Category Archives: Beethoven

Goulash – a tasty history (15)

Paprika spread from Spain quickly over the Habsburg countries, but it still took a long time before it reached Hungary, which was under Turkish rule since the disastrous Battle of Mohács, 29 August 1526, in which King Lajos was killed along with the flower of the Hungarian nobility. Three years later the Turks stood at the gates of Vienna, and the smoke plumes and the death cries that rose from the surrounding villages left no doubt about the intentions of their visit. The city did not fall, but the relations between the Ottomans and the family Habsburg had so far dropped below freezing point that there could be no question of a friendly exchange of exotic plants.

Goulash - a tasty history (15)
How the peppers did reach the Ottoman lands can not be said with certainty. Perhaps the Turks came into contact with it during their attempts to oust the Portuguese from the coast of India, who formed a serious threat to their monopoly on the pepper trade since Vasco da Gama’s successful expedition. More likely is that they learned about the plant from Venetian merchants, or maybe the seeds came to Turkey via the northern trade route through Holland, the Baltic and Russia. In Germany the plant was -under the name of siliquastrum (¹) – first mentioned in 1542 by Leonhart Fuchs in his “Historia stirpium Commentarii insignia” (Noteworthy reflections on the history of plants). According to Fuchs the plant was, although only a few years known in Germany, already widely used in ornamental gardens.

In Hungary we come across the plant for the first time in 1569, when a noble lady by the name of Margaret Széchy, famous for her collection of rare plants, placed an order for vörös török bors, red Turkish pepper, for her ornamental garden. Which proves, by the way, that the plant reached Hungary by way of Turkey. Other names that were used are pogánypaprika and tatárka bors: pagan pepper and tatar pepper. The priest, philosopher and linguist Albert Szenczi Molnár (1574 – 1634) also called it Turkish pepper, and under that name we find the plant in the “Posoni kert” (the garden of Poszony), a book from 1664 about gardening by the Jesuit János Lippay. The garden in question was the then famous garden complex surrounding the summer residence of the elder brother of János, Count György Lippay, Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary. In his “Hungariae antiquae et novae prodromus” from 1723, Lutheran clergyman and uomo universalis Mátyás Bel calls it no longer Turkish but Hungarian pepper, and writes that it is so sharp that it can blind you if it gets in your eyes.

The name “paprika” appears for the first time in a Slavic dictionary in 1742, and later, in 1758, in an inventory of the convent of the Franciscans in Szeged. In 1780 the Capuchin monk Peregrine Ubaldus, traveling through Sárköz, the area around Kalocsa, describes in an unflattering way the locals, who seem to him more like “aquatic animals than people, unrepentant descendants of Huns and Mongols, heretics, who live in mud plastered houses and feed on dried fish and raw lard”. He adds: “Condimentum ciborum est una rubra bestia, quam bobriga vocant, sed mordet, sicut jabolus”. (“The seasoning of their food is a red beast called bobriga, but stings like the devil”).

(¹) The name, siliquastrum (“big pod” because of the elongated fruit), Fuchs adopted from Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History”, although it is unlikely that the plant Pliny described was the same. Other names that Fuchs gives are “piper Hispanum”, “Piper Indianum”, “Calechutischer Pfeffer” and “Indianischer Pfeffer”.

© 2016, Marcel Wick



Beethoven – Carp in black sauce


The first official record is a charter from the year 1255, but the fishmarkets of Vienna have undoubtedly a much longer tradition, and go probably as far back as the city itself. That first market known to us, on the “Fischhof”, was in 1317 moved tot the “Hoher Markt”, then as now the heart of enterprising Vienna. The management of that market was entrusted to the so called “Trögelamt”. The name is derived from the troughs (trögen) and tubs in which the fishmongers kept their wares fresh, for fish was preferably sold alive. The functionaries held office in the “Fischbrunnenhaus” (fish-well house), an edifice with arcades built over the well that supplied the fishmarket with the necessary water. For the use of the water and the troughs, the fishmongers obviously had to pay. It was a lucrative enterprise. In those by-gone days fish consumption was a lot higher than nowadays, because of the many fasting days prescribed by the church. In 1710, the building was replaced by a new “brunnenhaus” which served as billet for the city guard, until that too was torn down in 1801. Meanwhile the fishmarket was moved (in 1753) to the Schanzl, a quay along the Donaukanal (the “Donau Channel”), already the place of one of Vienna’s minor fishmarkets.

