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1950s Archive

Viennese Memoir

The Betrothal

Originally Published April 1959

The entire apartment smelled of Eau de Cologne—Kölnisch Wasser—a clearly decipherable message to one and all that Frau Hofrat had awakened with a headache and that she must on no account be disturbed by those members of her family who were to blame for it. The accusation inherent in the scent gave Herr Hofrat a strong feeling of guilt. Having achieved an impressive station in life, as well as a title and a most impressive goatee, he could no longer be said ever to slink, but his silent departure from the apartment, on a wave of Joseph Maria Farina's famous concoction, closely resembled sneaking. The boys left for school the moment the first whiff seeped under their door, and the maid found work that had to be done in the most remote room. The Hofrätin's daughter and the cook, Lutz and Teckla—both newly betrothed and ecstatic brides-to-be—remained happily unaware of the ominous scent around them. In the dream world they had entered, no practical considerations mattered: the endless details of engagements and weddings, the planning of festivities, and the making of complicated menus played no part. Frau Hofrat had to carry the full burden of the Verlobung, Hochzeis, and Ausstattung—the betrothal, wedding, and all-important trousseau—without Teckla's help. Teckla had her mind and her elbows deep in her own hope chest. Added to these difficulties was the constant danger that the maid would succumb to the epidemic and announce a third engagement.

The letter formally requesting Lutz' hand had come and been answered; the proposal call had been made and returned; cards had been left with all relatives and connections, and Lutz wore on her left hand the simple gold band that would be transferred to her right hand by the bridegroom after being blessed at the altar. Frau Hofrat would glady have dispensed with this charming sentimentality in exchange for a diamond engagement ring. Teckla's hand was similarly adorned, thus making it almost impossible for her to knead dough and bake bread. Nothing could be undertaken that might impair the yellow luster of her ring.

Herr Geheimrat, the father of the bridegroom, had met with Herr Hofrat for the formal arrangements and clarification of the bride's expectations. These coincided so closely with Herr Geheimrat's rough calculations of the position that he expressed himself satisfied. Since young Doktor Karl was an only son, and Herr Geheimrat a successful advocate, there was no need of further discussions regarding the bridegroom's outlook. Not mentioned but tacitly taken into account was the fact, also, that Frau Geheimrat was a geborene Schmidt—that is, nee Schmidt—which meant solid assets in industry. All things considered, it might be said to be, on both sides, perhaps not an absolutely brilliant but cetrainly a satisfactory match. To make matters even pleasanter, the Geheimrat and the Hofrat and their wives allowed their negotiations to be influenced by the charming circumstance that, in addition to all other good reasons for the match, the young couple also seemed to love each other.

Just so with Teckla. Her ad in the marriage column had swelled the Hofrätins mail, and for days she oversalted the roast and undersalted the soup. Most disgraceful of all, her last Torte was sitzengeblieben—it didn't rise at all—probably the final factor that induced Frau Hofrat's headache. After several rendezvous in various Kaffees and at street corners, Teckla had quickly made her choice. The happy man was a veterinarian with a small practice in the provinces. Teckla's savings would enable him to buy several pieces of equipment, with these, he felt, he could so far increase his earnings that he would be able to afford a wife. Teckla was perfectly happy because her ability to cook had never been mentioned, and she felt loved for herself alone—and for the enlarged practice that would result from the union. The fact that she would be able to set before the man of her choice a meal fit for a Viennese Hofrat was a surprise she was keeping in store for her future husband.

Frau Hofrat, having escaped to a darkened room, could not escape her fate. She and she alone would have to give the Verlobungs Feste, send out the notices, buy the Ausstattung. Lutz was so young that they had been letting down the hems of her skirts rather than hemming sheets for her. Frau Hofrat had to plan the Tees for the young, the Après Soupers for the adults, the large reception, and the dinners. She moaned in agony; Herr and Frau Geheimrat would attend most of the functions, so she could not resort to preparing one menu and repeating it over and over again. She would have to produce her entire repertoire, including the Kalbsrüeken, saddle of veal, and the cold lemon trout, all in two months, with the help of a cook who had lost her touch. The children wanted to marry in June, and, naturally, so did Teckla. And there sat Frau Geheimrat with a confirmed old maid cook in the kitchen, and convention required of her only a dinner party for four—four!—Lutz, Karl, the Geheimrat, and Frau Geheimrat, a charming, intimate little dinner, with a well-roasted and garnished Poularde, a compote, and a pudding. Frau Hofrat, on the other hand, might have to stage as many as eighteen functions, haunted all the while by the ominous prospect of another small daughter growing up.

