Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová
When you think about Czech cuisine, only a few names stand out like Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová. Some say, she was a prototype of a 19th century Central European woman. At that time, girls were brought up in a strict manner and expected to master all household chores by heart. It could not be any truer for Dobromila. Mother gave her knitting needles for the fifth birthday saying: ‘from now on you’re old enough to knit for yourself and you’ll only have what you make.’
When she was six, granddad gave her a nice little doll to play with. However, happiness did not last for long. Magdalena was told it was shame for such a big girl to play. Saddened by mother’s words she threw the doll into a stove. At the age of seven, a tragedy struck – her father died. The young mind could not deal with such a loss and Magdalena thought he was only asleep. Once it was clear father was really dead, Magdalena tried to jump into the coffin after him. Other relatives attending the funeral stopped her, luckily.
Did she finally find happiness in marriage? Hardly so. Magdalena once wrote that had she known what it would be like to get married she would have rather thrown herself off the highest cliff. But let’s be fair: husband Sudiprav always supported her. Especially in literary efforts, patriotism and even taught Magdalena Czech. One of Sudiprav’s regrets though, was that he could never enjoy a simple bowl of ordinary soup. Dobromila would always cook huge amounts of food and experiment all day long, constantly trying out new dishes. The marriage brought 11 children to this world, however, only three of them made it to adulthood. Frequent births had negative impact on Dobromila’s health, and as a result, she often suffered from various illnesses.
Happiness in Cooking
So has anything positive came out of all this misery? As it turned out, lots of delicious food. Thanks to the strict upbringing, Dobromila learned to be extremely hardworking and became a true personality. A chef, a writer and a teacher who educated dozens of young housewives in household chores. But cooking and sharing food was also a great opportunity to read poetry and spread Czech culture. That way she played a role in the national revival, a movement that revived Czech culture and identity.
In the first half of 19th century, Bohemian lands were part of Austrian Empire. Authorities promoted superiority of German language over Czech. We desperately needed national revival to protect interests of Bohemian people. Even though Magdalena did not speak Czech until her early twenties, she became a passionate patriot in the growing movement. Meeting young housewives at the table and educating them was a great contribution to this process. Women were emancipated in case they found some time to read and educate themselves while doing all the housework.
Recipes from Magdalena Dobromila’s cookbook, first published in 1826, are true national classics. However, they were highly innovative at the time of creation. Even when we read some of them today, we have to admit they are somewhat unusual, to say the least. Besides recipes for ducks, geese, dill sauce, cream puffs or ‘Svíčková’, the cookbook includes more intricate ones. Veal chops with snail sauce, chicken with crayfish broth, roast field-fare, boiled true thrush, smoked beef tongue, steamed pigeons. Many of them are for up to 12 people and cooked with an excessive amount of butter to be flavorful and hearty.
What’s beautiful about the cookbook is its outstanding literary quality and the way it’s written. We do not use a lot of words from the book in Czech language anymore. So they carry a great nostalgic value for the readers. It’s simply a delicious peek into our history that inspired many chefs that came after Dobromila. For example Marie Janků Sandtnerová or Marie Trachtová.
Where To Go
You can find meals made according to their recipes in Tiskárna – a newly opened restaurant in Prague center that puts extra focus on reviving old Czech dishes. We all welcome such efforts in today’s fast paced world to remind ourselves where we come from. Magdalena spread love throughout her life in spite of the hardship and became a true mother of hearty Czech cuisine!
by May 6, 2018 ||