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The first thing you are likely seeing here is a recipe. I try to translate one recipe from a historical source every day, and here is where I post them. When I have time to experiment, I also post reports on actually trying out the dishes or short articles on other historical questions I find interesting. But mostly, it is recipes. I hope you enjoy them.

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More Heron Recipes from the Inntalkochbuch

More heron recipes following the mues of Wednesday. Not immediately replicable, admittedly.

<<28>> Raiger praten

Roast heron

Make good spices with saffron and serve it juicy (safftigen).

<<29>> Raiger in einer geislicz

Heron in a geislicz

First boil it well. Then take the meat and a pound of almonds and grind that up together. Take good spices, ginger and sugar, and serve it.

<<30>> Von raiger gepraten vnd gespikcht

A roasted and larded heron

Make a sauce of good wine, honey and good spices. Boil the spices and serve.

He survived the meeting uncooked

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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Eating Crow from the Oeconomia

I have said before people in Renaissance Germany would eat almost anything with wings on. Here is a rare description of how to cook crow, from the Oeconomia of Johannes Coler.

Peasants in Silesia eat them young because they have a fine, white meat, especially around the legs. They skin them of their entire pelt with the feathers. The head is thrown away. They are gutted and cooked whole in a pot. Then they are cut like a young chicken and and laid in a thick-walled cooking vessel (Tiegel) with butter and onions in it. They are thus roasted together.

(p. 773)

Farmers combated crows aggressively around sowing time, no doubt killing many. It is unlikely this source of meat would not have been used in a tiome of general shortage of animal foods. However, we learn little about how it was cooked. Even Marx Rumpolt, usually a reliable resource for the all-creatures-great-and-small approach to cookery, says only this:

Of a white crow: You may roast it or cook it in a sauce (eynmachen), thus it is also good to eat.

(p. XCIIII r)

Parboiling and then cooking with butter and onions looks like a perfectly plausible approach. In England, of course, crows were traditionally prepared in a pie.

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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Heron Mus from the Inntalkochbuch

A heron right on the duckpond … you do not usually see them much in urban areas

In honour of an encounter in the park this morning, this recipe from the Inntalkochbuch. I am not sure how to interpret it, but it is clearly heron.

<<27>> Von einem raiger mues

Of a heron mues (spoon dish)

First roast it, and when the meat comes off, take the bones (pain, suspect misreading for pret – meat) and grind them up with a small white bread loaf (semel). If this is not enough, add a chicken and grind that up well. Add good wine and 6 eggs for one dish and pass it through. Put it into a pan or pot and season it with good spices.

THere is no question at all that people in the fifteenth century ate herons. They seem to have eaten just about anything with wings on, and herons were considered noble gamebirds and quite desirable. Turning meat into Mus, a term that designates any soft, spoonable food, also is attested amply. However, what I am unsure about is how this particular dish is meant to be prepared. there are a few recipes in the corpus that describe grinding up bones. I suspect the intention is to extract the marrow to add flavour and richness to a dish. that could be the intent here. A dish prepared with eggs and softened bread would be flavoured and fortified with the cooked bone marrow and connective tissue of a heron. However, similar recipes for Mus of other birds clearly call for the meat to be puréed. The bones – pain – are close enough to the meat – pret – for a scribal error to be plausible. It suggests experimentation may be called for one of these days.

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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Fish balls from the Inntalkochbuch

Two recipes – interesting, but very bare bones.

<<25>> Chnödel von vischen

Fish balls

Chop it with two eggs, press it, and cut it small. Prepare them in a broth (suppen) with wine, vinegar and spices.

<<26>> Lange chnödel von vischen

Long fish balls

Chop the fish very finely and pound them in a mortar with raisins and almonds. Serve them.

Turning fish into a meatball farce, often enough returned to the fish skin and cooked in it, was a common conceit in upper-class cuisine. these are rough sketches compared to the descriptions in some other sources, but the note on the cooking liquid – wine and vinegar – is interesting.

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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Sweet Sauce for Venison from the Inntalkochbuch

Another interesting recipe for venison. The spice mix will need exploring I think something sharp and deep like pepper, cinnamon and cloves.

<<23>> Wiltprät von hirschen

Venison of deer

Pickle/marinate it (mach ein) and roast it until it is done. Take plenty of honey, wine, and figs, pass that through and serve it with good spices.

The question how to read the instruction mach ein is the biggest obstacle to recreating this dish. We have evidence of complex marinades based on wine, but I tend towards simple brining. A sweet, rich and heavily seasoned sauce would not need any additional flavouring to the meat. Of course I could be completely wrong here.

