The Master’s Apprentice by Oliver Pötzsch

We are all familiar with the age-old concept of selling your soul to the Devil, right? I think all of us, at one time or another have had that secret desire to wish for and get our soul’s deepest desire and even considered to what lengths we would go to have our heart’s greatest wish. I certainly know I have. However, as with any transaction, you don’t get anything for free in this world and making a deal with the Devil himself is likely going leave you with a bill of goods that you’ll never be able to pay. I suppose there’s a reason that one of the Devil’s better-known identities throughout history and literature involves the figure of the traveling salesman.

This concept of making a deal with The Horned One himself was masterfully depicted in the classic medieval character of Dr. Faustus, or Faust, as he is more familiarly known. Faust, that medieval scholar and alchemist, for all that he’s been glorified in literature from the German writer Goethe to the English playwright Christopher Marlowe, and so many more afterward, has aged like a fine wine. The Master’s Apprentice by Oliver Pötzsch takes this literary trope of the scholar making a deal with Satan, or Mephistopheles as he’s more commonly known in the Faustian tales, and turns it into a fascinating and in-depth read that incorporates both the historical, known facts about Faust himself and the allegorical and fantastical details that were fleshed out in the Goethe and Marlowe stories.

Johann Georg Faust, in today’s book, is the third of four sons in the medieval German town of Knittlingen, Würrtemburg. He is totally at odds with his three other brothers, his father and the vast majority of the boys in his small town, most of whom are your typical beefy Kraut bullies. Faust, as he is affectionately called by his dying mother, is fascinated by magic, by the elements and astronomy, by books an learning, and by the sheer force of his desire to know more. When a troupe of jugglers and fortune-tellers come through his town and he meets their leader, a creepy magician named Tonio del Moravia – and really, with a name like that, you just know he’s going to be trouble – Faust becomes entranced by them.

At the same time, there is a series of gruesome child murders in his hometown. He falls under suspicion after sneaking out with his beloved Margarethe one night and his younger brother vanishes. Finding out that his birth father is not his father at all, Faust takes to the road to earn his own fortune, and as the most impure of luck would have it, Tonio “finds” him on the road and takes him under his wing to teach him about alchemy, and a passionate desire for knowledge is born in Faust. He learns of various evil deeds done by Tonio, who is really grooming Faust to be a sort of “second coming” due his being born under a certain sign. Faust has other ideas, and establishes a life of his own, attending university, finding Margarethe again when she’s in a convent, and establishing himself as a learned scholar and figure of great controversy. But he never forgets the gruesome murders in his hometown and eventually heads back to reestablish his reputation and to try and solve the crimes.

Tonio is obviously the figure of the Devil himself, though it’s never completely established if he is actually Satan incarnate or a devoted Satanic disciple seeking black knowledge at any cost. But obviously the parallels with the historic and fantasy stories of Faust are drawn with these two classic literary trope characters in opposition to each other, and at the same time, shadowy mirrors of one another. After all, you can’t have evil without good and good without evil, right? We exist primarily because of our relation to something else, and oftentimes it’s a relation of being held in the opposite direction of another. The entire concept of “the Other” is perfectly embodied in Faust, who is an outsider even within his own family, then in society, and at times, to himself. His immense desire to have a different life, a life out of the ordinary, a life of knowledge (whether that knowledge is forbidden or not) is something that we can all relate to. Who among us wants to be ordinary or have an ordinary life? Even if just for a brief time, or through an unsavory bargain with The Evil One, it elevates our existence into something beyond us, something bigger than ourselves. That might be worth selling your soul for, methinks.

Primarily set in Germany, though with jaunts to Italy and England, the books abounds with mentions of savory Germanic food, including schnitzel, wine, rough-baked bread hot out of the oven, meat pies, fruit and nut cakes, and this passage, which brought to mind a roasted pig with an apple stuffed in its mouth:

Meanwhile, the innkeeper had brought them platters of roast piglet with slices of fragrant white bread, and a serving of wild onions and carrots in a steaming herb sauce. The men ate ravenously, pausing the conversation. After eating in silence for a long while, Tonio burped loudly, wiped the juices from his lips with the last bit of bread, and leaned back contentedly.

I suppose I’d belch in pleasure after eating that meal, too! Now, I don’t have access to an actual roasted piglet, nor would I want to. However, I did have some excellent, thin-cut pork chops that I’d been wanting to make, so I did a bit of research and came up with these German-style pork chops and German-style carrots in an herby, creamy sauce. Yum!

For the pork chops:
6 thin-cut pork chops, at room temperatures
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons German mustard
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Another 3 tablespoons mustard
1 cup half and half (or heavy cream)
1 cup white wine

For the carrots:
1 lb baby carrots
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley and fresh thyme
2 generous spoonfuls of sour cream

As the pork chops are thin, slash the edges so they don’t curl up when frying, and season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper.

Rub a thin layer of mustard over both sides of all the chops.

Put the flour in a shallow bowl and dredge each pork chop on each side while you heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan on high.

Fry the chops about 5 minutes, flipping once. Remove and keep warm.

Add the other two tablespoons of mustard to the same pan and stir to loosen up those lovely, crusty brown bits at the bottom. Add the cream and the wine and stir as it comes to a boil, then reduce until it thickens.

While the sauce is reducing, heat oil in another pan and add the onions and carrots, lightly sauteeing them for about 5-7 minutes, then add the salt, pepper, white wine and parsley, cover and cook until tender-crisp, roughly 12-15 minutes. You will want to check them for consistency.

Toss in the butter and taste for seasoning. Add more ground pepper, the fresh parsley and thyme, and the two spoonfuls of sour cream, stir together, taste again and turn off the heat, though leave covered so they stay warm.

Back to your chops. Put the chops into the pan with the winy, creamy sauce so they are covered, then plate up and serve alongside the herby carrots. Et voila! A delectably German dish and one that Mephistopheles would be sure to sell his own soul for a taste of. Enjoy with a glass of white wine or German beer, as the sauce complements both. And the leftovers are even better the next day, unlike a deal with Satan would be.

See you next time!

15 thoughts on “The Master’s Apprentice by Oliver Pötzsch

  1. Tonio. Not quite the devil, the one I’m familiar with, merely a manipularive psychopathic bastard. Words and words again meant to confound, only. I wonder though if we haven’t reversed it a bit. The devil and why lives often lack… Faust. It ain’t the devil seen but the hidden influence, after all. You know, the fear that delineats affect. Which would make us already often faustian soldiers of the devil, Fausts instead more… Percival like. Anyway… another enjoyable post – you’re quite good ar rhis. The recipe… may have a bit too barbaric sourness for my Yonian taste, but looks fully flavorful. Gracias.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting that the Devil is named Tonio, isn’t is? 😉 I’ve always thought the Devil instinct is as much to do with wanting to indulge that darker side we all have as opposed to some external force. We are all our own demons as well as our own angelic sides. Just depends on which one we choose to indulge at any given moment. The dish was excellent, though yes, quite acidic given the German mustard. Mouth-puckeringly good, I would say. But I’ve always liked things a bit more astringent than most people. Thank you for the compliment, Signore

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …(just to, ah… clear…. I, (tonno-tuna) am just a fish. He, antonio-tonio, is just an utter s.o.b. Then again, in time it’s easier to become the later tan the former…)

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    1. I’m so glad you like it! to ask permission point it was very simple method and ended up tasting absolutely delicious. There something about the combination of mustard and pork that cannot be beat.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It really was a great book. I always enjoy the stories about people making deals with the devil and seeing how they get out of it. The recipe itself was quite delicious and very simple as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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