What our Ancestors Ate

October 20, 2021

Traditional folk menu

The rural people have always eaten simply, efficiently, naturally and healthily. Even in the first half of the 19th century, only what was grown and harvested in the rural economy was cooked and eaten. The folk menu reflected the employment of the people, and especially the seasons. In spring and summer, meals were prepared mainly from fresh ingredients, in autumn and winter from canned - pickled, boiled, dried or naturally frozen.
In areas with enough quality grain vegetables and fruits, the folk diet was better and more diverse than in poorer foothills. In the 19th century, many dishes from the urban environment got into it, and simple old dishes were almost forgotten.
Mothers have passed on the experience of preparing food to their daughters for generations. Nothing was weighed, the amount of raw materials was given "by eye", as the housekeeper had taught through many years of practice.

Czech traditions in old Bohemia

Milk and dairy


Milk has been very important in the folk diet since time immemorial. It was believed that the healthiest was freshly milked milk, still warm. Milk was used in folk cuisine to cook a variety of dishes, especially rich and nutritious porridges and soups. In poor households, milk replaced butter. Milk has always been maintained in great seriousness and has been treated with care.

The milk was milked in wooden vats and, to remove impurities, it was strained through a linen colander into earthenware jugs, in which it was then stored in cold, preferably cellar spaces. First, wooden kegs and then various special metal barrels were used to transport the milk. Butter was rare in the folk diet. It was used during cooking mainly for greasing meatless dishes. Spreading on bread was a luxury. Most of the butter was marketed, so the housekeepers took great care to prepare it.


Butter was made from sweet or sour cream by pounding in a butter churn. Sour cream was best suited for hand-whipping butter in butter churns. Since the Middle Ages, a narrow standing butter churn has been the most widespread in our country. From the end of the 19th century, combined machines for simultaneous centrifugation and churning of butter began to spread in smaller farms. The finished butter, still pounded in water several times, was then shaped into special wooden molds. Fresh butter was renneted or salted to last as long as possible and consumed only

Curd milk

The Curd milk was either to sour and, after collecting the cream, the curd coagulated from it when heated. The curd curd was placed in a canvas bag, loaded in various ways, and allowed to drip. The lumps of cottage cheese were then dried in the sun or in special wicker cages in the air in the attic. The lumps soaked in beer were mainly eaten by the harvest.
Cottage cheese was often eaten fresh or laid with salt and cumin, so-called old cheese. It was also used in dough for fruit dumplings.

A stove and a kitchen


Bread has always been the most important part of the diet of our rural people. For our ancestors, it was also a symbol of home and abundance. Bread should never be wasted or even discarded. Each piece was to be eaten or otherwise utilized. The respect of our ancestors for bread is evidenced by various customs and usages. No dirty work was allowed to be done in the living room, no talk was allowed, and the housekeeper always wore a clean white apron and a headscarf. Before it was cut into loaves, three crosses were made on the underside so that it would not decrease. The bread was to be cut nicely into the plain according to the rule: "He who is not equal to bread is not equal to people or God." The loaf was always placed with the red crust up so that misery was not called into the building.

Unfavorable conditions

In the past, there were often barren years, when all grain froze or rotted. When the grain to be sown next year was eaten, the need was even greater. Therefore, various substitutes were sought - dried ground plants, their fruits and seeds, and finally moss, crushed branches and tree bark. Famines ceased after the expansion of potato cultivation at the end of the 19th century. The bread was then enriched with potatoes in times of need. Great care was taken in the preparation of bread in rural households. Usually, two days before baking, the housewife prepared the necessary
utensils, divided the yeast in the bowl, added the necessary amount of rye flour and left the thin dough to rise until the morning. The next day she added the remaining flour, salt, cumin. Sometimes fennel or anise was also added. Then she carefully mixed out the dough and raised it again, then picked it up with a hand and made loaves. To make the crust of the bread shine nicely, it was rubbed with lukewarm water before baking. When the rolled-out dough was leavened, the housekeeper lit a fire in the oven, and after heating it, she had to sweep out all the coals from the oven so that the loaves on the wooden shovel could be put into the oven.
Before baking the bread, until the fire was burning, pancakes made of bread dough, sprinkled with plenty of salt and cumin, were often baked on the edge of the oven. Where the children were, the mother also made them various pieces of bread dough for pleasure.

