aus: "Wenn's in Wien weihnachtet", Christine Schäffer, Edition Mokka, ISBN 978-3-902693-63-1
December 24 was commonly met with holding fast, in the 19th century. An opulent meal awaited the family in the evening instead. Or, to say it with the words of a contemporary: the gorging and guzzling begins in the evening. This gluttony was justified with the need to stay up until late at night for mass. At church it continued to be laughs and games: to motivate people to go to mass, popular music was added to the program, for example. Also, some complained that young people did not behave properly and demurely at church but rather looked about curiously to steal a glance at a pretty gown or a pretty face. Additionally, “heathen” oracles were carried out and profane card games were played – all of which were highly damnable in the eyes of some contemporaries. To us, these old traditions seem rather endearing.
Four elements, joined in
Shadow the world forth,
And typify life.
Into the goblet
The lemon's juice pour;
Acid is ever
Life's innermost core.
Now, with the sugar's
The strength of the acid
So burning reduce.
The bright sparkling water
Now pour in the bowl;
Encircles the whole.
Let drops of the spirit
To join them now flow;
Life to the living
Naught else can bestow.
Drain it off quickly
Before it exhales;
Save when 'tis glowing,
The draught naught avails
We shall include days both before as well as after Christmas in this passage, such as Advent or Theophany. Naturally, the feasts organized by the imperial family were the most splendid ones in all of Vienna, lavish and costly. The monarchs had enough money to host memorable parties. Often uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings of the imperial family gathered in Vienna for the celebration of the holidays. Even from the far away crown lands did they come sometimes, for example from Naples!
One newspaper article from 1791, written by an anonymous source at court, reveals how the imperial family celebrated Theophany. Emperor Leopold II,
son of Maria Theresia, relaxed with his family and all sixteen children. Together they celebrated the Feast of the Bean King. In a large cake is a hidden bean and whoever finds it is named the Bean King for the day. He or she may name their royal household. In this case, young archduke Josef found it and named the queen of Naples, his aunt, his own queen and the king of Naples his most important hunter. His own father he turned into the keeper of the gates to his palace. When he was asked why he did so he replied that his father was the most powerful man among them and would consequently be suited best to defend his court entrance against any enemies.
But the holidays were also a testing time for some members of the family. A few years later, Archduke Johann, Leopold II.’s son, disapproved of the many presents the children received as well as the decoration of the rooms and the amount of money which was spent on both.
But these expenses were small in comparison to Christmas in the 19th century, specifically 1846: A lady of the court recounts that princess Amalie of Sweden received splendid gifts such as a silver valise pour la toilette. On the court lady herself a silver bread basket with 12 Vermeil spoons was bestowed and the rest of the court also received silver and jewelry. The party celebrated both in the salon of the princess as well as in the Hofburg Palace with Archduchess Sophie, Emperor Franz Joseph’s mother, where a large tree was embellished with hundreds of lights and sugary delights. In stark contrast to the extravagance in the palaces was the hunger crisis in this year. Because of inflation in food prices, many Viennese families had to suffer from hunger.
Empress Sisi was a fussy eater and oftentimes did not eat at all to retain her narrow waist. However, she had quite the sweet tooth and her court confectioners created ever new cakes for her.
Next to “regular” court confectioners there also were k.u.k. court confectioners. The title k.u.k. – short for “kaiserlich und königlich”, meaning imperial and royal – distinguished them from their colleagues as absolute masters of their trade.
Stir 21 dag sugar, 15 yolks and 12 dag sugar until fluffy. Grind 4 dag almonds and 1 ½ dag bitter almonds with milk in a mortar and add to mixture.
Beat 10 egg whites until whipped well and with 15 dag flour fold into the mixture. Bake slowly. Fill with little kirsch cream and glaze pink.
Stir ½ pound butter, 20 loth sugar and 8 yolks until foamy.
Fold in 8 whipped egg whites, ¼ pound potato flour and ¼ pound wheat flour.
Fill into a greased mould and bake slowly on the tray.
½ pound flour
¼ pound butter
1 ½ loth yeast
1 ½ loth sugar
1 whole egg
Mix everything together and handle well. Allow it to prove. Fill into a greased form covered in crumbs, allow to prove again and bake slowly.
Knead 42 dag flour, 35 dag butter and 14 dag sugar on a board into a dough and roll out. Cut out round biscuits and bake on baking paper. Brush with a chocolate glaze made of 25 dag chocolate, 20 dag sugar and 1 mug of water.
Cut 310 g butter with 500 g flour into slices. Mix with 30 g salt, 2 whole eggs and milk to create a dough. Prepare with rolling pin but do not handle. Allow to rest. Simply roll out three times. On the third roll sprinkle the dough with pea-sized bits of butter and fold in and complete. Roll out to a thickness of 1 cm, brush with egg and decorate with remaining dough pieces. Bake slowly.
Dissolve 5 dag yeast in lukewarm milk. Using 50 dag flour, 1 dag salt, 3 dag sugar, 10 dag butter and a little milk form into a semi-solid dough. Place on ice and after an hour form into small rolls; brush with egg twice and allow to prove. Bake slowly in oven, place on sieve and then into the ice box so that they cool down well. Cut according to the length and spread butter and sprinkle little salt and add goose liver pâté and serve.
If someone carried the title of an imperial and royal supplier, of a k.u.k. Hoflieferant, they were the market leader in their trade. This title was a sign of excellence for the work of the corporation. If a person wished to become a k.u.k. supplier, they were required to entertain a business relationship with the court for several years before they were even considered for the title. The inspection of the applicant was thorough and only if they passed it, they received the title from the Emperor himself. Additionally, in the 19th century it was nearly impossible to acquire the title if the workplace was too far away from court! A gilder called Conrad Bühlmeyer even bought a workshop near Hofburg Palace to become a k.u.k. supplier. Aside from this, the companies also had to pay a hefty fee to hold the title: at first it was “only” 250 gulden, later 1.000 (approx. € 5000!). The title was never hereditary and any heirs of the company had to apply for it again – and of course had to adhere to the strict requirements again.
Eventually, at least one of these restrictions was eased and the companies did not have to be located near court anymore. Therefore, in the 1890s the title was already held by persons all over the world, such as Turkey, France, Greece, Great Britain, America and even Japan! The monarchy recognized outstanding talent no matter from which corner of the world it hailed from. Also, being an imperial and royal supplier was not limited to men but could be acquired by women too. And finally, this title was not restricted to exceptional jobs such as painters or gilders: any master of extraordinary skill could receive it, be it a soap and candle maker, a butcher, a vinegar producer, a photographer (one of them being Raimund Stillfried von Rathenitz, the only person holding this title living in Japan), haulage contractors, beer exporters, purveyors of milk products, opticians, rusk bakers, florists and so on!
An imperial and royal supplier was also permitted to carry the imperial coat of arms on letterheads or use it in advertisements. To advertise ones skill and attract wealthy clients was paramount even as a title holder, as the imperial family was under no obligation to purchase the goods of imperial and royal suppliers – if anybody else offered them a better deal, they would buy from them.
Today in the 21st century, the monarchy has faded away but the quality, tradition and exclusiveness of imperial and royal suppliers remains: Over a hundred of these companies still exist today, looking after prestigious clients, proudly remembering their remarkable past.