One day in Weiden, we went grocery shopping at an example of one of the region’s better Edekas. As we strolled through the well-stocked aisles, SG saw a glint of green on the shelves groaning with various types of pickled cabbage. There, perched among the Rotkohl, the Weißkohl and the Sauerkraut, was a Kohl I had hitherto neither given much thought to, nor consumed … Grünkohl.
SG was transported back to a simpler time, when his Oma would prepare a signature northern dish of Grünkohl, a special type of Wurst (obviously, for what is a German dish without a special type of Wurst) and sugared potatoes. He spoke so fondly of this dish, his face alight with childhood nostalgia, that the fondness soon became passion and the passion soon became a desire to consume at the earliest possible convenience. And so, it was some days later that we returned to Edeka and bought, to SG’s great relief, the last two jars of Grünkohl. Grünkohl, by the way, is kale, an immensely trendy vegetable-of-the-moment for those partial to calling their style of eating ‘clean’. Kale has been doing the rounds as a staple leafy green in many parts of Europe, for thousands of years. It is probably as surprised as I am about its sudden It Vegetable status in cities that have It Vegetables (Sydney, I’m looking at you). The Grünkohl one buys here, in jars, is – and please, someone, correct me if I am wrong – boiled and then pickled before being jarred as a uniform sort of stewed, green mass.
The next step in the quest for Oma’s Grünkohl dish, was acquiring the meat. Somewhere, SG found the Wurst, which were revealed to be a mildly alarming colour, vacuum-packed, and called, depending on where you hail from, Mettwurst, Kochwurst or, my personal favourite, Pinkelwurst. Kielers, I have been informed, call them by the former two names, not Pinkelwurst.
With a bag of potatoes, we were ready to go. SG retired to the kitchen one evening and boiled and diced and sauteed, determined to recreate this plate of childhood comfort. I poked my head in from time to time, to see what was happening, as SG moved purposefully around the kitchen, flushed with anticipation, stirring the giant pot of green and orange, keeping a keen eye on the potatoes in the pan, that were sauteeing in butter and sugar. Sometime later, he plated it up and we sat down to a classic, north-German meal of sausages, boiled pickled kale and potatoes. Running the necessary gamut of German culinary colours (white, pink, muted green) it looked a little something like this:
On the table was a pot of sugar to sprinkle over the Grünkohl and potatoes, as they apparently did in days gone by the enhance the flavour of the dish when morale was low and kale was the only thing going in the village. Kale was, after all, very likely to be the only thing going in the village – it’s apparently very easy to grow and obviously chock-full of nutrients. It’s a medieval no brainer. SG ate with gusto, relishing each bite, transported back to being a child and having dinner at Oma’s, quite like lemon butter on toast takes me right back to being a kid and Nana bringing around a supply of her latest conserves. I ate with more tentative gusto, unsure of how to feel about sugared potatoes and the Mettwurst. The former remain odd to me, the latter were very delicious.
Then I reached the Grünkohl and any gusto the actually quite tasty Wurst had encouraged, evaporated. Grünkohl tastes like old, boiled hay. The sugar does little to affect this. In my time here, I have come to appreciate the numerous things the Germans can do with a cabbage. I have a deep respect for the ways they have with Wurst. And there are many, many things I love about the north.
Grünkohl is not one of them.