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Subject: [BURGENLAND-NEWSLETTER-L] BB News No. 14A dtd. 5 Jul 1997 (edited)
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 1999 08:14:01 EDT

(issued as required by )
July 5, 1997
(all rights reserved)

This special edition of the newsletter contains an article concerning
examples of the food available to Burgenlanders around the turn of the
century, with some personal reminiscences from the kitchens of my immigrant

In an older issue of the Burgenla"ndische Gemeinschaft newsletter, in a
column called "So war es damals..." (the way it was), Dr. Walter Dujmovits
shared some scenes from his childhood. He describes his father, sitting at
the head of the kitchen table, cutting a cross in a loaf of bread (a very old
peasant form of saying grace) before presenting slices to each member of the
family. First to the mother, then any other adults, then the children, oldest
first and youngest last. (The youngest also had the privilege of scraping the
bowl of the main dish). This was followed by serving portions of the main
dish, in roughly the same order. This made me think of meals with my
immigrant grandparents which followed the same procedure. A baker named
Oberecker (a Burgenlander) in Allentown, PA delivered unsliced rye bread and
Kaiser rolls, still warm from the oven, to their house on Jordan Street in
the north end of town. It was post WWII before sliced bread (yech!) was
delivered by the Freihoffer Bakery delivery van. My grandfather Alois Sorger
from Rosenberg (Gu"ssing) always sliced the bread by holding the loaf in his
left hand and cutting toward his chest. The loaf was left on the table on a
bread board with the knife. Years later, under my mother's prodding, bread
was sliced before we sat at table and put in a bread basket with a napkin,
thus ending the ceremony. "Pop" would laugh with pleasure whenever he handed
me a piece of bread, maybe because the staff of life was available in
abundance in America or maybe just because he enjoyed feeding his grandson!

Food in the Burgenland of the turn of the century was very similar to that
eaten in rural America. There just wasn't that much of it, particularly meat.
Smoked or preserved meat ran out by Easter.
A bad harvest could be a time of famine and there was little cash to buy what
little food was available. Two bad harvests in a row could mean starvation.
At the turn of the century, a few dollars inclosed in a letter from an
emigrant relative was cause for rejoicing and could make a substantial
difference in diet.

The many memorials to immigrant relatives which we find today throughout the
Burgenland attest to the fact that this generosity was not uncommon.
Immigrants in the US knew from experience that their relatives could be in
serious need of help. During good times, many meals might include the

Bread, butter and milk or wine were breakfast items. Coffee ( introduced when
huge stocks of coffee beans were left behind by the Turks, when they fled
following the first siege of Vienna) was a luxury, but was always a breakfast
item when the family could afford it. Tea (with Rum or Schnapps) was for sick
or old people. With breakfast, the men of the house would have a small glass
of "Schnapps" or white fruit brandy made from apples or cherries ("Kirsch"),
the plum brandy "Slivovitz", or Hungarian "Barack Palinka" made from
apricots. Many farmers distilled this themselves and sold some along with
their wine to raise cash. Butter was not used at other meals, particularly
when other fats or dairy products were present. Butter and eggs were
"trading" items to be sold for necessities that couldn't be made or raised at
home. Uncooked smoked bacon, cured with a coating of paprika, was cut into
small cubes and eaten with breakfast bread or carried to the fields or job
with bread and a small jug of wine and water for a mid morning break.
Cheese, or cold cured or smoked sausage of many varieties if available, was
also a breakfast or break item. The mid day meal was normally the largest
meal of the day and often involved a clear soup (Tage Suppe) , made from
boiled beef, sometimes chicken stock. It included an addition or "Einladen"
of noodles (home made), buckwheat "sterz" or dumplings (potato, bread,
barley, semolina, liver or many other varieties) or rice or whatever was
available. My grandfather never asked what kind of soup he was getting, he
always wanted to know what the "Einladen" was. A soup could also be made from
flour browned in fat ("Einbrenn") if meat wasn't available. "Einbrenn" was
also used to season vegetables. The meat from which the soup was made was
eaten as a second course with boiled potatoes or homemade noodles or in
season vegetables. "Bo"hnen" (bean) Suppe and "Gulyas" Suppe, a very thin
paprika flavored goulash soup were often made, as well as creamed pumpkin
soup. Knowing the value of greens, everything from wild greens like dandelion
to garden salad or onions, sweet peppers, cabbage or other vegetables were
used as salad. Cucumbers with sour cream were popular. Oil pressed from
pumpkin seeds (Kerno"l) or sunflowers, and vinegar made from wine or cider
was used as a salad dressing. Wild mushrooms, nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazel
nuts) and berries were picked to supplement food stocks.

