The History of the Ruszwurm

Mrs. Ferenc Tóth, Vilmos Ruszwurm, Sándor Rosta, notary of the craftsmen’s association, József Wiener, master confectioner, Ferenc Tóth, baroness Blanka Korányi, Henrik Spelter, president of the craftsmen’s association, József Szikora, master confectioner, Lipcsey, from the craftsmen’s association, Rezső Hauer, honorary president of the craftsmen’s association, Károly Rodé, notary of the craftsmen’s association and János Németh, master confectioner. Confectioner Ferenc Schwabl started his business in 1827 at 7 Szentháromság utca, in the Buda castle, and the cosy, long-established, but not luxurious sweets shop has been functioning at the same place continuously. The founder died three years later and his business was taken up by Lénárt Richter, who married Schwabl’s widow and he was the former baker for Palatine Joseph. Under the Richter era, the current furnishings were designed and created by a cabinet-maker from Krisztinaváros (allegedly by the name Krautsiedler) and by sculptor Lőrinc Dunaiszky. The interior suggests the cosy Biedermeier atmosphere of the period when the consumption of sweet products was one of the most characteristic delights. Vilmos Ruszwurm with the Tóth couple, who were already owners, in 1928.

The items of furniture and equipment, declared to be protected, can be regarded as the most important confectionery complex in the country. Despite the major damage to the building itself, the internal equipment miraculously survived the siege in 1849 and 1944. Behind the counter, made of cherry wood with mahogany inlay and a little door in the middle, it seems that the door in a wooden column frame leads into the romantic world of Buda in the olden days. There are glass cabinets on either side, with glittering table ornaments inside as well as with knick-knacks of the confectionery industry from over the past 50 years, including hundreds of various artistic figures: a girl playing the guitar; a teenage girl with a small hat on; porcelain sugar holders; a couple on a box that used to contain candies; a woman in a bride’s veil; a respectable gentleman in tuxedo; bishops with sweets under their high cap, with a red flag in their hands and a prayer book under their arms; pretty horses whose neck can be taken off to offer candies from their belly; Easter eggs, angels on golden boxes. You can see female figures opposite the entrance, sunrays flash out around the face of the clock above the door, and at the top an eagle is standing the test of time.

Mrs. Ferenc Tóth, Vilmos Ruszwurm, Sándor Rosta, notary of the craftsmen’s association, József Wiener, master confectioner, Ferenc Tóth, baroness Blanka Korányi, Henrik Spelter, president of the craftsmen’s association, József Szikora, master confectioner, Lipcsey, from the craftsmen’s association, Rezső Hauer, honorary president of the craftsmen’s association, Károly Rodé, notary of the craftsmen’s association and János Németh, master confectioner.

Vilmos Ruszwurm with the Tóth couple, who were already owners, in 1928.

At that time, the furnishings cost 4000 forints, and the gold-plating of the statues and ornaments alone cost 1000 forints. Later the table decorations were transported from here to the bishop installations, weddings as well as to the balls organised by baron Erdődy. Richter was such a great master of this trade that orders for his products kept coming from Vienna one after the other. After his death in 1846, his widow and his assistant, Antal Müller, carried on the work. Müller was a brave soldier, who was later given the title “freedom fighter of the confectionery industry”. He was captured at the capitulation at Világos, then he was imprisoned in the infamous New Building. At the colonel’s office, he got acquainted with lawyer Rudolf Müller Linzer, a former first lieutenant in the freedom fight, and his friendship to him could not have been better expressed than by naming one of his pastries after him. Tradition has it that this is how the Hungarian linzer cookie was born, which has been a speciality of the confectionery ever since. Later, Müller became a town councillor and Francis Joseph – when first coming to Buda in 1865 – commissioned him to decorate the table for the aduarc dinner. Upon the coronation in 1887, his daughter, Róza Müller, later Mrs. Ruszwurm, handed over to Queen Elisabeth the coronation drum, made of sugar and tragant, and the sugar flower.

Strangely enough, the confectionery was always inherited on the female line: Schwabl’s widow was married to Richter, her niece was married to Müller, and his daughter’s husband was Vilmos Ruszwurm, who was apprentice, then assistant and later gave his name to the shop and became manager from 1884 to 1922. Upon the reconstructions in 1960, a business book came to light from the years between 1883 and 1890 to show that most of the clients were noblemen, and some of them even visited the shop twice a week. This means that in those times the households of the aristocrats no longer satisfied their needs from their in-house confectioners, as was the case at the turn of the century, but they made purchases from the retailers. Another group of clients was given by ministry officials, teachers, military officers and engineers, and a lower number was given by artisans, farmers and vineyard owners from Buda.

