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|Place of origin||Germany|
|Region or state||North Germany|
|Main ingredients||Pears, beans, bacon, potatoes|
Birnen, Bohnen und Speck ("pears, beans and bacon") is a North German dish which is especially popular in the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Hamburg. It also goes under the names of Bohnen, Birnen und Speck and, locally, the Low German names of Grööner Hein and Grönen Heini. The ingredients required mean that the dish is mainly eaten in the months of August and September.
The dish is a type of stew, in which—as the name indicates—the main ingredients are pears, beans and bacon. In North German country kitchens, potatoes would also be added, even though they are not specifically mentioned.
Generally cut French beans (Brechbohnen) are used. In Hamburg on the markets occasionally "Turkish peas" may be found, despite its name a Vierlande bean variety that used to be frequently used for this dish. During preparation several sprigs of savory are added to the beans.
The pears used for this dish are cooking pears which would otherwise be inedible eaten as fruit in their own right. They are small, green, rock-hard and do not have the sweetness and juiciness of the popular eating varieties. These pears are mainly found at markets and in small vegetable shops. In the Hamburg area, other varieties are used: the Vierländer and the rather sweeter Finkenwerder cooking pears. The Vierländer sort have a slightly firmer consistency after cooking which is preferred by many. These cooking pears are only available from July to September, subject to the weather. As a last resort for those who have missed the right season, Bürgermeisterbirne pears may be used. They are not as sweet when raw and are clearly sweeter.
The bacon used is streaky, smoky bacon. Here, too, it is important if the dish is to taste its best not to use 'any old bacon'. The origin—whether from the Vierlande, the Black Forest or Tyrol—is immaterial; all of them are suitable and offer a variety of interesting flavours. The deciding factor is the storage of the bacon. Only streaky bacon that has been air-dried and stored produces when cooked that pleasant taste of seasoned fat that melts in the mouth. Bacon, which—as is common today—has been stored hygienically in its vacuum wrapper, only produces a sort of fibrous stringiness after being cooked.
The Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein preference is to add potatoes to their Bohnen, Birnen und Speck that are still firm when cooked—such as the Cilena or Linda varieties. In Land Hadeln beef or lamb can also be cooked along with the bacon.
According to taste, the bacon is placed either in complete strips or cut up into water which is then brought to the boil. Meanwhile, the beans are cleaned, washed and cut into sections. After 25 minutes of cooking, the beans are added together with the savory to the bacon and cooking continues. The flowers are removed from the pears, but the stalks are left on. The pears are left with their skins on throughout. They are then laid on the beans and everything is cooked together.
The peeled potatoes are boiled separately in salted water. Towards the end of the overall cooking time of about 50 minutes, some flour is mixed with water, poured into the pot and briefly boiled up.
Typical quantities for four people are:
- 750 g beans
- 500 g pears
- 400 g bacon
- 500 g potatoes
- 1 sprig of savory
- 2 tablespoons of flour
Each person is served one or two pears, a good portion of bacon, beans and potatoes and broth according to preference. A fresh beer goes well with the dish.