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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Venison Meatballs from the Inntalkochbuch

This is a recipe that we could actually make with reasonable hope of a plausible outcome.

<<22>> Von wiltprat chnödel

Meatballs of venison

For a princely dish, 8 eggs. Break them into it, add spices and bacon chopped small. Parsley or sage go into the broth.

To modern Germans, meatballs are associated with making economies, with funds not quite stretching to ‘real’ meat, and the idea of them being a princely dish (ein fürst essen) is strange. In a world without mechanical grinders that can turn sinew and cartilage into edible Hack, the amount of labour to produce minced meat as well as the higher quality of meat required needs to be considered. This dish calls for chopping enough meat to absorb eight eggs, a considerable undertaking. In addition, medical opinion of the time held that a dish that combined its ingredients most fully would be closeest to the idea humoral balance. Chopping meat would have served that purpose.

We do not have any reference to the spices used here, but it is reasonably safe to refer to other ghame recipes for that. Generally, any undefined reference to ‘spices’ or ‘good spices’ leaves this to the professiopnal discretion of the cook familiar with the expectations of his time, the taste of his employer, and their medical needs.

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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Some venison recipes from the Inntalkochbuch

These are a good illustration of why working with historic recipes can be infuriating. All bits and pieces of information, but very little in the way of guidance in interpreting it.

<<17>> Von wiltprät im slaff

Venison im slaff (sleeping?)

Thus: Boil the venison first, then brown good pepper sauce and pass it through with Italian wine and use raisins and almonds.

<<18>> Nota

Note

If you want to boil venison well, do not take much wine and take good broth of beef or castrated mutton, pass it through with good pepper sauce and use cinnamon instead of cloves.

<<20>> Wiltprat aus einem guten pfeffer

Venison (to be eaten out of) a good pepper sauce

First scald it, then take good green (fresh?) broth and soften (i.e. simmer) it in that, then pass it through with wine or vinegar. Chop onions into it and add fat, and swaiffs ab (fry them? This may be a reference to adding fried onions)

<<21>> Ein riechpraten von wiltprat

A smelly roast (riechpraten) of venison which is old. Once it is half roasted, pour cold water over it, then place it near the fire and roast till done.

This is interesting, but in order to have any hope to understand what is going on, I will need to draw on parallel recipes. The pfeffer sauce is a broad category, basically a mixture of cooking liquid and spices thickened in some way – most often using bread or gingerbread, but also dried fruit and even an early version of roux thickening. The use of cinnamon ‘instead of cloves’ presumes the reader understands the usual spice mix, and while I assume the broth is passed through in recipe #20, the wording allows this instruction to refer to the meat. Finally, whatever the exact meaning of a riechpraten is, it is not easy to see what the water treatment is intended to achieve. It may well be entirely garbled and based on a rech (i.e. Reh – roe deer) roast.

This is the kind of thing we file away for future cross-referencing.

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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Speculative Viking Feasting (Part Three)

This is the last instalment of posts on last weekend’s Viking meal, including a very successful, if highly speculative dish and a delicious failure. You can find the other dishes here and here. And as I pointed out earlier: Since we have no surviving recipes, I decided to go with a number of dishes based speculatively on ingredients and kitchen tools available in tenth- and eleventh-century Denmark, with particular focus on the excavations at Haithabu. This is not a ‘Viking feast’. As far as we know, there was no unitary culinary culture in Early Medieval Scandinavia. What was eaten in Haithabu or Gotland was probably very different from the foods of the Lofoten Islands or the Faeroes. Neither would I consider it likely that these foods – though individually not implausible – would have appeared in this combination. We had a modern party buffet, not a feasting table. That said, it was a really interesting experiment and much of it worked pretty well.

Honey-Roasted Duck

Archeological evidence and literary sources throughout much of Late Antique and Early Medieval Europe suggest that honey was prized in cooking, and the pollen accumulations in Haithabu suggest that sweetness was something people there relished. I have tried out various methods of cooking meats with honey and found that basting combines economy with deliciousness. Again we need to remember that the very way in which honey (and mead) was prized clearly shows it cannot have been commonly used. Very likely it was a rare treat.

The preparation here was simple, not least simplified for want of an open fire: I took and spatchcocked a duck, laid it out flat on a grille with some onions underneath to minimise burning, and basted it with honey while slowly cooking it in the oven. The final grilling had some fresh dill added to it. The meat came out tender, the skin almost caramelised, and the mixture of honey, duck fat and meat juices it produced was good enough to sop up with bread. I have no idea whether this is how it would have been done .- they did it in the sixth century, but that is a world away. But it could have been done, at least.