Beethoven - Carp in black sauce
The “Hoher Markt”, engraving by J.A. Delsenbach, ca. 1720. On the right the “Brunnenhaus” with the fishmongers and their troughs.

Beethoven, a lover of fish, would undoubtedly have strolled along the stalls on the Schanzl. A wide choice of native fish, about anything that could be caught or cultivated in lakes, ponds and rivers, found its way to the stalls of the vendors. Not only fish from the Danube river was sold, but from as far afield as the March, the Leitha, the Traun and the Neusiedlersee. Carp, pike, pike-perch, sturgeon, catfish, burbot, salmon, trout, eel, but also the little ones like roach, bream and gobies were sold around the year, with a dead season in summer, when most fish was spawning and was therefore not much in demand. Fish offal was also appreciated, like pike liver, which was considered a true delicacy; catfish stomach, cut in strips like tripe and cooked, or the offal and roe of carp, to this very day an indispensible ingredient of the notorious Viennese “Fischbeuschelsuppe”.

In the category fish belonged also crakes, cootes and moorhens, and otters, beavers and frogs. These were also on offer the year around, but mostly eaten on fasting days, as a substitute for the more customary kinds of meat. Especially otters and the tails of beavers were highly prized. Frogs were caught in summer and fall, and kept in cellars for use in the winter. The shellfish section comprised turtles, crayfish and snails. The fat and mellow pond turtles were preferable to the tortoises with their tough meat. Crayfish was highly appreciated, especially female animals carrying eggs. Snails were eaten mostly during fasts, and were kept between wheat.

Seafish had to be imported, was only available in the cold winter months and was so appallingly expensive that it only appeared on the tables of the very noble and the very wealthy. Seabass, tuna, sardines, cod, merling, stockfish, hering, lobster, squid, starfish, sea snails, mussels and oysters were among the delicacies Beethoven would have tasted only as a guest of one of his highborn admirers.

Beethoven - Carp in black sauce

In a conversational notebook of October 1824 Beethoven’s nephew Carl wrote “Karpfen in schwarzer sauce”: carp in black sauce. This recipe for carp is one of the oldest fish recipes of Europe. It goes back to medieval times, when people loved to bury their food under a multitude of exotic spices. That is, the people who could afford it, obviously. The recipe given here is the original medieval version. It seems to have been simplified over the ages, because the cookbooks from Beethoven’s time leave the best of the goodies out: gingerbread, jam, walnuts, almonds, raisins and plums.
For this “black carp” we have to kill the fish ourselves, because we need the blood for the sauce. So, we buy a living carp, let it swim a little in the bathtub and, when the moment has come, slaughter it on the worktop in our own kitchen.


1 carp
2 – 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. butter
1 onion
1 carrot
1 root parsley
¼ knob celery
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. grated dark bread
½ l. dark beer or red wine
½ l. pea-broth
1 clove of garlic
6 peppercorns
1 small bay leaf
1 piece of ginger
1 pinch of thyme
a pinch of mace
½ tsp. lemon zest

4 tbsp. crumbled gingerbread
2 tbsp. redcurrant jam
10 walnuts
15 almonds
1 tbsp. raisins
8 – 10 dried plums

Put the fish upright on its belly with the aid of a kitchen towel for grip. Stun the carp by hitting it on its head, just above the eyes with a rolling pin or other heavy stick. The fish is now uncontious, but not dead. Cut the arteries by stabbing the fish with a broad knife at the bottom side of the gills transversely through the head. You can’t miss, trust me. Let it bleed over a bowl and add 2 – 3 tbsp. of vinegar to prevent the blood from coagulating. Now you can remove the scales: hold the tail with the kitchen towel, take a thin bladed knife and remove the scales by scraping with the back of the blade in the direction of the head. Make a cut over the belly from anus to head and remove the entrails, but be careful not to damage the bile. Wash the fish and cut it in 3 – 4 finger thick slices. Carp have hard bones, so it may be necessary to use your rolling pin or stick to hammer the knife through.

