Schmidt is Helmuth’s
wife, and the Schönwald cook. She was born Erzjhickah
Szabo, the daughter of a Hungarian tailor. To earn a
living, the teenaged Erzjhickah walked across the vast
Hungarian plains all the way to Vienna, then capital of the
Austrian Empire. She found kitchen work, sending every
pfennig home to her family that she could. Over the
years she learned to make pastry, discovering that she had a
talent for making the light, cream filled pastries that the
Viennese loved. It was a talent that was sought after,
so she managed to find work in better and better
establishments, working her way up to being the pastry chef in
some of the more fashionable villas of the upper class.
Erzjhickah was hired by Adelheid von Rechberg, she was
informed her name was from then on, “Emma.” Her
protests that she didn’t wish to change her name were
is not my name,” she told the butler as he showed her the
way from Adelheid’s study to the stairs to the kitchen.
“If you want to
work here, it is,” he told her, and from then on her name
was Emma Pâtisserie; Emma Pastry.
young Otto von Goff stopped in Vienna to visit his eldest
sister, Adelheid, on his way back up north after his
adventures in India, he pronounced Emma’s pastries to be the
best he’d ever tasted.
Always delighted by
a chance to appear to have the very best of everything,
Adelheid boasted to him that Emma could cook a lot more than
remembered Adelheid’s boast when the Schönwald cook was
lost in the epidemic of 1846.
Taking a cue from
Adelheid’s complaints in recent letters that the pastry cook
had too high an opinion of her financial value, Otto saw a
chance to have a trained cook in his kitchens at very short
notice if he asked Adelheid if he could borrow Emma for a
was only too pleased to have a trip to a foreign country paid
for by someone else, and intended to visit Prussia, then
return home as soon as a Prussian cook was hired.
What no one could
have predicted was how nasty the Schönwald household staff
were to someone who they saw as a foreign interloper.
The kitchen staff
soon realised that Emma knew nothing about cooking Prussian
style meals, and scorned her.
German was so different from the Viennese-style German, which
was itself not Emma’s native language, that she had no idea
what was being said most of the time.
As well as mocking
her ethnic background, and her lack of cooking skills, the Schönwald
staff jeered at her language problems.
knowing where to turn, and not having the money to take
herself home, Emma hid herself and wept.
One of the places
she found to hide was in the Gutshof, the square yard at the
back of the house where she went to gather eggs, vegetables,
and herbs because she could get no one to do it for her.
Helmuth Schmidt, found her there one day, and comforted her.
She was a middle
aged woman by the time she arrived at Schönwald, but age had
never been a barrier for Helmuth.
Any women who was
willing was beautiful in his eyes.
Although Emma had
been a good girl all of her life and was still a virgin, she
was so lonely and desperate, and so much needed his tenderness
and comfort, that the next thing they knew they were sneaking
around to meet each other.
soon as Emma confessed to Helmuth that she was afraid she
might be pregnant, and would be put out on the streets of this
foreign country, and could never go back to Vienna, nor home
to Hungary, he did the honourable thing and married her.
He also had her
spend time with the stable cook, from whom she learned how to
cook Prussian style and to speak the Prussian German language.
Helmuth took to
eating in the Schönwald kitchens, since he was married to the
household cook, which brought a lot of the jeering at Emma to
an abrupt halt.
Nearly everyone who
worked at Schönwald was related to everyone else in one way
or another, and no one wanted Helmuth or his family to be at
odds with their family for the way they treated his wife.
proved to be a good step-mother to Helmuth’s motherless
sons, and, over time, earned respect and affection for her own
of the senior staff at Schönwald continued to make life
miserable for Emma, and for her children, but in the long run
that served to develop allies for her among the staff who
worked with her.
time Emma came to be the backbone of Schönwald.
She proved to be a
good manager and kept the household running from behind the
scenes, she mothered all the children including the master’s
daughter, and she expanded her cooking talents to encompass
all manner of meals and snacks, not just pastries.
peasant, she lost touch with her own family in Hungary so the
people of Schönwald became her family.