Walk through the Viennese woods on a warm, spring day and you will inevitably happen upon clusters of bärlauch, or wild garlic. Its pungent aroma fills the air, and its large emerald green leaves, out of which peek sprays of white flowers, carpet the forest floor.
But in days past bärlauch was more than just a springtime treat; it helped many Austrians survive the last days of the Second World War. During the cold, wet spring 0f 1945, when the Soviets broke through German defenses and advanced to Vienna, many civilians, faced with dwindling rations and little hope of securing fresh provisions, looked to bärlauch as an important source of food. Those lucky enough to own a Sommerhütte, or summer cabin, fled to the rolling hills of the Viennese woods, where the plant grows in abundance. There they harvested the bärlauch clusters and prepared simple soups, without cream or seasoning.
Bärlauch soup was usually the only meal of the day in those summer cabins. The garlicly broth was welcome, though; filled with vitamin C and other nutrients, it helped many Austrians fend off starvation during the final days of battle that spring of 1945.
Here’s a traditional bärlauch soup recipe translated from the German. While not as austere as the soup eaten during the war, it is just as nourishing. You can find bärlauch, also known as ramson, growing wild in deciduous forests.
50 grams bärlauch
20 grams butter
20 grams flour
1/8 liter milk
3/4 liter soup stock
100 grams cream
Wash the bärlauch thoroughly and cut it into thin strips. Dice the onion and place in a large soup pot with the butter. Cook over medium heat until the onions are transparent. Add the flour, mix into the onions and then add the milk, making a smooth sauce. Add the soup stock and bärlauch strips. Cook the soup for ten minutes on low heat.
Puree the soup with either with a handmixer, or in a food processor. Season with white pepper and salt.
Beat the cream until stiff. Shortly before serving, whisk the beaten cream into the soup. Serve with a crusty white bread, such as Vienna rolls.