The potato reigns supreme in Hesse, Germany. Set in the middle of the country, this good-sized state has an affinity for the starchy tuber, which is not surprising; Hesse was poor, and the potato served as a staple food for households that could not afford more lavish victuals.
Indeed, few plants besides the stalwart potato could find purchase in this rugged region. The Harz Mountains cover the greater part of Hesse, making arable land scarce. Cultivation is chiefly confined to the narrow valleys and lower hill slopes, and the principle crops are those that thrive in such unfavorable terrain: rye, barley, oats and, of course, potatoes.
The potato’s arrival in Hesse is a mystery. Some say responsibility lies with botanists Philippe de Sivry and Carolus Clusius, who bred potatoes experimentally while working in Frankfurt from 1588 to 1593. Others speculate that a trick on the part of Hessian Landgrave Karl sparked the spud’s popularity. Sometime in the early eighteenth century, Karl invited his peasants to a meal of salad, in which he secretly mixed potatoes, hoping to convince the suspicious rustics of the new vegetable’s virtues. The tuber was such a hit that the peasants agreed to cultivate it from that time onwards. The town of Schwalmstadt-Ziegenhain still commemorates this surreptitious salad feast with an annual celebration.
Featuring frequently in Hessian cuisine, the lowly potato serves as the base for a number of regional dishes, from the savory “Himmel und Erde,” in which apples and potatoes are boiled together, to “Bloatz,” a salt cake consisting of bread dough covered in a heavily spiced mixture of potatoes and eggs. An especially simple and economical Hessian potato treat is Fechenheim Kartoffeltorte, or potato flan, the recipe for which appears below.
Fechenheim Potato Flan (Fechenheim Kartoffeltorte)
4 boiled potatoes, cooked the previous day
6 tsp butter, at room temperature
6 oz/175 g sugar
1 pinch salt
A few drops of almond essence
Juice and grated zest of one lemon
2 1/2 cups / 250 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
Fat for greasing the pan
2 tsp breadcrumbs
Press the potatoes through a ricer. Separate the eggs. Beat the butter, sugar, and egg yolks together until foaming. Add the salt, bitter almond essence, lemon juice, and zest. Stir in the flour and baking powder gradually. Stir the riced potatoes into the mixture. Beat the egg white until very stiff and fold gently into the batter. Grease a springform pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Pour in the batter and smooth it level. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F/ 175 degrees C for about 1 hour. — From Culinaria: Germany