1950s Archive

Viennese Memoir

Lenten Journey

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They cooked camomile and Pfeffermüntz tea to their hearts' delight, and invited one another to the quiet little parties that were the comfort of the Lenten season. Although most of them were over sixty-five and no longer bound by the laws of fast, they all kept their Lent religiously and substituted salt for sugar whenever a recipe permitted. The managers, walking through the corridors of their hotels, had not only to close their eyes to what was going on there, but also to close their noses to the aromas of surreptitious brewing that issued from under every door. They knew even a princess of the royal house would rather hide a little packet of rolls and an orange under her fur scarf and sneak them into the hotel for next morning's breakfast than to ring for the waiter. She had only to press one of the many buttons marked Kellner distributed around her room and even in her bathroom for her convenience in ordering, but she preferred deceit, even during Lent. The guests paid for “full pension,” but they ignored breakfast, loudly criticized their lunch, and only toyed with their dinner, since they had consumed their Lenten quota with three light meals of their own provision and devising.

Herr and Frau Baronin visited their mothers, aunts, and other relations at rival hotels and resisted tidbits from their relatives' various window sills and homemade larders. They strolled in the sun with their near and dear ones and dutifully looked the other way whenever they were nudged or otherwise warned of an approaching foe. A promenade with the old ladies was a wild succession of responses to suit whispered instructions. “Smile! Here comes Frau Doktor Prünster.” Herr Baronin raised his hat, smiled, and hoped he had done it at the correct lady. “Hsst! Here comes the Füllnerin—ignore her.” Sometimes they were suddenly whisked into a shop from which their highly respected and elderly relation could peek out between the cheeses and sausages to make sure “that person” had passed by.

Most of the time, they made free to ride down the vine-clad valley, past the castle where Margarete Maultasche, the ugly duckling, had lived and married Ludwig of Brandenburg. They rode to little inns and guest houses where they could eat frugally of the specialties of Italy which still retained just a touch of the Austrian influence. The horses knew where to turn in at noon for spinach with cheese tarts and a light native wine. They knew where little cheese puddings were a specialty, and where the cheese soufflé was baked in large tomatoes. Herr and Frau Baronin found it much pleasanter to resist temptation in a land where cheeses and fruit were at their best.

On the fourth Sunday in Lent, they celebrated Mittel Fasten, midfast, by fasting; they made pilgrimages to neighboring towns and followed beautiful old stations of the cross up a steep mountain. Their sojourn was both pleasant and pious.

In spite of all the harmless little Viennese animosities and amicabilities, they kept a good Lent until the moment for packing arrived. Had they returned to Vienna after Easter, their luggage would have been full of contraband. As it was, they fought manfully against the urge to bring back quantities of Strega, cigarettes, salami, gloves, and dried fruits. Most of them compromised with their consciences only enough to allow themselves to take home a little Bel Paese, mortadella, and Gorgonzola in their Reise Nécessaire, fragrant items which they concealed only for the sport of it and of which the customs officials were perfectly aware.

Käse Auflauf in Paradeis (Cheese Soufflé in Tomatoes)

In the top of a double boiler, stir together 1/4 cup sifted flour and 1/2 cup heavy cream, stir in 3 egg yolks and 1/4 cup melted butter, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook the mixture over boiling water, stirring constantly, until it is smooth. Take the pan from the heat and mix in 1 cup grated Parmesan, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon onion juice, and 3 egg yolks. Fold in 6 stiffly beaten egg whites and with the mixture fill 8 large tomatoes that have been hollowed out, drained, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Arrange the tomatoes in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle the tops with grated Parmesan, and add 1/2 cup water and 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Bake the tomatoes in a moderately hot oven (375° F.) for 20 to 25 minutes, increasing the heat 5 degrees every 5 minutes. Serves 8.

Käte Kuchen mit Erbsen (Cheese and Green Pea Tarts)

Sift 2 1/2 cups flour with 1 teaspoon salt into a mixing bowl, cut in 1 cup shortening with a pastry blender or 2 knives, and add a paste made of 1/2 cup flour stirred smooth with 6 tablespoons ice water. Quickly work the ingredients into a dough that is firm enough to be rolled. Divide the dough in half, roll it out in 2 pieces, and line two 9-inch pie plates or flan rings. Let the pastry stand for 1 hour, prick it with a fork, and bake it in a hot oven (425° F.) for 10 minutes.

In the top of a double boiler, over boiling water, cook together 2 cups milk, 1/2 cup butter, 5 egg yolks, and 1 tablespoon flour, stirring, until the mixture is smooth and thick. Take the pan from the heat and stir in a scant 1/2 pound Emmenthal cheese, grated and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in 6 stiffly beaten egg whites. Add 1 cup parboiled green peas and fill the 2 pastry shells with the mixture. Bake the tarts in a moderate oven (350° F.) for 20 minutes and serve at once. Serves 8

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