Chop the onion and sauté in the butter until translucent. Add the sliced/chopped/cubed root vegetables. Stir-cook for a few minutes, then add the sugar. When it starts to brown mix in the grated bread and the beer (or wine). Pour in half a liter (1 pt) of pea-broth and add chopped garlic, the carp’s blood, salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, grated ginger, thyme, mace and lemon zest. Let it simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Now, if you want, you can add gingerbread, redcurrant jam, chopped walnuts, peeled and chopped almonds, raisins and chopped plums. Bring to taste with some lemon juice to get a nice sweet and sour balance. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Now it’s time for the slices of carp to join in. Wait until it starts to boil again, lower the heat and let it gently simmer for half an hour.

Take the slices of carp out of the sauce (careful so they won’t break) and keep warm between two soup plates. Sieve the sauce (not if you added the gingerbread and the nuts etc.), boil it down to a nice thickness, pour it over the carp and serve with bread or dumplings.


Beethoven – Frittatensuppe


Frittatensuppe or “Frittaten Nudelsuppe”, as it appears in one of Beethoven’s conversational notebooks from the year 1825, is still one of the most popular soups in the repertory of Austrian cuisine. Nowadays, the frittaten soup is usually eaten as a starter preceding the no less famous “Tafelspitz”: that irresistible bliss of beautifully tender beef cooked with vegetables and herbs. The delicious broth that results from the beef cooking is used for this soup, to which the “frittaten”, strips of egg pancake, are added. The word, by the way, is derived from the Italian “frittata”, which stands for a dish of eggs and vegetables that can’t decide whether it wants to be an omelet, a pancake or a pizza but has, apart from the pancake part, nothing to do with our soup.
In Beethoven’s day there was no need to wait for the Sunday lunch “Tafelspitz”. Any cook who was worthy of that title had in her/his kitchen a big pot of strong beef broth in readiness at all times. That broth was used for soups, sauces, meat- and vegetable dishes, in short, for the major part of the delicacies that emanated from her (or his) realm.

That strong broth, “braune Suppe”, was made like this: the bottom of a large pot is covered with thinly sliced smoked bacon. On top of that comes a layer of sliced onions. Thereon come thin slices of lean beef and some slices of veal. That in turn is covered with cubed root vegetables like carrot, parsnip, knob celery, root parsley and such, and some veal bones, if at hand. A little bit of water is added, just enough to cover the bottom with a layer of about 2 – 2½ cm. (± 0.75 – 1 In.). It is put on the stove on low heat where it can gently simmer, until the water has practically evaporated and the juices and the onions brown. Now the pot is filled up with water and brought to a boil. A bay leaf, a few cloves, some peppercorns and some mace are added, the heat is lowered and the broth is left to simmer very, very softly. Any foam is skimmed off scrupulously, otherwise the broth will be cloudy. When it’s done, after 2 to 3 hours, the broth is sieved and the fat removed.

With this broth we are going to make:

Beethoven - Frittatensuppe


60 gr. (2 oz.) flour
2 ggs
1 dl. (3½ oz) milk
1 dash of sparkling water
1 pinch of salt
1 slice of fatback
1 l. (2 pt) strong beef broth

Mix the flour with the eggs, the milk and a pinch of salt. Add a dash of sparkling water, enough to make a nice, smooth batter. Put it aside for a while. In the meantime, cut the fatback in a few pieces and sauté them gently in a skillet until they have lost enough fat to cook the pancakes. Take the fatback out, pour the batter in and cook until golden brown on both sides. Let the pancakes cool down a bit, roll them up and cut them into 1½ cm. (½ in) strips. Put them in plates or bowls and fill up with the piping hot beef broth. Sprinkle with some chopped chives and serve.


