Thursday, 10 July 2014

HFF #2: Soups and Sauces - Why Czechs don't eat celery sauce anymore

I love celery and I was hoping this could be another celery staple. But it did not turn out so well, so I'll have to keep looking.

I mean, it turned out okay in the end and the taste was quite good, but it was too much work and confusion for a meal that was way too simple and not-so-filling for all that work.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it already started with the fact that the recipe was quite confusing.

Half a large, cleaned-up celery we grate on a rough grater and let it boil in water mixed with soup until it is like a mash. (We use so much water, how much sauce we need, about 1/2-3/4 liter. We add then 3 spoons of sour cream, a spoon of flour, thicken the sauce with it, spice with a pinch of mace (if we do not have cream, we put in regular roux), let boil, so that the sauce is appropriately thick, we sieve it and serve with potatoes. We taste it, maybe add salt, or if we want to have it more savoury, we mix a teaspoon of Zátek's mustard into it.

Translation as close as possible. Including the one missing bracket.

Points of contention, as they came up during my preparation and cooking:

  1. How large is a large celery? We operated under the impression that vegetables were not too large back then (I used two small celeries, because that's what I had). But now I have my doubts.
  2. What is the rough grater? I mean, I do have two sizes of holes on my grater, and it follows obviously that it's the larger ones. But, as I found out during the cooking, even when I grated it on the smaller holes (because it was much easier and faster; the large holes kept just tearing the celery unevenly), it did not really cook into a mash even though I cooked it for quite a time. So I dread to think what it would have been like / how long it would have taken if I had used the larger holes!
  3. Soup: You have to realise (which involves reading the preface to the cookbook) that it means "stock".
  4. How much water and how much stock?
  5. If I add too much water to the amount of celery I used, I have to cook it longer. Presumably. Because if not enough water evaporates, it's not mashy enough. So why did I use so much water to begin with?
  6. Do you mix the flour into the cream, as I did, or add the cream first and then the flour?
  7. Sieving. When I sieve it, do I use what comes out below, or what remains in the sieve? Logic says the former. But even though I cooked it for a long time, there was much, much more remaining in the sieve and what came out below was basically coloured water, not a sauce. So I gave up on sieving and used all of it.
  8. Aaand... we are told to serve it, and then we are told to taste it and add flavour. Yeah, really smooth, Mrs Kejřová. You're not that scatterbrained normally, what happened here?
  9. Speaking of which, no mention of salt before. Is there salt in the "soup"? If not, then this whole thing is definitely not savoury enough.
  10. Obviously, brands are always tricky in old recipes. (I used Dijon mustard, which is almost certainly not what the original was, but at that point, I really did not care anymore.)

So it came to ten points, and a list much longer than the recipe itself. A bit Not Good.

And there are even more points of contention for inexperienced cooks in the original that do not quite come across in the translation. Namely, the word for mace that is used is "květ" - "bloom", because the full Czech name for mace is "muškátový květ" (I won't try to translate that). It's a spice that is almost never used nowadays. My sister had no idea what it meant. I only did because I've been immersed in old cookbooks longer.
Plus, the word for "pinch" used is also no longer used nowadays. More confusion for my sister.

The celeries came with leaves, so I added some to the stock.
I did salt the sauce to begin with, I think, and definitely tasted it before serving.

I think that pretty much covers "how I made it". It was okay-ish, but after this one attempt, I was really, really fed up with this recipe (so much so that I could not bring myself to finish the remaining sauce and write it up). All that trouble for something that just goes on top of potatoes; for that, I can easily just use quark/curds as usual. Add cream if I want a more saucy texture. Mix it with something if I want a more interesting taste. Much easier, and still more filling, too.
And now I understand why you'll never, ever see celery sauce cooked in the Czech Republic nowadays. It's clearly a recipe that could not and did not catch on.

The Challenge: #2 Soups and Sauces

The Recipe: From Úsporná kuchařka ("Frugal Cookbook") by Anuše Kejřová (a 1990 reprint of a 1924 edition), see above

The Date/Year and Region: 1920s Czechoslovakia

How Did You Make It: see above

Time to Complete: I did not really keep track (I never do, even when I try), but it was definitely in the realm of hours. And definitely more than two. It was meant to be lunch and turned into supper. You have to make the stock first, and then it took forever to cook it into an acceptable mash.

Total Cost: I don't remember anymore, but I think the fairly low cost (and using the rest of the stock for actual soup) was about the only good thing about it. Neither chicken bones for stock nor celery are too expensive - the bones were 16 CZK, if I remember correctly.

How Successful Was It?: Blah. Taste okay, the rest not okay. Never again.
How Accurate Is It?: I can't really tell because I have no idea what it was supposed to be like. I followed the recipe as closely as I could (except for the grating and sieving). So I suppose it's accurate in not being successful...


  1. Hani, já našla v "mé" Sandtnerce z roku 1950 (recepty z roku 1924) celerovou omáčku takto: "Rozpočet pro 5 osob: 1/2 celeru-3 dkg másla - 3 dkg mouky - 2 lžíce bílého vína - 1/2 dkg cukru - 1/2 dkg pomerančové kůry - 3 zrnka tluč.pepře - 2 lžíce kyselé smetany - sůl. Očištěný celer nakrájíme na kostečky a na másle udusíme do měkka. Pak na něj nasypeme mouku, kterou necháme zežloutnouti, zalijeme hovězí polévkou, přidáme bílé víno, cukr, sekanou pomerančovou kúru, tlučený pepř a omáčku dobře povaříme. Pak ji procedíme a zamícháme do ni kyselou smetanu. " Až to zkusím uvařit, tak napíšu, jak to chutnalo. Hodně pohody přeji.

    1. Zajímavé, moc děkuju! Pořád mě to trochu mate, totiž hlavně to procezování, ale to dušení na másle, mouka hned na začátku, víno a podobně naznačuje něco přece jen zajímavějšího. :-)
      Budu si muset Sandtnerku někde taky sehnat. Hm...

  2. Muskatnussblüte! the kvet is almost the same word in german, so i could easily understand it without even knowing what mace is :) we only use it traditionally for spice cakes and "Lebkuchen"/gingerbread. It never occurred to me to put it in a not sweet dish. Out of curiosity, was it noticiable and tasty?

    1. I was quite generous with it. It was definitely noticeable in the smell. :-) And if I remember correctly, it was present in the taste as well and it was...okay.