Here at Helsing’s kitchen we are scratching like a couple of mongrels with a bad case of fleas. Many dozens of mosquito bites, despite relentlessly spraying ourselves with anti-mozzie spray, is an unfortunate reminder of what was a brilliant day out yesterday in the watery Spreewald in south-east Brandenburg. It is an area of small waterways (or “Fließe”) formed after the last ice age and is home to the Sorbish people who have their own officially recognized language. The Spreewald was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1991.
“Authentic” and “undiscovered” are much-overused words when describing any tourist attraction. But applied to the Spreewald, they are descriptions that are not too far off the mark. The authenticity comes from all the family-run businesses, with boat hire being one of the biggest. This is not just a kind of theme park with seasonal workers brought in to cater for tourists – real families live there and make their living from the land. We got our bites mostly on the water as we gently paddled down the shallow waterways. And if undiscovered might not be quite true, not overcrowded certainly is. Despite it being a sunny July afternoon in summer holiday season, there were times when we had long stretches of the water just to ourselves.
In terms of food, the Spreewald is most famous for its cucumbers, especially its preserved cucumbers. They don’t look much like the long, thin, green cucumbers grown in glass houses. Those cucumbers are much more sophisticated compared to the stumpier, knobblier, lighter-coloured Spreewald cucumbers that grow in the well-watered Spreewald fields. It was hot and we were inspired to make a cool cucumber soup. With the added advantage that busy hands are not to so tempted to scratch those itches.
Cold cucumber soup with yoghurt and herbs
This is nothing like an “authentic” Spreewald cucumber soup, for which there are many recipes, involving everything from buttermilk to pork belly. For a very delicate flavour in this version, make your own vegetable stock and don’t over-salt.
1 small piece of celeriac
500 ml water
herbs: for example basil and mint (but use what you like – dill is also good)
salt and pepper
plain yoghurt (optional)
- peel some carrots, celeriac and shallots
- in a pan, boil them until tender in about 500ml of water
- remove the liquid, leaving the vegetables, and cool
- depending on the skin of your cucumber, decide to peel it or not – it is a good idea to leave the skin on if possible to give the soup a deeper green colour
- chop into small pieces
- shred or rip
When the stock is cold, add the cucumber and herbs and blend with a stick blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Optional – stir in plain yoghurt.
Leave to chill in the fridge for up to 2 hours, and serve with ice-cubes.