The Teutonic Knight Diet: An Interview with Bogdan Gałązka
small, The Teutonic Knight Diet:
An Interview with Bogdan Gałązka, Bogdan Gałązka, photo: Wojciech Olszanka / East News, full_galazka_bogdan_east_news_770.jpg
Parsley pesto? Beaver tails? Green chicken? Bogdan Gałązka, head chef at Malbork Castle, the biggest mediaeval castle in Europe, tells us all about the cuisine of the Teutonic Knights.
Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux: You have created a very special place at the Malbork Castle, the Gothic Café.
Bogdan Gałązka: When I walk around the castle and touch the bricks in the wall (each brick has borne witness to a stormy history), I look at this place in a different way. I also cook and perceive things differently. I’ve found my place on Earth and I feel a part of it. When I enter the castle, I have a feeling of being hugged by its walls. The director of the Malbork Castle Museum has shown a deep understanding for what I’m doing, same as the director of the Wilanów Palace Museum in Warsaw.
It is here, in the Malbork Castle in 2007, that I began organising culinary workshops and recreating old, long-forgotten recipes. At the beginning, we were just pioneers, finding out if Teutonic cuisine was even worth exploring and what path we should follow. I found inspiration in the people that I met here. There were sources, cookery books, materials… That’s how it all began. Our green Teutonic chicken, for example, has evolved together with us. It’s been on the menu for over a decade.
MKC: Could you say something more about this recipe? Where did you find it, and how did you translate it into a contemporary culinary language?
BG: The recipe comes from the Kőnigsberger Kochbuch (Konigsberg Cookbook). The cook would bake an entire chicken and, before serving it, garnish it with parsley – that’s the secret behind its green colour. Today, we bake the chicken breast and, towards the end, drench it in chopped parsley. Then we fry it lightly in clarified butter. We serve it with carrots, nuts and elderberry vinegar. Some people won’t have it without potatoes and I see nothing wrong with that. I’m not a chef who would forbid anybody from modifying his dishes but I will point out that it would affect the taste.
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MKC: What’s your inspiration?
BG: I’m inspired not only by the Teutonic Knights themselves but also by their history. In 2017, I passed an exam to become an official guide of the Malbork Castle, and now I’m a member of the big Teutonic family. To prepare for the exam, I spent half a year studying the history of the Teutonic Order and Malbork Castle. To tell you the truth, since 2007 the castle has been my entire life. My idea is to take visitors only on a culinary journey. I don’t focus as much on military activities but rather on tastes and lives of the first inhabitants of this place.
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MKC: What was Teutonic cuisine like? What traditions did it combine?
BG: Our menu is not confined to Malbork. There is food from the Middle East, Venice and even Hungary, since the Teutonic Knights also lived in Hungary. This gives me a possibility to juggle various ingredients. I can always say that maybe a given product wasn’t available in Poland but that the Grand Masters had tasted it, for example when visiting Venice or the Middle East. Examples include saffron ice cream and Persian pudding, which we have on the menu. Anyway, we use a lot of saffron. While it’s true that Teutonic Knights did not live in Persia at the time, it seems some culinary trends from Persia must have reached them.
The Malbork Castle is 800 years old, and the history of Teutonic Order is almost nine centuries long. There’s a lot for me to take from this multinational and multicultural tradition, starting from the Middle East and Acre where the Teutonic Order was created, and ending in Malbork where the Main House was transferred in 1309 from Venice. This awareness gives me a lot of pleasure in cooking. I also feel a great responsibility for the place. Even though everybody in their restaurant searches for a concept for the identity of this place, only few manage to find it.
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MKC: What did the kitchen in the Malbork Castle look like?
BG: From historical records we know that there could have been as many as five kitchens in the castle. However, when I guide visitors round the castle I tell them that there were three kitchens for sure. The first one in the Lower Castle, next to the Saint Laurent’s Chapel. The second one, the Grand Master’s kitchen, was located next to the Grand Refectory. The third one was the convent kitchen in the High Castle where meals for the knights were prepared, and sometimes also for the Grand Master when he wasn’t entertaining his guests from all over the world.
