The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne Sosse.
The making and eating of it represents an occasion and is much appreciated by all. For good reason too, as it is simply delicious. A mixture of finely chopped, seasonal herbs (borage, sorrel, cress, chervil, chives, parsley, and salad burnet – which lend the wonderful colour and flavour), hard-boiled eggs, oil, vinegar, salt, and sour cream, the sauce is served cold alongside peeled, boiled potatoes. The eggs are chopped up so that cooked yolks crumble into the sumptuous sauce. Despite the cream and egg, the herbs give the dish a beautiful freshness, quite fitting for the time of year.
Traditionally it is eaten on Maundy Thursday (or Gründonnerstag, as it’s known in Germany), but I’ve seen it eaten on any of the Easter days, and even made specially for family occasions which happen to be close to Easter. (My mother-in-law has promised to bring Grüne Sosse with her when they visit in early May.) Around Easter time in Hessen, shops and markets stock bundles of the necessary herbs, neatly tied with an elastic band, ready to be chopped up and mixed at home. Try and buy a similar bundle of herbs in Berlin and you’re likely to be disappointed – even in the best of the Bioladens. And if you do find somewhere that stocks them, you’ll soon discover that they quickly sell out. There are enough Hesse expats wanting to stick to Easter tradition.
I’ve attempted versions of Grüne Sosse myself – using as many of the herbs as I’ve been able to lay my hands on wherever we’ve been living, and adding in a spot of dill and some extra parsley to make up for what is not there. When we still lived in London I remember clearing out the herb section of our local Waitrose supermarket one Easter and then spending hours chopping with our ineffective kitchen knife (true to London – our postage-stamp-sized kitchen allowed no space for something fancy like a food processor). The results were certainly not displeasing, but any loyal Hesse would probably say they could taste the lack of the full Grüne Sosse herb palate. Rather princess and the pea-like of them if you ask me, but perhaps years of true Grüne Sosse eating has trained their taste buds for perfection.