Cook Up a Vacation: Summer Pasta from a Kentucky Farm B&B

Sheltering in place during the global pandemic doesn’t mean your senses are confined to your home kitchen. Send your taste buds on a holiday with flavors from far-flung destinations.

This quilt barn marks the location where you turn into Snug Hollow Farm B&B. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I grew up in Kentucky, and when I travel back to my “Old Kentucky Home,” I love to travel to some of its rural areas, including to the arches of Red River Gorge and to a beautiful organic farm bed and breakfast called Snug Hollow, owned and operated by Barbara Napier.

Snug Hollow is built sustainably on 300 acres of gorgeous, pesticide-free farmland 20 miles from the lovely college town of Berea, Kentucky, just an hour from Lexington and about 45 minutes from Natural Bridge State Park, which I first visited when I could still ride on my papa’s shoulders! Snug Hollow Farm is an escape into nature—partly cleared forest land that’s full of birds, wild animals, and gently rolling hills and brooks.

Barbara Napier cooks an organic farm breakfast for guests of Snug Hollow Farm ©Laurel Kallenbach

Barbara cooks up fresh-from-the-garden, organic, vegetarian meals for guests. With curtailed travel, you too can cook organic farm-fresh cuisine like that served at Snug Hollow.

And there’s good news for those looking forward to venture outside their homes: Snug Hollow is welcoming guests again starting June 1, 2020. With all that outdoor space on the farm, physical distancing is joyful, not a constraint. There are acres of forest to roam, so you can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air without worrying about bumping into too many other humans on your rambles around the property. (Encounters with wild turkeys, cardinals, deer, and other wildlife are an added surprise.)

The pasta recipe below is from Barbara Napier’s cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast is available to buy online.

Bowtie Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce & Snap Peas

This quick and simple pasta dish reminds me of Barbara Napier’s delicious home cooking from the two visits I’ve made (so far!) to Snug Hollow Farm B&B in central Kentucky.

Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes; c
ooking Time: 5 minutes

12 ounces dry bowtie pasta

12 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh snap peas

7 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as basil or thyme

3 cups heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Steam snap peas in a steamer insert over boiling water or in a microwave oven on high (100 percent power) for 3 to 4 minutes. Plunge the peas into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add lemon zest and juice, garlic, and fresh herbs. Stir together and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add cream and bring mixture to a boil; turn off heat. Stir in salt and pepper.
  5. Add cooked pasta and snap peas; stir thoroughly to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, and top with chopped tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

From Barbara Napier’s cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast.

Some Memories from My July 2013 Visit to Snug Hollow

The sometimes windy, sometimes narrow road from Berea, Kentucky, to Snug Hollow leads through hilly pastures and small residential enclaves. I drove past barns of all sorts—some weathered and tumbling down, some bright and new, some decorated with quilt-pattern blocks or black stallions. I wanted to stop to photograph each of them, but there was often an impatient local on my tail, so I couldn’t slam on my brakes when I encountered a picturesque one.

An encouraging sign ©Laurel Kallenbach

With rolling hills and valleys and lush knobs covered in dense forest, this is truly beautiful country. There are signs to Tater Knob pottery, and I stopped by to purchase an artisan quiche dish and some lovely bowls as gifts.

Finally I reached the turnoff for Snug Hollow and began the ascent up the narrow gravel and dirt road. I held my breath at every turn, wondering what I’d do if I encountered someone coming from the other direction. I hit a pothole hard as I was gunning the car to get up a particularly steep stretch. Occasionally a posted sign encouraged me: “Snug Hollow: Keep on Going.”

At last, after opening and closing a cow gate on the road, I arrived at a Snug Hollow sign beside an old-time, historic cabin. Another 20 yards and there was a place to park. Within moment, curly-haired innkeeper, visionary, and land steward Barbara Napier ran out to greet me. (We’d met back in 2008 when I visited as part of a brother-sister Kentucky nostalgia tour.)