Who was taking part?

Making bread was exclusively a woman's job, which was part of the housekeeper's duties. Mothers passed on the experience to their daughters. Nevertheless, it was often difficult for a bride to bake good bread in her new home, especially in an oven she did not know. Bread was baked on average twice a month – depending on the number of
household members 6 to 12 loaves weighing around 6 and a half Lb. The well-cooled loaves were then stored in a chamber to the ceiling to prevent mice from reaching the bread. In the countryside, the rule was "The stiffer and more baked the bread, the healthier it is." Fresh bread has almost never been eaten, mainly for economical reasons. Hard bread lasted much longer. Older people bit into hard crusts and baked crumbs to keep their teeth healthy as long as possible.

Leavened pastry

In addition to bread, which was eaten much more than today, everyday meals also included various muffins made of simple leavened dough, baked either directly on the plate or in the oven, occasionally served with plum jam, cottage cheese and cream. Buns, empty or stuffed with cottage cheese, poppy seeds or plum jam are also often baked from plain wheat flour. The other leavened pastries were prepared only on Sundays and for more festive occasions. In addition to large "German" cakes, small wrapped cakes or simpler round "Prague" cakes were baked. During the year, donuts called kobliha were baked, at Christmas a Christmas bun called vánočka and other called boží milosti (God's graces), at Easter a pastry called jidáše (Judas) and mazanec, and a spongecake in the shape of a lamb. It was not until the 19th century that apple strudel spread from Austria.


Some types of spices were grown by rural women themselves in their gardens. It was mainly horseradish, dill, lovage and marjoram. Celery, onion, garlic and chives were also among the most widely used vegetables. Occasionally, satureja, goodwill and mint were also grown. Basil, lemon balm, sage, thyme, hyssop, routa, lavender, paprika and the
rarer anise, fennel and coriander have spread to us from the southern regions. However, most of this spice was grown more for medicinal effects. Rosemary grew outside almost every window. The housekeeper had to buy several kinds of popular foreign spices at the city market. Foreign spices such as ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fresh spices and pepper were used to a much greater extent than today.

Most of the spices were consumed fresh. For the winter, the spices were dried in bundles and then crushed and stored in well-closed containers or cloth bags.


In the old days, soups were the most frequently prepared food. They became an essential introduction to the main meal at noon and often remained the only meal for breakfast and dinner. We know a really diverse amount of soups. They used all available ingredients, so they were colorful, tasty, rich and nutritious. Cabbage soup was widespread, in
which water from pickled cabbage was used instead of fresh water. Of the watery soups, the most famous is the potato soup with mushrooms.

Similar were the concentrated vegetable soups - millet, lentil, bean, often enriched with roasted buns. Milk soups were simply prepared from milk, cream, buttermilk or whey and were usually thickened with a little flour and egg. The essence of the popular Old Bohemian "sour" soup was bread sourdough. Only much later did soups such as goulash, cauliflower, tomato or beef broth get to the countryside from the city menu.


As popular, though not as widespread as soups, were the various sauces on the folk menu that were served with meat and meatless dishes. One of the simplest sauces was whey sauce, thickened with milk and flour, in which potato pancakes were dipped. Onion, garlic, tomato, mushroom and cucumber sauce had a similar basis. All sauces were served with dumplings, the meat did not have to be. Fruit sauces cooked less, for example from prunes, thickened with gingerbread. The jam sauce was similar. Both were mainly added to home-smoked meat. It was not until much later that the list of sauces in the village expanded to include the popular liver or pepper sauce.

Meat dishes

In the past, relatively little meat was consumed in rural households. It was quite expensive and the butcher only had a shop in larger villages. Poultry (hens, chickens, geese) were bred, but were intended primarily for sale. It rarely came to the table on special occasions. Meat was prepared only on Sundays and holidays, mostly by cooking. The broth was used for soup and various sauces or cabbage was added to the meat. The relatively cheap entrails of tails, blood, liver, cerebellum, kidneys, lungs, roots, sliced fatty meat, pork heads, veal legs, etc. contributed to the variety of meat dishes.
Occasional dishes in the countryside included roast lamb or goats or mutton at Easter, traditional geese, ducks, pigeons, rabbits, and most often venison, hare, pheasant and partridge. Not much fish was eaten either.

