Food causes involuntary time travel sometimes. When an ingredient or aroma instantaneously transports you to a cherished time and place a slow smile plays on your lips and you salivate slightly. Have you ever experienced sudden food memory? It’s like muscle memory for your mouth and it can stop you in your tracks as your mind recalls the marinating memory from many moons ago.
I time traveled this week while walking through the 14th street Trader Joe’s. I came across an amaranthine array of fresh raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries and memories of rote grütze with vanilla sauce (rote grütze mit vanillesoße) were pulled effortlessly from 2010 and brought to the forefront of my mind. Standing before the scarlet spectrum my mouth watered and I knew that I had to make this classic German fruit dessert.
Rote grütze is a traditional German fruit dessert that literally translates to red grits. Made with fresh red berries, rote grütze typically calls for raspberries, currants, strawberries, sour cherries, and other red berries typically found in Germany like johannisbeeren. Many people use blueberries, black currants, and blackberries adding some rich purple hues to this traditionally ruby red dessert. Typically made in summertime, Rote grütze is a great flexible recipe that can be made with what you have on hand or what is available in stores. Plump raspberries and blackberries were in beautiful abundance so I chose to use only those two berries this time, but you can make rote grütze with any combination of berries.
Rote grütze falls into the comfort food category for me and it brings back fond memories of my time in Germany and all the wonderful people I met and the family recipes I tasted. My favorite way to enjoy rote grütze is with a warm vanilla custard sauce drizzled on top just like the Allendorffs did each time they lovingly made their family recipe. I can still hear Sybille’s gentle German-accented English shooing her family away from the stove as they lingered nearby with brimming bowls of chilled rote grütze eagerly waiting for her classic vanilla sauce to thicken. Sybille stood smiling over the stove, the room was perfumed with warm vanilla, and the feeling of home and comfort were in each spoonful of her homemade rote grütze.
Rote Grütze with Vanilla Sauce (Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße)
2 lbs berries of your choice fresh or frozen
2 cups (500 ml) water, red wine or red fruit juice OR 1 ¾ cup of wine, water or juice and ¼ cup fruit brandy or orange liqueur
3 tbsp corn starch
3 tbsp water
½ cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 vanilla bean
Vanilla Custard Sauce (Vanillesoße)
3 Egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (sugar mixed with the scraped vanilla bean)
1 tbsp corn starch
1½ cups whole milk
Rote grütze is made with an array of fresh (or even frozen) berries based on what is in season and the quality of what you can find. Just make sure the combination of berries weighs around 2 pounds or a little extra if it’s a kilogram (2.2 pounds). Just because I only used raspberries and blackberries this time doesn’t mean that’s all you should use! Cherries, strawberries, raspberries, red and black currants, blackberries, and blueberries can all be used in rote grütze. Wash and pit all fruit and cherries thoroughly.
As for the liquid used you can use just water, red fruit juices, or red wine if you like. If you are going to use wine try a fruit forward wine; avoid tannic, dry, and oaky wines. I used Layer Cake Primitivo (zinfandel) but a Garnacha, Gamay, Merlot, fruity Cabernet or Shiraz are great options. If you are using fruit brandy or liqueur use only a ¼ cup of each as part of the 2 cups and use wine, juice, or water for the rest of the liquid. A fruit brandy made of red fruits would complement this well, or an orange flavored liqueur like Grand Marnier could work wonderfully in rote grütze. Remember cooking and creating things in the kitchen is supposed to be fun. The ingredients listed in a recipe shouldn’t discourage or restrict if you don’t have them. While I might list ingredients for recipes, the fun part is using what you have to make something delicious and unique.
Bring the 2 cups of liquid of your choice to boil. You can use a combination of wine, red currant juice, cherry juice (even cranberry juice would work here), and brandy or liqueurs. In a small separate bowl blend the 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with the 3 tablespoons of water till smooth. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the boiling wine and juice. Add the fruit to the hot wine and remove from heat. Sprinkle the fruit with the sugar and fold into the hot wine. Remove the fruit from heat and allow it to cool. (I tossed in a scraped vanilla bean to add some flavor. I saved the vanilla flecks for the vanilla sauce.)You do not need to “cook” the fruit per se- the berries will become soft and pudding-like as they cool in the hot liquid. Once cooled at room temperature place the rote grütze in the refrigerator and allow it to cool overnight. When you are ready to serve the dish make the vanilla sauce.
Scrape the sticky black vanilla specks from the inside of the vanilla bean. Mix this with 2 tablespoons of the sugar to create vanilla sugar. In Germany vanilla sugar is something sold in grocery stores, so this is my version. Keep the vanilla bean to perfume the vanilla sauce. Mix the egg yolk, both sugars, and corn starch until smooth. Slowly whisk the milk together. Heat the custard in a saucepan on med-low with the scraped vanilla bean until it thickens. Do not allow the sauce to boil and remember to stir consistently. It might look liquidy on top but it can thicken on the bottom and cook the custard! When thickened to your liking (this usually takes around 15 minutes) serve immediately over the rote grütze. If the sauce becomes too thick add a little more milk. Rote grütze is best enjoyed chilled topped with warm vanilla sauce drizzled on top.