Let Them Eat – Elk?

Tradition is a fine thing. I’ve hung on to Thanksgiving even though I live overseas. Actually, I hang onto the holiday probably because I live overseas. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.

The Annual Eating of the Elk tastes as good as it looks

Our traditions include what I grandly call The Annual Eating of the Elk. The Germans involved in this ritual just refer to it as Elchessen, or the Elk Meal. Whatever.

For years, the Spousal Unit spent two weeks out of every single December, January, February and March up in northern Sweden. The Artic Circle in the dead of winter doesn’t offer much in the way of culinary pleasures. The highlights were these:

  • Going out for pizza in a pizza parlor run by two Iranian refugees who had fled SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and ended up staying. The pizza was meh but every order came with a free dish of cabbage cole slaw. Because cole slaw is traditional? Because cole slaw is Italian? Because cole slaw provides a desperately needed source of Vitamin C?
  • Fresh reindeer blood, available by the vat in the local grocery store (say Yum everyone!)
  • White bread that is sweetened
  • Smoked salmon
  • Rumps of elk

It became tradition that my husband and his colleagues always packed German bread and bottles of whiskey in their suitcases before they flew north. Because alcohol is expensive in Sweden, and nights up there are reeeeeally long.

It became tradition that the engineers returned home with packages of elk roasts.

Thorsten, Spousal Unit, Konrad and Gerhard all used to work in Sweden. Only Gerhard still does that gig: he’s now responsible for bringing back the elk. Eventually, this evolved into an on-going 20+ year (!) tradition that Thorsten cooks an entire elk dinner for the engineers and their mates Bettina, Heike, and yours truly. *

It’s almost impossible to find a common weekend free when you’re trying to get a group of Germans together. Those 6 weeks of vacation time they’re famous for getting? Germans take every single minute of that time. Good luck coordinating 7 people’s schedules and pinning down a night when everyone’s available to meet for a dinner. We still talk about the year we ended up eating elk roast in August. It was the hottest day of the summer and over 90° in the apartment. (Thorsten’s kitchen had heated to way over 100°.) The heavy meal and accompanying heavy red wines were deadly.

But, Tradition muss sein.

Thorsten has it down to a culinary science, an art form. He marinates the elk in red wine and spices for days. Then he puts it in the oven to roast until it shrinks to about half the original size. Thorsten serves it with gravy, homemade Knödel and cooked red cabbage.

I asked Thorsten for his recipe and have translated it  for you here, just in case you have 5 pounds of elk roast hanging around in your freezer.

You’re welcome.

20 Semmelknödel

20 Teile Baguette (ein Teil etwa so gross wie ein kleines Brötchen) abschneiden. Brot in kleine Würfel schneiden. In warmer Milch einweichen. 5 Eier dazugeben, ebenso 250 Gramm gewürfelten und angebratenen Speck. Ebenfalls 2 klein geschnittene und angebratene Zwiebeln dazugeben. 2 Bund Petersilie kleinschneiden und dazugeben, salzen und Muskatnuss reinreiben. Die Masse gut durchmengen bis ein homogener Teig entsteht. Falls die Masse zu trocken ist Milch dazugeben (Teig muss gut durchgezogen sein).

Tennisball grosse Knödel formen und 20 Minuten in Salzwasser ziehen lassen.

Wer keine Zeit hat kann die Petersilie schon fertig geschnitten aus der Tiefkühltruhe nehmen. Ich nehme immer 2 Becher a 40 Gramm.

20 Bread Dumplings

Cut about 20 small bread rolls into small pieces. Soak bread in warm milk. Add 5 eggs and 250 grams of diced, fried bacon. Add two small diced, sautéed onions. Add 2 bunches of chopped parsley, salt, and grated nutmeg. Mix the dough well; add more milk if too dry. Make 20 big dumplings the size of tennis balls and cook them in simmering saltwater for 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time or can’t find fresh parsley, use 2 packets of frozen parlsey.


