Food and Recipes From Northern Germany

Schleswig Holstein is the northernmost German state and lies on the Jutland Peninsula between the North and the Baltic seas. It borders Denmark to the north and Lower Saxony, the city of Hamburg and Mecklenburg - Vorpommern to the south. There are several ethnicities grouped in the state, including Friesians, Danish and Germans, and the cuisine overlaps at times. The proximity to the ocean plays an important role in its cuisine and beef and milk products from the pasture land are also represented.

One special note, contrasting sweet notes with savory or sour flavors is very common in this regional cuisine and known as "Broken sööt" or broken sweet. Sweet sour combinations are especially popular and fruit compote or sauces are often served with meats and fish dishes.

  • 01 of 07

    Eintöpfe - Stews

    Gruenkohl plate

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    Birnen, Bohnen und Speck is an early fall stew combines sweet and savory flavors and is very popular in northern Germany. French or string beans are braised with bacon and cooking pears, a small, hard pear which is not edible when raw. Air-dried, streaky bacon is to be preferred over American style, which remains stringy when cooked.

    To make Birnen, Bohnen und Speck, pieces of bacon are first boiled for a half an hour. Then the cleaned and cut string beans are added with a sprig of summer savory. The pears are washed and then partially cored, leaving the top end with the stem and the skin intact. These are laid on top of the green beans and everything is cooked over medium heat until done. It can be thickened with a flour slurry at the end. It is served with waxy "Pellkartoffeln."  

    Grünkohl mit Kassler: Kale and ham is a rib-sticking, well-known dinner eaten mostly from late December through March since kale purportedly becomes sweeter when touched with frost. Long braising in bacon, or Speck-spiked broth makes the kale into this delicious specialty and it is often served with caramelized potatoes. 

    Rübenmalheur: "Malheur" is the word for a mistake or accident (from the French) but many people find this rutabaga stew anything but an accident. At its simplest, it is made from "Steckrüben," "Karotten," "Kartoffeln," and "Zwiebeln," or rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, and onion with plenty of black pepper. The meat in the stew can be "Kochwurst," or sausage made from cooked ingredients, or " Kasseler," a cured and smoked ham. 

    Graue Erbsen, from Emshorn, is a winter or early spring meal. The original dish may have been made from field peas, grown to feed livestock. When the city of Elmshorn was occupied in the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648), starvation set in. Legend has it that a few sacks of gray peas were found in a warehouse and distributed among the citizens. The food saved them and now a yearly ritual of serving free (or inexpensive) gray pea stew to all comers on Fat Tuesday is kept among many restaurants and civic groups.

    Prussian gray peas are difficult to impossible to find for sale on the internet. There is some talk that Pigeon Peas (found on Amazon) can be used. The peas are soaked overnight, then simmered for 2 to3 hours in saltwater. They are served with Kassler or bacon as well as Specksoße (bacon fried and mixed with melted margarine) or onion sauce (sauté onion and bacon, make a roux and use milk and/or potato water to thin). Cooked potatoes are a must with this dish. 

  • 02 of 07

    Meats and Other Main Dishes


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    Holsteiner Sauerfleisch is well-marbled pork (picnic ham or belly) is cooked in white wine vinegar with pickling spices (bay leaf, mustard seed, allspice, caraway, juniper berries) and a bit of sugar. The uninitiated thin the vinegar with water to cut down on the sour taste. When the meat is fork-tender and falling from the bones it is cut into small pieces and placed in a flat dish or divided among canning jars. The broth is strained, gelatin is often added, and poured over the meat to create a type of aspic. Sometimes onions and carrots and sliced, pickled gherkins are added for color and flavor.​

    Sauerfleisch is served cold with Bratkartoffeln and Remoulade Sauce.

    Göösküül söötsuur, die süßsaure Gänsekeule is a sweet and sour goose leg. These are made by cooking them on the first day in sweetened vinegar water with spices such as bay, pepper, thyme, and onion. They are cooled overnight, then browned in their own fat. A little more sugar is sprinkled on top of the meat and further browned, caramelizing the sugar and making the skin crispy. They can be served with the rest of the broth thickened with a little starch. Sides which go well are potatoes and red cabbage.

    Pork Loin with Dried Plum Stuffing is a common roast in which a pocket is created in the meat and a mince of rehydrated prunes and other ingredients is placed (or rolled). It can be served warm or chilled and is often accompanied by a creamy sauce made with the drippings and boiled potatoes. 

    Mehlbüdel or Großer Hans is a type of Serviettenknödel or a large, dumpling, wrapped in a cloth and steamed over boiling water. It can be called a steamed pudding as well. Declared Ditmarchen's national dish (in Holstein), it is served savory with Schweinebacke (pork jowls) and mustard, or sweet with butter, sugar, and cherries.

