COLUMN: Celebrating in the Wundergarten – Dear garden giant pretzels

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“Cullman Willkommen Dog” sign created by Leldon Maxcy of Leldon’s in the Cullman Warehouse District (Ben Johnson South)

What Cullman needs now is love, sweet love…and a DEAR GARDEN. This would be a gathering place embracing things we hold dear: tradition plus innovation (high-tech wi-fi and low-tech conversation with eye contact), family (newborns to “near angels”), heritage (the distinctiveness of once being a German colony in the American South), “Willkommen hospitality” (a wild embrace of nature blending indoor and outdoor spaces, passionate storytelling and music), and all of this created for the pleasure of those who work hard and deserve to play hard.

DEAR GARDEN is admittedly a foreign-sounding idea to gardeners who aren’t charmed by the four-legged deer in our gardens. Deer dearly love to prance through the petunias and hoover everything like a hungry teen at all-you-can buffet. The DEAR GARDEN I have in mind was inspired by those very German, populist pleasure palaces—zee biergarten.

A Cullman DEAR GARDEN could sell beer, but it wouldn’t be the “raison d’etre,” nor really be essential. Remember when Cullman was all braggish about hosting “The World’s Largest ‘NO ALCOHOL’ Oktoberfest?” This was during those years when Cullman was known as “The Wettest Dry County in the State.” I’m walking on German pickled eggs, here.

Carrigan’s Beer Garden in the Lakeview Entertainment District in Birmingham is what got me dreaming of a DEAR GARDEN for Cullman. I bopped in with my family last Friday. Immediately, I was convinced—a family friendly and fur-baby-friendly place like this could be an immediate winner in Cullman County. Matt Kinsland, newly appointed director of Cullman County Economic Development, please gather your wife and baby, Grover, and your favorite “truck dog” and enjoy Carrigan’s Beer Garden on an exploratory mission. I’ll treat you to a co-cola or cold beer to toast your recent promotion.

Half of Carrigan’s Beer Garden is indoors. The décor has a smattering of German vibe with dark woods, a large, stone fireplace and a display case with lederhosen, a cuckoo clock and now a “Cullman Willkommen Dog” sign created by Leldon Maxcy of Leldon’s in the Cullman Warehouse District.

The other half of Carrigan’s Beer Garden is a huge, outdoor garden planted with magical trees and blooming wisteria vines. This “biergarten” has the feeling of Brothers Grimm meets Frau Ruehl’s farm haus in “WUNDERGARTEN,” the folktale I set in Cullman County in the 1870s.

The entire place, indoors and out, has a lively, happy tone with lots of people showing off their human babies and their puppies. Carrigan’s Beer Garden has a great selection of German and other beers. I didn’t see Cullman-brewed Goat Island Beer on the menu (they must not have met uber-charming John Dean yet), so I started with a craft beer and their delish Giant Bavarian Pretzel and a mustard-dipping sauce that would make Frau Ruehl, the heroine of “WUNDERGARTEN,” so proud she’d burst her dirndl.

DEAR GARDEN, like Carrigan’s Beer Garden, would be a relaxed place, perfect for sharing lots of tasty treats. At Carrigan’s, after the Giant Bavarian Pretzel, we dined on a splendid chicken schnitzel, the popular Brats Pups and a dish of meatball sliders. Some of the American gastropub items come from the menu at Carrigan’s Pub in downtown Birmingham, but many of the food choices are German inspired.

Brock Owens, the general manager of Carrigan’s Beer Garden, and one of Birmingham’s favorite, seasoned hosts, is the ideal model for a manager of a DEAR GARDEN. Owens is willkommen-ing, attentive, smiling, sincere and efficient. He is equally comfortable greeting swanky, women bankers and hard-working dads who are lugging a baby on their hip. Owens has successfully recruited and trained a capable stable of hospitality heroes and heroines. Food and drink orders are done with high-tech modernity, but the pleasant service is genuinely warm and hospitable.

DEAR GARDEN could do well with these choices inspired by Carrigan’s Beer Garden:

GIANT BAVARIAN PRETZEL—huge, freshly baked pretzel with beer cheese dip and house made mustard

CHICKEN SCHNITZEL—tenderized breaded chicken, brown butter lemon caper sauce

BRAT PUPS and BEER CHEESE—six mini-corndogs with dip

CURRYWURST—bratwurst with tomato curry (this dish is very popular in German cafes)

FRIED BRUSSELS & CAULIFLOWER—with onion, romesco, dukkah

LOADED TOTS—golden fried potato tots with Greek dog sauce or beer cheese sauce

BRATWURST—cheddar-jalapeño bratwurst, kraut and house mustard

HOUSE MADE ICE CREAM & STREUSEL—bourbon-braised apples with cinnamon lemon streusel

DEAR GARDENS, the German ones that sell beer, originated in Munich, Germany (Bavaria) in 1812 when King Maximillian allowed brewers to serve beer outdoors from their cooling cellars, though no food other than bread. Beer gardens were typically attached to cafes and restaurants.

“WUNDERGARTEN,” the folktale I set in late-19th century Cullman County, concludes with a garden party hosted by the area’s founder, Colonel John Cullman and the fictional folk heroine, Frau Ruehl. They would have known of the popular “biergartens” of Munich, and like that town in the south of Germany, those partying beneath Alabama sunshine would welcome something to slake their thirst under the cool canopy of shade trees.

CELEBRATING IN THE WUNDERGARTEN—This storytelling culinary series imagines tasty, traditional foods from the recipe box Frau Ruehl, the widowed, farm woman of the folktale, “WUNDERGARTEN,” brought with her from Germany when she relocated to Colonial Cullman in the 1870s.

Pretzels are essential for a DEAR GARDEN or a beer garden. Pretzels, a baked pastry commonly twisted into a knot, have a religious significance among Christians. Pretzels were enjoyed in Cullman from the early days onward and are popular now. Kernel Kullman, the popcorn and snack shop in the Cullman Warehouse District, is my go-o source. www.kernelkullman.com

During the pre-Easter period of sacrifice known as Lent, commercial and home bakers in Germany were forbidden for centuries from cooking with eggs and butter. The simple combination of flour and water made pretzels a traditional, year-round treasure. The strips of dough are arranged to resemble arms crossing the chest in prayer.

Pretzel toppings today include mustard, chocolate, cinnamon, seeds and nuts. When you are at Carrigan’s Beer Garden in Birmingham, your Giant Bavarian Pretzel will come with a choice of spicy mustard and beer cheese dip, both wunderbar!

Mmm, all this talk about pretzels is making me thirsty.

DEAR GARDEN GIANT, QUICK PRETZELS

(Source: allrecipes.com)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp. white sugar
  • 5 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Coarse salt to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  2. Mix water and sugar together in a bowl until sugar is dissolved; add yeast. Let mixture stand until yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam, about 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk flour, butter and salt together in a bowl until well mixed; add yeast mixture and stir with a fork until dough starts to cling. Turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth.
  4. Cut dough into 15 equal pieces and roll each piece between your hands into rope shapes at least the thickness of a pencil. Twist dough into desired shapes and arrange on a baking sheet; brush with egg and sprinkle coarse salt over each.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until pretzels are browned and cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes.

HAPPY SPRINGTIME IN THE WUNDERGARTEN and AUF WIEDERSEHEN Y’ALL!

Find all columns in this series at www.cullmantribune.com/tag/celebrating-in-the-wundergarten.