Beethoven – Peas and ham


July 1823: “rice soup, but without veal, because she couldn’t get it. Green peas with ham. Leg. Pastry. Salad.” Thanks to the “Konverzationshefte”, the notebooks the stone deaf Beethoven used to communicate with other people, we are acquainted with the earth-shattering news that one day in July of the year 1823, Ludwig van Beethoven ate green peas with ham.

Say “peas and ham”, and the first thing anyone acquainted with Central-European cuisine will be thinking of is a dish that can be found in every cookery book from medieval times until this very day: “Böhmische Erbsen”, Bohemian peas. An early Viennese version of this recipe is found in a manuscript dating from the first half of the 15th century, under the archaic name of “Ein behamysch arbaissn”. The manuscript comes from the former Dorotheer monastery (since its close-down in 1786 an auction house, the “Dorotheum”) and is now kept in the Austrian National Library. It is a simple recipe of boiled dried peas, served with fried bacon. You fill a pot half with dried peas. Add a piece of bacon, salt and water and cook it over medium heat till the peas are done. Now increase the heat so the water can evaporate. In the meantime you fry a piece of cubed bacon in a generous quantity of lard. To serve, you put the peas in a bowl, sprinkle them with breadcrumbs and the bacon and pour the hot lard over it.

Here we could conclude this article, except that there is, as usual, a “but”. Beethoven’s peas parade through the pages of a conversational book of July, which happens to be the month that the new peas are harvested. It would be very unlikely if Beethoven, a sucker for freshness, would be eating dried peas in July, of all months.

So we try another recipe, one for braised peas, from the famous “Die Wiener Köchin wie sie seyn soll” (The Viennese cook as she should be) by Theresia Ballauf. For this dish we need a pot of pea-broth. We found one in “Die bürgerliche Küche” by Elisabeth Stöckel, 1837: put the (dried) peas with a halved onion in a pot with water and boil them until mushy. Remove the onion, sieve the peas but save the cooking water. Purée the peas by working them through a sieve (we use a blender, of course). Melt a lump of butter in a pan, stir in 2 tablespoons of flour, add the mush and as much of the cooking water as necessary for your pea-broth.

Beethoven - Green peas with ham

Now we are ready for Theresia’s recipe for “Erbsen, grüne, gedünst”. First, shell the peas. Melt a liberal lump of butter in a sauté pan, add the peas en let them calmly braise for a few minutes. Meanwhile, melt a second lump of butter in another pan. Add some chopped parsley, pour in some of the pea-broth and bring it to a boil. Sprinkle the braised peas with one or two tablespoons of flour, stir cautiously and transfer them to the pan with the pea-broth. Let it gently simmer until the peas are done. Beat two eggyolks with some butter, a spoonful of cream and some milk. Add it to the peas, stir well, put it in a bowl and serve, together with the ham.

Ah, yes. The ham…

Nowadays, Cook can simply slice a ham and send it to the table. In Beethoven’s days that wouldn’t have been advisable if she wanted to keep her job. Pigs were slaughtered in winter, in December or January, and the meat, that was to be conserved for months on end, had to be so thoroughly salted and smoked that it was hardly palatable. Especially pork, because of the large amount of fat that impedes the penetration of salt, was brined in an extra strong solution. After being rubbed in with salt and saltpeter the flesh was laid in brine for a period that could last from a few days up to a few weeks, depending on the weight. For a whole leg of pork -a ham- it would have taken four weeks at least for the salt to have ample time to penetrate the meat entirely. The longer the meat had to be conserved, the more liberally salt was used. After brining the meat was smoked, again a few weeks. After that the meat was hung in dry air, so it could develop its typical flavour. Unnecessary to say that it was so salty and dry that it was virtually inedible. Before being allowed anywhere near the table, a ham had to be soaked in water to lose some of the salt and the acridity of the smoking, then baked in a crust of dough or boiled. The first method, baking, was according to the then cooking experts the best, because that way the meat kept all her flavours, while the boiled meat lost more of it’s strength.

