Bamberger Rettich, Bamberger Räddich
Bamberger Rettich refers to the small number of local white summer radish varieties cultivated by individual Bamberg gardeners in northern Bavaria. Seven local varieties have been identified to date, of which three were discontinued from active cultivation in the early 2000s and are being preserved in the variety garden of “Grünes Erbe Bamberg, Verein zur Erhaltung, Pflege und Verbreitung von regionalen Kulturpflanzen und Bamberger Lokalsorten,” an association dedicated to Bamberg’s green heritage and the preservation, maintenance and dissemination of regional crops and Bamberg local varieties.
Bamberger Rettich is a product of the nearly 700-year horticultural tradition of Bamberg (located in northern Bavaria) that has remained an element of the townspeople’s sense of identity to the present day. It remains an essential component of Bamberg’s traditional vegetable-oriented cuisine, and the towns gardens make up one-third of the historical center and UNESCO’s “Town of Bamberg” World Heritage Site. Geographically, the area lies in the core zone of the flood plain in which the river Regnitz flows into the Main, referred to as the “Bamberg basin.” The outstanding quality of Bamberger Rettich is a product of the alluvial sand soils of the Regnitz valley.
Bamberger Rettich is grown exclusively in its small region of origin: the garden areas of the Bamberg Gärtnerstadt and the garden corridors of eastern Bamberg. Even just outside the town, the soils are no longer suitable for cultivating truly tasty Bamberger Rettich. As early as 1858, L. Storch reported about Bamberg horticulture that “radishes are considered to be a true delicacy here” in the periodical Gartenlaube. The highly developed seed production skills of Bamberg’s growers, which have been documented since the early 14th century, also play an important role. Old sayings like, “Der Sooma bleibt im Haus” (“The seed stays in the house”) and, “Mei Dochdä kannst hom, mei Räddich ned” (“You can have my daughter, but not my radish”) are an indication of how jealously Bambergers guarded their seed stocks. The local varieties were the basis for one of the most important economic products of Bamberg’s gardeners in the 20th century.
Bamberger Rettich is a robust plant with a relatively good tolerance of cold. It can be sown earlier on open fields and can tolerate greenhouse temperatures around 3°C lower than other varieties. The variety is thus the first choice for planting in early spring, as it can be marketed up to two weeks earlier than other varieties and commands good prices during that time. Radishes are often irregular in size and appearnce, and quite pungent. They are usually eaten raw after being salted. Bamberger Rettich and beer are such an exquisite flavor combination that Bamberg’s beer culture would be a good deal poorer without the town’s radish culture. No other radish succeeds quite so convincingly in this combination. On the negative side, in high summer temperatures Bamberger Rettich can become slightly soft and with a consistency like a dry sponge, and it is prone to black rot, which makes it unsellable.
In 2012, the area devoted to the local radish varieties amounted to approximately 0.85 hectares. Cultivating it in other locations with otherwise suitable soil conditions does not deliver the anticipated qualities of flavor. There is little point in cultivating Bamberg varieties elsewhere, as their flavor advantage is then no longer pronounced enough to offset their greater susceptibility to black rot. The number of producers has dropped from about 540 in the 1850s to fewer than 250 in the 1970s. Bamberger Rettich are generally sold directly by farmers, but are not always indicated as such with the name. Today, only three of the roughly fifteen commercial gardeners of the region of provenance still plant and save seeds of the old local varieties.
Image: © Georg Lang