|Polish donuts, photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons|
Scholars research Chopin's taste in opera, in women, in clothes. .. his daily habits, the sources of his income, the layout of furniture in his rented rooms... his letters...
- Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11, 2nd Movement "Adagio" by Alexis Weissenberg, with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting - heavenly rubato! (let this be a tribute to Weissenberg who died on January 8, 2012)
So here's Chopin's butter and desert. . . And now, for his favorite dishes. During the Third International Chopin Congress Wojciech Bonkowski discussed "Chopin as Gourmand" (February 2010, Warsaw). What difference does it make whether Chopin liked the Viennese Sacher torte, or had a favorite brand of wine? We know, however, that in his teen years, he was most impressed by the Toruń gingerbread (piernik). In early August 1825, the 15-year composer wrote a report from a trip to Toruń in a letter to his friend, Jan Matuszyński, discussing Copernicus's museum, various fortified buildings, and the local specialty:
"According to the custom of gingerbread makers, gingerbread stores are entryways filled with boxes kept under key and lock; in these large wooden boxes gingerbread rests, divided into different types and arranged into dozens. This is all I am able to write to you about Toruń, maybe I'll tell you more, but now I will only write that it was the gingerbread that made on me the greatest impression, or impact." [Podług zwyczaju tutejszego piernikarzy, sklepy do pierników są to sienie obstawione skrzyniami na klucz dobrze zamykanymi, w których rozgatunkowane, w tuziny ułożonepierniki spoczywają....To jest wszystko, co Ci o Toruniu napisać jestem w stanie, może więcej opowiem, ale to tylko Ci napiszę, iż największą impresję, czyli alias wrażenie, pierniki na mnie uczyniły. ]
Chopin liked his carbs - he admitted spending quite a lot of money on Viennese "strudels" at his favorite "Wild Man" restaurant (letter to family from Vienna, 1 December 1830). But no taste nor the most elegant company at fancy dinners and parties could replace the lost family that he sorely missed, feeling sad and gloomy (letter to Jan Matuszynski, 26 December 1830). Still, he enjoyed traditional Polish cuisine and admitted stuffing himself on "cabbage and beef cutlets" ("kapusta i zrazy") at a hospitable Viennese home of Dr. Johann Malfatti (1775-1859)who served traditional Polish delicacies to his Polish guests.
We could safely assume that the desserts included donuts in the mix. Chopin was familiar with the dish and saw it in favorable light, as we can infer from the following quote from his letter to Tytus Wojciechowski, written on 10 April 1830 from Warsaw: "I saw Karol's brother, he as cute as a donut..." (i brata Karola widziałem, ślicznie jak pączek wygląda).
The increasingly difficult stay in Vienna ended with Chopin's departure for Paris, via Salzburg and Stuttgart. He arrived there on 11 September 1831 and lived there ever since, leaving only for vacations with George Sand and concert tours in England. Chopin's first descriptions of the metropolis reveal the overwhelming impression that the city made on the young visitor from provincial Poland:
"Here exist the greatest luxury, the greatest wickedness, the greatest virtue, the greatest sin, posters about sexually transmitted diseases are everywhere! - there is more screaming, yelling, noise and mud than you could possibly imagine - you can disappear in this crowd and it is comfortable because nobody asks you how you live. You can walk during wintertime down the street in rags, and then visit company of the highest rank - one day you will eat the most abundant and satisfying dinner for 32 sous in a restaurant with mirrors, gold and gas lamps - and the next day you can go to have breakfast where you'll get food for a bird and you'll pay three times as much, as it happened often to me, until I paid my dues...". (Letter to Norbert Alfons Kumelski in Berlin, written in Paris on 18 November 1831)
Soon, Parisian elegance improved his mood with countless dinner invitations that helped expand his network of supporters and students. At times, though, these invitations interfered with Chopin's friendships. For instance, in 1837 he apologized to Wojciech Grzymala, cancelling their get-together because of an "extremely boring dinner even without truffles at someone else's." The composer-pianist made a living from teaching and concert appearances at aristocratic salons; he could not afford to refuse these "boring" invitations.
- Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, op posth., No. 20 - Vladimir Ashkenazy
- Chopin's Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1 - Valentina Lisitsa
Nonetheless, two years later the composer asked Fontana to run a wine-related errand and find out the price of Tokay from a certain Dr. Roth in Paris; with Chopin's approval of the cost, Fontana was asked to then pass on the payment from and ship the boxes of Tokay to Marseille (24 August 1841).
"I'm joyous outside, especially among my own (my own I call the Poles), but I'm tortured by something inside - some misgivings, anxieties, dreams or sleeplessness - longing - indifference - will to live and a moment later will to die - a certain sweet peace, apathy, unconsciousness of the mind, and sometimes an exact memory exhaust me. I feel sour, bitter, salty - what a horrid mixture of feelings is tormenting me! I feel more stupid than ever." But then, Chopin admitted, he had to cast such feelings aside in order to not miss his social obligations. That evening he was planning to dress up and go to a special dinner for Ramorin and Langerman: "there will be several hundred [guests] in the enormous restaurant 'Au Rochercancal'" (Chopin's letter to Julian Fontana, 24 August 1841).
This restaurant, Au Rocher de Cancale, the second of this name, since 1846 in this location, is still open, you can visit it at 78 rue Montorgueil, Paris 75002.
- Chopin's Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 64 no. 1, composed in 1846-47, dedicated to Countess Delfina Potocka (National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin website), the Minute Waltz
- Chopin's Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, no. 2, composed in 1846-47, dedicated to Charlotte de Rothschild (National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin website)
- Chopin's Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 64, no. 2, composed in 1846-47, dedicated to Countess Katarzyna Branicka (National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin website)
|Cafe Tortoni by Eugene Guerard, 1854|
The busy social calendar filled with never-ending invitations to dinners, parties and visits continued after Chopin went on a tour of England and Scotland. On 16 October 1848, during his tour of England, Chopin wrote to his friend in Heidelberg, Adolf Gutmann:
"I wander around from one lord to another, from one count to another. Everywhere I'm welcomed with a heartfelt sincerity and infinite generosity; everywhere I find perfect pianos, beautiful paintings, and choice libraries, as well as hunting, dogs, endless dinners, as well as cellars, of which I have the least use. It is hard to imagine the sophisticated luxury and comfort of English castles."
As a fourteen-year old spending his vacations in Szafarnia, Chopin begged his father for permission to eat the local village bread, that he was forbidden to taste for health reasons. His pean to the glories of home-baked bread of Szafarnia reaches the level of culinary poetry... If only his doctor would have tasted this white bread made of beautiful flour, he certainly would have allowed his patient to eat it. At the same time, the young musician admits that he drinks a little bit of sweet wine and eats only the ripest fruit, with the approval of his sister, Ludwika (Letter to his "Most Beloved Parents," 10 August 1824).
No doubt, his Polish childhood included also the donuts with rose filling and candied orange peel garnish, just like the ones seen and described below.
Photo (C) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk