You don’t know how good buttermilk tastes until you have climbed a mile up a mountainside on a hot day. Despite our lack of hiking shoes, a friend and I had decided to see what Bad Reichenhall, Germany, looked like from Austria. It was 1965 and we were studying conversational German in that small German city. We crossed a footbridge over the creek that marked the border and started up the mountain.
It was an easy walk through open space on the edge of town. There were no signs, fences or guards, but once we had walked over the footbridge, we felt like world travelers. To be honest, Austria was pretty much like Germany, but it was the fourth country I had set foot in, the first three being the USA, Canada and Germany.
While there were no guards, there was someone watching us from a spot several hundred feet above us near a small building in the pasture. We began wondering if it was really wise to walk in someone else’s pasture without permission and briefly considered making a run for it back to the safety of the city. But we were young and confident that we could talk our way through any problem.
Though we were perhaps a bit too confident in our conversational German, we did manage to explain to the old lady overseeing her cows that we were American students at the Goethe Institute who just wanted to enjoy the view of the city from her beautiful pasture. She smiled and told us that we were welcome.
She could see that we were hot and thirsty and asked us if we would like “ein Becher Buttermilch” (a cup of buttermilk). We both said we would. She stood up from the bench she was sitting on, wiped her hands on her apron and went into the shed which we recognized as a spring house. A minute later she came out with two stoneware mugs that must have held a pint each.
How generous of her, we thought, until she said, “Funfzig Pfennig jedes” (fifty cents each). We would have paid more. The buttermilk was cold and delicious, with little bits of butter floating in it. It was so good, in fact, that we made the climb twice more over the next month and had a chance to learn a little about her. Among other things, we learned that she sold her buttermilk to lots of hikers and her butter to a shopkeeper in Salzburg.
Today much of the pasture is covered with a housing development, and hikers who want a glass of buttermilk need to find a different lady on a mountainside.
There are, of course, a few people who say that they don’t like buttermilk. Here is a way to overcome that prejudice. A student from Texas introduced Jerri to this recipe when she was a house fellow in Slichter Hall at the University of Wisconsin. It sounds odd, but it is delicious and refreshing. Here’s what you do.
Put two scoops of sherbet in a tall glass. Add ice cold buttermilk. Stir gently with an iced tea spoon. Enjoy like a root beer float with less sugar.
NOTES: Orange and raspberry sherbets are our favorites, but you can use any flavor you like. As an option, serve a scoop of sherbet covered with three or four tablespoons of buttermilk for a light dessert.