Friday, December 1, 2023

The Simple Life of the Emperor

The year is 1879.

The famous Blackpool Illuminations are turned on for the first time.

John Henry Newman is raised to the position of cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, having converted from Anglicanism in 1845.

Fulham F.C. is founded.

In Vienna, Emperor Franz Joseph has been on the imperial throne for 31 years, having acceded in 1848, just 18 years old after the abdication of his uncle Ferdinand, and his father Franz Karl's renunciation of the throne.

I don't usually write about the lives of European royalty, but as I was researching something utterly unrelated on the French national newspaper archives website, RetroNews, I bumped into this little snippet.


La Patrie, the newspaper from which the above snippet it taken, was a conservative Bonapartist newspaper that was in print from 1841 to 1937, and on April 28th 1879 they published this brief guide to a day in the life of the Austrian Emperor.

Rising at 5 in the morning every day, starting the day with a cup of coffee and a cigar made with Virginian tobacco, La Patrie describes him as being "the greatest worker in the entire monarchy". Other than his morning coffee and cigar, the only thing we know, from this snippet, about his dining habits is that lunch was "very simple: black bread and Pilsner beer are on the table every day".

In 1870 Pilsner Urquell had become an official supplier to the Viennese Imperial Court, by which time the daily trainload of Pilsner Urquell to Vienna was well established. In 1885 the Emperor himself made the opposite journey to visit the brewery that was shaking up brewing across Europe. He is quoted as having said:
"it is rather odd that no brewery has been able to duplicate the singular and delicious taste of Pilsner beer".
While it has long been known that Pilsner Urquell was a popular brew in Vienna, one thing that caught my eye in the snippet was the idea that the ruler of largest empire in mainland Europe had his lunch table set every day with "black bread" as well as his Pilsner beer. It would be easy to assume that this bread, on which Franz Joseph chewed every day, would be some kind of pumpernickel, and so here I ended up going down the rabbit hole of what "black bread" would mean in an Austrian context.

Translating the French "pain noir" into the German "schwarzbrot" pointed me in the right direction as it would appear "schwarzbrot" is a traditional Austrian bread made primarily from wholegrain rye flour, and with a rye based sourdough starter. Hmmmm...this is starting to sound familiar you know. As I dug further, I came across a type of schwarzbrot called "hausbrot", which according to this post from The Bread She Bakes, is a classic Austrian bread made with mostly rye flour, some wheat or spelt flour, a sourdough starter, yeast, and "Austrian bread spices", a mixture of caraway, fennel, coriander, and anise. Hmmmm...this really is starting to sound very familiar.


One of the things I love about central Europe is the continuity of foods as you go from the Baltic to the Balkans, whether it's the staples of pork, cabbage, and dumplings or a seeded rye bread. There are regional variations of course, and it always makes me chuckle at everybody in the region claiming that their variation is the original.

I really can't think of anything more emblematic of central Europe than the image of the Emperor sitting down each lunchtime to the kind of bread and beer enjoyed by all classes within his empire. According to the piece in La Patrie, this simple life:
"without the slightest ostentation, entirely devoted to the happiness of his people, naturally explains the trust, respect and loyalty which are everywhere and so rightly shown to him."
Whether or not that is true I don't have any clue, but at least he had good taste in beer and bread.

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