Monday, 31 October 2011

Pickled Radish Pods and the Archduchess of Austria

Silver tureen and stand. Ignaz Joseph Würth. 1779-1782. Photo: Metropolitan Museum
In 2009 I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on a table installation for a wonderful exhibition of Du Paquier porcelain. One day I was asked a question about a mysterious silver tureen by a colleague, decorative arts curator Wolfram Koeppe. This wonderful tureen, pictured above, was made by Ignaz Joseph Würth for Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen (1738-1822) and his consort, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria (1742-1798), daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. It has a lid heavily ornamented with a finial in the form of a plant with small pods looking rather like peas, but the leaves are not those of a member of the pea family. Dr. Koeppe wanted to know its identity. I recognised the plant immediately as the rat tailed radish (Raphanus sativus), a form of radish cultivated not only for its roots, but for its delicious pods, which are marvellous eaten fresh, or pickled. They were once a common vegetable grown all over Europe and are making a bit of a comeback. A good variety to grow is München Bier. I have cultivated various types in my garden for over thirty years. I like them fresh, but pickled they are excellent with cold meats and fish.

Another mystery about this object was its gilt lining, which can be seen clearly in the photo below. The probable explanation for this, was that this small tureen was actually designed for serving pickled radish pods. The vinegar in the pickle would chemically attack silver, but not neutral gold, so the Archduchess's pickled radish pods would be untainted! This a nice example of how food history studies can inform decorative arts scholars about the forgotten purpose of an item of table equipage. 

Detail of the tureen, showing the radish pods and the gilt lining. Photo: Metropolitan Museum

Rat tailed radish pods in the Food History Jottings garden
Below is a recipe from John Farley's The London Art of Cookery. London: 1789. 6th edition). The same recipe occurs in many other cookery books of this period. Of course this is an English recipe, and I would be very interested to learn from any readers of this post of any eighteenth century Austrian recipes they might know for pickling this vegetable.

Farley's recipe, or in truth, a recipe pinched from another author.

The young radish pods soaking in salt water

The finished radish pods in their pickle of vinegar. Note the long pepper and horseradish added for flavour

The tureen belongs to the so-called Second Sachsen-Teschen Service, which comprised more than 350 items. Dr Koeppe curated the wonderful exhibition about the service Vienna Circa 1780: An Imperial Silver Service Rediscovered at the Met in 2010. 

Learn more  about the Second Sachsen-Teschen Service

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

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