Swiss Winter Markets, Part 1: By Day
All throughout the year, people tell me how their favorite season for cooking and going to the markets is the winter – for the festive ambience and the wide array of vegetables in season. I can’t argue with that. While I do love the explosion of colorful berries during the summer time, the first sign of corn in the fall and white asparagus in the spring, there is just something about the winter markets in Switzerland that is truly special.
I love seeing all the fun varieties of squash and pumpkin, tubers and root vegetables – they’re easy to cook with and perfect for those cold, gray days. I giggle as I watch people stare at the gnarly, perhaps bizarre, bright yellow fruits below left, wondering what they are. Quince of course, which even made the cover of Gourmet Magazine in September. At the markets here in Zürich, people are filling their caddies and bags to the brim with slices of pumpkin, heaping bags of walnuts and dried fruits and bottles of Süßmost (apple cider). They’re filling up on special breads too, like the petit bonhomme de pain or Grittibaenzas as he is called here – for St Nikolaus day (Schmutzli) on December 6th. It’s a traditional sweet bread baked in the shape of a man, some with raisins for eyes and twigs in hand. That’s him below right.
The Swiss are also not leaving the market without a bushel of mistletoe and holiday decorations. It’s been a year since I first met Urs at his stand overflowing with bright green mistletoe, yet I still haven’t uncovered the origin of the traditional “kissing under the mistletoe.” Anyone have an idea?
One thing I love seeing at the winter markets is cinnamon (Zimt in German, above). Not little jars of powder or dried sticks the size of your pinky. We’re talking large, folded slabs even. I am reminded of my travels along Madagascar’s northeastern coast several years ago, where we cultivated cinnamon. A man with only a few teeth, yet an insanely large machete, showed us how to peel away these sheets from the bark of a tree. The aroma was outrageous! I kept a piece with me for the remainder of the trip, and everything smelled like cinnamon! The strips are left to dry and curl into rolls, also known as “quills.” It was a fascinating experience, seeing firsthand from where this basic, household ingredient comes.
I also just love the variety of tchotchkes in shoeboxes there for the picking – pine corns, leaves, chestnuts, dried berries and wooden objects. How do you decorate for the holidays?
Stay tuned for part 2, Swiss winter markets… by night !