I have been meaning to share with you our recent trip to the Black Forest or “Schwarzwald.” Since we adopted Nook time has flown by! I can’t believe it was over a month and a half since we visited. We really enjoyed our day trip and discovered a unique part of German culture very different from any other region we have traveled through. Allow me to share the highlights with you.
The Schwarzwald is a dense, thick, dark (black forest) with very rough terrain- steep mountains and deep valleys that stretch over 100 miles across the southwest corner of Germany along the French border. Few people lived in this part of the country and those that did worked very hard to survive. As a result people who lived here were isolated from the rest of society and some interesting customs relating to marriage and courtship developed.
The Black Forest is probably best known for it’s famous Cuckoo Clock- an obnoxious contraption that will never grace the walls of my home. I did take a picture of a giant cuckoo clock that really works (see above), which was impressive to watch…once. Don and I even visited a cuckoo clock museum where we learned that the first clock was copied from a Bohemian mechanical clock around 1640.
Besides Cuckoo Clocks, this region is also known for the delicious traditional dessert – Black Forest Cake. Every restaurant in the town of Triberg claims to have “der beste Schwarzwald Kuchen,” but we could only sample one slice- which definitely lived up to its reputation. The secret we are told is the kirsch wasser (or, cherry water) liquer used to flavor the yummy cherry filling.
Back to the interesting customs I mentioned earlier. You have probably noticed the picture of the young girls with funny looking red pom-poms on their hats. When ladies were of courting age (which was, by the way, thirteen), available ladies wore the traditional “Bollenhut”- a straw hat decorated with 14 red pom-poms. Married women wore hats with black pom-poms on them. When a young girl was married she wore a Schappel, a ceremonial hat covered in tiny glass balls, beads and pearls (picture a basketball with beads and pearls stuck to it). The Schappel could weigh up to 15 pounds. We got to see a Schappel on display at the Cuckoo Clock museum.
Working on the family farm was a very important tradition, and was always passed on to the oldest son. Younger siblings would stay work on the farm, and the older brother would provide them a home. When he was looking to marry, he could invite an available girl to stay with him in a small house next to the farm house, where they could attempt to become pregnant. When the young woman was obviously pregnant, a marriage ceremony would take place. If he and his “intended” were unable to produce an heir, he was within his rights to move on and attempt with another woman- until he was successful.
Houses in the Black Forest were both house and barn- all in one. Animals would be housed in a middle section in the lower level, with a hallway surrounding it. This insulated the heat created by the animals. The living quarters where the family lived was located above the barn. Heat rises, and so the family stayed warm through the harsh winters- a primitive form of heated flooring! Hay was stored in the top section of the home above the living quarters and helped keep the heat in and the cold wind out. I can’t even imagine what these homes smelled like inside!
If you are interested, here is a recipe for Traditional Black Forest Cake (which was served at my wedding):
- 1 chocolate sponge cake
- 2 TBSP Kirschwasser (clear cherry liquer),
- 1 lb 4 oz pie cherries
- 2 oz sugar
- 1 oz corn flour
- 1 pt fresh cream
- 3 pkgs plain gelatin
- 1 pkg vanilla- sugar
- grated chocolate
- Separate cherries from juice, bring 1/2 pt juice to boil. Add the mixed corn flour, boil for 1 min. Add cherries and the “Kirsch,” let it cool.
- Whip cream with sugar & vanilla- sugar, add the melted gelatin.
- Cut the chocolate sponge cake in three layers. Cover the first layer with cream & cherries, add the second layer of cake and repeat for 3 layers.
- Cover the whole cake with cream, sprinkle with grated chocolate and garnish with cherries.