I focus mostly on the cuisine of the Grand Masters and on the food they impressed the world with. At the turn of the 14th and 15th century, both the cuisine and the Castle became more secular. As a result, the strict rules of pious monks were abandoned and replaced by glamour and splendour. Knights arriving by ships from London or by land from France and Italy would stop over in Malbork to pay tribute to the Grand Master in the Grand Refectory.
It was one of the largest dining rooms in the medieval world: almost 500 m2, 9 metres high, supported by three columns, with beautiful paintings and stained glass, an ornamented entrance, a fire place and underfloor heating, which in the winter could warm the place up to a temperature exceeding 20 degrees Celsius. Just imagine a medieval man approaching this colossal castle, which could today be considered a medieval Manhattan! Literally, all of a sudden he would be facing a skyscraper.
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Then, he would enter this magnificent room with technical solutions unknown in this part of Europe. It was warm, the knights were wonderfully dressed, tables were laid with an abundance of exquisite food, and the Grand Master would come down in elegant garb. When the guests had had enough to eat, there was wine and beer, and banqueters became talkative. They were overwhelmed with the fare they were offered in the Grand Refectory, with twelve kinds of wine, twenty kinds of beer and eleven kinds of bread. Wines came from Spain, Greece and Italy. This would really impress a medieval knight – the majority of them were illiterate. Only some of Grand Masters were well educated. Teutonic Knights were a military, chivalric order, unlike Jesuits or Dominicans, whose task was to promote education in Europe.
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A photo from Bogdan Gałązka’s book ‘Kuchnia Wielkich Mistrzów Zakonu Krzyżackiego na Zamku w Malborku’ (The Cuisine of the Teutonic Grand Masters in Malbork Castle), publishers: Multico Oficyna Wydawnicza, photo: Kama Trojak
fot. Kama Trojak
MKC: How did the Teutonic Order’s cuisine differ from other cuisines?
BG: We have records describing the eating habits at the Wawel Castle in Kraków under King Jagiełło and Queen Jadwiga. The Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, or the Commonwealth, as it was known, was a vast country and King Jagiełło would spend eight months a year travelling around his kingdom – in sledges or on horseback. I’m not saying that royal cuisine was bad, but it was different, plainer. Of course, this was still royal cuisine, but the Grand Masters in Malbork used food for political marketing.
MKC: What do you mean?
BG: Between 1350 and 1400, the order had a tradition of the so-called ‘table of honour’. We don’t know for sure whether such a table functioned at the Malbork Castle or in Königsberg (today’s Kaliningrad), where the Grand Marshall, one of the highest ranking dignitaries, resided. No more than 12-14 knights were chosen to share a special meal with the Grand Master. This symbolic gesture gave one a sense of being unique: we will dine with the Grand Master with whom we fight for the earthly Jerusalem, to finally reach the heavenly Jerusalem.
What’s significant here is that it was not one’s origins but one’s merits on the battlefield, which determined who would be invited to dine at the table. There were no servants present; guests were served by dignitaries of the highest rank, such as the Grand Marshall or the Oberstspittler (Grand Hostpitalier).
After the feast, the Grand Master decorated each of the knights sitting at the table with a badge bearing a motto in French: ‘Honneur vainc tout’, meaning ‘Honour conquers all’. In those days in Malbork a kind of model French court existed. In this part of Europe, Malbork was a role model and a source of novelties, also when it comes to food. It was very different than at the Wawel!
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MKC: Can you tell me something about old Teutonic recipes? Where do you find your inspirations?
BG: Believe it or not, accounting books are an important source of information for me. They also provide space for some creativity and accurate historical reconstruction; however, I do things somewhat differently than Maciej Nowicki, the chef at the Wilanów Palace in Warsaw. We have such books from the Malbork Treasurer from the years 1399 - 1409. I took many notes. For example, in 1402, beaver tails were purchased for 22 grzywna for the Christmas Eve dinner. In 1409, one beaver tail cost as much a one grzywna (ca. 200 grams of silver).
The most frequently consumed meat was beef and pork – served stewed, boiled or baked. The meat was preserved in various ways. The oldest method was drying. The meat was also salted or marinated in mustard mixed with vinegar, salt and honey, or was just soaked in honey. Another way was to cover the meat in salted fat. In 1399, hams and sausages made from 240 pigs filled the pantry of the Malbork Castle! Also, large quantities of lard and bacon were consumed. Teutonic Knights were familiar with groats pudding and circinellae – small sausages that were very popular among the rich in Medieval Europe.