Roasted Root Vegetables

I am almost completely certain that this interpretation is wrong. Parsnips (and orange carrots because supply chain issues are affecting a lot of places these days and there is no assurance your local shop will have neeps or parsley roots even if they usually do) would likely have been boiled and, I speculate, roasted in the ashes. They might also have been cooked in the dripping pan of a roasting spit. I do not think they would ever have been prepared as a roasted dish in their own right. but they did taste good, and next time they will go into the dripping pan.

Beans with Leeks

Beans are found all over the Elisenhof farmstead on the eider neat Haithabu where it has been suggested they were grown commercially. Dried for storage and cooked with water and just about any other ingredient, they would have made a filling and nutritious, if not necessarily satisfying meal. I wanted some as a side dish, and learned that it is not wise to rely on the word of supermarkets that they have fava beans if you have not made sure they know what fava beans are.

These are phaseolus beans. They were good – slowly cooked with leeks and garden herbs, just lightly salted and enriched with butter. But this is not what they would have been like at all. that will have to wait for when I have fava beans and, ideally, an earthenware cooking vessel.

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Speculative Viking Feasting (Part Two)

Part two of our speculative Viking party food. As I stated in part one: Since we have no surviving recipes, I decided to go with a number of dishes based speculatively on ingredients and kitchen tools available in tenth- and eleventh-century Denmark, with particular focus on the excavations at Haithabu. This is not a ‘Viking feast’. As far as we know, there was no unitary culinary culture in Early Medieval Scandinavia. What was eaten in Haithabu or Gotland was probably very different from the foods of the Lofoten Islands or the Faeroes. Neither would I consider it likely that these foods – though individually not implausible – would have appeared in this combination. We had a modern party buffet, not a feasting table. That said, it was a really interesting experiment and much of it worked pretty well.

Grilled Lamb Skewers

Cooking food on skewers is at least plausible in the broad time period. We have occasional finds of what may be metal skewers, but need not place very much weight on their interpretation alone. We know that Charlemagne – obviously not a Viking, but not too far distant in time and place – preferred roast meats to boiled against the advice of his physicians, and that hunters were charged with preparing them at his court. That suggests the scale was manageable and the requisite skill relatively common. The Bayeux Tapestry includes a cooking scene that also seems to show meat served on skewers. Of course it is possible that this is a Frankish habit and distinctly not a Scandinavian one. The meat of the sagas is mainly boiled. However, I still included it because I think Carolingian influences would have been felt in Scandinavia and because it looks like a convincing thing to do.

This treatment calls for fresh, roasting-grade meat that would make it an occasional treat even for people who regularly ate meat. I used leg of lamb, cubed and alternated with slices of onion for flavouring (onions are archeologically attested since the sixth century and referenced as food in icelandic sagas, though only in specific military contexts). The skewers were basted with lard, salted lightly, and flavoured with thyme and rosemary (both are attested archeologically and go well with lamb, but of course we have no evidence they were used that way). Cooked at a relatively gentle 180°C in the oven (we did not wheel out the grill because the forecast predicted rain that did not materialise), the meat turned out tender and juicy. I would think interspersing meat with bacon or fatback and chunks of garlic would make a tasty and plausible augmentation here. The bacon technique is used for venison in a medieval German recipe, for what that is worth.

Barley Pudding in a Sheep’s Stomach

This was the most audacious experiment of the day, made possible by a friendly neighbourhood halal butcher actually having stomach for sale. Transporting it in a suitcase wrapped in several layers of freezer bags, cleaning off the internal lining, scraping with wooden spatulas and finally figuring out how to close it up with an upholstery needle were memorable learning experiences.

The filling was cracked barley (again, hulled and polished grains since that was all we could get) mixed with chopped onions and the offcuts of fat from the lamb that had gone on the skewers. It proved a winning combination in principle, though a stronger flavouring than onions and salt would have made it better. I am thinking thyme, or garlic, or maybe mustardseed. The pudding was slowly cooked in salt water for six hours and the result was acceptable. If I have the chance to do this again, I will try to either fill the stomach less full or add something that sweats out liquids (fresh mushrooms might work admirably for this). The grains were edible, but still very discrete and firm with none of the gelatinous softness barley can produce. I think that can be improved.

Fair warning: No matter how well you clean a sheep’s stomach, it will smell unpleasant for the first hour or so of cooking.

