The first thing I remember upon my arrival at the Naruhn’s house was being seated in their kitchen and offered quark speise to eat. Quark, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a dairy product somewhat akin to jogurt or sour cream, except typically lower in fat. Several of my favorite German foods are made with quark, including quark and potatoes, where the quark is mixed with salt, pepper, paprika, and linseed oil, and then spooned over potatoes. We might consider it a variation on baked potatoes with sour cream, except that they boil their potatoes, and do not usually eat the skins. Also, they do not butter their vegetables. Ever. When they have mashed potatoes, they usually serve it with creamed spinach on top. I’m not kidding. Actually, it’s pretty good, although I prefer butter.
In any case, quark speise is a desert made by mixing the quark with sugar and your fruit of choice. Since coming here I have had it with many fruit variations, but my first introduction to it was with strawberries, and therefore strawberry is for me the classic flavor. It is also the classic flavor for jam and jogurt. Maybe this is because my mom always made strawberry jam when I was a kid, and we mixed it with plain jogurt, presumably because that was cheaper than buying the jogurt cups. As a kid, I always wished my mom would by the jogurt cups, particularly those with fruit on the bottom. I liked watching the jogurt change from white to increasingly darker shades of pink as I blended it. She never did buy them though, not till I was older and tired of fruit on the bottom jogurt. The only time I ever had such jogurt with any consistency was when I visited a particular friend of mine, and I ate all her strawberry jogurt until I was sick of it, and I do not think I have had any more of it to this day. Strawberry ice cream is also a classic, the third flavor of Neapolitan ice cream, a subtle negotiation between the warring clans of chocolate and vanilla. What is it about strawberries that allow them to trump all other flavors so thoroughly? Why does grape jelly loose out to strawberry jam? What about peach jogurt? Why not cherry ice cream? Or maybe I am subject to a strawberry bias due to deeply ingrained childhood memories of home canning and friend’s kitchens?
While you all ponder these stirring philosophical questions, you can also offer up a prayer of thanksgiving that my exploration of the Strawberry Phenomenon distracted me from a long rant upon the overlooked, overshadowed, and underestimated value of vanilla.
It may be that strawberries are the typical fruit for quark speise. It could also be that Andrea used them because strawberry season had just started, and they were some of the first berries to be available for the year. She had bought them from a local strawberry stand that had set its booth up just across the road from Lidl, and the first three weeks of my stay were filled with various strawberry deserts. After those first three weeks we went to France, and by the time we came back two weeks later, strawberry season had come to a close. I had walked Jakob to the stand to buy strawberries a couple times, and we had accumulated a store of them in the deep freezer which Andrea drew from for special occasions over the course of the year. And yet, I forgot about the significance of those strawberries, and the strawberry stand from which they came, until just last Sunday, when walking home from mass I saw the booth open for the first time since last May. That was the first time I really felt like I had been gone for a whole year. I saw the turning of each season as something entirely new, but now it’s strawberry season again, and I am back where I started. Time to go home.
Thirteen days and counting.