At the beginning of Lent, people in Vienna traditionally eat herring salad. Before I give you a recipe for that dish, I would like to write something about another tradition connected with this period of the year which was kept by the rulers of the House of Habsburg to demonstrate their humility. It was the ceremony of the Washing of Feet. It was also performed by the Emperor Franz Joseph I. and his wife Sisi.
On the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, 12 old men and 12 old women living in Vienna were chosen – they had to be more than 85 years old and the total of years in each group more than 1,000. They were washed, checked by a doctor and black clothing as well as shoes were ordered to be made for them. The old men and women, dressed in the new garments (a “pilgrim‘s uniform”), appeared in the Hofburg, the imperial residence, again on the Great and Holy Thursday. This was the day of the ceremony which reminded of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
12 old men (and also 12 old women, if Sisi was present on the imperial court in Vienna) arrived at the Hofburg palace, after the confession, they were given a simple breakfast and then they were brought in one of the most beautiful palace rooms – the Hall of Ceremonies (if you want to see how the hall looks like, open our article about balls in Vienna). A four-course feast was prepared here but because this event was the greatest highlight of their lives they were so excited that were not able to swallow any simple gulp. All food was put in painted wooden vessels which were given to the old people after the ceremony together with a green-glazed jug of wine and a tin or earthenware mug decorated with the imperial coat of arms and the year of the ceremony.
The old men sat down and footmen took off their shoes and stockings. The emperor in full uniform (red trousers and white military jacket) knelt down on his knee and moved in this position from one old man to another.
Two priests helped him, one was holding a silver washing-up bowl under the feet and the other one poured water from a watering can. The emperor washed the feet of the old men and wiped them off with a linen towel.
Besides the food, every man from those 12 “disciples” was given a small silky bag with 30 silver coins as a symbol of the reward of Judas Iscariot for his betrayal. After that court coaches brought them back to their homes.
And here is the recipe for the salad.
Red Herring Salad
4 pickled herrings cut in smaller pieces
4 cooked, moderate-sized potatoes, diced
200 g sterilized or cooked beetroot, diced
2 sour apples, diced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 bundle of chives, finely chopped
1 tsp sugar
70 – 100 ml whipping cream
Mix all ingredients together, add sugar, salt and black pepper. Whisk the whipping cream, colour it with one spoon of the beetroot juice, add and mix it into the salad before serving.