Goulash – a tasty history (6)

The first “real” recipe in Hungarian for goulash appears no earlier than in 1826, in a cookbook published in the town of Kassa, nowadays Košice, Slovakia, in the “Közönséges és legújabb Nemzeti Szakács Könyv” (general and new national cookery book). It is a simple recipe with onions, meat, paprika and salt, with some flour at the end of the preparation time to thicken the sauce. That is noteworthy, because a real Hungrian goulash is supposed to be a soup, which gives rise to the suspicion that the recipe might be copied from an earlier cookery book, namely the book that deserves the credit for being the very first that housed a recipe for goulash in its pages.

The book is published in 1819, not in Budapest, but in that other important city of the Habsburg empire, Prague, ironically in the German language. The book is entitled “Die wirthschaftliche Prager Köchinn, welche nach e. eig. Speiszettel für jeden Tag im Jahre so zu kochen lehrt”(¹). The author described herself as “einer vielen Prager Einwohnern gut bekannten Hausmutter”(²), but remained anonymous.

The recipe goes like this:

Ungarisches Kolaschfleisch
(Hungarian goulash meat)
Remove the skin from a good fat-veined rib (of beef), cut it into pieces slightly longer and broader as a phalanx, put very little finely chopped beef suet and a few sliced onions in a casserole, put in the cubed meat and let it simmer in its own broth. In addition, season well with salt and no other spice but Turkish pepper (paprika), set about cautiously because it is very powerful and a strongly peppered meat will not please the German as it would the Hungarian. Finally, one sprinkles it with some flour to thicken the sauce and let it boil not too gently.

That sounds like the real recipe for goulash: a stew of beef, onions, paprika and water, and nothing else. The recipe spread, perhaps through the countless Bohemian maidens that found employment in the Viennese bourgeois households as -highly valued- cooks, quickly over the Habsburg lands. In the year 1825 the recipe appears as “Ungarisches Kollaschfleisch” in the “Allgemeines Österreichisches oder neuestes Wiener Kochbuch” (General Austrian or newest Viennese cookbook) by Anna Hofbauer, and two years later under the same name in Anna Dorn’s “Neuestes Universal- oder: Großes Wiener Kochbuch” (Newest universal- or: great Viennese cookbook), both literally copied from the Prague cookbook, including the warning to go slow on the paprika. In later reprints the dish appears as “Ungarisches Gulyásfleisch”, and the gradual integration of goulash in the Danube monarchy became unstoppable.

(¹) “The thrifty Prague cook, who teaches to cook for each day of the year after her own menu.”
(²) “to many Prague citizens a well-known housewife.”

© 2016, Marcel Wick

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