I don’t know why I am preoccupied with Lent and Carnival this year. Maybe it’s reading John Lanchester’s brilliant book about the banking crisis, “I.O.U.,” or today’s news that 702 banks run the risk of collapse. Thinking about Carnival and Lent provides a pleasant distraction from the true forces that shape our lives. Banks, not God, I mean.
For example, a friend writes today from Basel, Switzerland, that his city’s Carnival or Fasnacht is in full swing. That got me to thinking: Why is that? Wasn’t Carnival last week? Isn’t it nearly a week since Ash Wednesday?
This is the Protestant Carnival, he explained. Of course.
Wow, so a family where one spouse is Catholic and the other Protestant could, theoretically, have two weeks of Carnival! (Unless the Catholic spouse objects to the second Carnival, which falls under his or her Lent.)
What does this have to do with food one may well ask?
Here’s the answer:
At Swiss carnival, debauchery is the rule, expedited by consuming great amounts of wine. Basel hosts the country’s largest Carnival: Three days of abandon, anonymous and inappropriate behavior, and pounding headaches. In dialect, they refer to this period as: de drey scheenschte dääge, which means, “The three best days of the year.” That kind of worried me: I mean, if these are the three best days, the other 362 must be awful.
Anyway, the #1 food item during Fasnacht is Mehlsuppe. This is a hardy, satisfying, easy to prepare soup that seems designed to combat the shakes.
You melt three tablespoons of butter, brown four tablespoons of flour, add one chopped onion and saute until golden, add four cups of water and two cups of beef broth and simmer for about 45 minutes. Finally, add salt, pepper, marjoram, and nutmeg to taste. Pour into bowls and put some grated Sbrinz cheese on top. Eat with good bread.
As the Swiss say, En guete! Meaning, Bon appetit!
Basel carnival mask: