Philadelphia’ s German heritage goes way back to William Penn himself, who travelled extensively in Germany, openly soliciting settlers to his new colony. Between 1683 and 1783, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated here, many to a village of farmers, artisans, craftfolk, and religious pilgrims called Germantown, which at the time included our little hamlet The Falls of Schuylkill.
The Queen Lane reservoir used to be a German rifle club called “Schuetzen Park” that formed a hub for German men, women, and kids to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, socializing.
Every spring & fall they’d throw a big festival celebrating German food, beer, and community. When you invite family & friends over to your “Oktoberfest” party, you follow in this local tradition of pride & conviviality.
What better excuse to drink & eat like a German this fall? The good news is we’re about a half-hour’s drive to the most authentic Bavarian spread outside of Munich. And nope, it’s not famous Rieker’s in the NE but a best-kept-secret from my home turf of Delaware County.
Karsten Haigis is a big lovable German who moved here in 2009 to bake bread and make good food, which is what his family’s been doing since the 1700’s. No lie: Karsten grew up in Rottweil (“like the doggies”) — a small town in rural Southern Germany where his family started in the food biz 350+ years ago.
Karsten’s great-great-great-etc grandfather owned a mill in their town, and his grandmother ran the village “Backhaus” (a big communal oven for villagers to bake their day’s bread). The Backhaus remained a family enterprise until 1976, when the last grandmother running it died at age 91
Karsten’s bakery/prepared food stall in the West Chester Artisan Exchange (a kind of upscale farmer’s market) grew so big, this year he opened a tidy little shop in Newtown Square, right off Route 3 a few miles after City Ave.
“Everything we sell is what I like and how I like it made,” he’ll tell you. And he rotates his menu seasonally, seeking out the best ingredients from farms in Chester & Lancaster Counties.
Read his blog or spend any time with him, and it’s clear he’s serious – even a little fanatical – about using natural ingredients and treating them with respect. When he talks about food, he seems to have a lot of rules, eg: strudel dough should be thin enough to read a newspaper through it, and: if you use butter to make pretzels then they’re “bretzels.”
Here’s a good one: sauerkraut has no place on a Bavarian menu this time of year – what?! Apparently, that’s a winter thing. “If you ask for sauerkraut at Oktoberfest in Munich, they will shoot you!” Karsten joked when we called him about the menu for Castle Ringstetten last month.
He told us cabbage in Southern German is harvested in early fall, then it needs 6 weeks to “get sour” (ferment), which knocks it out of Oktoberfest season.
Which, btw, is technically September, not October. Confused? No worries! Karsten’s an encyclopedia of German culture, bursting with joy and enthusiasm for feeding people his most beloved foods. This October, treat yourself and your Geliebte to Karsten’s faithful Old World specialties. And mark your calendar: his Christmas cookies are da bomb!
THANK YOU, KARSTEN!! For treating us to an amazing lunch when we visited his shop, and then bringing some truly bangin’ Bavarian to East Falls Oktoberfest this September.
Haigis Fine Foods
German Bakery, Delicatessen & Catering
5056 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square (about 30 mins drive from East Falls)
Follow Karsten on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram
PS. Apparently, we’ve all been holding pretzels upside down…