It was 23rd of March 1919. The last day in Eckartsau. The last lunch at the castle. A modest menu in a quiet room for Karl and his family. We are told that they were preparing to flee the country. Leaving Austria for Switzerland. You can not wonder how was Karl feeling. Habsburg's were ruling since 13th century. He was carrying the weight of 600 years . . . and he was the last Habsburg.
We arrived at Eckartsau at end of September. The Autumn sun was bathing the surroundings, invading the palace rooms through every open window. Such a beautiful location. One of the perks of living in Austria is being able to enjoy at any moment beautiful landscapes and historical buildings, memoirs of a rich past. In a range of 15-20km you will usually find a Schloss (chateaux) or a manor, a monastery or an old church and Autumn is the right time for unveiling few pages of history. The burnt leaves and the old houses, the ripe fruit and the smell of wet branches, the warm silence of the light. Perfect pairings! Eckartsau, a perfect match for this September.
The castle dates back to 12th century and accommodated six families until 1919. Throughout the centuries it had many faces, changing its architecture and interiors to match the trends of time and owner's wishes. Last and most significant works were attributed to Count Kinsky in 18th century (owner of several properties in Austria including a Palais in Vienna). He turned the location into a grandiose baroque hunting lodge. The Baroque ballroom with painted ceiling is considered one of the most representatives of the genre in Austria. Count Kinsky was the Chancellor of the Empire at that time, the predecessor of Metternich. Eckartsau was purchased by Habsburgs in mid 18th century. After Maria Theresia death (1780), the lodge was left to decay and it was only 100 years later that another member of Habsburg family (Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of the Emperor) decided to bring it back to life. Now Eckartsau is a still image of an early 20th century with deep chocolatey mahogany carpentry, chinoiserie silk tapestry, baroque stuccos, long bright corridors, electricity, telephone and even central heating ("avantgarde" for 1900's).
A 900 years old Schloss has many stories to tell. And I was there to hear them, to imagine them to find perhaps an inspiration for my first recipe. Usually a royal table is the right place to look for an exquisite dessert. In the dining room we found a copy of the last lunch menu of Karl von Habsburg:
"Consomme aux frittates, fillets aux gibiers varies, legumes, tranches aux griottes, cafe"
French names for simple dishes. Karl was a simple man as I read, he was not accustomed with the luxurious Viennese style.
Tranches aux griottes translates mot-a-mot as “sour-cherries slices ” or Weichselschnitte in German. Sour-cherries season starts in May. My first guess: for an early spring lunch, the cook used preserved sour-cherries or confiture as main ingredient. Preserving fruits in syrup or in Kirsch was quite "a la mode" in 19th century. "Schnitte“, as I find in many Austrian cookbooks, is a generic term covering various square/rectangle slices of multi layered cakes. I decide to imagine a „weichsel-schnitte”. I am looking for a four-layers cake: a genoise as base, a layer of sour-cherries soaked in Kirsch, a rich bavarian mousse and a thick layer of whipped cream on top, for a touch of baroque opulence (remembering that lovely Baroque ceiling :)).
Sour-cherries are one of my favourite childhood fruits. I love them. Every Romanian household which aims for culinary prestige has to have in the pantry a sour-cherry delicacies: confiture, jam and "visinata". The confiture should be delicate with fruits kept intact, usually served to impress on a small Bohemian glass plate. The jam should be thick, perfect for mornings' bread and butter. The "Visinata" should be deliciously sweet, a beginning for friendly conversations :) (for reference visinata is a sour-cherry wine just like the French Guignol ). My grandmother was a fan of the sour-cherry compote (simply preserving the fruit with sugar). She was serving them as a "salad de fruit" adding on top dollops of whipped cream. Such a treat! Clearly my recipe would be incomplete if not adding the sweet scent of my childhood memories. Let me explain: every cook can follow a precise recipe but the perfection of the outcome conveys when you add a personal touch to it - few grams of passion, if you can measure it, or a precious memory. That makes it unique and alive.
I invite you to imagine your Weichselschnitte and for guidance use the recipe below.