Cogitation 33/210 Saturday 17 August 2019 My bedtime reading this week included a couple cookbooks–a respite from history, mystery, biography, travel, and climate.
One of the books is a small 78-page volume, Danish Cookery by Susanne (Host & Sons Forlag 1950, 7th edition 1965). Browsing through it took me back to the late 1960s.
First a recipe, then the story.
Cucumber salad (Agurkesalat)
1 large cucumber
1 cup water
1 cup vinegar
Black pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
“In Denmark a ‘large cucumber’ means one about a foot and a half long; but it is only about an inch and a half in diameter, has practically no seeds or thorns, and tastes like any well-grown cucumber.
“Wash and dry a large cucumber thoroughly. If it is a spring cucumber the green rind may be left on, but later in the season, when the rind is thicker and harder, it is best to peel the cucumber.
“Cut the cucumber into very thin slices with a sharp knife. Mix the water and the vinegar, and sweeten to taste. Add the cucumber slices and sprinkle with pepper. Let stand for an hour or so before serving. Lemon juice can be used instead of vinegar–this makes the salad healthier for children.”
Simple, innit? That salad first hit my taste buds on a ferry, crossing from Germany to Denmark in 1967.
I was travelling for a month following a two-month-long student cultural/work exchange in Germany. I was one of a sizable number of students from Canada, the USA, and other countries working in a variety of jobs. Mine happened to be at the Hotel Excelsior Ernst in Cologne.
The trip to Denmark was with a few other students, including one from Copenhagen. We traveled by train and ferry. The smorgasbord lunch on-board the ferry included the cucumber salad of memory.
I don’t remember how I got the cookbook; it may have been a gift from the host family. They also gave me a tiny ceramic dish with the inscription in Danish, to the effect, “When you find a stone in your shoe, be mindful and grateful it’s not two.”
The meals I enjoyed during that brief visit introduced me especially to open face sandwiches, served on dark or light rye bread. Susanne said, “There is no doubt that Denmark’s open face sandwiches (smorrebrod) are the most famous feature of the Danish kitchen.” Give me a sandwich of Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Egg, or, Smoked Salami and Boiled Potato, or, the Hans Andersen (two rows of crisp bacon, 1/2 slice of liver paste, tomato slices, topped with scraped horseradish and a strip of jellied consomme), or, Tomato with Raw Onion, or, any variety of herring or shrimp.
I’d pass on some of the recipes in the book, such as jellied eel, curried eel, even fried eel with creamed potatoes. That hesitation harks back to the day when I bought an eel in a fish shop in Kitchener, Ontario and made less than a savory meal of it.
I do, nevertheless, take courage in Susanne’s encouragement in the Introduction to plunge into some of the less familiar recipes: “There’s always a chance . . . that you will not be sorry you tried them out. In any case it is generally through experiment that we gain our most valuable experience. If you agree, we hope that you will have fun and wish you a good appetite.”
We’ve come to appreciate and enjoy the foods and customs of many cultures. What do we know and apply of their “recipes” for nourishing social interaction, individual community and country well-being and happiness, including making things right when harm comes to an individual or group?
I’m especially perplexed that we in the USA continue to think that capital punishment is a way to deal with the heinous crime of murder. Surely, surely, surely, we’ve learned lessons concerning not only prevention but treating even hardened offenders with sentences short of killing them.
The same goes for our response to climate change. The changes in weather patterns, higher temperatures, rising water levels are reality now and will hardly revert to an old normal of 70, 100. and 200 years ago. Already positive change includes developing and using alternate energy sources, planting trees as part of caring for the natural environment, implementing more sustainable food production, and much more. Surely, great minds the world over are up to the life-preserving challenge.
Scenes of the week
South Haven, Michigan
Defries Gardens, near New Paris, Indiana
Carry on. Smell the roses. Indulge in an ice cream now and again. Cook up something new. Let a butterfly transport you to a not so hidden world of wonder. Be.