Monday, October 30, 2017

The Hallowed Bones of The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Braised Beef with a Creamy Vegetable Sauce

Photo from  Carlton

Although the Cistercian branch of the Catholic Church was founded in 1098 at Citeaux Abbey in France,  the order was not bound to their origination point.

Rule of St Benedict, 8th c copy

Soon the monks began to travel far and wide to spread the Rule of St. Benedict, a rule which encouraged work, prayer, love of fellow man and self denial –– ora et labora was their credo.

Photo Carlton

Within a few years, their monasteries were cropping up all over old Roman Europe. In 1142, the Church of All Saints/Sedlec Abbey was created outside of Prague at Kutná Hora. The Cistercians of Sedlec Abbey quietly cared for their lands until 1278 when King Otakar II of Bohemia sent a Sedlec abbot to Jerusalem. The abbot brought back a handful of earth from Golgotha that he spread over the cemetery –– this made their cemetery a burial destination spot for the wealthy dead. The great plague of the 14th century added 70,000 souls to the site and even more during the great wars of the 15th century. There was just not enough real estate to house the bodies in a traditional way. Old bodies were unearthed to add new ones. The old bones had to be treated ‘respectfully’.

Photo Wikipedia

A great gothic church was constructed during the 15th century and a repository for the bones was built in the cemetery (it was remodeled in the early 18th century). There were so many bones! In the 16th century, a blind monk was tasked with tidying up the bones and he piled and stacked them in a respectful way. In the 18th century, the Cistercian monastery was abolished but the Schwarzenberg family bought the property and committed to maintaining the cemetery and all the bones.

Photo Wikipedia

It wasn’t till the 19th century that a Czech wood carver named František Rint was employed to do something more with the bones – he used them as material for art after bleaching and cleaning them. The results are astonishing.

Photo Wikipedia

I have wanted to go to Sedlec forever (as a great aficionado of the beauty of bones –– my first garden made use of found bones – a cow spine with purple clematis was a particular favorite as well as a hip bone arch around a fissure in an ancient wood stump). This is my Halloween homage to its mad genius ( you can watch a wild 10 minute film about it,  The Ossuary by Jan Svankmajer).

Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms made of bones (an ancient bohemian family) Photo Carlton

But what about food?  You must be hungry after viewing all these lovely bones (it is nearly Halloween after all, and appetites can be surprising around the holidays???). I have never been to Prague or the Czech Republic for that matter and hadn’t a clue about what I might make to celebrate the cuisine of the Sedlec neighborhood. Aside from pastries and dumplings, the dish that kept appearing was Svíčková , a braised beef that had a rich, creamy pureed vegetable sauce. Perfect for a cool weather.

The beef has a lightly spiced flavor and the sauce a tang of vinegar and lemon. The unusual sliced dumpling is lighter than air.  I used about 5 recipes online to come up with my version -- it seems to be a bit like an Italian sauce -- there are a million ways to make it.  Although warned about the perils of not having special Czech flour – the result was superior with ap flour (it was recommended to use Wondra instead on a blog thread I read).

I used my own recipe for cranberries – couldn’t be simpler.

Also, a bit of a milestone.  Lost Past Remembered just crossed 2million visitors last week.  I've been hard at work for 6 months and haven't had time to write so I find it gratifying that so many stop by to visit my quirky blog full of quaint and curious recipes, people, places and things.  I know I've enjoyed the last nearly 8 years enormously and learned a lot.  Thanks for stopping by.


1 ½ lb sirloin
1 piece fatty bacon sliced into thin little pieces for larding
juice of ½ lemon
1 large carrot diced
1 medium onion diced
1 small celeriac, peeled and diced
salt to taste (maybe a teaspoon?)
1 t allspice
½ t nutmeg
1 t pepper
2 bay leaves
1 t thyme
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T melted butter
1 cup stock (beef or chicken)
½ -3/4 c cream
pinch of paprika

Toss the vegetables and spices together with the lemon and vinegar in a small baking dish. Make small slits in the beef and stuff with bacon. Spoon the liquid over the meat and place on top of the vegetables. Spoon the melted butter over the meat. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 300. Brush any vegetable bits off the meat and brown. Place the meat on top of the vegetables and pour the stock over the meat.

Cook for about 2-2 ½ hours till fork tender.

Remove the meat from the dish. Strain the vegetables and remove bay leaves, reserving the liquid. Puree the vegetables using liquid as needed and pour the leftover liquid on the meat after slicing. Add the cream to the sauce and paprika. Taste for seasoning (add extra vinegar for a bit more kick if desired.

Serve with sliced dumplings. Lay down a spoon of puree, place the sliced dumplings down then the stock-moistened meat and more of the puree and top with cranberry conserve.


½ c warm milk
1t yeast
1 t sugar
2 c flour
½ t mace
½ t turmeric
1 egg
pinch salt
1 roll or a 6” piece of baguette cut to ½” dice

Put the milk, yeast and sugar in a bowl and let sit till it begins to bloom (around ½ hour)

Combine the flour, spiced and egg with salt. Add the milk mixture and knead till elastic. Add the diced bread and form into a roll – about 7-8” long and 2 ½ - 3 “ wide (it will double in width when you boil it). Let it raise 45 minutes and then boil in salted water for around 16 minutes (turning it with 2 big spoons midway). Place on a warm plate and keep warm. Slice.

Cranberry Conserve

2 c cranberries
¾ c sugar
½ c juice (cherry, pomegranate or orange)
½ cup port

Cook the cranberries with the sugar and liquids till softened. Cool and reserve