Supply of meat for the winter

The pig was killed in the winter, most often at the end of the carnival, when there used to be severe frosts. This event was often associated with marriage. It was killed mainly for the supply of good lard for the whole year and smoked meat, which was often enough until the harvest. Everything was utilized from the pig.
The meat was partially baked, but mostly loaded into brine and then smoked. Many old habits were maintained during the slaughter and there was also a lot of drinking and good food.


In addition to milk, the folk menu also included other drinks in their natural state and variously prepared. But the basic fluid has long been water from wells, streams and rivers. Our ancestors worshiped it as a life-giving force and for its purifying and magical qualities. Various infusions were prepared from the water against thirst and as medicinal drinks.
From the beginning of the 17th century, coffee began to spread from the Arab world. It has long been an inaccessible rarity in the Czech countryside, which is why various substitutes have been sought since the 19th century. The most famous was chicory, prepared from roasted and ground chicory roots. Malted barley, rye, sugar beet and mixtures thereof were also used. In the countryside, the famous white coffee with milk was brewed from it. Tea, imported mainly from Russia, came to the countryside much more slowly and displaced popular herbal teas. Alcoholic beverages other than beer were not consumed here in large quantities. People prepared homemade fruit wines and various spirits, more like "medicine".

Dishes made of flour and semolina

Most dishes in the folk menu were meatless. Various dumplings were among the most popular meatless dishes. The leavened dumplings were filled with jam or cooked empty and then greased with butter and sprinkled with crushed poppy seeds or gingerbread. In poorer households, dumplings were eaten only with cabbage, otherwise with pork roast, smoked or goose. Plums or baked apples were most often added to the equally popular fruit dumplings.
In addition to dumplings, the wide range of meatless dishes also included dishes made from barley groats, which were used in every rural household for the whole year. The finest semolina was used to cook semolina or groats porridge for children.


They were a common food, especially in poorer areas where grain did not grow. There they replaced bread and ate in the most varied formations. They came to Bohemia from Germany and spread during the famines in the second half of the 18th century. The most common were potatoes cooked in their skins. Butter, cottage cheese, bacon, milk, and cream or just salt were served to them. Even for further processing, they were cooked in their skins, rarely scraped off (with the edge of an old spoon). From boiled potatoes, popular mashed potatoes with cabbage, mashed potatoes or mashed with roasted groats, always well greased, with onions and greaves, were prepared. Potato dumplings and cones were cooked from mashed potatoes, processed with dough flour, or potato pancakes were baked. Potato pancakes called bramborák did not spread in the countryside until the beginning of the 20th century and remain a favorite dish of many households to this day.

Potato Dumplings stuffed with bacon and sauerkraut


Legumes were also eaten much more in the past than today, although their popularity despite satiety and nutrition was not great. They were eaten mainly in times of crop failure and hunger. They were mostly eaten cooked salty, less often sweet.

The cabbage phenomenon

The most common vegetable consumed in our country was cabbage. Almost all emigrants took a cabbage grater on their way to their new home in the United States, and in many American households, this tool became a real family treasure and a relic, a memory of a distant home. Cabbage was considered a staple food, often eaten daily. It was prepared to be sweet and sour, loaded in a large barrel in almost every household. Cabbage had many uses – in soups, as a filling for dough, a side dish to meat and legumes. In poor families or in times of war, it was replaced by "cabbage" from beets or turnips.

Fruits and vegetables

Our ancestors had no doubt about the beneficial effects of fruit on the human body. They ate it fresh or dried. The oldest and most widespread types of fruit trees were apples, pears and plums and cherries. Fruit dishes were cooked on weekdays and on public holidays. Dried slices of apples and pears, prunes and plum jam were eaten the most.

Dagmar Pavlíčková