Thursday, November 30, 2017


Here comes the promised post about pumpernickel, the black bread from Westphalia that has a special baking process and a funny name so popular with anglophone people. Chris Howland, sporting his English accent on German radio, was a well-known disk jockey in the 1960s. He nicknamed himself Heinrich Pumpernickel.

Some people still claim that Napoleon - being blamed for everything* - coined the word when he - on his way to Hamburg, capital of the then French Département de bouche de l’Elbe - stayed for lunch at a small Westphalian village. The local peasants offered him the local black bread. The emperor took it in his hands, took a smell, and is claimed to have said, “Bon pour Nickel”, pointing to his horse named Nickel.
*According to the German playwright and filmmaker Curt Goetz: Napoleon ist an allem Schuld (Napoleon Is to Blame for Everything)

The peasants did not quite understand what Napoleon meant and would have been annoyed by his statement that their bread was only good for horses. The imperial words, however, pleased them, so from now on they called their dark bread pumpernickel.

The story is a hoax. It was the papal nuncio Fabio Chigi who first mentioned pumpernickel. When in 1644 - on his way to Münster where he attended the Westphalian Peace negotiations - he lunched at the Wittlerbaum Inn at Bocholt. Chigi summarized his experience as follows, "The people of Westphalia call their dark bread pompernickel, an almost inhumane food even for peasants and beggars."

And Goethe, describing his Campaign in France, tells the following story. His boss, the duke of Weimar, had ordered his prime minister to accompany him as an imbedded reporter during the campaign of the Princes' Alliance against the French Revolutionary Army. In France, Goethe felt captured in a bad dream zwischen Koth und Noth, Mangel und Sorge, Gefahr und Qual, zwischen Trümmern, Leichen, Äsern und Scheishaufen (between shit and misery, lack and sorrow, danger and anguish, between rubble, corpses, graves, and turds). Eventually Goethe became depressed when the Alliance suffered a defeat against the French Republic at Valmy and the troops had to retire.

On his way back home from his campaign, Goethe was passing through Westphalia where the streets were full of aristocratic French refugees. The local population did not like the foreigners who in spite of their humiliation and threatening poverty had kept their arrogance and immodesty.

While taking a rest at a rural inn, Goethe noticed a modest young Frenchman obviously under way on foot eating his frugal meal and that, when he paid, the landlord cut his bill in half. When Goethe inquired why, the landlord explained, "He is the first one of these blasted people who has eaten pumpernickel. He had to benefit from it."

In southern Germany pumpernickel is sold in supermarkets thinly sliced and packaged.

Does he prefer the dark pumpernickel to the blond girl?
Below is a typical pumpernickel dish. It is best sandwiched with half of a crusty roll, and in this case the fillings are Serrano ham* on the right and pork lard refined with roasted onions and apples (f*ck cholesterol) on the left. Although Red Baron prefers flavorful craftbeer, here a mildly hopped Landbier (country-style beer) is the ideal accompanying beverage.
*Westphalian and Black Forest hams are too salty

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