Sometimes You Just Have to Get on a Flight to Frankfurt and Drink Japanese Fruit Drowned in French Brandy
Mispelchen in Frankfurt
Because my siblings and I have always been very close, people are sometimes surprised when I tell them my sister now lives in Germany. We chat on a daily basis, so most days she feels no farther away than my brother does in Wisconsin. But there are limits to how much you can shrink the distance between you and your favorite people. Sometimes you just have to get on a flight to Frankfurt.
My brother, my husband, and I all flew in one week in August and crowded happily into my sister’s apartment. We tagged along with her to the grocery store and the neighborhood bakery that first morning, entertained by the mundane things that feel novel to travelers. I quietly marveled watching her bustle about in fluent German, a language that is hers but not ours.
That night, we went out to a neighborhood Apfelwein (apple wine) tavern. In a garden tucked between apartments, a small crowd ranging from boisterous 20-somethings to graying regulars lingered over Apfelwein and plates of handkäse, a local cheese. The atmosphere was convivial, everyone happy to be outdoors in the short central European summer.
We sat at one of the long tables and ordered a round of Apfelwein, served in a traditional blue-patterned jug called a bembel. Though we had been warned that apple wine was an acquired taste, I liked its vinegar sharpness. We talked German and American politics and laughed over stupid inside jokes.
We had drained our glasses and were about to call it a night when the server appeared with a bonus round—my sister’s boyfriend had ordered us a surprise. Snifters of apple brandy appeared on the table with an apricot-like fruit speared on toothpicks and soaking in the liquor. We raised our toothpicks with their wobbling fruits in a toast (“Prost!”) before taking a bite and a sip. The sweetness of the fruit and the warmth of the brandy was the perfect contrast to the sting of apple wine.
Internet sleuthing later informed me that this was mispelchen, a popular digestif in Apfelwein taverns. Calvados is served with the medlar fruit, sometimes translated as the adorable “little apple.” But medlars are not apples. And mispelchen is not even made with the true medlar native to Europe. No, Frankfurt’s mispelchen is actually the “Japanese medlar”—a loquat. The loquat somehow made its way from China to Spain to Germany, where it partnered up with a French spirit to make mispelchen. It pleased me to learn that this local favorite is in fact a heady dose of multiculturalism. Not unlike the American children of Taiwanese immigrants getting tipsy in Germany.
On our last night in Frankfurt, we went back to the same Apfelwein garden. Another round of mispelchen appeared after we emptied a bembel or two. This time, the mispelchen was not a nightcap. The lush burn of the fruit and brandy fueled us on to another bar, and then another, to stretch out the hours we had left together.