The main house overlooks the property and is a great place for bird-watching. ©Laurel Kallenbach.jpg

Barbara feels a little like a soulmate to me; she’s a native Kentuckian who’s passionate about healthy eating and organic farming and preserving these rural hollows (prounounced “holler” in these parts). She’s built the structures on the farm using reclaimed and recycled materials, and she has a wabi-sabi knack for creating beautifully designed spaces with old, antique art and eclectic furnishings.

And boy can Barbara cook! As I got out of the car, I smelled lasagna cooking and onions sautéing on the stove. My first night, a group of 17 mothers and daughters who used to live in Berea were having a reunion dinner, and the screened-in back porch was filled with tables decorated by vases of fresh flowers from around the farm. The whole group dined on a heaping bowl of fresh-from-Barbara’s-garden greens, followed by veggie lasagna paired with sautéed carrots and crisp, sweet Brussels sprouts. For dessert: the most decadent chocolate tart you can imagine, served à la mode. It was a locavore feast!

Country cooking from scratch at Snug Hollow ©Laurel Kallenbach

“The Gathering Place” Cabin

I stayed in the very private cabin up the hill from the main house and the historic cabin. Designed for families or for small group retreats, yoga classes, corporate retreats The Gathering Place is huge (for little me at least) with a capacity to sleep six. The cabin had a wrap-around porch, including a porch swing, an old-fashioned glider, and outdoor rocking chairs. Blooming mimosas scented up the room with sweet fragrance.

Snug Hollow’s sitting room/living room offer tranquil views over the land. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Inside was airy and woody: knotty-pine ceilings and wall paneling, loads of windows with good screens (to keep the skeeters out!), and a smooth oak floor with handmade, braided rugs. It was all one open space, with four ceiling fans to circulate air and keep it cool.

There was a living-room area with an upholstered sofa, love seat, and chairs—plus a rocker and small table. The farm is far away from summer-sweltering steel-and-concrete cities, so I never needed the window-unit air conditioner. (For winter guests, there was a gas stove for warmth.)

The dining area was outfitted with a table for six, and it was adorned by a lovely flower arrangement in a vase made by a local potter. (During COVID-19 times, meals are taken in private quarters, not in the communal areas.)

Appalachian folk arts thrive in Central Kentucky. This dulcimer is just one of the traditional instruments Barbara keeps at Snug Hollow. If you’re lucky, one of her friends will drop by and sing and play. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A dulcimer graced one wall; other local artwork completed the simple, yet welcoming décor. The kitchenette was outfitted with a full-size fridge, dishes, coffee maker (with tea and coffee), microwave, wine glasses and bottle openers.

Night Falls

That evening I sat on the old metal glider on the retreat cabin’s deck. As the sun disappeared and the moon rose, the animals, birds, and insects of the night began vocalizing under cover of dark. It’s an unseen jungle here in rural Kentucky.

I heard Barbara’s Jack Russell terrier, Hillary Rodham, barking a few times at the main farmhouse. Hillary’s canine ears and nose told her what kind of wildlife was out there: but I could only imagine. At the pond, the bullfrogs brayed; another unidentified critter emitted twangs that sounded like a banjo string breaking in the distance. Fireflies—the biggest I’ve ever seen—twinkled in the clearing like floating stars. I was in heaven.

The porch view from Gathering Place cabin ©Laurel Kallenbach

Some kind of bird screeched and chirruped away in the trees. A pair of bats swooped and darted in the cooling night air, eating an army of mosquitos—and for that I was grateful.

The night darkened, and a whippoorwill on caffeine whistled manically in the woods. How would I ever be able to sleep? This was anything but a silent night!

High above the din, a lozenge of moon radiantly crept across the horizon. In gratitude, I felt like the moon and all the creatures of the dark were watching me.

On the horizon were flashes of distant lightning; a shroud of clouds passed in front of the moon, and the reflected moon-glow created an eerie, reddish halo.