At the moment of Frau Hofrat's deepest despair, the maid announced Herr Gumprecht, the veterinarian. He was calling, if not actually to ask Frau Hofrat for the hand of Teckla, at least to wait upon her with his respects. The Hofrätin arose. She steadied herself with a whispered noblesse oblige: She felt far more animosity toward the man who was going to take her cook away from her than she felt toward Doktor Karl, who was marrying her daughter. In spite of her headache, Herr Gumprecht won her over immediately with a stiff bunch of flowers and the sincere admiration he expressed for her favorite poodle.

Fran Hofrat could not but give her blessings, though she sorrowed for the Hühner in Spinat Suppe, the Feinschmeker Salat, and the Eisbombe Romanoff that would in future be wasted in the provinces while she would have to make do with any young woman the newfangled employment agency sent her. Herr Gumprecht agreed to put off his wedding day until Lutz had safely departed on her own wedding trip to Paris. Frau Hofrat, in return, was so carried away that she rashly offered a small X-ray machine as a wedding present.

Overawed by this generosity, Teckla produced an edible Jause after the call, and Frau Hofrat managed to start a trousseau list that made it look as though she were equipping a small hotel rather than her daughter.

Lutz arrived in time to decide on featherbeds rather than comforters, button-on sheets rather than tuck-ins, square pillows rather than oblong., Alençon rather than Valencienne lace, and please, please, please, a toaster, a mixer, and a beater—und alles Elektrisch! She also chose squab chickens in cream for the intimate first Verlobung's dinner, paprika chicken for the distant relatives, and an Indian for the last dinner for the less intimate friends. Some people supposedly called Indians turkeys—a ludicrous idea when every child in Vienna knew they were Indians.

Herr Hofrat returned, sniffing, at five. Prepared for the worst, he was delighted to find the Hofrätin up and well, and the fumes of Kölnisch Wasser completely evaporated. After dinner he let Frau Hofrat read him the lists and begin schooling him in his duties as the goateed Vater von der Braut.

Hühner in Spinat Suppe (Chicken in Spinach Soup)

In a kettle place two 2-pound broilers with 4 stalks of celery, 2 carrots, 1 onion, 3 sprigs of parsley, a sprig each of chervil and tarragon, 1/2 bay leaf. 2 peppercorns, and 2 quarts water. Cover the kettle and bring the water slowly to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook the chickens until they are tender, about 40 minutes. Skin the chickens, quarter them, and keep them hot. Strain 5 cups of the stock.

Wash 2 pounds spinach, free it of all coarse stems, and cook it in the water that clings to the leaves for about 6 minutes, or until it is soft. Drain it well and put it through a food chopper or sieve. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, blend in 2 tablespoons flour, and gradually add to the roux 1 cup of the warm chicken stock, stirring constantly. Cook the mixture, stirring, until it thickens. Add 4 cups chicken stock, the pureed spinach, and salt to taste. Beat 2 egg yolks into 1/2 cup warm heavy cream and stir them into the soup just before serving. Put a piece of chicken in each soup plate and pour in the hot spinach soup.

Zitronen Forelle (Lemon Trout)

In a saucepan combine 2/3 cup each of white wine and olive oil and 1/3 cup tarragon vinegar. Add I onion. thinly sliced, 2 shallots, sliced, 4 sprigs of parsley, 1/2 bay leaf, I teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and 3 peppercorns and boil the marinade for 15 minutes. Strain it and let it cool.