  • 03 of 07

    Suppen - Soups

    German split pea soup

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    Schnüüsch is a vegetable soup that comes from Angeln on the Baltic Sea. Fresh vegetables such as green beans, peas, potatoes, kohlrabi, and carrots are simmered in milk and seasoned with parsley, summer savory, white pepper and a large part of butter. It can be served with thinly sliced "Holsteiner Katenschinken" or sweet-sour herring.

    Swattsuer or Schwartz-Sauer (lit. black sour) is a soup made from the remains of the home slaughter. Ribs, belly, pigs feet and such are cooked in a water and vinegar mixture with peppercorns and onions as a seasoning. When the meat is done, it is cut into bite-sized pieces. The broth is mixed with some of the pig blood and brought to a simmer and the meat is added back into the soup. Further seasoning is accomplished with salt, sugar, and vinegar. The soup is served with Salzkartoffeln (salt potatoes) or buckwheat or flour dumplings. This dish pops up in many northern areas including Schleswig Holstein.

    Fliederbeersuppe - Holunderbeersuppe is a sweet soup or thin pudding made from the elderberry juice. Often served with sweet dumplings as a light main dish in the fall when the berries are ripe, it is also a traditional recipe from Pomeranian, Saxon, and Vogtland cuisines.

    Buttermilchsuppe mit Klüten is a thin, sweet vanilla pudding made with buttermilk and served with simple drop dumplings made with flour, milk, and eggs and cooked in simmering water (see step by step). In other areas of Germany, buttermilk soup is served savory with onions and bacon or cooked barley and herbs. 

  • 04 of 07

    Gemuese - Vegetables


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    Holsteiner Rübenmus is very similar to the Rübenmalheur, but the ingredients are mashed and butter and cream are added. It can be served as a main dish with "Stippe" on the side (sauce with a little meat).

    Gestovtes Gemüse: Many vegetables in this cold, northern region are served cloaked in a white sauce (or a richer, Bechamel sauce) and the word for that is "Gestovt." Rutabaga and carrots are especially popular as a side dish for Sauren Rolle (beef sausage laid in either vinegar or whey to sour) which is sliced, floured and fried and served with Salzkartoffeln.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Fisch - Fish


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    Maischolle: European Plaice, a type of flat fish.- a fish which, when caught in springtime (hence "Mai- scholle") is particularly tender. Mostly found off the Atlantic coasts, they are also fished in the Baltic Sea. Most often served pan-fried and dressed up with bacon or even North Sea shrimp.

    Kieler Sprotte: The sprat or skipper is a small, herring-like fish. Kieler Sprotte is smoked over beech and ash wood. They are sold whole, and all parts are edible, but many people remove the head, tail, and spine before eating.

    Heringe: Herring are of commercial importance. 

    Nordseekrabben is a type of brown shrimp. See this article.

    Labskaus is a traditional recipe made with red beets, mashed potatoes, and either corned beef or herring. Served with pickles and a fried egg. 

    Munkmarscher Muscheltopf: Mussels cooked in a white wine broth. When the mussels are done, the broth is thickened with egg yolks and cream and garnished with dill.

    Kak't Dösch: Poached cod served with a mustard sauce. 

  • 06 of 07

    Nachtische - Desserts

    Rote Gruetze - Berry Pudding

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    Rote Grütze: Red fruit Pudding 

    Friesischer Bohnensuppe: Place raisins in a jar. Add several ounces of Kandis or sugar and fill to the top with brandy. Let it sit at room temperature for 1-2 weeks and serve over vanilla ice cream.

    Mädchenröte (lit. girl's blush) is a dessert made with red currant juice and meringue. Beat egg whites while drizzling in sugar and juice. Dissolve gelatin in a little juice and fold it carefully into the meringue. Pour into a dish and refrigerate until set. Serve with Vanilla Sauce. Since the egg whites are raw, this is not often made anymore.

  • 07 of 07

    Zum Trinken - Drinks

    German beer and pretzels

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    In the cold, northern regions of Germany "Korn" and "Köm" are popular. Korn is a liquor distilled from rye, barley or wheat, while Köm is an Aquavit (schnapps flavored with caraway). Both are drunk ice cold from small glasses and Köm is often the basis for a "Teepunsch" made with hot, black tea, sugar, and schnapps.

    "Lütt un Lütt" (little 'n little) is a small beer and a schnapps.

    Flensburger Pilsener: The brewery was established in 1888, and they still bottle their beer in swing tops.

    Tote Tante is a mixed drink made with chocolate milk, brandy or rum, crème de cacao and whipped cream over ice cubes.

    Pharisäer is black coffee, rum, and whipped cream. The whipped cream hides the smell of the liquor, which fooled a parish pastor for a little while. 

    Angler Muck is a type of punch. Heat rum and water (1/2 and 1/2) but do not boil. Add lemon juice and sugar to taste and serve. Traditionally served in a "Muck Pott," a type of ceramic pitcher.