This was only Round One. We always go back for seconds

2 kg Elch

2 Beutel Sauerbratengewürz anrösten und mit 2l Rotwein ablöschen. Kurz aufkochen lassen, Beize abkühlen lassen und Elch für 4 Tage einlegen.

Elch abtrocknen, salzen und von jeder Seite 1 Minute scharf anbraten. Fleisch aus Bräter herausnehmen. Wurzelgemüse und Tomatenmark im Bräter anrösten. Rotwein-Beize dazugeben und aufkochen lassen. 8 Teelöffel gekörnte Brühe dazugeben. Bräter in den auf 180 Grad vorgeheizten Backofen geben und Fleisch ca. 2 Stunden schmoren lassen. Fleisch herausnehmen, Flüssigkeit durch ein Sieb in einen Topf abgiessen. Sosse etwas einkochen lassen mit braunem Sossenbinder zur gewünschten Konsistenz abbinden. Zum Schluss 150 Gramm crème fraiche unterrühren.

4-5 Pound Elk Roast

Roast two packs of Sauerbraten spices and add 2 liters of red wine (a bottle of red wine is ¾ of a liter). Let the marinade cool and then marinate 4.5 – 5 pounds of elk in it for 4 days.

Remove and dry the meat, salt it all over, and sautée in oil 1 minute per side. Roast some root vegetables and tomato paste; add the marinade and let the mixture come to a boil. Add 8 tablespoons of broth concentrate. Place roasting pan with elk in sauce in a 180° C (375° Fahrenheit) oven and cook for 2 hours.

Remove the elk. Purée the sauce or pour it through a sieve. Cook down the sauce to your desired consistency; add corn starch if needed. Before serving, stir in 150 grams of crème fraiche.


If you make the same dish for the same people for enough decades, one of two things will happen. You become the Master of the Meal known as The Annual Eating of the Elk.

Or you order take-out pizza from the 2 Iranian guys.

NOTES: *Not their real names. All other details are accurate. Got to the following posts for related foolishness: It was a Bitterly Cold -22°, My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies, The Rose Colored Windows that Weren’t, Christmas Markets © Jadi Campbell 2019. Photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

The Art of Food

Two weeks ago, I posted about crispy fried big black hairy spiders. I admit it…. I had fun thinking about grossing you out.

Believe me, when I saw the size of those buggers that day at the rest stop, I wasn’t just grossed out. I was really, really happy that they were behind glass.

I felt bad (okay, only slightly) for scaring the small children and grown men in my reading audience. So this week, I’m bringing you another food post, but in the opposite direction: Food as Art.

Uwe and I just made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League [1], these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.

Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India [2]. Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.

A starter with local smoked salmon

We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish,

A different restaurant’s smoked salmon with trout cavier, accompanied by rolled slices of cucumber
… and a third restaurant’s smoked salmon appetizer. Art on a plate
Traditional beet borscht soup, updated with yellow lentils and pieces of elk meat that melted in my mouth

local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….

First course of wild mushrooms sauteéd and served in spinach blini purses

Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!

Lamb marinated in juniper berries served with yellow beetroot cream, cranberries and barley
Fresh fish with beet root puree and kale (out of all the meals we ate, the kale was the one item that was not perfect)
Venison stew with roasted onion halves
Beef with sweet pepper-eggplant-onion millet squares, oyster mushrooms, water cress and johnny-jump-ups

A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! [3]

Hibiscus poached pear, pumpkin seeds in apple syrup, and raspberry sorbet

NOTES: [1] The Hanseatic League controlled all shipping and commerce across the Baltic Sea and northern Europe to Russia. Riga and Tallinn (then known as Reval) were member cities. [2] Go to my earlier post My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies for more on bread. [3] Latvian and Estonian for bon appetít. As always, I receive no favors for mentioning these establishments. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann 2017. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.