So, when the December Showing Off challenge was announced, my mind enthusiastically wrapped itself around the idea of Choucroute Garnie. From 1984-1985, I lived in Stuttgart, Germany which is only about seventy miles from Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, the home of Choucroute Garnie. The people of Stuttgart speak Swabian, which, like Alsatian, is one of the Low Alemannic dialects. As in Alsace, the people of Swabia (Stuttgart and the surrounding area), pay much attention to cured meats. Indeed, every town contains a Metzgerei, a butcher's shop where charcuterie is found in abundance. My husband and I loved the food. When my parents visited in the summer, my husband and I took them to Strasbourg for some Choucroute Garnie and three of us ordered it. My mom ordered some chicken dish and I wondered if she hadn't really liked the pork chops and sauerkraut that she made so long ago. I had made Choucroute Garnie a number of times in my adult years but this was the first time I would be tasting it in some fancy restaurant in Strasbourg. I don't remember the name of the place but it was very close to the cathedral. It may have been Maison Kammerzell. The food tasted sublime and exceeded my expectations. I don't remember all the meats served with it, I only remember devouring most of it.
Having spent this past year diving with great expectation and fun into the Charcutepalooza challenges, I began to do some research on the history of Choucroute Garnie in order to serve an authentic dinner. I also wanted to regale my guests not just with wonderful food but also with anecdotes about Choucroute Garnie like how the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, when in Paris, ate it every day at the Rotonde in Montparnesse.
I also wanted to explain how this very German style dish came to be found in France. Alsace's location, west of the Rhine River and backed by the Vosges Mountains, made it a strategic place for both countries, as its history reveals. At the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, Louis XIV annexed the area into France where it remained until the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, when Germany took over Alsace. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 gave the territory back to France. With the rise of Nazi power in Germany, Hitler annexed Alsace in 1940, but at the end of World War II, the area was returned to the French government. Although this history of sovereignty must have been exhausting for the citizens of Alsace, it also seemed to bring out the best of both countries when it came to food.
As for other trivia about Alsace, that famous song "Les Marseillaise," known by many for its timely occurrence in the film Casablanca, was composed in Strasbourg. A number of famous people have come from Alsace, including such illustrious chefs like André Soltner and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime came from Alsace as did Marie Tussaud of wax museum fame. Also, according to the Saveur Cooks Authentic French cookbook, Alsace is known for its many starred Michelin restaurants. As I remember from my year in Stuttgart, it is an interesting area because several close borders, including not only France and Germany, but also Switzerland and Austria, exchanged sovereignty, visitors, neighbors, friends, and family throughout its history.
I set the date for the Charcutepalooza final meal for the Sunday after Thanksgiving. With the end of the semester and all its extra work looming in front of me, I wanted to give myself plenty of time! I invited six, close friends who had been following and reading and hearing about my charcuterie escapades throughout the year. They also had sampled some of the challenges.
|Spiced poached pear|