Katharina Hagena has set The Taste of Apple Seeds in a rural corner of northwest Germany, in the fictional farming village of Bootshaven. Geographical clues in the novel place Bootshaven in the state of Lower Saxony, in the North German plain region south of Hamburg and north of Bremen. It's a terrain not unlike the low-lying plains of neighboring Holland. The land is flat and fertile, with sand beneath a layer of peaty loam. Hagena calls it a "rain-soaked" place, full of rivers, lakes, canals, locks, and millponds.
The architectural heritage of the region includes a smattering of Dutch-style windmills, one of which makes it into the book as a museum. The historic farmhouses of the region are lovely to look at and have a long pedigree, with half-timbering and thatched roofs in a style that dates back to medieval times. Hagena doesn't specify the age of Iris's house (only that it's "old"), but the kitchen has a stone floor and a door to the barn. Many antique farmhouses have been preserved, some collected in open-air museums like those to the southwest of Bremen, in Walsrode and Hanover.
Lower Saxony gets its name from the Saxons, and the local dialect (Low Saxon or Low German also spoken in the northeastern Netherlands) is a direct descendant of Old Saxon. During the middle ages, the guilds and towns of the region were closely allied with their Northern European trading partners through the Hanseatic league, a confederation of free cities in what is now Northern Germany and surrounding areas; formed in 1241 and ending in 1669. There is also a regional connection to the royal lineage of the United Kingdom – George, Duke of Hanover, became George I of Great Britain and Ireland in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne. Although there were somewhere in the region of 50 relatives closer to Anne than he, he inherited because the rest were Catholics who were prohibited by law from ruling. The Hanoverian line ended with Queen Victoria as, on her marriage to German Prince Albert, it was agreed that their descendants would carry Albert's name - and thus began the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha lineage, who were expediently renamed the House of Windsor during World War I.
The Taste of Apple Seeds sticks close to the land, exploring rural meadows and copses and taking dips in the lock. Just south of the Elbe River lies the region of Altes Land, famous for its fruit orchards and its apples in particular. Hagena's farmhouse garden is well stocked with Northern European fruit currants, gooseberries, elderberries, and black cherries. Red berry pudding with vanilla sauce would be a good thing to make with all that fruit (find the recipe here.) It would go well with the butterkuchen served in the book, a flat buttery cake topped with sugar and sliced almonds. Other regional specialties include kohl und pinkel (a curly kale and sausage salad) and delicate white asparagus. To drink are the indigenous beers, of course, and berry liqueurs. And there are the simple, unadorned apples. The Boskoop (or "Belle de Boskoop") mentioned in the book is an old Dutch variety, a delicious cooking apple and a good keeper. And in case you are wondering, apple seeds do taste like marzipan and they do not contain arsenic as some believe. It's cyanide (or amygdalin, a cyanide-containing compound). You'd have to eat a prodigious quantity of pips, however, to poison yourself.
This article is from the March 5, 2014 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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