Lay 6 trout, warmed to room temperature, in an oiled roasting pan. Pour the cooled marinade over the trout and add water just to cover. Cover the fish with oiled paper and simmer them very gently in a moderately hot oven (375 F.) for 15 minutes. For large trout, increase the cooking time, Let the trout cool in the liquid, then lift them carefully from the pan and remove the skin, leaving the heads and tails intact. Lay the trout on a serving platter, 1 1/2 inches apart. Coat the fish heavily with lemon mayonnaise, leaving the heads and tails exposed, and lay a line of fresh black caviar down the center of each trout. Use 2 tablespoons caviar for each fish. Surround the trout and border the platter with finely minced chicken aspic and garnish the platter with parsley and thinly sliced lemons.

Lerton Mayonnaise

Beat 2 egg yolks with a rotary beater. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, and the juice of 1 lemon and mix well. Add 4 tablespoons olive oil, drop by drop, beating constantly. then add 3/4 cup olive oil in a slow steady stream, beating until the mixture is well combined and thick. Add the grated zest of 2 lemons, 1/4 cup grated onion, and 3 sprigs each of parsley and dill, very finely minced, and blend well.


Simmer 2 cups chicken stock with 1 onion, sliced, for 10 minutes. Strain it and stir in, off the heat, 2 envelopes gelatin softened in 1/2 cup cold water. Cool the aspic, pour it into a shallow pan, and chill it in the refrigerator until it is set. Roll up the sheet of aspic and cut the roll crosswise, to make thin strips. Chop the strips into small cubes.

Poularde am Spiess (Spit-Roasted Stuffed Capon)

Wash, dry, salt and traste a 5 to 6 pound capon. Combine 1/2 pound mushrooms, 6 shallots, 6 peeled truffles, and 1/4 cup fresh parsley, all finely chopped, 3 slices of bacon cut in small dice, and the chopped giblets. Combine 1/2 cup each of beef stock and white wine, add the mushroom mixture, and simmer it until all the moisture is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste and bind the stuffing with 2 egg yolks. Rub the cavity of the bird with 2 tablespoons butter, fill it with the mushroom mixture, and skewer the opening. Place the bird on a rotisserie spit and roast it for 1 3/4 hours at high heat, until it is golden and crisp. Or roast the bird in a moderately slow oven (325° F.), basting it frequently with melted butter. Serve the capon with a mixed fruit compote and a salad.

Küken in Sahne (Squab Chickens with Egg Sauce)

Simmer 6 squab chickens, weighing 3/4 to 1 pound each, in beef stock to cover until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the skins and keep the chickens hot. Strain 1 cup of the cooking stock and add 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar, or more, to taste. The mixture should be slightly tart. In the top of a double boiler over boiling water, beat 6 egg yolks creamy. Gradually beat in the vinegar and stock mixture and then as much of another cup of strained stock as necessary to make a thick creamy sauce. Add salt to taste and 1/2 cup finely chopped chives. Pour the sauce over the hot chickens and cover them with paper-thin lemon slices dusted with minced parsley. Serve at once.

Indische Hühner (Chickens with Curry Sauce)

Half cook 1 cup rice in salted water, drain it well, and cool. Add 1 cup cold goose liver pâté, cut in large dice, 1/2 cup peeled chopped truffles, and salt to taste. Salt the cavities of two 2-pound broilers, fill them with the mixture, sew them up, and tie slices of bacon over the breasts and thighs. Place the broilers on a rack in a kettle with 1 quart chicken stock, and steam them gently, covered, over low heat until they are tender, about 1 hour. Remove the bacon, skin the chickens, and keep them hot. Reduce the chicken stock to about 2 cups, strain it, and stir in 3 teaspoons curry powder that has been mixed with 1/4 cup of the stock. Beat 2 egg yolks with 1/2 cup warm cream and stir them into the sauce. Pour the saute over the birds. Serve the chickens with sliced cucumbers sautéed in butter until they are golden and simmered in cream until they are tender. Serves 4.

Kalbsrücken Metternich (Saddle of Veal with Paprika Sauce)

Roast a 6- to 8-pound saddle of veal in a slow oven (300° F.) for 25 minutes per pound, or until it is tender. As it roasts, baste it frequently with butter.

