1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 22

1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 22

Chapter 11

Bonn, Eigenhaus House

September 1, 1634

All traces of Charlotte’s calm routine had disappeared on the day of the wedding. From before dawn she, like everybody else in the household, had been up and around making preparations for the feast to be served after the wedding ceremony. Charlotte had been given all the lists of ordered goods, and now stood by the gate to the kitchen yard in charge of getting everything distributed to the right parts of the house. On the street outside the tall, half-timbered house chopped pine bark had been spread to dampen the noise of wagons rolling over the rough cobbles, and in the calm morning air the smell of the pine mixed pleasantly with that of freshly baked cinnamon cakes and wood-smoke from the cooking fires.

Old man Steinfeld, the porter, had gone to the tubs of live eels and carps, and — after grumbling good morning to Charlotte — started cleaning the fish. On the sturdy bench beneath the kitchen window two of the maids borrowed from Frau Benedicte’s sisters, sat yawning and gossiping, while plucking the feathers of two big geese. The younger of the two cats keeping the house free from mice and rats twined around their feet, meowing and batting at escaped feathers, while the older cat had climbed on top of the hand-cart beside the gate, and crouched there, staring at the live eels and the basin with fish guts.

“Silly bugger!” As the old cat disappeared under the cart with a bit of fish, and the old porter shook his fist after it, Charlotte felt her face crack into the first smile for a long, long time. “Arrh, leave it be, Steinfeld. We’ll all have plenty to do today. There’s no sense in wasting any energy on a bit of fish gut.”

Hilda Mundi, the cook, had been running back and forth between the kitchen and the washing house half the night. The big fireplace built into the wall of the main kitchen had been filled with roasting meats, so the two big iron cauldrons used for boiling the sealed pots of rabbit-stew, the soup hens, and the nets containing whole stuffed cabbage heads had had to be moved to the washing house. It would have been easier with one cook in each building. When Charlotte had passed through the kitchen on her way to the yard, Heidi, the cook borrowed from Frau Clara, had been boiling spiced meatballs for the saffron soup, and Madelaine, Frau Elisabeth’s French cook, had been swearing in French at her helpers in the bakery. Frau Benedicte’s feast might be small compared to the entertaining Charlotte’s parents had done in Zweibrücken, and she had herself arranged bigger in both Jülich and Düsseldorf. But those feasts had been held in castles with all the space and servants one could want, and she had never before realised how much timing and planning it took to make something like this in a more ordinary household. Bigger obviously didn’t always mean more complicated.

Frau Mundi stretched her arms above her head and twisted her back. “Breakfast is set out at the end of the big table, Lotti. It’s all cold, and you’ll just have to snatch it when you can. I’ve added one of the big spiced fruitcakes, which didn’t rise properly. And once the fish are clean, Steinfeld, do sprinkle them with a bit of salt and place them in the wine cellar. I’m not ready for them yet and the master has given permission for the use of his cellar. Which reminds me. Lotti, as soon as the bottles of sack arrive, you are to send for the master; they are to go straight to the hall, not into the cellar. And Lotti, Frau Benedicte told me that you have never done much cooking since your husband was an officer, but surely you can peel apples?”

“Yes, Mutti.” Charlotte smiled at the friendly grey-haired woman, and made a notation on the paper with one of the crayon sticks one could now buy from the Americans. Such notations might not last the way good ink did, but it was so much easier to handle. “And a sugar baker showed me how to decorate cakes when I was a girl. It’s not that I’ve never learned anything about cooking, it’s just that I haven’t done anything but give orders since my marriage. The camp-followers did the actual cooking.”

“Excellent.” The cook smiled back and shook her head. “Stina was supposed to do the garnishing and decorating, but Frau Benedicte has kept her in the dining room to arrange the settings there. There has been a problem with the best linen not bleaching properly in the cloudy weather we have had lately, and this has upset the planned pattern of the dishes. Steinfeld, you direct any deliveries to Lotti in the pantry, she’ll tell them where to go from there.”

As Charlotte and Frau Mundi passed Ilse, the young kitchen girl who was cleaning carrots and onions in narrow scullery between the yard and the kitchen, a pile of big loaves of bread cooling on the table started slipping into the water basins. Ilse, trying to grab them, cut her finger and started crying. This might have been partly from peeling the onions, but a few drops of blood did fall, so the cook shouted at Steinfeld to come finish the onions. She then told Ilse to wash and wrap her hand in a clean cloth, before going to Frau Benedicte’s warehouse at the river-front for more of the sago imported from Malaya. She allowed Charlotte to snap up a piece of bread to eat, while explaining that the lowest layer in the sago casket in the larder had turned out to be damp and moldy. It was needed for a cold ginger soup in the third course. Did Charlotte know how to make parsley roses for such a soup?

In the pantry, where Charlotte was to work, the dishes were to receive the final touch before leaving the kitchen area. The major soup, fish and meat dishes for the first course would then go straight to the table in the dining room on the first floor, to be placed in a carefully calculated symmetrical pattern, while the cheese, fruits and sweet dishes for the third course would be arranged as impressively as possible on the special banquet table. The lighter meats, pies and vegetables for the second course, had to be stored somewhere while waiting for their turn, and as there was no room in the kitchen, the two male servants were lifting the doors from their hinges and placing them on top of the beds to serve as extra storage space.

On the long narrow table in the pantry, Charlotte was decorating a roast sirloin of beef with swirls of candied lemon peel and honey glazed onions, when she heard Ilse screaming hysterically in the kitchen. As she entered she saw Frau Mundi throw a ladle of cold water in the girl’s face, and tell to pull herself together.

“Ah, Mutti, it is soldiers on the pier!” The girl was gasping and her eyes looked fit to roll from her head. “A-And it’s on fire. A-And they are shooting. We are all going to be k-killed.”

“Lotti, go get Frau Benedicte.” Frau Mundi pulled the shaking girl down on her lap and wiped the water off her face. “Take a deep breath, Ilse. Now, what was on fire?”

* * *

In the dining room Frau Benedicte was setting out the blue and white delft-ware plates, while Stina straightened the candles in the big silver epergne at the center of the table. Despite the obvious haste of the two women’s movements, there was a marked contrast between the bustle of the kitchen and the silence of the elegantly paneled and plaster-decorated room. Both the lamp-light and the pale morning light entering through the beveled windows glittered in the glass and polished silver on the white damask cloth. For a moment Charlotte felt her thoughts swirl again in the dizzy confusion from her time in the archbishop’s Palace, and she stood staring mindlessly at the pattern of glitter and shadows.

“Good morning, Lotti, is there a problem below-stairs?” Frau Benedicte’s words jerked Charlotte out of her daze.

“No, Frau Benedicte, it’s outside. There appears to be fighting and fire at the warehouse. Ilse saw it and awaits you in the kitchen.”


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One Response to 1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 22

  1. Zak Ryerson says:

    To quote Ogden Nash

    “I don’t mind eel,
    Except at meals,
    And the way they feels.

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