When greens were out of season, cold sauerkraut or cold boiled dried white
beans with onions dressed with vinegar and oil served as a salad. Wine with
water (wine was often mixed with water to taste) or apple or pear cider
accompanied most meals. Wine was considered a basic food item. This was an
old custom dating to medieval times when those employed by the nobility would
receive a daily ration of bread ("Zipolte") and wine. Vineyards were
introduced as early as Roman times and wine was drunk in all stages of its
development from the first press of the grapes ("Most") to just before it
became vinegar. Considering that water sources were often polluted, mixing
wine with water was probably a life saving habit. In Eltendorf and
Ko"nigsdorf, a stream which still runs through the center of the village was
the source of potable water. It was also used for washing, sewage (local
ordinances specified only at night) and watering stock. Local church death
registers are full of Typhoid, dysentery and other causes of death due to bad

Supper was frequently a one dish meal and could include such things as
"Sterz" made from cornmeal, boiled in salt and water, then cooked in lard
(better than it sounds) or buckwheat flour and water (sometimes mixed with
blood from butchering or eggs) which was poured in a greased pan and baked.
Potato dumplings containing plums or apricots were boiled in water, then
fried with bread crumbs and sprinkled with sugar (Twestchen Kno"del). A fine
dessert. Homemade noodles made from eggs, flour and water (with sometimes the
addition of smashed potatoes to stretch the flour) were eaten mixed with many
things like cottage cheese (Topfen), ground nuts (Nussen) and sugar, ground
poppy seeds (Mohn), fried cabbage, pork crackling (Grammel-the crisp bits
remaining from rendering lard) or bread crumbs. Goulash (made much thicker
than the Suppe) was very popular and made in countless ways, all of which
used lots of onions and sweet paprika and would even be eaten for breakfast.
If times were good, Goulash was always available. Peppers filled with rice
and meat in an Einbrenn tomato sauce were popular. A dish of barley and
beans (sometimes ham) cooked together was called "Richert" and was popular
and filling. For feast days and holidays, goose was the first item of choice.
Geese were force fed with corn to enlarge their liver (pate de foi gras). I
remember my grandmother holding a live goose, wrapped in a towel, in her lap
while she fed the goose all it could hold. I never ate goose liver! The goose
was kept in a cage in the covered alley way between her house and the
neighbors and would vent its displeasure by hissing at me if I came near.
It's feathers would later stuff home made pillows.
Fish (generally pond raised carp, or lake pike or smoked, dried or pickled
fish) were available and eaten on Fridays and fast days. Local marshland near
Gu"ssing was drained by creating a fish pond "Teich". Tons of fish have been
harvested from this pond. Neusiedler See was also fished.

