Object of the Month: December 2022

Die wirthschaftliche Prager Köchinn II (1819), 677. NML Medical Museum, Old Prints Collection, T 258

Object of the Month: December 2022

Christmas Eve Menu, The Economical Cook Book of Prague (1819)

For December 2022, we chose the most popular cookbook of the Austrian Monarchy at the beginning of the 19 century and a few of the Christmas recipes it recommends. Die wirthschaftliche Prager Köchinn, welche nach einem eigenen Speiszettel für jeden Tag im Jahre so zu kochen lehret… (The Economical Cook of Prague, which teaches cooking according to distinct menus for each day of the year… the whole title is considerably longer) contains over a thousand cooking prescriptions, as well as selections of meals for each date, including fast days. The author is unknown: on the title page, she (or he) is identified as a “housekeeper, well known to many residents of Prague” (vielen Prager Einwohnern gut bekannte Hausmutter), apparently the domestic help manager of an important Prague household. (The stylistic differences between recipes may suggest multiple writers.) The two volume handbook came out in 1819 both in German and in Czech, in the “Imperial and Royal Court Printing Office” of Johann Nepomuk Ferdinand Schönfeld Esq. (1750-1821) in the former St. Anne Convent in Liliengasse in the Prague Old Town. (Schönfeld’s son Jacob (1795-1841) sold the print shop in 1831 to the eminent Prague publisher Bohumil Haase.) The second volume of the Czech version is dated 1820, indicating that the German rendition, held by the Medical Museum library, is the original one. The Medical Museum purchased it in the used book store in Ječná Street in the center of Prague in November 1962.

The cookbook merits inclusion in the Medical Museum collection: its recipes emphasize dietetic and sanitary concerns and the extensive introduction warns against health consequences of greasy meals or foods difficult to digest and teaches how to keep the kitchen clean, how to preserve foodstuffs for seasons when they are not available fresh and how to recognize spoiled or falsified ingredients. It attends also to the risks of poisoning from the use of metal dishes containing lead, copper or tin.

Christmas Eve

Fish Roe and Milt und Guts Soup

First of all, prepare pea broth as follows: place peas in a saucepan, add a piece of whole ginger, four whole bay leaves, a piece of parsley root and a piece of celery, cut into cubes, three slices of roll baked in grease, and some mace and saffron, pour water on them and let cook for an hour. Then strain the broth, and if there is not enough, add more water and let it boil again. Meanwhile, boil the fish guts, roe and milt in half vinegar and half water, then melt a good piece of butter in a saucepan, add two spoonfuls of flour and stir until they turn gold. Then add finely chopped onion, pour the pea soup over it, add the fish broth one in which the ball was boiling, season with marjoram, nutmeg and pepper and let everything simmer well together. Then, put the fish guts, roe and milt in, leave it to cook for another half hour, and then serve the soup over bread rolls that have been heated or fried in grease.

Steamed Egg Dish

The following preparations are necessary: first, dice about half a pound of boneless fish; then boil hard eggs and cut them into slices; furthermore, prepare noodles according to No. 79 [from dough baked in a pan]. Now let butter melt in a casserole, add green parsley, diced mushrooms, shallots and some cauliflower, let everything warm up, add the fish, let it roast a little and then cool down, beat three or four eggs into it, then grease a casserole with butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, add a layer of the toast, then a layer of the eggs cut into slices, and then a layer of the noodles, continuing layer by layer, until finally a layer of fish rests on top of the roast. Then put the casserole in boiling water, but cover it so that no vapor can escape; and when it is sufficiently stewed, shake it into a bowl, and pour mushroom sauce over it.

Pike With Sauerkraut

First, cut the pike, boil it in salted water, and strain it when it is well boiled, put it on a dish, peel it and remove the bones. At the same time, rinse the sauerkraut with some water, pour must on it (or wine, if no must is available), let it boil until soft, and then add a piece of butter. Then sprinkle nutmeg and chopped lime zest in a bowl, add butter, place a layer of sauerkraut, sprinkle with the same spices and butter, put chopped pike on top and then another layer of sauerkraut and continue until the bowl is full. Afterwards, cover the bowl, place it on a charcoal fire and let it boil up a few times. To serve, place the pike head boiled with the rest of the fish in the middle of the dish and put the pike liver in its mouth.

Stockfish Sautéed with Onions

When the stockfish has been prepared according to No. 127 [softened and desalted in cold water, soda water and hot water], boil it for another quarter of an hour, then peel it off leaf by leaf, remove the skin from the bones, place it in a bowl and sauté it with hot grease in which finely chopped onions have been sautéed. Sprinkle with baked breadcrumbs.

Black Fish

The recipe for „black fish, Bohemian style“ shows the marginal place to which this fish, essential to the 20 century Czech Christmas cuisine, was relegated early in the 19 century, as well as the limited spectrum of carp recipes at that time. Pumpernickel, raisins and nuts, indispensable to the „black fish“ today were probably introduced by the famous cookbook author Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová (1785-1845) in her “A Household Cookery Book“ (1826). Rettigová included the breaded „Wiener“ Schnitzel as well: the variation with carp fillets „Wiener Style“ spread during the 19 century only slowly, especially in affluent households. Only in the 1950s did the fried breaded carp become the most popular Czech Christmas staple.

Open the carp, a species of fish really only suitable for this kind of preparation, extract the entrails are carefully remove the bile; add a few drops of vinegar to the blood, cut the fish into pieces you want and cook them in a casserole in half beer and half vinegar, adding some sliced onion, lemon zest, a few bits of parsley root, celery cut into welts, and grated brown crust of house bread with butter. You can also add the fish guts, roe and milt if you do not want to use them for another meal. Just before serving, add the blood and a piece of sugar. If the sauce is not thick enough, you can thicken it with a spoonful of flour. Serve according to the suggestion on page 87. [Pieces of fish are always to be served with the inner, meaty side down, “for the fish on this side does not look pleasant; it must therefore be hidden, and the side with the scales must lie on top; from it, you can immediately tell what kind of fish it is. Sensuous beauty disappears if one must first examine and investigate; it must always catch the eye freely and of its own accord.] Serve the root vegetables together with the dish.

Die Wirthschaftliche Prager Köchinn I, 189,