Most of the orders came over Christmas, New Year’s Eve and the Farsang carnival season. It was customary even in those days to buy the walnut and poppy crescent cakes from a confectioner. During the Farsang carnival season the customers also came to buy cakes, doughnuts, ice cream, various creams, bonbons as well as cold dishes. On family occasions it was customary to order inscriptions with good wishes and, at request, the confectioner lent out dishes, glasses and cutlery in those days.Regarding the clients of Ruszwurm, the dignitaries, archdukes and barons came to buy sweets in boxes decorated with the picture of the royal family, the Matthias Church or the castle. Ida Ferenczy came every day to buy breakfast, ice coffee, fine potcake and mint bars for Queen Elisabeth. She also took Ruszwurm products with her when leaving Buda for trips. The old Ruszwurm was a characteristic figure with his white apron, white hat and white hair, with his white moustache bending down on both sides of his mouth. The chronicles write about his wife: “She is a fragile, toddling lady … her clothes are old-fashioned, she wears an antique black breast-pin, as if she had been left here from the Biedermeier world.” Sándor Nádas thinks back on her as follows: “At times an elderly lady comes out of the kitchen. Her back is bent, but she is very neat and tidy. She is bringing cakes on a tray. She puts them down and hurries out. She feels ashamed in front of many people, although she could have got used to it in 50-60 years.”

There are also memories of an employee: the graceful and soft-voiced Heléna Weinberger worked 42 years in the confectionery. In her snow-white, laced clothes and with her golden fringe of hair she was a smiling beauty, the real soul of the place.

Ruszwurm retired in 1922 and passed on the business to his colleague, Ferenc Tóth, who not only kept the professional level but also made developments. He worked for the company as an assistant from 1909; when he was an apprentice in Szolnok, he had to whistle while making bonbons.

(Imre Gundel-Judit Harmath: “Memories in the Catering Industry”, Publisher of Economics and Law, 1979)

Baroness Ilona Gyulai Edelsheim, widow of the vice governor István Horthy. “…We had a hot chocolate at the small Ruszwurm confectionery, which looked exactly like in my younger years, with excellent strudels filled with poppy, walnut, sour cherries and cottage cheese.”

(Honour and Duty 2., 1945-1998, Európa Publisher, Budapest, 2001)

In the spring of 1932, a distinguished confectioner apprentice came to Ruszwurm: Blanka, the daughter of the finance minister Baron Frigyes Korányi. She worked hard for half a year to learn the job. When she was to take her exam, Henrik Spelter, chairman of the craftsmen’s association asked her the questions. When it came to the recipe of ice cream, the chairman was really surprised to hear the quantity of the ingredients (one litre of water, one kg sugar and one kg crushed fruits). He checked her answer with Ferenc Tóth, Blanka’s tutor, who said the answer was correct. The chairman doubted the composition of the ice cream because he found it too thick to freeze. At other places, eight to ten litres of water were used instead of one litre. The other examiner, József Szikora, also expressed his doubts and had a dispute with Mr Ruszwurm about the ice cream composition. Finally the old master turned to Szikora and said: “Listen, my son, you were not even born when I had already been making ice cream in this manner.”

After the successful exam, they had a party in the inside room of the confectionery, and the baroness received the confectioner assistant’s licence. There were three other apprentices in the workshop (Julianna Jakus from Esztergom, Ágnes Mérő from Járosd and Erika Vendrei from Badacsony, as well as Ilona Tóth, the master’s daughter), which was quite rare in those days. Until 1940, Ferenc Tóth was the only confectioner to sign a contract with female students to prepare them for the assistant’s exam.

A painting showing the Hercegprímás street, with the Matthias Church in the background

The Ruszwurm in the early 1960s

Ferenc Tóth opened three other shops (one at 10 Mészáros street, another one on the corner of Hegyalja street and Budaörsi street, and the third one opposite the Lukács medicinal spa) and delivered the orders by car. Vilmos Ruszwurm died in 1936, at the age of 84. The death of the mentor of the Hungarian confectioners evoked the deepest sympathy in large masses of society. The funeral was attended by Henrik Spelter, president of the craftsmen’s association and he delivered a touching farewell speech. He appreciated Vilmos Ruszwurm’s human values, his excellent professionalism and all his merits that gained him great popularity. The confectioners’ choir sang mourning songs at the farewell party. His daughter, Ilona, and her family moved back to the house, and Rezső Ruszwurm sold his inheritance (a part of the house, the confectionery and the right to use the name) to Ferenc Tóth. The second world war destroyed all that Ferenc Tóth achieved through hard work. In 1945, after the siege, he had to revive his business again amidst difficulties. A few years later, when the shop got its old glory back, it was nationalised on 20 February 1951.