Fruit (apples, apricots, pears, plums, cherries) in season was eaten with
bread or made into "Strudels", a many layered phyllo dough ("Retes")
stretched paper thin, brushed with melted fat and covered with sliced fruit,
sugar, spices and bread crumbs; then rolled into a pan sized "blanket roll",
brushed with butter or fat and baked. Apple and cherry were favorites.
Strudels were also made with a filling of cream, cottage cheese or cabbage or
potatoes or chopped liver or turnips or anything else that was available. The
non-fruit strudels frequently were served with soup. Sweet raised (yeast)
Strudels with a filling of walnuts or poppy seeds (Mohn) and raisins and
sugar were also made (try making it in your bread machine; add grated lemon
rind, Rum and cardamon for added flavor, and roll and fill the dough after
the first machine rising, rolling the finished strudel like a jelly roll
before baking). Thin egg and flour pancakes (crepes) called "Palatschinken"
spread with jam, rolled up and sprinkled with sugar were a dessert. When in
Austria, that's how I end every meal! I'd do it here if my wife and doctor
would let me!

Sour cream was used in many ways, added to stews, soups or vegetable dishes.
Naturally nothing was ever wasted, and recipes were frequently adjusted to
include what was available.

Baking was frequently done in outside ovens or ovens which were a part of a
fireplace or tile stove, fueled with wood. Wood was scarce and expensive, so
baking days were designated to get the maximum use of a hot oven. The "right"
to gather fallen branches in a private wood lot owned by others could be
purchased and was jealously guarded. My grandmother Mu"hl's uncle was one of
the gamekeepers for a Draskovitch estate. One of his perquisites were all the
tree limbs that fell in a certain section of one of the Draskovitch woods. He
shared these gleanings with his widowed sister prior to her emigration. Robot
service (prior to 1848) could also provide peasants with the "right" to glean
the nobles' fields and woods, but strict penalties applied to those who stole
grain or removed limbs or trees. Small twigs were tied in bunches with string
or straw and stacked next to the house or out building. A bunch was fed into
the fire whole to take the place of a log.

Bread most often contained rye flour. A general mix was half rye, half wheat,
but one rye to three wheat made a finer loaf. (I bake this in my bread
machine today with caraway and fennel seeds). Caraway ("Ku"mmel") seed was
(and is) a popular addition to rye bread as it provides flavor and combats
the flatulence caused by rye flour. Moldy rye could and did cause
hallucinations. Some of the strange things that have occured in Europe, such
as witch hunts and the "great cat massacre" have recently been attributed to
such hallucinations. On occasion, extremely wet weather would mold the grain,
which would still be used, causing the problem.

A type of biscuit made from flour, potatoes and lard (sometimes pork
crackling -Grammel), called "Pogasa" or "Pogatscherl" in Hungarian, would
keep for days and could be carried to the fields or on journeys. These are
still very popular among the descendants of the immigrants of the Lehigh
Valley of Pennsylvania. It's interesting that the name of these biscuits has
been corrupted in countless ways. I've heard dozens, everything from
"Bogotchel" to "Gramelgasa" to Potato Biscuits! I recently was served one in
an ethnic retaurant in Coplay, PA. It cost $1.25 per portion and was made
with shortening instead of lard, but still tasty. They were also frequently
eaten with wine.

Donuts, "Fastnachts or "Krapfen", filled with jelly or unfilled, sprinkled
with sugar were very popular holiday items, especially before the start of
Lent. "Kipfels", a crescent shaped cookie (celebrating victory over the
Turks, hence the crescent shape) or pastry made from sweetened raised or
cottage cheese dough and filled with ground nuts and sugar or prune butter
(Lekvar) or preserves were another holiday treat. Oranges were only seen at
Christmas. Imported food was for the nobility or those who were wealthy.
Marzipan, candy made from sugar and ground almonds, colored and made in the
shape of nuts, fruits and flowers were a Christmas treat as were gold and
silver painted walnuts. Salt, tobacco and candles were a government monopoly.
Contracts (a franchise) were sold to merchants allowing them exclusive rights
to deal in these goods. High prices resulted. Lamp oil was also expensive. In
the same way, the price the small holder received for farm products was
regulated by tariffs. He got it going and coming! This just scratches the
surface of ethnic Burgenland food. If interested further, Austrian or
Hungarian cookbooks will approximate some of this "peasant" or "kitchen"
food. Burgenlanders, like the Viennese borrowed the best of German, Hungarian
and Croatian cuisine along with some ideas from the Turks. Local Burgenland
cookbooks, in German and using metric measurements are available.