Not much later, it occurred to me that I’d better get to bed. My visit five years before had taught me that the avian chorus would crescendo at a pre-dawn hour.

A Day on the Farm

After fresh coffee and homemade waffles with berries for breakfast, I visited Barbara’s kitchen garden. She pointed out that some of the organically grown veggies were doing poorly this year because she had planted them just a couple of days before the farm got three inches of rain in one hour. Even so, she had raised a bounty of salad greens—with tomatoes on the way—and an assortment of other veggies.

Bee on flowers in the Kentucky meadow ©Laurel Kallenbach

Next I took a walk in the woods, following the trail markers. It was a nostalgic stroll, because my family used to camp in rural Kentucky almost every year during what we used to call “Easter Break” back then. I passed the pond and into the flowery meadows. The forest, shady and relatively cool, though humid, smelled like mushrooms, clay-rich dirt, and decaying leaves from last fall. Dewdrops evaporated off sassafras leaves shaped like mittens. I breathed in the green scents of this year’s foliage—the scent of moss and bramble.

Back at the cabin there was time and solitude to read book and work on a chapter of my novel set in Kentucky. I even took a nap, because I was free to do whatever I felt like on a lazy summer afternoon in a pastoral setting.

Evenings of Community: Dinner and Games

Strawberries and cream for dessert! ©Laurel Kallenbach

Barbara spoiled us that evening with cheese pie served with a stack of sautéed veggies—red cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers and onions—and accompanied by homemade vegetarian baked beans and cornbread. And no one could say “no” to fresh strawberries and whipped cream for dessert.

Several locals had come over for dinner—friends of Barbara’s who have known her since she worked at Berea College. The evening’s talk was about critters who live on their land. Donna (who was getting her MFA at Bellarmine) had a bobcat in her old barn. The conversation turned to occasional, mysterious sightings of a black panther in these parts, even though wildlife experts claim there aren’t any big cats around any more. I remembered that the school mascot of Louisville’s Pleasure Ridge Park Junior High/High was the panthers, and I wondered if one would be prowling around my cabin after dark.

After dinner, our group of six gathered around the living room table for “Fast Scrabble” played with three sets of Scrabble tiles. Nowadays it’s a prepackaged game called Bananagrams.

(I hope that sometime in the post-COVID future, guests will once again be able to mingle and share a communal table and after-dinner chats.)

When I returned to my cabin after dark, I basked once again in the light of the Kentucky moon. I remembered a song I’d learned as a kid at camp:

“When the moon shines so bright on little Red Wing / The breeze is sighing, the night bird’s crying…”

I fell asleep humming that song, and I will always dream of those days at Snug Hollow farm bursting with life in the lush woods of a place that lives in my blood.

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

Read more about my visits to Snug Hollow organic farm B&B.

Farm boots on the porch at Snug Hollow ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cook Up a Vacation: Recipes from Ireland

Sheltering in place during the global COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t mean your senses are confined to your home kitchen. Send your taste buds on a holiday with flavors from far-flung destinations.

The roof terrace at downtown Dublin’s The Woolen Mills Eating House. Photo courtesy The Woolen Mills

Ireland is one of my favorite destinations. The people are friendly, there’s always a bit of magic in the air, and I love rambling in its green pastures hunting for Neolithic stone circles and dolmens and medieval carvings called sheela-na-gigs.

Since I can’t go to Ireland in the foreseeable future, I’m going to try my hand at cooking these two delicious recipes: a salmon and colcannon dish from the five-star Lough Erne Resort in Northern Ireland, and a sweet dessert from The Woolen Mills Eating House,  which overlooks Dublin’s Liffey River.

Fresh Local Salmon from a Lake in Northern Ireland

This dish takes center stage for a spring/early summer supper. Noel McMeel, executive head chef at the Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, combines fresh Atlantic salmon with a traditional Irish potato-and-kale dish called colcannon.

