This soup is eaten during the Carnival of Basel – Basler Fasnacht – which is the largest carnival in Switzerland and takes place each year between February and March. Basler Fasnacht lasts for exactly 72 hours and starts at 4 am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, with the so-called Morgestraich, and continues until 4 am on the Thursday. Basler Fasnacht is often referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg (“the three most beautiful days”). The Morgestraich on the Monday morning marks the beginning of the Carnival in Basel and all the lights of the city are turned off at exactly 4 am, including the street lights. The only lights are those of the carnival lanterns and the huge parade lanterns. At 4 am the command “Morgestraich, vorwärts marsch!” -“Morgestraich, forward march!”- is heard from the drum majors and the parades and the music begins. During this time there are many restaurants and bars open in the old town and they remain open for the 72 hours, here they serve the carnival specialities which include Mehlsuppe – flour soup -, zwiebelkuchen and Käsewähe. Mehlsuppe is made by browning the flour to a chestnut brown colour before adding a beef bouillon and simmering for around an hour. Some people like to add a generous measure of red wine to deepen the flavour whilst other pour it over a piece of bread and sprinkle the top with grated cheese. The soup is said to be an excellent remedy for hangovers and for upset stomachs.
In a large heavy-based pan place around 5 tablespoons of plain flour and 3 tablespoons butter, stir over a high heat until it is a nutty-brown colour, but be careful not to scorch or burn it by using heat that’s too high, set aside to cool down before continuing.
Add 1 onion which has been thinly sliced and cooked for 3-4 minutes in a little butter along with a bay leaf, a clove and a few black peppercorns.
Slowly add 1 litre of beef bouillon whisk in well and bring to the boil stirring all the time.
Reduce the heat and simmer gently for a further hour, stirring occasionally.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg and marjoram.
Serve in warmed serving dishes with a sprinkle of grated Gruyère cheese on top or top a toasted piece of crusty bread with the cheese place in a serving dish and ladle the soup over it.
If adding red wine then substitute some of the stock with a full bodied red wine.
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