The problem with cook books; however, is that they tend to romanticize and
embellish the Burgenland peasant gustatory experience. For instance they
invariably call for butter or shortening or some imported spice or ingredient
which was unavailable or prohibitively expensive and who today would suggest
the use of lard? The BG newsletter contains a good recipe column in English.
They sell the cook book from which these recipes are taken. You probably
remember your own favorite ethnic dishes and probably still cook variations
of them. Some of the plain kitchen food is dying out, as the Burgenland
lifestyle becomes more like ours, as are the cooks who know how to prepare

More and more world class food is appearing in Burgenland restaurants and
homes, but a Gasthaus will often offer some ethnic food on the pension menu
or as a "regional specialty", particularly strudels. A first class hotel we
enjoyed in Baden (Austria) one day had plum dumplings on the pension menu. I
hadn't purchased a room with pension meals and I had to get very aggressive
to be served a portion! We also had a great potato strudel with Grammel and
sauerkraut in a Gasthaus in Graz, as well as a fine creamed pumpkin soup.

The small holder's life was constantly involved with food. The planting,
raising and harvesting of it, the feeding, care and butchering of animals,
laboring in the vineyards, carrying wheat and rye to the miller, turning
cabbage into sauerkraut, grapes to wine, meat to sausage and fruit to cider,
preserves and schnapps. In addition they had the most difficult task of
deciding how much to sell (the Burgenland was always Vienna's garden) for
much needed cash for taxes, clothing and necessities and how much to keep. A
bad decision could be disastrous. Hard to visualize in our day of salaries
and super market abundance. This involvement with food was a tradition that
emigrants to America found hard to break. It wasn't until they became old and
feeble that my grandparents gave up this personal involvement with food in
favor of the super market. I still remember their grape arbor, the "back
yard" kitchen garden, the wine barrels and "Schnapps" still in the cellar,
sauerkraut crocks and all kinds of canning and live fowl. This didn't stop
them from daily trips to the butcher, patronizing the local produce hucksters
or visiting the farmers' market; most of which would have been impossible in
the Burgenland.

I'll close with an old Burgenland prayer of Grace found in the Mu"hlgrabner
cook book (with apologies for the literal translation):

(prayer at mealtime)

Jedes Tierlein hat sein fressen,
(Every small animal has its feed)
jedes Blumlein trinkt von dir-
(every small flower drinks from you)
hast auch meiner nicht vergessen,
(you also have remembered my need)
lieber Gott, ich danke Dir!
(dear God, I thank you)

This article was slanted toward small holder families. It does not cover what
would have been the diet norm for wealthier families. This can be found in
publications like Gourmet's Old Vienna Cookbook. It would be interesting to
compare the two extremes. If someone has memories on which to base such an
article, I'd be most happy to publish it.

Sources: The personal kitchen cook books of the Burgenland emigrant Sorger
family. Various issues of the Burgenla"ndische Gemeinschaft newsletter;
Mu"hlgrabner Koch und Backrezepte, 1996, Gro"bnerdruck, Oberwart. Grossman's
Guide to Wines, Spirits and Beers, 1974, Scribners & Sons, NY; Gourmet's Old
Vienna Cookbook, L. L. Christensen, 1959, Gourmet Books, Inc.; The Cuisine of
Hungary, Lang, 1971, Bonanza Books; All Along the Danube, Polvay,
1979,Prentice Hall; The Paprikas Weiss Hungarian Cookbook, Weiss & Buchan,
1983, Crown Publishers; The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, Wechsberg, 1968,
Time-Life Books; The Habsburg Monarchy as a Customs Union, Komlos, 1983,
Princeton Univ. Press.

concerning the Burgenland Bunch, contact .

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