After the nationalisation, cakes were delivered to the Ruszwurm confectionery from the sweets plant in Roham street. Ferenc Tóth, the confectioner and former owner, was stigmatised as an exploiter. Mária Kalmár, who had worked at the shop as a saleswomen for twenty-five years, and Margit Machnievitz likewise, were not allowed to keep contacts with her former boss and his family. A year later Ferenc Tóth got a job from a good acquaintance, and later he worked as an unskilled worker. In his free time he made sweets for his grandchildren and offered some of these products to his colleagues at work. The chief accountant noticed that and advised him to apply to the new confectionery shop which was to be opened in Lőportár street. This idea worked out fine, Tóth got a job and he was an appreciated member of the Restaurant and Buffet Company for ten years. He worked from early morning until 2 p.m., and in the afternoon he made sugar decorations (roses, violets, khalas and many others) for cakes at home. For exhibitions he wove big-eared baskets, packed them with sugar flowers, tied a sugar ribbon on the ear of the basket and his products won several prizes. After the nationalisation, the Ruszwurm confectionery was closed own for a couple of years, the 1st and 12th District Catering Company only ran the sweets shop in Tárnok street. When the managers of the Vörösmarty (earlier Gerbaud) confectionery heard about this, they wanted to take over the shop. The head of the Catering Company did not give his consent, and the latter company newly opened the confectionery on 20 August 1960. The former owner, Ferenc Tóth, was in charge of managing the shop, but he received notice within a short time. The reason was that under his management the place became a meeting point for many aristocrats. Of course, this was not true. Only one aristocrat woman, who had stayed in the castle, came to the shop with her sick child. Most of the aristocrats had fled abroad, or were in prison, or had a job somewhere, but they did not go to sweet shops. At any rate, Ferenc Tóth was not allowed to run the confectionery, and he could not even retire at that time. For seven months he worked for the Krisztina confectionary plant. He did his work properly but he got diabetes due to the lot of worries, and in 1973 his right leg was amputated for aortic stenosis. He died in 1975 after a lot of suffering.

Painting of the Szentháromság street, depicting the 1970s

Miklós Szamos, the current owner, Mrs József Hazai nee Ilona Tóth (daughter of Ferenc Tóth, the last owner), and Mátyás Szamos

After the Ruszwurm was re-opened in 1960, the work was once again continued in the workshop attached to the confectionery. The 1st and 12th District Catering Company supplied the raw materials for cakes upon a settlement of accounts. The shop had good professionals who came from the Catering Company, but they never reached the former quality level.

Unfortunately it also happened at times that no confectioners were available, or at night the confectionery work was done by people who had a daytime job elsewhere. It is easy to imagine what cakes were baked by these tired and exhausted people. Five waiters served at Ruszwurm in red shirts. Surely enough, the indignation was great.

Given this precedence, István Lukács, who studied the job and worked for Gerbaud earlier, came to work for Ruszwurm. He was the master who started to prepare the Ruszwurm cream pastry after Ferenc Tóth. His predecessors could also have done it because – upon the nationalisation – Mr Tóth was forced to hand over the calculation book, which would have enabled any confectioner to prepare all the cakes, including the traditional Ruszwurm cream pastry, but they failed to make any effort. This cream pastry requires more attention, and it has to be freshly made according to the consumption in the shop. However, this is the way it is done now, and hopefully this will stay the approved way, which is guaranteed by the expertise of the current management and the two talented assistants.

Despite the stormy periods of time, long-established institutions are still able to revive at times. Fortunately this is also true of the Ruszwurm confectionery, as it is a popular place with many of us, and perhaps it was popular even with our grandmothers. We used to hear on the radio, sometimes even today, the pleasant baritone voice of the former actor Andor Ajtay singing “…it is nice to have a rendezvous in the evening at Ruszwurm”, when “… the wind settles among the trees.” Well, the wind has not revived, but Ruszwurm did.

In 1990, which was the first year of the change of the political system, the spontaneous privatisation process developed rapidly. The Ruszwurm was taken over by a foreign owner and its fate became uncertain. Thereupon the place was leased by the sons and grandchildren of Mátyás Szamos, who gave name to the brand “Szamos Marzipan”, and later they purchased the shop in 1994. Currently, the Ruszwurm is run by Mikós as well as by his daughters, Lídia and Annabella, and the chief confectioners are masters Szabolcs Ács and József Juhász.

In 1999, Mátyás Szamos, the founder of the confectioner dynasty, was awarded the Small Cross Order of the Republic of Hungary. The top Hungarian state administration gave the following reasons for the award: “In appreciation of the development and the cultivation of the best traditions of the Hungarian confectionery industry, and of his successful private entrepreneurial activities.”

(Mrs József Hazai nee Ilona Tóth: “The history of the Ruszwurm”, 2000)

Miklós Szamos

Confectioner, certified economist, owner of Ruszwurm Ltd. In 1987, he founded his first self-owned confectionery with his family, called Marzipan. Together with his father, Matyás Szamos, they began to make handmade marzipan cake decorations in the 1960s. The Paris courtyard was launched, bringing the special bon-bon to the general public. Later he bought and renovated Ruszwurm and Korona Confectioneries and opened the Szamos Confectionery in Budaörs. Under his operation, all products are prepared according to the rules of classic confectionery, taking into account the requirements of modern nutrition.

Ruszwurm nowadays

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