Once upon a time there was an area where the woods were so dense and whose interior saw so little sunlight it became known as the Black Forest. These dark, dark woods spawned many fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. You almost expect to spy Hansel and Gretel wandering through the trees as they tiptoe past a sleeping Snow White or Rapunzel letting down her lengthy locks. The famous storytellers were obviously inspired by the grandeur and beauty of the area. Located in Southwest Germany, also known as Schwarzwald, it encompasses a series of mountains thickly covered in evergreen trees. It was a scheduled stop during my most recent river cruise and one I eagerly anticipated. In addition to fairy tales and fables, the region is known for woodworking. One of the more popular items to originate in the area are Christmas Pyramids which bear no resemblance to actual pyramids. They are more conical in structure, shaped like a Christmas tree and capped with a large propeller on top. The multi-layered design usually features the participants of the original Christmas story. The Pyramid is encircled by candle holders. When candles are inserted and lit, the combined heat of the flames lift the propeller and the entire Magi procession and animals begin to spin depicting their journey to Jerusalem. They are whimsical and meaningful, traditional and distinctly Bavarian. The variety in style and design was more than ample and I wanted to inspect the intricate details of each one. But, I had come to see the other ubiquitous item associated with the region, the Black Forest Cuckoo clock. Time was ticking, pun intended, and I needed to focus on the real reason I had taken this particular excursion. A request from a friend sent me in search of a cuckoo clock. Clearly, the clock makers understand both the beauty of these clocks and the humor. That fondness inspired the Herr Family, owners of the shop in Hornberg to create, what they proclaim to be the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock. As you arrive, it’s the first thing you see. Indeed, it is very hard to miss! It stands two stories high with many moving characters that include life size figures in local mountain attire, myriad animals including the star of the show; an oversize cuckoo bird. There is usually a small crowd gathered, waiting for the clock to strike every 15 minutes. The variety of locally made clocks surpassed that of the Christmas Pyramids. Options were offered in various sizes and styles with two distinctive themes. The first reflected a Swiss Chalet, a humble cottage with multi colored gingerbread-like trimming outfitted with a second story-balcony on the front of every structure. This miniature house was inhabited by the figure of a gentleman, depicted in lederhosen, the traditional Alpen shorts. He also wields an ax in preparation for chopping the traditional stack of wood. Often he is accompanied by farm animals such as geese or cows with bells around their necks. A German style cuckoo clock lacks the whimsy of the Swiss style and in its simplicity is a beauty that I find most appealing. Less a depiction of a small house for humans, it resembles a charming abode for the aviary community. These clocks often feature carved woodland animals such as squirrels, deer and of course, birds. They are finished in rich tones of the forests and can be right at home in any cabin or lodge. Narrowing down hundreds of choices and trying to select a clock that would appeal to the intended recipient was challenging but fun. You can see my final selection in the photo that accompanies this article. The choices don’t end with style selection. Further decisions are made concerning the actual operation of the clock. Your options include: battery operated or the pull chain option which is more authentic. You must also decide if you wish to pull the chains daily, a less expensive option but more labor involved, or to pull the chains once a week. Much as I wanted a cuckoo clock, knowing that I had a house full of cats who might assume it was purchased for their amusement, I decided to pass. Concerned that I would have trouble getting the pieces home without damage, I was relieved to know that the cuckoo clocks would be winging their way to Hopewell Junction via the U.S. Postal Service.
Likely the third most popular item to originate from this area is a sweet treat. We call it Black Forest Cake, the British call it Black Forest Gateau and in Germany it’s known quite simply as Schwarzwalderkirschtorte. After the lengthy selection and purchase process of the Cuckoo clocks the proprietors must have assumed we were hungry. Being good hosts they offered a piece of this local favorite. I expected a thin slice of cake but was presented with a huge slab that stretched from end to end of the full sized paper plate. This was more like a meal than a sample and who, at some point in their life, hasn’t dreamed of having cake for dinner? It was not at all like the cakes I’ve tasted in the U.S. It wasn’t overly sweet, the cake was dense and what was that flavor? Oh yes, it was fresh cherries and fresh whipped cream, neither coming from a can. While It might take a bit of extra time and effort to prepare an authentic version I promise it will be worth it. Give it a try and see if it doesn’t make you a devotee of the traditional dessert. Visit our facebook page to see an authentic recipe or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and request the recipe. Auf Weidersehen and Viel Gluck! (Good luck!)
Can you give me an umlaut over the “u” in Gluck?