About “A Small Pebble”
Shortly after the death of my father in 2008, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This is a terrible way of losing a person by degrees which more and more families have to go through. I realised that now my sisters and I were the last generation who remember these family stories. So I decided to start writing down what I still remember. Although I believe that the future is more important than the past it is still important to not completely lose sight of the generations that went before us.
This book is an unusual combination of family stories, snapshots of life and customs in the Swiss city of Basel and delicious seasonal recipes of the region.
It is as much a book of quirky stories as it is a cookbook.
There are fourteen stories each with its specific recipe. There are recipes for special breads, lots of Swiss fruit tarts, and even a closely guarded recipe for a cake with reputed magical properties. The second part of the book turns completely into a cookbook of family favourites in the great Australian tradition of taking the best parts from everywhere and making them our own.
A lot of people turn to the cooking sites on the internet for a quick dinner recipe, I know, I do this myself. This book is an altogether different experience. It can be seen more in the tradition of the slow food movement. A story to read, for example, about the yearly celebrated ancient carnival of Basel with recipes that have been cooked for generations for this special occasion. The book is as much a snapshot of history and culture as it is an enticement to try a new and unusual dish.
This book is a small pebble that I place in the relentless path of forgetting.
Please enjoy this story and recipe out of my book. If you would like to read more and cook some of the recipes you can order the book at the end of this site.
Year after year a spooky thing happens on the first Monday morning after Ash-Wednesday in the city of Basel.
At that time of the year Switzerland still lies under the grey blanket of winter. Officially March is the beginning of spring. Buds on the bare trees are starting to swell and only the most daring trees and flowers push out some green tips. It’s often still snowing, but the snow in the lowlands of the Rhine pretty quickly turns into a cold, grey, soggy mess. Cold and bleak are probably the words that jump to mind for this time of the year.
Between three and four in the dead of night thousands of people wrapped up in their thick winter coats, scarves, gloves and fur-lined boots stream into town and like a herd of cattle all walk towards the centre. Not a lot is spoken as it is dark, icy cold and everybody wonders why they left their warm beds to be standing in Market Square waiting for the bell of St Martin’s to chime four o’ clock. Old and young are huddled close together with a cloud of communal breath disappearing into the black void above them.
Excited and slightly scared children are hoisted onto their father’s shoulders or kept close for warmth and comfort.
With the first stroke of four high above the square all the lights in the city go out. It is pitch black and children are looking for a reassuring hand to hold.
After the last stroke of four somewhere in the darkness drums are starting to beat out an ancient march, the “Morgestraich”. Then the high pitched sounds of the piccolos soar above the rumble. More and more drums and piccolos join in until the whole town is filled with a most stirring sound. It is still utterly dark and the drums and piccolos seem to come closer and closer, like an ancient army closing in on the town. The first carnival society in military formation, pipers first then the drummers, spills out of a narrow alley leading onto Market Square. Some of the societies are a hundred strong. Every member is clad in an individual costume with an elaborate face mask and in the case of the pipers, a half-mask. On every head is a small lantern illuminating their ghostly march. Now carnival societies spill out of every alley leading onto the square. The noise of the hundreds of drums and piccolos swells to a deafening and diaphragm rocking din and the night is illuminated with a thousand lanterns…. but this is not all. Every society carries an enormous lantern with them: three to five metre high painted caricatures of political life and other events that happened during the past year, lit from within and carried on the strong shoulders of young men marching to the beat of the drums.
Each carnival society has their headquarters in a different tavern. That’s where they start their convoy from and that’s where they eventually return to for warming up and refreshments when the light starts to creep over the horizon.
Some people will now follow their favourite society through streets and alleyways, some will stay in place and watch the parade in front of them and some others will make their own way through the city and hope to encounter as many societies as possible. Most spectators will have had enough of the spectacle and madness after a couple of hours, that’s the time to look for a tavern to have breakfast.
Even though all the taverns in the city are open from about five o’clock on it is not easy finding a free table as hundreds of people are cold and hungry at the same time. There is a specific “Morgestraich” breakfast to warm up body and soul: first there is flour soup, a beautiful old-fashioned soup to warm your insides, followed by onion or cheese tart.
Most people head for home at around seven o’clock to get changed and go to work or in the case of the participants of the Fasnacht (carnival), they will go home for a couple of hours of sleep to be ready and fit for the parade in the afternoon.
The ghostly procession of the Morgestraich
Flour Soup (Maehlsuppe)
- 100g plain flour
- 1tbls. butter
- 1 onion
- 1 calf’s foot or soup bones
- 1 stock cube
- 1lt water
- Salt and pepper
- 100g grated cheese
Roast flour in butter until brown (but not too dark), add finely chopped onion. Slowly add the water and stir constantly. Add bones, stock cube and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 1 hour. Discard bones and serve with grated cheese.