The Lough Erne Resort, in Northern Ireland’s County Fermanagh. Photo courtesy Lough Erne Resort

Located on the outskirts of Ireland’s only island town of Enniskillen, Lough Erne is a peaceful rural resort that features a spa, golf course, fine dining, and plenty of nature. Nearby are castles, ancient ruins, historic estates, and miles of scenery to explore.

Fresh Salmon with Traditional Colcannon and Basil Cream Sauce

Makes 4 portions

Colcannon ingredients:

1 lb. potatoes (washed)

5 tablespoons butter

5¼ ounces curly kale (finely chopped)

1 egg (beaten)

3 tablespoons plain flour

1 pinch salt and fresh ground black pepper

Tea time at the Lough Erne Resort

3 tablespoons water

Salmon ingredients:

9½ cups water

1 slice lemon

1 tablespoon salt

2 lbs. salmon fillet (skin on)

Basil Cream Sauce ingredients:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

2½ cups milk

¾ cup fresh basil leaves

To make the Colcannon:

  1. Cook the potatoes until soft (about 25 minutes) in boiling, salted water. Peel them while they’re still warm. Mash the potatoes and add 1½ tablespoons butter.
  2. Measure 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan and warm on medium heat. Add the chopped kale and 3½ tablespoons of butter; cook until tender. (We use very little water to retain the kale’s vitamins
  3. Fold the cabbage into the potatoes. Bind the mixture together with a beaten egg and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To prepare the Salmon:

  1. Put the water, lemon, and salt in a large pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the salmon and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and leave the fish to finish cooking gently in the cooking liquid.

To make the Basil Cream Sauce:

  1. Melt 1¾ tablespoons butter in a heavy pan and sprinkle with flour. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon to mix. Cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Gradually pour in the milk, stirring all the time, to make a smooth sauce.
  3. Add 1¼ cups of the fish-cooking liquid, and simmer for 12 minutes.
  4. Drain the salmon and cut into four portions. Place on four warmed plates.
  5. Stir the basil leaves and the rest of the butter into the sauce.

To serve:

  1. Place colcannon in the center of the plate with the salmon on top.
  2. Pour the sauce over half the fish. (Chef’s tip: The dishes will look more attractive if the fish is only partly covered.)

    Noel McMeel, executive head chef at the Lough Erne Resort, in Ireland’s County Fermanagh, is an ambassador for seasonal, local produce. Photo courtesy Lough Erne Resort

 

Dessert from Dublin’s Fair City

Whip up this dessert from The Woolen Mills Eating House, located on the 1816 elliptical-arch Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey in the heart of Dublin. With Georgian windows overlooking the river and an incredible roof terrace, the venue offers food with a view onto the ultimate Dublin cityscape. Chef Ian Connolly has created a sweet treat—or “pudding” as dessert is called in Britain and Ireland.

The Woolen Mills Eating House is located on Dublin with views of Ha’pnenny Bridge. Photo courtesy The Woolen Mills

Bread-and-Butter Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

Makes 6 generous portions

Pudding ingredients:

1 cup cream

1¾ cup whole milk

2/3 cup caster sugar (or powdered sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 medium eggs, whisked

9 tablespoons butter, melted

3½ oz. sultanas, raisins, or other dried fruit

One loaf of white bread (sliced, with crusts removed)

Irish whiskey sauce ingredients:

½ cup golden syrup (or corn syrup)

¼ cup caster sugar (or powdered sugar)

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup cream

2 shots of Irish whiskey

To make the pudding:

  1. Preheat the oven to 320°F.
  2. Line a deep, medium-size baking tray with parchment paper.
  3. Slice the bread into square shapes.
  4. Heat the cream and milk in a heavy-based pan over low heat, then add the sugar, vanilla, eggs, and melted butter to the pan. Using a wooden spoon, mix well together and simmer until the sauce thickens.
  5. Dip each piece of bread into the cream mix until soaked through.
  6. Layer the bread onto the baking tray, with a sprinkle of sultanas, raisins, or dried fruit between each layer.
  7. When the bread is all used, pour the remaining cream mixture over the tray. Cover the baking tray with parchment paper and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour, then remove the paper, and cook for another 15 minutes until the top is golden.

