Birnen-Bohnen-Speck or My German Genes


Although I play the “I am Turkish” card often and act the Mrs. Smarty-pants about the good and real Turkish cuisine, you shouldn’t forget that half of my genes (as well as my three year old passport) are German. My culinary initiation took place in Turkey, with Turkish cuisine, but it was my mom cooking most of the time. Although she mostly learned cooking from her Turkish mother- and aunt-in-law (hey she met my father when she was 16!), every once in a while she would get homesick and cook something German. “Falscher Hase” (literally “fake rabbit”, this was just a normal meat loaf with a hardboiled egg filling – don’t ask!), “Schnitzel” (breaded and fried cutlet), celeriac-apple salad, lentil stew with frankfurter (veal, of course), oven roasts in “bratschlauch“* (a plastic foil bag for roasts, one of the biggest German inventions!) were typical German dishes for me.

SpeckBut what I most associated with Germany was a “Brotzeit”, a meal consisting only of bread, butter and assorted cold cuts and cheeses, which has no place in the Turkish culinary tradition. As a kid I was famous for the “skyscraper sandwiches” I created anytime I got the chance to have a Brotzeit, which was about once a year. Usually it would either be “Mutti”, my grandma (“Mutti” is actually the German word for mom, but since my mother called her “Mutti”, everyone took to calling her “Mutti” as well; for the Turks, “Mutti” was as good a name as “Ursula” for the eccentric lady who never left home without a hat and a brightly colored dress – a sight even in Germany, unheard of in Turkey, in the 70s, for anyone older than 18) visiting and bringing kilos of salami, ham and dark German bread; or my father getting a pay raise and visiting the only German Delicatessen shop in Istanbul, Schütte, (which sold pork!) and bringing home a bounty of Leberkäs, Schwarzwälder Schinken and Salami. My famous skyscraper consisted of one (1) slice of bread and up to 20 slices of various cold cuts stacked upon it. Yes, I was a fat kid, and no, the skyscraper was not the only reason. I think one of the most embarrassing days for my parents was “the day we visited Herr Breuer”. Mr. Breuer was one of the ever changing, “only-here-for-two-years” Turkey representatives of the German company of which my father was the Turkish director. One Sunday afternoon when I was seven and my parents were “making a social call”, Mrs. Breuer made a mistake and offered German Pumpernickel and Salami sandwiches. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening going through the monthly supply of the Breuer family. I must have left a permanent impression on them about Turkish guests, Turkish parents, Turkish kids, the breeding (pun intended!) or lack thereof, of Turkish kids and the devastating food shortage that must have reigned in the country (which was really not the case).

VegetablesSo when I was 21, visiting Germany for the first time in my adult life and spending a couple of days with “Mutti” in Hannover, it was kind of a shock when I realized she didn’t feed on cold cuts alone. This lady was already 70, she lived alone (except for her “acquaintance”, but that is another story) but she could cook. So she cooked for me a very typical northern dish, “Birnen-Bohnen-Speck”, that is pears, green beans and yes, speck, a.k.a. bacon. The name pretty much describes the whole dish, just add potatoes to the equation, but of course that is a given in any German dish, no? I fell in love with this interesting combination; the slight bitterness of the beans, the sweetness of the pears, and the smokiness from the pork belly came together so well that I asked her for the recipe.

the IngredientsMutti died almost 6 years ago, and I am so sorry that I learned just this one dish from her. Although I moved completely to Germany a couple of years later, for some reason I never stayed longer than a day or two with her. On these occasions she would usually take me out to her favorite hunts (Kröpcke, Mövenpick) rather than stay at home and cook. I don’t think my mom learned to cook anything from her, so this is bound to be the only culinary heritage I ever will have of Mutti. Last week when I bought the fresh green beans at the market and cooked this dish for the first time for T., who is Bavarian and unfamiliar with this dish, the smoke from the pork belly wasn’t the only thing that tickled my palate and made my eyes water.

* The food world seems to have re-invented this: It is called Fata- or Super-Paper and is the next big thing!

classic north German recipe, as learned from “Mutti”, my grandma
serves 4

prep: 20 mins
cook: ca. 50 mins unattended

broad green beans, 1kg
pears, small firm ones, 500g
potatoes, waxy, preferably small, 500g
smoked pork belly, four thick slices (ca. 400g), Gelderländer Speck is best if you can find it
summer savory, substitute thyme and/or parsley, 2 tbsp
salt (go easy on it, adjust according to your speck)
black pepper (freshly ground)

Trim and wash the beans. Cut them into ca. 5cm long pieces. Peel the potatoes. If you have big ones, cut them into chunks. Wash the pears, but don’t peel or cut anything off. Mince your herbs. In a big pot, place the speck slices and cover with cold water, around 2 cm. higher above the slices. Add pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the beans, potatoes, pears and the savory, fill up with water if too much has boiled away. Let cook, over medium-high heat, for another 20 to 30 mins, until the beans and the potatoes are done and the water has pretty much boiled down. This is not a soup, but some liquid is necessary. Adjust salt. You can sprinkle some more herbs over individual bowls.

10 Responses

  1. A heartbreaking story, and I love the detail of calling your grandmother “Mutti”.
    I definitely have to reactivate some of the unfashionable recipes I got from my Polish Oma.

  2. I’m so glad to have “met” you! My husband is German, and while I’m an expert in Asian foods, I just don’t know many German recipes.

  3. Directly from italy very curious about turkish cooking I’m collecting turkish food blog address and using babylon to traslate from your language.
    there are few sites in english so its difficult for me deeping with your habits, but is so exciting!
    nice site!.

  4. Kaltmamsell,
    I love all grandma recipes. Please do write up the ones from your Oma!
    If your husband is from north Germany, he will know and like this dish, do cook it for him. And I am also glad to have “met” you!
    Thank you. I don’t have that many turkish recipes on food vagabond (but do check out my imam bayildi). Great turkish food blogs in turkish english are Cafe Fernando and YogurtLand, please do visit them!

  5. I knew that sites and many more, but is so unusual finding something in english…and your site looks well :)

  6. and i post your address in this italian forum in which thera are many people who work to discover turkish cook.
    unfortunately this is in italian, but if you want we can traslate in english for you.

  7. Enza,
    thank you *blush*! The forum is very interesting, fortunately, I do speak (and read, though writing is difficult!) italian, so no need to translate. Grazie tante mille, e espero che tu mi visitassi di piu! (?) ;-)

  8. […] Birnen, Bohnen, Speck […]

  9. […] Pondering what to do with my lump of speck, I came upon this idea. […]

  10. My Grandmother was Irish, and I have the same fondness for her. She taught me Irish stew and the difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. I am going to try your recipe this week!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: