stadtgeschichte der Grazer Frauen. Wiener Frauenverlag, 1996.

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