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The history of Czech gastronomy

photo:  (czechtourism.cz)

Since ancient times, Czech cuisine has been influenced by the mixture of cultures and traditions that were developed throughout our territory, especially by the Celts and Slavs. Located in the heart of Europe, Czech cuisine has adopted influences from the north and south, east and west, and has always been open to anything new.

The beginnings of the Czech cuisine go back to the time when the Czech nation was formed. At that time, people would use all domestic raw materials produced by farming, cattle breeding, hunting and trade. The very essence of the old Czech cuisine was bread. It used to be the basic nutrient element: it seems that our predecessors would not start eating without bread at hand.  Normally, they would have bread and cheese, or they would eat bread and drink buttermilk and acidified milk. There were several kinds of bread in the old Czech cuisine, for example, bread made of buckwheat, millet, rye, wheat or true millet.

Another elementary item of the old Czech cuisine was grain legumes and porridges: millet or true millet porridge, or porridge prepared from buckwheat, oats, seeds or semolina. Fruits and berries, e.g. apples, plums, pears, raspberries, blackberries or grapes were popular too.

Meat is worth mentioning too. Similarly to what we eat now, it was pork, beef, poultry, venison and fish. It was served with root and leafy vegetables or herbs, usually garden cress or sage. Meat was boiled, roasted or smoked. Our predecessors would frequently eat sausages, white pudding or black pudding.

The first written recipes appeared in the 15th century. The period of the 16th century in the history of Czech cuisine is considered the "period of profligacy". At that time, seasoning was introduced and original Czech meals were extended with Italian, Spanish, French and English specialities, and the first cook books were printed. The cook books provided guidelines on how to use figs, olives and spices from overseas.  Pepper, cinnamon, capers, orange peel, etc. were introduced. The meals were spiced, dyed and decorated (with flowers, peacock feathers, etc.)

The very oldest preserved printed cookery book from that period is the book created by a printer named Severin, comprising 400 recipes. In the 17th century, considerable social differences emerged when it came to Czech cuisine "in the castle" and "in the village under the castle".  Poor villagers would eat mainly vegetable-based meals: meat was served on special occasions only. However, rich noblemen, who lived in castles and expensive town residencies, copied foreign eating habits. Their meals were great delicacies, made from pheasant, turtle, game or sea fish. Veal was introduced and pâté would "lead the dance", prepared from partridge, pigeon, duck, wildfowl, cod, eel, crayfish, escargot or truffles. The trend was continued in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sweet meals were introduced and became popular, e.g. desserts and chocolate, bunt cakes, buns and pancakes.

This was the time that dumplings arrived. Today’s traditional Czech yeast dumpling does not have roots in the Czech lands. Our cuisine obviously adopted it from Tyrolean shepherds, and it has become a national meal. Potatoes were frequently eaten in villages, being processed in many different ways.

It was the period when cook books were published with typical Czech meals. The best-known author was Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, whose Household Cookery Book was first published in 1826. This popular book was then published repeatedly for more than a hundred years.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Czech cuisine was unified and simplified. Step by step, principles of health rational nutrition were introduced, following the diet and health aspects, and special meals adopted from exotic nations were adopted, too. Both national and international cookery books were published.

At present, the Czech cuisine is characterized by meals typical for the region of central Europe, with specific Czech elements such as yeast dumplings and dumplings filled with fruit,  certain types of soups and sauces, a range of potato meals, various  cakes and buns and feast meals. Beverages include beer, quality wines and plum brandy, in particular from Moravia, and also the herb liquor made in Karlovy Vary, called "Becherovka".
Author: Ivana Jenerálová
Added: 15.06.2010

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