Pouring the Irish Whiskey Sauce over the Bread-and Butter Pudding. Photo courtesy The Woolen Mills

To make whiskey sauce:

  1. In a small pan, heat the syrup, sugars, and butter until melted. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn down the heat to low and whisk the cream into the hot mixture.
  2. Raise the heat again until the mixture begins to bubble, then remove the saucepan from heat.
  3. Add whiskey and stir.

To serve: Cut the bread pudding into squares, place each in a shallow bowl, and pour whiskey sauce over the top. Enjoy!

As they say in Ireland, “Ithe go maith” (“Eat well” in Gaelic)

Want to discover more of Ireland’s flavors? Visit Ireland.com

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

Bath Thermae Spa in England: Better Health through Water

When the traveling gets tough, the tough take a bath. After a long day of sightseeing or hiking through the countryside, one of the best things to do is soak your achy feet in the hotel hot tub or spa.

The Rooftop Pool at Thermae Bath Spa overlooks a glorious view of the city of Bath, including Bath Cathedral. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

It turns out this watery antidote for stress has a long tradition: The ancient Romans had a saying for it: “sanitas per aquam,” which translates as “health through water.” And not coincidentally, the word “spa” is an acronym taken from that Latin phrase.

Geothermally warmed mineral springs were the first spas—used for healing. These waters naturally bubble up from the ground, bringing minerals from the earth’s core—minerals that can help improve certain skin conditions, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments.

In Bath, England, warm mineral waters have welcomed visitors for millennia. The Celts worshipped the water goddess Sulis there, and the ancient Romans (who ruled Britannia from the 1st through 5th centuries A.D.) built stone-enclosed pools and steam rooms for their health and restoration.

During the 1700s and 1800s, the British aristocracy flocked to the town of Bath for social parties and to “take the waters,” encouraged by the tale of how Queen Mary’s fertility troubles ended after she bathed in the waters and ultimately gave birth to a son.

Modern Spa, Ancient History

Today, Thermae Bath Spa is located in a chic modern building not far from the ruins of the ancient Roman baths. Although no one’s claiming anymore that the water cures infertility or any other major health problem, this is still the perfect place to shed your street clothes and spend a half- or full-day in a robe and swimsuit soaking like a Roman.

The indoor Minerva Pool has jets and moving water currents. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

My husband and I visited Thermae Bath Spa on a chilly, drizzly English afternoon, when a hot soak was most inviting. We started with a dip in the Minerva Bath, a large, indoor thermal pool equipped with massage jets, a whirlpool, and a “lazy river” with a current strong enough that it carried us around the pool. We hung onto flotation “noodles” and cruised the perimeter without moving a muscle. Between the water’s temperature (92°F) and the mineral-rich water (the slight sulfur smell is the giveaway), we felt like limp noodles.

After a long drink of water (it’s important to rehydrate while you soak), we checked out the über-cool co-ed steam rooms where we sweated in glass-enclosed circular steam areas. Each had a different aromatherapy scent: lavender, eucalyptus, rose and frankincense. A central waterfall shower was the spot where everyone gathered to cool off before trying a new scent.

At the center of the Thermae Bath Spa Steam Room is a ceiling shower for cooling off after a hot steam. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

A note about facilities: pools, steam rooms, and the locker rooms are all co-ed. This is Europe, after all! It was a little odd for us Americans who are used to gender segregation in public restrooms, gyms and pools, but we went with the flow. The locker rooms do have private cubicles where you can dress. Bathing suits (what the Brits call “swimming costumes”) are required.

Although Thermae Bath Spa offers a number of water-centric therapies—including watsu (massage done while you float in a warm pool), Vichy showers, body wraps and more—we opted for pool soaking, which we could enjoy as a couple. If you’re visiting Bath for several days, I’d highly recommend taking a separate day for a massage or special treatment.

