A Toast to Oktoberfest

Munich’s Oktoberfest is the world’s largest festival, a 16-day family fun fair running from late September to the first weekend in October. Launched in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Bavaria, the festival has become an integral part of Bavarian culture. Munich’s Oktoberfest is expected to attract more than 6 million people from around the world this year.

Beer, beer and more beer are just part of the festival. Roast pork and chicken, schnitzel, ham hocks, red cabbage, potato pancakes, German sausage and noodles are a few of the delectable items on the Munich Oktoberfest menu. But if you can’t make it to Munich this year, there’s no need to cry in your Lowenbrau. The beloved German fest will be celebrated all over Ohio this September and October in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Dayton, Sandusky and many other cities. As they say in Munich, Prost! (Cheers!)

Gary: While for many Oktoberfest means beer, wine is certainly also appropriate. Look for choices in the same style for both beverages and either would work. While German wines and brews are traditional, examples from other regions that fit the desired style are also proper.

The menu is on the lighter side (even the potato salad does not have mayonnaise) so look for brightly fruited wines with acidity to stand up to the preparations. Beers should also reflect this, even though the typical Oktoberfest brew is richer with spice, malt and a dry finish.

Potato Pancakes

When I was growing up in the ‘50s, potato pancakes were Friday night fare in our Roman Catholic home. This is my mother’s version. Although she was Irish, her potato pancakes were as good as any I’ve tasted at German festivals.

2–3 lbs Yukon Gold or baking potatoes, peeled

1 large egg, beaten

3 TBS flour (or more, as needed)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 TBS butter

1 TBS vegetable oil

Applesauce and sour cream

Using a box grater, shred potatoes, transferring to a bowl of cold water to keep them from turning brown. Once all the potatoes are grated, remove from water and wring potatoes dry with a dishtowel. Place in a colander to drain further, patting with a towel until dry.

 In a large bowl, combine the shredded potatoes, eggs, flour, salt and pepper until well mixed. Add more flour if mixture is too wet. It should be the consistency of pancake batter.

In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat. Spoon 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into skillet. Spread the mixture into a 4-inch round with a spatula. Repeat with remaining potato mixture. Work in batches; do not crowd pancakes. Cook the pancakes about 4 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp, turning once. Keep warm in low oven or serve immediately with applesauce and sour cream.

Serves 4.

Gary: A lovely foil for this dish with its fried style is a crisp sparkling wine with bright acidity. This whole menu screams German Riesling, so consider a Mosel or Rheinhessen Kabinett or Spätlese or one of our fine Ohio examples. A lightly sweet to dry Vouvray would also work, as would a brightly fruited Verdejo. For the beer a Pilsener or wheat beer would pair nicely, as would a Lambic, a traditional Belgian ale with wine-like overtones from using indigenous yeast in the ferment.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

For a different version, add diced bacon and apple with the onion, or try a bit of butter with the olive oil. This is a great make-ahead dish because it’s truly best reheated.

1 lb red cabbage, cored and shredded

1 Vidalia onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp sugar

1 TBS olive oil

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup cider vinegar (more if needed)

1/8 cup dry red wine

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat olive oil (and butter, if using) over medium heat. Sauté onion and sugar until onion is soft. Add cabbage, stirring to coat with olive oil. Add stock, cloves, allspice and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer until cabbage is tender, about 40 minutes. Add vinegar, red wine, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Taste. If not tart enough, add more vinegar.

Serves 4.

Gary: Classic pairing with cabbage is a richer white with firm acidity. A dry Riesling from Germany or Alsace would be able to stand up to the vinegar and astringency of the cabbage as would a dry Vouvray. A dry sparkler would also be a great pairing. Consider trying an Alsatian Pinot Gris with this course. For beer a refreshing lager such as a Pilsener, Dortmunder, Helles or Münchener would be good, as would be a richer, maltier beer such as an Oktoberfest.

German Potato Salad

Not a science, but a perfect base recipe for an out-of-this-world potato salad. Play with it; you’ll get to the version your family adores. The potatoes should be diced slightly larger than the veggies for the best flavor-per-forkful. Garnish with crisp bacon bits, if desired.

5 lbs red potatoes, cooked, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, diced small

1 cucumber, peeled and diced small

1 sweet red onion, minced, soaked in cold water and drained

Salt and pepper

Vegetable oil, to coat

Butter lettuce


1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup cider vinegar


2/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup sugar (or to taste)

1/3 cup cider vinegar

In a large bowl, pour vegetable oil over hot, peeled, diced potatoes. Stir in celery, cucumber, red onion, salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, make a slurry of sugar and vinegar. Pour over potatoes and mix gently. Break up butter lettuce into bite-sized pieces and toss into salad. Just before serving, combine dressing ingredients and pour dressing over salad. Garnish with paprika.

Serves 6-8.

Gary: With the richness of the dish, the salt in the bacon and the high level of vinegar and sugar, look for a wine with good acidity; a Riesling from Germany or Washington State, or a Vouvray. If you moderate the sugar in the dressing, a Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay or a crisp white Rhône would work well. For brews try a richer lager style from Germany, Bavaria, Czechoslovakia or other regions. An India Pale Ale could also work for those who love the hop bitterness.

For more information on Oktoberfest celebrations, visit www.ohio.org.


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