The baking was done like this: de ham was soaked overnight in cold water. That water was refreshed several times. The next day, a dough was made of rye flour. It was rolled out and sprinkled with salt. The ham was placed on the dough, sprinkled with salt in turn and then wrapped in the dough. The whole thing was put in the oven and baked for 3 to 4 hours. The bread crust wasn’t removed before the meat had fully cooled down.

The second method, boiling, was somewhat less elaborate. Again, the ham is soaked overnight in water. The next day the pot was drained and refilled with fresh water and put on the stove. When the water came to a boil, the ham was put in again and left to simmer until half done. Then it was drained again (the water would be quite salty), refilled with fresh water and simmered until tender. Before serving, the rind was removed. The ham was eaten warm or cold.

We want it warm, with Theresia’s peas and Beethoven’s kindest regards.


Beethoven – Rice soup

Beethoven - Rice soup

One unlucky day in the summer of 1823, Beethoven had to do without his beloved veal in his starter, a rice soup. Not that the rest of the meal progressed along vegetarian lines: the menu continued with green peas with ham and a leg of an unidentified animal. And the rice soup itself was -even with the veal missing- anything but vegetarian. Except on fasting days, soup in Beethoven’s time usually had a strong beef broth as basis, of which in a solid kitchen, as we read in Anna Hofbauer’s “Wiener Kochbuch” (Viennese cookbook), always had to be a big pot at hand. This broth was made of beef with vegetables like parsley root, carrots, turnips and celeriac. A piece of ginger was added in the winter, and, to make the broth extra tasty and powerful, an old chicken, a chunk of liver and some veal or sheep’s bones were added. The beef should be lean, for not only Beethoven was no fan of overly greasy things; cooking guru Anna also exhorted her readers that fat contributes nothing to the quality of a good broth.

The rice the Viennese used at the time usually came from Italy, where rice has been cultivated since the Middle Ages on the swampy, hot plain of the Po river. The most widely grown variety was -and is- arborio rice, named after the Piedmontese town of Arborio. When cooked, it has a creamy texture around a chewy center.

If we want to make Beethoven’s rice soup in accordance with the then applicable rules of cooking, we have some work to do. First, we have to make a simple clear beef broth. With that broth we make a powerful brown beef soup. In that soup we serve the rice, which is cooked separately in the simple broth.

1. For an ordinary beef broth we take 1½ l. of water for every pound of lean beef. Put it in a big pot together with some salt, a few veals bones and a piece of liver. An old soup chicken is welcome to join in. Put it on the stove and let it cook very, very gently, while carefully skimming of the foam. When the broth remains clear you can add the vegetables: a carrot, a parsnip, a piece of knob celery and a leak. As condiment you can use a few cloves, a piece of ginger, mace and some black peppercorns. Leave it on the stove for a few hours. Add some water if too much evaporates. When you decide that it is done you pour it through a fine sieve.

2. With the resulting clear broth, we make a strong, brown beef soup. For that we need:

100 gr. (3½ oz.) smoked bacon, thinly sliced
2 onions
100 gr. (3½ oz.) beef
1 carrot
1 parsnip
1 root parsley
¼ knob celery
2 l. (4 pt.) beef broth

Grease the bottom of a large, heavy pot with butter or lard and cover it with thin slices of bacon. Cut the onions in ringlets and place them on the bacon. On this you put 100 gr. of lean beef, cut in dices, and then the chopped carrot, parsnip, parsley and celery. Let it cook without a lid on a medium heat until the onions become translucent and start getting brown. Now pour the (hot) beef broth over it, cover the pot and let it gently simmer for a few hours. Sieve the soup.

3. With this brown beef soup we are going to make the rice soup. We need:

125 gr. (4½ oz.) arborio rice
½ l. (1 pt.) clear broth
1½ l. (3 pt.) strong beef soup

In Beethoven’s days the rice had to be washed until the water was clear, without any whiteness. That was necessary to get rid of the smells the rice would have contracted during storing. We don’t have to do that any more: rinsing it just once is quite enough. De rice is cooked in the light broth, which will be entirely absorbed by the rice. The rice is added to 1½ l. of hot, strong beef broth and is served immediately.