For the grand finale, my husband and I deepened our relaxation in the steamy Rooftop Pool. The water was perfect, and the views of Bath’s skyline were spectacular. A high-pressure cascade gave us a deep-shoulder massage and sent a wave of tingles over my scalp. The added bonus: A huge rainbow appeared in the sky, arching over Bath’s cathedral. The entire pool population ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the sight. Unforgettable.

Feasting in the Natural Foods Restaurant

The spa’s Springs Café serves wonderful local cuisine. Photo courtesy Thermae Bath Spa

Afterwards, we realized we were hungry, but weren’t quite ready to leave. No problem, the spa’s Springs Café Restaurant serves everything from light snacks, appetizers, paninis, and hot gourmet meals. The atmosphere is casually elegant, and almost everyone comes in their robe. So, in our white, toga-like wraps, we dined quite well on slow-cooked Wiltshire beef and wild mushroom and Bath Blue cheese risotto with glasses of wine. The menu emphasizes nutritionally balanced foods made from locally produced fare.

Soaking, steaming, feasting—what more could we ask for? My husband and I came away from Bath Thermae Spa feeling relaxed, radiant, well-fed, and squeaky clean. The ancient Romans definitely had the right idea—and the city of Bath has created a first-class modern version of the historic baths. Add it to your itinerary—it’s a highlight of the city.

Clean Water Policy

The thermal water at Thermae Bath Spa bubbles naturally to the earth’s surface, and is estimated to be 10,000 years old. It contains more than 42 different minerals, the most concentrated being sulphate, calcium, and chloride, which are reported to be good for sore joints and some skin conditions.

The spa filters the water to remove iron and bacteria. A tiny bit of chlorine is added for sanitary reasons.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted May 2013

For more information on visiting Bath, England, see Visit Bath.

Read more about my travels in England:

The Georgian exterior of Thermae Bath Spa shows the honey-colored Bath stone that appears in buildings throughout the historic city. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

5 Unforgettable Flavors at Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

Frankfurt Christmas Market in Römer Square ©Laurel Kallenbach

Thousands flock to Frankfurt’s annual Christmas Market, centered in historic Römer Square   ©Laurel Kallenbach

Germany’s Christmas Markets overflow with treasures and gifts of every size and price, and Frankfurt’s massive Christmas market has acres of goods for sale in booths and huts (called stube) located in its historic old town.

In fact, the market spreads over three locations: Römer Square, Paulsplatz, and the Main Quay. The Christmas market was first mentioned in writing in 1393, and was a place to buy foods and other necessities to stock residents through the winter.

Shopping Frankfurt’s festive market requires stamina, and that’s one of the reasons why the foods sold here are so enticing. Cookies, candies, roasted almonds, sausages and currywurst, and spiced wine served hot (called glühwein; pronounced “glue-vine”) beckon browsers to sample along the way—or to take home Christmas delicacies.

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s so much to see at the Frankfurt Christmas Market that the organizers offer one-and-a-half-hour bilingual tours in German/English focusing on “Stories, Sweets, and Savouries” (6€–14€, weekends only. You can buy tickets at the Tourist Information Römer).

I had a delightful time on the tour, which focused on Römer Square, the heart of the market—and the prettiest area (it was reconstructed to its medieval glory after it was almost completely leveled by bombs during WWII). I learned a great deal about Frankfurt’s delectables (details below) and rode on the vintage merry-go-round (somewhat less appealing to me because it played country-western songs).

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The highlight of the tour included climbing to the roof of St. Nicholas Church for a panoramic view of the entire market and the Frankfurt skyline.

Looking down from this bird’s-eye view gave me new perspective. The throngs of people were dwarfed by the half-timbered buildings and City Hall, the wide expanse of cobblestones on Römer Square, and the statue of the goddess Justice. (It was also a chance to take a break from the mad crush of shoppers!)

