Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mrs Bentley's Recipe Drawer: Recipes from Fin-de-Siecle Vienna

Who is Maria Altmann? And what does sugar and art have to do with one and other?  Maria Altmann was the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer.  And who was Adele Bloch-Bauer and why is this of interest right now?  The movie Woman in Gold is about to be released in theaters on April 3 with Helene Mirren as Maria Altman in a story that has captivated the world.

I was employed by Mrs Antoinette Bentley who married Leopold Bloch-Bauer.  The Bentley Bloch-Bauers had escaped Vienna in a daring round of subterfuges and landed in Montreal by way of London England after the Nazi's entered Austria.  Together Poldi and Toni (as they were affectionatley known by family and friends) had impressive skills; Mrs. Bentley was a champion dressage rider who'd competed against Austrian officers and beat them though women couldn't compete in the Olympics, she could have won.  This gave her respect with the Viennese officers and this one thing helped to get them out of Austria.  In England Poldi found passage to Canada by virtue of his golf game - he'd been greatly admired by someone in high places for his excellent sportsmanship in golf and that enabled the family after much delay to leave for Canada.  It was in Montreal that Poldi chose the name Bentley out of the phone book to change their names to.  They boarded the train and traveled across Canada to finally arrive in Vancouver BC.

One of the reason they were able to prosper in Vancouver was due to Mrs Bentley Bloch-Bauer's father Otto Pick spinning cotton in his native Austria and because he bought cotton from the southern states he kept large reserves of cash in the US to buy the cotton and this is where the money came from to start what is now Canfor.  Toni's only brother John and her parents also arrived in Vancouver and changed their names from Pick to Prentice.  Poldi and John went into partnership and bought the sawmill on the Fraser River called Eburn Sawmill.

Leopold's father was Dr Gustav Bloch and his mother was Therese Bauer who'd married in March 1898.  His wife's sister Adele Bauer was 16 when her older sister married and the youngest of seven children born to banker Moritz Bauer president of the 7th largest bank at the time, general director of the Viennese Bankers Association and General director of the Orientbahn or Orient Railway Company.  Gustav Bloch had an older brother Ferdinand Bloch who took over the family sugar factory in Czechoslovakia.  Adele marries Ferdinand and in 1917 both families change their names to Bloch-Bauer.

Here is where my connection comes in ....

My employment with Mrs Bentley came after cooking school and an apprenticeship at Le Crocodile Restaurant with Michel Jacob.  I had ended my last season cooking for tree-planters.   I was the last live-in cook from January 1989 to May 1992.  This next series of posts explores the origins of some of the recipes from my employer and starts with a short excerpt from a story I've been playing with.

The Recipe Drawer by Lee Ann Foster

The recipe drawer was right under the toaster oven where each morning cook would lightly toast four thin slices of panettone fresh from Notte's Bon Ton Bakery.  The breakfast tray was set up the day before by the upstairs maid and placed ready for the morning alongside the toaster oven. 

On a large silver breakfast tray lined with a starched white damask linen placemat was placed a brilliant crystal pot of red current jelly on a silver tray with jelly spoon.   Next to it sat a gleaming silver tea pot filled with loose black tea leaves also set on a silver under-plate.  On the far right at the top, a delicate white porcelain tea cup and saucer rimmed in gold.  The breakfast plate was centered below with a white linen napkin folded into a gold monogrammed napkin ring laid to the right of the breakfast plate, a delicate fine bone china.

Each morning cook woke early to turn off the security alarms and open all of the downstairs drapes. Then the next order of the day was to walk and feed Beau the household pet affectionately called Dog-a-lee by his owner.   Cook would stew up barley and ground sirloin for his dog dish and kept a ready supply.  At 6:45 am the breakfast tray was prepared.

At the top of the plate were fanned five thin slices of pickled tongue.  Cook made the tongue using a freshly brined beef tongue bought from the butcher on Granville Island.  After a long easy simmer in stock she would slip the skin from the tongue and set it back in the cooking liquid to finish cooling.  Once it was cold it was taken out of the broth and the pickled tongue put in the fridge ready for the next day.

Cook had it timed where the hot water for the tea pot was boiling before turning on the toaster oven to toast the panettone.  At this time the hot water was poured onto the tea leaves to steep and when the bell on the toaster rang the last thing to be placed on the tray was the panettone.  Arranged exactly as the day before and the day before that and was the same meal every morning as long as cook had worked for her employer.  This breakfast tray was delivered to Mrs Bentley an elderly widow who breakfasted in bed at exactly 7:00 am.  
The Nichol mansion at 1402 McRae St. Vancouver BC

The recipe drawer resided in a Tudor-style Shaughnessy mansion built in 1911 in the Arts and Craft style with 10,000 square feet of living space.  Designed by Samuel MacLure who was BC's top architect at the time for Walter Nicol.  Nicol owned the Province newspaper and was BC's Lieutenant-Governor from 1920-1926. 

The home was left unchanged with the original kitchen cabinets and painted sawdust floor that cook battled to keep spotless as every drop spilled stood out on this surface.  Beau had a leaky bladder and left a spotted path where-ever he went in the kitchen.  During the week in the day-time the chauffeur Leo walked Beau.  One Christmas he got into the kitchen when no one was there and demolished a large tray of hot out of the oven quail.  Oh no!  Cook was lucky as the the butcher at Granville Island was still open and sent Leo down to rescue the day and buy some chicken to cook instead.

The recipe drawer was plain with a simple pull nob and about a foot wide and six inched deep.  In this drawer were the recipes Mrs Bentley had introduced cook to so she could make them exactly as cook did who was instructed by the previous cook to make them as they had been made in Mrs Bentley's native Austria.

There was a thin copy of Austrian cooking in English and older hand written recipes all in english.

To be continued ...

I'll stop my story here and hope you come back for another chapter.

the centre hall at the Nicol Mansion as it was when I lived here

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