It kind of makes me chuckle, but fall brings out the “eager participant” in me. It’s not that I’m otherwise antisocial, per se; I’m just typically not the biggest fan of large crowds, or going to gatherings where people get packed-in together like sardines in a tin can. For some mystical reason, as the cooler seasons move in, I actually start to crave the opportunities for my family and I to gather together with others of a similar mindset; others that simply have a spirit to celebrate a little, and enjoy the merriment and lightness of life. I’m pretty sure that the good beers, mulled drinks and hearty foods of this time of year don’t hurt, especially when they’re so very much a part of most festivities worth their salt (and pepper); and one such festivity that my husband and I have recently grown to really enjoy is Oktoberfest.
Last year’s was the first Oktoberfest celebration that my husband and I had ever attended. We didn’t know what to expect really, but were excited to drive the ten minutes north to a small, cozy town in the foothills where they’ve made it a point to celebrate a family-friendly annual Oktoberfest for the past thirty-five years now. We had decided that this would be a great way of getting into the mix with other members of our community, and see what the fuss over Oktoberfest was all about. We kind of giggled at the thought of watching the Dachshund (or “weiner dog”, as we like to call them) races, and listening to the authentic German music played by precious old-timers. We anticipated the air being thick with savory smoke from the Brats being grilled on the open flames, and the smell of foamy, cold beer as it flowed from the taps of the local restaurant vendors that were participating in the festivities. And all of that was just as we imagined, plus some. When we pulled into the public parking just as the faint sun finally dipped out of site, we were pleasantly surprised to rather quickly find a great parking spot, and then made our way into the happy crowd that wandered around on the closed-off street. Right away we felt such an innocent cheerfulness in our hearts, and big smiles became plastered onto our faces as we watched elderly couples dancing merrily together, joyfully in step with the “oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa” music swirling in the atmosphere. People were clapping their hands, and nodding their heads along with the musicians that played for them; and children, some dressed festively in little green lederhosen and caps, ran around through the crowd, chasing one another, most of them with sticky goodies in hand. Walking down the street through the middle of the celebration we indeed salivated over the savory bratwursts that were popping, sizzling and hissing gloriously on the hot grills, then being placed in toasted buns and piled high with the slightly vinegary, crisp sauerkraut; we could smell that golden scent of fries and sweet things as they wafted through the air. Ah, this was good, clean fun, by golly! We were enjoying every minute of it. And we looked forward to going back again this year for more.
Oktoberfest is kind of like the kick-off celebration of the early fall. It’s just a little taste of the season and of the festivities yet to come. The crisp, cool air brings out good folks who just want to mix together with other good folks and share some fun over tasty food and perhaps a beer; they want to mingle together like the ingredients of a hearty, warming stew in a joyful way, expressed in the smiles on their faces and in their voices as they sing along with the little band of German old-timers, even in the way they dance together with complete abandon. People sure can be heart-warming and precious sometimes. They can be a pleasure to observe. And maybe it takes a jovial celebration like Oktoberfest to see just how much flavor we each bring, in our own unique way, to this tasty stew that is life.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Oktoberfest Lager Stew with Sausage, Potatoes, Caramelized Onions and Golden Cabbage
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(Serves about 4, entrée servings)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (14 ounce) package beef smoked sausage, cut into bite-size slices
1 ½ onion, sliced into thin semi-circles
½ head small cabbage, halved again, cored and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground caraway seeds
• Pinch salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1cup German-style lager beer (Oktoberfest variety)
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed to bite-size pieces
2 ½ cups hot chicken stock
1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
-Place a medium-large pot over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil; once the oil is hot, add in the sliced beef smoked sausage, and allow the slices to caramelize and brown in the oil, for about 4-5 minutes; once the sausage is browned, add in the sliced onions, stir, and allow the onions to caramelize with the sausage for another few minutes, until golden-brown and softened; once onions are caramelized, add in the sliced cabbage, stir to combine, and allow the cabbage to soften and take on the flavors of the sausage and onions for few minutes; once the cabbage is softened and golden, add in the black pepper, ground caraway seeds and the pinch of salt, and stir to combine; next, stir in the garlic, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the cup of lager, and stir the mixture to combine; allow the beer to slightly reduce for about 3 minutes or so; next, add in the cubed potatoes and the hot chicken stock, stir, and allow the mixture to come to the boil; once it comes to the boil, place a lid on (slightly askew to allow just a little steam to escape), and reduce the heat to low to gently simmer the stew for about 40 minutes; after the 40 minutes, turn the heat off, and finish the stew by stirring in the apple cider vinegar and the chopped parsley (add more salt if necessary, too).
-Serve in large bowls with some hearty, rye bread or rustic rolls with butter or cream cheese.