And to cap off the tour, my mostly German-speaking group warmed up with a hot cup of mulled wine and admired the 100-foot-tall spruce Christmas tree decorated with 5,000 lights and 500 red ribbons.

1. Glühwein

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

A mug of this hot, mulled wine, either white or red, really takes the chill off the evening, and the wooden huts (called stuben) that serve this holiday beverage are the hub of the Christmas market. Around glühwein stands, people stand ten deep around tables, especially after dark when the temperatures get colder.

I loved how the steamy cup of glühwein fogged up my glasses and warmed my hands. In Frankfurt, the glühwein mugs are in the Bembel style, the blue-floral pattern that dates back centuries.

There’s glühwein made of either red or white wine. In Frankfurt, I had a slight preference to the white, but naturally I tried them both. They packed plenty of alcoholic punch, so I never ventured to have one with a shot of liquor in it.

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Lebkuchen (German “gingerbread”)

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

The saucer- or plate-sized decorated cookies you see dangling from booths are usually made of lebkuchen, although you can also buy small cookies as well. The fact that people liken lebkuchen to gingerbread sets up an expectation that left me disappointed—because there’s no ginger flavor.

However, the Nuremburg-style lebkuchen I sampled—made from a centuries-old recipe—was chewy, dense, and far less sweet than gingerbread. It’s a blend of nutty, spicy, citrusy flavors, and it’s glazed with sugar and has a communion-wafer bottom.

I confess that I sampled my lebkuchen at my hotel and washed it down with some Kessler German sparkling wine. I was more than satisfied.

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Mead (honey wine)

The double-decker Wagner Honey House at the Frankfurt Christmas Market specializes in bee products—from beeswax candles that smell so sweet you almost want to eat them to honey wines and propolis and bitters (a digestif) sweetened with honey.

Upstairs is a tasting room where you can sample the many varieties of mead, made by fermenting honey and various fruits or spices. (Mead is possibly the world’s most ancient alcoholic beverage.)

Because I’d had my fill of glühwein, I opted for the bitters, which have a palate-cleansing effect and a refreshing taste—especially if you’ve had a few too many sugary sweets.

4. Frankfurt Bethmännchen

Tiny cookies, called Bethmännchen, are a Frankfurt specialty. Made of marzipan rolled like a little ball and decorated with three half-almonds, the treats have a poignant story. In 1838, a banker’s family, whose surname was Bethmann, served a new sweet, decorated with four almonds for each of the four sons. When one of the sons died seven years later, the cookies used only three almonds.

Brenten cookies, Kethmännchen, and Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, Frankfurt ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bethmännchen, kethmännchen, and Brenten cookies, Frankfurt.  Photo©Laurel Kallenbach

Since then, Bethmännchen have become a Frankfurt tradition and are widely sold throughout the Christmas Market—along with many other shapes and sizes and flavors of baked goods, including stollen, schaumküsse (chocolate-covered marshmallow concoctions that looked like giant Mallomars), and more.

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

5. Roasted Almonds (Mandeln)

Many stuben in the Frankfurt Christmas Market sell fresh-roasted almonds, but the one that reeled me in with its sweet-savory smells was Eiserloh’s, which sells candied almonds in dozens of flavors.

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth ©Laurel Kallenbach

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth.  Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Choices range from white-chocolate hazelnut, orange ginger, chili pepper, Bailey’s Irish cream, Nutella, pineapple, Red Bull, white-chocolate coconut, Bacardi Gold, eggnog, raspberry balsamico, and more.

The people behind the counter let me taste half a dozen flavors until I settled on my two favorites: chocolate mint and white-chocolate hazelnut. I left with a colorful cone of each, perfect gifts to take back home to the States.

I came away from the Frankfurt Christmas Market footsore—but happy with all the fabulous flavors I enjoyed there.

For more information: Germany, The Travel Destination

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted December 2014

Read more about Germany’s Christmas markets:

A hut selling local sausages Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

A hut sells local sausages. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach