Unbelievably easy to make, this comforting traditional German dish is perfect for winter eating. My friend Nancy Crooker of Belfast told me about this, and with leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes still on hand and a jar of my own homemade chunky applesauce, plus temperatures dropping like a rock outdoors, it was pretty obvious that now’s the time I needed to try it out.
Lots of Himmel — heaven — and Erde — earth — recipes call for equal parts apple and potatoes. The apples represent heaven because they grow on heavenward reaching trees, and potatoes come from the earth. When Nancy makes it, she doubles down on the earth part by adding mashed turnips, a kind of Himmel und Erde und Erde. But I didn’t have turnips.
Caramelized onions customarily adorn the top of the combination, which makes a great side dish for sausage like bratwurst and, for many Germans, blood sausage. Go ahead and make it a main dish, if you want. Vegetarians can welcome it, and vegans could, too, if you use vegetable oil for browning the onions.
Essentially you need only equal quantities of apples and potatoes. If you start from scratch, pick an apple and a potato that are roughly equal in size. That will make enough for two. Or for more servings weigh them: one pound of apples and one pound of potatoes. Add a medium to large onion and cook it slowly in butter, so that it turns golden light brown. Onions cooked this way are a fabulous item to have on hand in your fridge to add to lots of dishes. Friends of mine prepare a large pan full on the weekend and add a spoonful to omelets, or on top of burgers, or stirred with green beans.
Personally, I think chunky applesauce is ideal in this dish but if you have the smooth sort don’t let that stop you. Try for a fairly tart apple and if you don’t peel them, you’ll see a pretty pink color in the mix. If your apples are sweet, brighten them with a little lemon juice. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper. I saw passing references to cooked, crumbled bacon, or bacon fat added, and a suggestion that once mashed together the apples and potatoes could be browned a little before serving.
This dish can obviously be made with leftovers. I like to keep applesauce on hand to eat with breakfast granola or on my oatmeal so I always have some. When leftover mashed potatoes crop up, it is a no-brainer to make Himmel und Erde. You might not even need the directions below except for perhaps the first time you make it.
Having never made this dish before, and thinking that potatoes and applesauce are kind of bland, really, I was so surprised at the combination’s wonderful flavor, especially with the onions on top. So toothsome.
Himmel und Erde
Makes four servings
1 pound of potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
Potato cooking water
Salt and pepper
1 pound tart apples
1 large onion, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
Peel and boil the potatoes, and when they are done, drain them, reserving some of the cooking water.
Mash them with the 2 tablespoons of butter and just enough cooking water to make them smooth.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
Core the apples and cut into chunks. Add a couple tablespoons of water and cook over a medium heat until the apples soften.
Stir them vigorously to mash them enough to add to the dish.
Mix the potatoes and applesauce together.
In a heavy pan, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter and add the sliced onions.
Cook over a medium heat, 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, and adding a little more butter if they begin to dry out, until the onions turn a golden color. Remove from the heat.
Serve the applesauce and potato mixture with the onions on top.