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Based on this inspiration we create our own dishes. In our menu we have parsley pesto – grünne sosse – for which we are famous. It’s made of parsley, camelina oil, hazelnuts from the Grand Master’s forest and dry, grated curd cheese. We also serve lard with onion marinated in saffron and beetroots, as well as rabbit in white vegetables. Today, this seems obvious and natural, but it wasn’t always like that: cheese was expensive, people were not allowed to gather honey and had no access to forests, which were private. Thus, the grünne sosse was an impressive dish. Besides, it was served in a completely different way.
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MKC: And what about the ‘Königsberger Kochbuch’, a cookery book dating back to the 15th century containing 33 and a half (!) recipes?
BG: I am familiar with this collection of recipes. The book has been a very important source, in general and for me personally. I got it from Professor Jarosław Dumanowski; we sought inspiration in its English translation. It contains a variety of medieval dishes which were mush-like in consistency as well as crepe batters – things that were soaked, baked, stewed; gooey stuff from our perspective.
There was black hen with roasted almonds, and if the almonds ran out, they were substituted with pepper and cloves. Greek style chicken was a rare delicacy! Sliced sour apples were and were then placed in a baking dish and covered with bread soaked in a milk and eggs mixture. Pieces of chicken were placed on top and the dish was baked. After it was taken out of the furnace, it was doused with a sauce made of wine, honey and spices.
We want to follow the same ideas but make sure to serve something that contemporary foodie would enjoy. Our staff can explain, for example, why we have saffron in our garden and why it was an expensive spice in medieval times, just as today, used by the rich and at royal courts. We make our guests aware that a slice of bread with lard and pickled cucumber is not a traditional Polish treat. We challenge stereotypes about medieval cuisine and medieval eating habits.
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MKC: It would seem that food wouldn’t matter to monks?
BG: On the contrary. Food was very important for them, and the plating and serving mattered to them as well. In 1403, Konrad von Jungingen ordered as many as fourteen silver serving platers. Six kilograms of silver was used to produce them. In 1409, von Jungingen ordered eleven silver goblets which weighted 15 kilograms each. For Teutonic Knights, their flight from Venice to Malbork was beneficial – at a time when the Knights Templar ceased to exist. The last bastion of paganism in Europe, Prussia, was like a gift from heavens for the Teutonic Knights. They lived here for a long time.
I believe that no other 14th- and 15th-century court attached so much importance to food and its quality, and also used it wisely to demonstrate power. In 1366, King Casimir the Great visited the Grand Master and was shown granaries full of grains. Teutonic Knights had gigantic supplies of food, they had no debts and their treasury was full. They could afford saffron and rice.
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The Teutonic State functioned extremely efficiently, also on a culinary level. The Grand Master’s rose garden must have given off the scent of Damascus roses and the fountain in its centre brought to mind the Garden of Eden – a land flowing with milk and honey. The Castle was stunning and is still stunning today. Foreign visitors are impressed by it the most – it is the oldest medieval castle in Europe. The castle smelled of different things; here people cooked, were fed, died, laughed, played music, gave lavish banquets for five hundred guests. The Grand Master even had his own private zoo. All this served the glory of the Church and the power of the Teutonic Order. It’s impossible to judge that world compared to contemporary standards. This place was a place of holiness for the medieval man. Until 1410, it was a common belief that the Teutonic Knights were anointed by the Lord and protected by their Lady Patron. In Malbork, everything was magic, out of this world. And food was an important part of this belief.
MKC: Are there any cookbooks with recipes from this era?
BG: We’ve published three cookbooks so far: Kuchnia Wielkich Mistrzów Zakonu Krzyżackiego na Zamku w Malborku (The Cuisine of the Teutonic Grand Masters in Malbork Castle), Kuchnia Królów Polskich (The Cuisine of Polish Kings), and, most recently, Smak Gothicu (Tastes of the Gothic Café). They’ve all been written based on what our guests eat and what they like most. The way I understand my mission is that I would like my guests to be able to close their eyes for a little while and contemplate the place they’re in. It’s my great desire that people who visit Malbork end up taking with them not only the memories of the magnificent architecture and fascinating history but also the flavours and tastes – without them this place wouldn’t be what it is now.
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