One thing I really like about growing up in my small town in the Northern Alps, is that we have many traditions linked to events throughout the year. Passing down these traditions over time hasn’t been hard, as most families have lived in my area not just for generations, but centuries. In fact, my father’s family dates back to the valley to the early 1600 – we were called da Lacco back then. So yes, it looks like I have broken with traditions by moving away. That notwithstanding, I continue to cherish many of the habits that I have grown accustomed to living in my town. One of them is celebrating Fasching, meaning Carnival, which in our area starts with today, Fat Thursday and runs all the way to Fat Tuesday, better known as Mardi Gras here in the U.S. While there are many things we do every year during Fasching, there is one tradition that is quite unique to my valley, I believe, and it involves a pot of panicia, or barley soup. Come and cook with us!
I’m not quite sure where this tradition stems from, but most likely it has to do with the historic scarcity of food in the valley. Think about a time when all the food that you ate, came from your work in the fields. Combine that with the fact that most of the ground is covered with snow for about half the year, and that hardly any surfaces are flat, given the steep mountains that surround us. So you make every food count, and besides the vegetables and grains you grow, you have to slaughter an animal to get access to meat.
This specific soup that is made on Fat Thursday is based on barley, one of the hardier grains historically grown in the valley. The soup also features a piece of smoked pork, called Selchkarree in German which made it a valuable item for those who want to play a trick on you. The tradition stands to this day, where many would make a pot of barley soup and some would try to steal it. Mind you, this isn’t such a hard thing to do, as the soup needs to simmer for about two hours on the stove, giving your sly neighbor or friend plenty of time to sneak into your kitchen and make a run for it, pot in hand. A cherry on the cake is if you manage to invite your pot-less friend back to your house, offering them a delicious, if not familiar, bowl of barley soup.
But enough about history, let’s get to the facts. The soup is very easy to make. The only really tricky part of it is that it has to cook for a while to reach its full creaminess, particularly if the barley used ins’t pearled, which means that the outer husk has been removed. It is an ideal dish for a crock-pot or a simmering heavy soup pot on the stove. I don’t recommend leaving the latter unattended, not because I think your neighbor has set an eye on it, but rather, I don’t want you to be met by a fire-fighter in your kitchen. Give it a try and let us know what you think. Come and cook with us!