In a saucepan melt 2/3 cup butter over low heat, blend in 2/3 cup flour and 1 tablespoon paprika, and stir in gradually 1 cup hot veal or beef stock and 1 cup hot milk, strained, in which 1 chopped onion has been boiled until it is soft, The stock and milk should be hotter than the roux when they are added. Allow the sauce to simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring. Add salt to taste.

Carefully remove the meat from the bones of the cooked saddle. Cover the bones with a layer of the thick paprika sauce. Cut the meat across in even slices, 1/2 inch thick, and put 1 slice of peeled truffle between each meat slice. Replace the meat slices on the bones in their original form, securing the first and last with skewers. Beat 4 egg yolks into the remaining sauce, thin it with hot cream, if necessary, and add 1 teaspoon paprika. Cover the saddle evenly with sauce and sprinkle it with 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan. Carefully pour 3/4 cup melted butter over the cheese and sprinkle the saddle with 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs. It is important that cheese, butter, and crumbs form a thick coating on the meat. Return the meat to the oven and bake it for about 15 minutes more, or until the cheese and crumbs form a crust. Thin the remaining sauce with hot cream and pass it separately. Serve the veal with baked tomatoes stuffed with mushrooms and rice.

Feinschmecker Salat (Potato and Tongue Salad)

Cook 4 or 5 large potatoes in salted water until they are medium soft, peel them, and cut them into strips. Sprinkle over the warm potato strips 1/4 cup white wine, 2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut 1/4 pound cold sliced tongue into strips, combine the potatoes and tongue and let them marinate for 1/2 hour. Bind them with 3/4 cup mayonnaise seasoned with 2 teaspoons each of minced parsley and tarragon.

Just before serving the salad, peel, core, and dice 2 apples. Bind the apple dice with 1/4 cup thin mayonnaise, arrange them in a mound in the center of a serving platter and mound the potato and tongue salad over them, covering them completely. Sprinkle the salad with 3 peeled truffles cut into matchstick strips. With a cooky cutter, cut rounds from a sheet of aspic 1/4 inch thick (page 62). Surround the salad with alternating rounds of aspic and rounds cut from cold goose-liver pâté and decorate the platter with parsley. Serve with thin buttered black bread.

Eisbombe Romanoff (Pineapple Bombe)

To 2 quarts vanilla mousse add 1/2 cup each of drained, chopped marrons glacés, crushed stale macaroons, and chopped green pistachio nuts. Line a chilled 2 1/2-quart bombe mold with a thick layer of the mixture, spreading it with a spatula as evenly as possible, and chill the mold again. To the remaining mixture add 1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple that has been saturated with kirsch and fill it into the center of the mold. Cover the mousse with buttered wax paper, adjust the cover of the mold, and bury the bombe in ice or freeze it for 2 to 3 hours. Dip the bombe in hot water and unmold it. Serve it with apricot sauce made by heating 1 cup thick apricot marmalade in the top of a double boiler and flavoring it with kirsch to taste.

Vanilla Mousse

Beat 4 egg yolks with 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat 4 egg whites stiff and whip 1 quart heavy cream stiff with 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar. Fold the egg whites and whipped cream into the egg yolks.

Götterpudding (Ambrosial Pudding)

Beat 8 egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar until they are light and foamy and stir in 3/4 cup ground unblanched almonds and 1/3 cup grated bittersweet chocolate. Fold in 8 stiffly beaten egg whites. Make 1 cup coarse bread crumbs, free of crusts, from a day-old loaf of pumpernickel. Toast the crumbs slowly with 1/4 cup butter in a very slow oven (225° F.) until they are crisp and dry. Carefully fold the crumbs into the pudding mixture, pour the pudding into a well-buttered mold, and cover the mold. Steam the pudding for 3/4 hour in a covered kettle in boiling water that comes halfway up the sides of the mold. Add more boiling water to the kettle, if necessary to maintain this depth. Unmold the pudding and serve it with sweetened cream whipped only until it thickens and flavored with rum or vanilla extract.