Simple Tyrolean food served at mountainside farmhouses
Our dirndl-clad hostess gently shooed away some curious cows before she took our order at the little brown-shingled, chalet- style restaurant perched halfway up the Austrian Alps. The cows complied, their heavy copper bells clanging in protest.
There are just two ways to reach the Seidl Alm restaurant above the town of Kitzbuhel.
In summer, you can hike there, a trek over lush meadows dotted with Alpine roses and gentle beige and white cows. At other times of the year, you can simply push off down the mountain and ski your way in.
Because it was summer, my traveling companions and I went on foot, arriving in time to eat an outdoor lunch as we overlooked the blue-shadowed slopes that rise from the deep valley below.
After the amusing delay with the cows from their nearby grazing land, we were served a lunch of thick green pea soup and sausage, veal deliciously paired with tart lingonberry preserves; crusty brown bread; and fresh rhubarb cake topped with a goassamer coating of egg white, sugar, and ground hazelnuts.
Several times during the meal I refilled my glass at a spigot gurgling with cold, sparkling water from an Alpine spring.
Such delightful dining experiences are an integral part of visiting the Austrian province of Tyrol, a picture-book region of narrow little valleys and towering peaks, where even the remotest mountain outposts serve up simple and delicious fare that makes exploring the region all the more fun.
Almost every house, whether on a farm or not, has an immaculately kept vegetable and herb garden, accounting for the fact that many dishes arrive at your table garnished with liberal amounts of fresh parsley, dill, or chives.
Dairy farmers produce cheeses similar to those found in nearby Switzerland, particularly Gruyere or Emmentaler. But they also turn out some distinctive variations, most notably the pungent gray-veined Graukase.
So it is little wonder that the hikers stop for lunch at the mountainside farmhouses, coming away with hunks of cheese and crusty, fresh bread.
One of the most typical meat dishes likely to be found on a Tyrolean farmhouse table is Grostl, a savory concoction not unlike American roast beef hash.
Breads in Tyrol come in all sizes and kinds from the crisp white breakfast rolls, to hearty wheat and rye rolls, to the delicious loaves of brown bread studded with fennel seeds, which lend a hint of licorice flavor.
Most distinctive is Schuttelbrot, a ''shaken bread,'' a 12-inch flat, circular loaf.
As everywhere in Austria, desserts are plentiful and delicious. A specialty at Nattererboden, a country inn near Innsbruck, are elderberry fritters, made of elderberry blossoms dipped in a thin crepe batter and deep-fried.
But the single most important item in Tyrolean cookery is the knodel, or dumpling, a food that is to the region what rice is to Japan.
A popular main dish is Speckknodel, a bread dumpling studded with diced bacon and other smoked pork, served with sauerkraut.
The best way to enjoy this last dish, my traveling companions and I discovered, is to have it midway during a hike along the ridge of Penken Mountain above the town of Mayrhofen in the spectacular Ziller Valley.
Surrounded by vistas of snow-capped Alpine peaks, a little restaurant called Vroni's Ski Alm served us the quintessential Tyrolean lunch. After a first course of liver dumpling soup, came plates heaped with sauerkraut and the red-speckled bacon dumplings.
The biggest surprise to my palate was not the dumplings, good as they were, but the sauerkraut, a delicately flavored variety that is quite different from the briny stuff commonly served in the United States.
This wonderful taste comes from the preparation for it is carefully rinsed; cooked in a roux of butter and flour; and flavored with bay leaf, nutmeg, and a few juniper berries.
In Mayrhofen that evening we not only sampled more farmhouse-style cooking, but did so this time in an authentic Tyrolean farmhouse. We were served Kasespatzle, bits of pasta simmered in a blend of cheeses and onions and topped with chives.
We left, musing on the fact that whether Tyrolean food is served in a farmhouse or high on an Alpine meadow, it is a delightful complement to the region's history, beauty, and charm.
The following recipe is one of the typical dishes you can expect to find during a visit to Tyrol. Tyrolean Bacon Dumplings (Tiroler Speckknodel) 1 large onion, chopped 7 ounces salami, chopped 7 ounces bacon, chopped 10 white rolls 4 eggs Pinch of salt Pinch of marjoram Milk and flour as required
Fry onion, bacon, and salami together and put aside. Cut rolls into small cubes, mix with eggs and add meat, onion, and marjoram. If necessary add a little milk and flour to bind it and mix it all well. Chill for two hours to stiffen.
With floured hands, shape mixture into dumplings and cook slowly in boiling salted water until they rise, about 15 minutes. Serve with sauerkraut.