– World traveller, landscape gardener, namesake of an ice cream: there are many stories about Prince Hermann von Pückler. He was also imaginative as a gourmet. The Pückler Foundation has discovered something delicious.
Would you like a “stuffed pig’s head” or “truffle pheasant pie” and perhaps “pudding à la Nesselrode” for dessert? Dishes from the kitchen of Prince Pückler (1785-1871) at his castle in Branitz were a regular attraction for connoisseurs like him.
After a visit to the gourmet restaurant in Cottbus, the Prussian queen and later the German Empress Augusta (1811-1890) was not impressed by the room specially prepared for her – she was enthusiastic about culinary delights. Pückler had also worked hard for the guest aristocrat from Babelsberg. His chefs had prepared a ten-course meal. One of the empress’s ladies-in-waiting later wrote to the prince that she stimulated appetites and not just satiated them.
Art historian Marina Heilmeyer can recount many of these episodes. The proven connoisseur of the “culinary prince” evaluated the dishes, names and titles of the guests served in the court marshal’s five surviving Pückler table books. More than 3,500 lunch and dinner menus are listed, including crab soup, ox cheeks and pike slices in Spreewald sauce. “Carp à la Chambord” was served for Queen Augusta in Branitz in 1864. According to the historian, the Duke of Weimar was also able to enjoy the delicacies.
“The Wisdom of the Stomach”
In Pückler’s time, Prussia was interested in and enjoyed culinary delights, says Heilmeyer. “Friends and acquaintances of Pückler have thought of improving German cuisine and making it more authentic.” According to the art historian, the disciples of taste called themselves “gastrosophists” because it was “the wisdom of the stomach”. “Pückler said at the time: My main quality is taste, which seeks to achieve the most perfect in everything,” says the art historian.
More than 150 years later, Tim Sillack is also about perfection. The chef and restaurant manager at the restored Cavalierhaus opposite the castle was inspired by table books and cooked dishes that can now be found on the menu, such as “Artichoke a la Barigoule”. Like Pückler, Sillack is a world traveler, having enriched his culinary knowledge in Australia and New Zealand and learned from a star chef. The returning Lusatian was tempted by Pückler’s poop of “ox tongue with raisins” or “bechamel veal shank”.
The 34-year-old at the Cavalierhaus also has menus that consist of multiple courses. “But I don’t just want to cook in Pückler’s shadow, I also want to develop my own lyrics,” he assures me. It should be a mix of Pückler and Sillack. In his restaurant he celebrates the art of the table. He is always set for three menus: bread and greetings from the kitchen must not be missing. Sillack looks in the best tradition. “You have to let yourself go and, like Pückler, eat for hours and not just eat to fill yourself up,” explains his philosophy.
Difficult search for old recipes.
The search for old recipes for Pückler’s dishes was not easy. Only the dishes appeared in the dinner books, the instructions had to be found in old cookbooks. Heilmeyer and the chef soon became a permanent duo. The art historian struck gold, and Sillack tested the recipes with a team of four. 90 dishes were recooked. They both discovered that Pückler’s favorite dish was “veal fillet in anchovy sauce”, which was often served on his birthday. But the prince also created himself, for example, the “potatoes a la semilasso”. The letters received, for example to one of his nieces, show that the prince himself was in the kitchen, explains the art historian Heilmeyer.
The landscaper and globetrotter, also known as the “green prince”, had been inspired by the respective cuisine on his numerous trips to Europe and the Orient. He didn’t just bring spices to his retirement home in Branitz: ketchup was also on the menu after a trip to England, which sounds strange for the 19th century. Heilmeyer knows that these kinds of sauces made from mushrooms, tomatoes, anchovies, and other ingredients were often served with meat at the time. The prince sometimes found the food at German inns questionable and recommended always having a bottle of ketchup with you.
Pückler was a regular customer of the “Borchardt” delicatessen in Berlin, today also known as the “canteen of the beautiful and rich”. Established in 1853, the establishment had a good reputation as a delicatessen in the 19th century and was also given to the emperor. Old correspondence showed Pückler haggling over prices with the merchant. “We need to get back to talking about price,” he wrote. He also ordered exotic things like ant eggs, as Heilmeyer and Sillack discovered. However, these served as food for Pückler’s parrots.
Oysters from France and pickles from the Spreewald
Pückler had oysters shipped from France, but he also loved the region’s vegetables, fish and meat. He also helped himself to Spreewald pickles and horseradish. Sillack also offers this mix. In addition, the creation of the prince himself, the “Semilasso potatoes”, should not be missing from the menu. Sillack first had doubts about the taste and then was overwhelmed, as he puts it. “That shows what a culinary Pückler was, because it’s a really crazy combination of flavors that even today amazes experienced chefs.”
The culinary delights of the court, including 65 recipes and spiced with anecdotes, have been compiled by the art historian Heilmeyer and the director of the Fürst Pückler Museum Foundation, Stefan Körner, in a book “Zu Gast bei Fürst Pückler”. The Prince of Sillack’s “Pleasures of the Table” are performed. “Pückler knew that he could enjoy himself and that he would show it to the world. (…) It was all about the taste on the tongue,” says Körner.