Sauces: Horseradish and Herb-Hazelnut

These are purely speculative. We have no idea whether people ate sauces in Viking-age Scandinavia at all, let alone what kind. But of course the Romans used dipping sauces, very likely the Franks did, and later on, buth serving and dipping sauces are part of Western European cuisine, so it is not implausible, either. I planned three kinds of sauce.

First, a big piece of horseradish was grated and pureed. Horseradish is attested through pollen and seeds, and its use in cooking reasonably plausible in a culture that appreciated onions and garlic. The resulting mash – with a little water added for consistency – made a working sauce all on its own, though it was eye-wateringly sharp. I made two batches of sauce from it, one with just a pinch of salt and some honey for a sweet-sharp balance, the other cut with lard and hazelnuts to make it milder. Both worked, neither was a spectacular success. I preferred the honey version.

The second sauce was made from a puree of green onions and herbs (thyme, parsley, marjoram, coriander and dill, all attested, though in retrostect very much a modern combination). This is reminiscent of later ‘green sauces’ from the West European tradition and thus a semi-plausible back projection of the practice. I processed the herbs with vinegar and thickened the sauce with hazelnuts, then added a bit of salt. It was good, but not extraordinarily so. I am not convinced this was ever actually done though – it seems a lot of trouble for relatively little gain in a culture that always privileged drink over food in its culinary hierarchies.

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Speculative Viking Feasting (Part One)

This weekend, I visited some fellow members of the SCA in South Germany for a round of historical cooking. The theme was ‘Vikings’, and since we have no surviving recipes, I decided to go with a number of dishes based speculatively on ingredients and kitchen tools available in tenth- and eleventh-century Denmark, with particular focus on the excavations at Haithabu. This is not a ‘Viking feast’. As far as we know, there was no unitary culinary culture in Early Medieval Scandinavia. What was eaten in Haithabu or Gotland was probably very different from the foods of the Lofoten Islands or the Faeroes. Neither would I consider it likely that these foods – though individually not implausible – would have appeared in this combination. We had a modern party buffet, not a feasting table. That said, it was a really interesting experiment and much of it worked pretty well.

Mutton with barley, beans with leeks, lamb skewers, roasted root vegetables, and rye flabread with butter all on one plate.

Beef roasted with dried fruit

Both apples and plums are so frequently represented in the find material from Haithabu that they must have been common food items. It is unclear whether the plums were domesticated or foraged, but the stones are close enough to modern landraces to suggest the fruit were similar enough. Whether they were preserved by drying is not known, but seems likely.

Beef buried in dried fruit, ready for the oven

Beef was available, as attested by suirviving cattle bones with signs of slaughter. Very likely, the meat would have been preserved as well as cooked fresh. Salting and smoking or air-drying are plausible methods, as is pickling in whey or brine as attested in Iceland at later dates. I had a lovely piece of roasting-grade beef that was probably far too good for the purpose I put it to marinated in whey and then slowly cooked in in an earthenware pot in the oven surrounded by dried apples and plums. At a time when beef was available relatively fresh and in quantity, fruit would likely have been dried, though apples can be stored in cool, dry conditions for months.

It looked burned, but it was not

We added no further condiments other than salt, and the result was quite encouraging. I had to add water on two occasions because the dried apples so thoroughly absorbed the meat juices. They caramelised to the pioint i thought they had burned, but the flavour was quite attractive and the meat came ozt meltingly tender. A much tougher grade of beef – say, a piece of flank or shin – would very likely have come out tender and juicy from this treatment.

Mutton stewed with cabbage and barley

The second main meat dish was a slow-stewed mix of mutton with cabbage and barley. Mutton was very likely the most common meat around Haithabu, and it made an excellent choice for this dish. Though again, the stocking policies of modern shops thwarted my hope of getting a nice piece of tough, stringy, bone-in mutton shoulder and I had to settle for a juicy leg. The same problem beset the grain portion since only hulled barley could be had.

Just before the barley went in

I used an electric crockpot in the hope of adequately simulating the slow stewing in thick pottery or soapstone vessels. First, the meat went in with the cabbage, a generous gloop of water, and some salt. After several hours, I added more water, a handful of garden herbs (parsley, onion greens and coriander are all attested archeologically, though it is of course speculation that they were used in the kitchen). The whole turned out excellent and would likely have been even better with the stronger flavour of old mutton and the unctuousness of lots of collagen boiled out of sinews and cartilage.

Rich, tender meat nestled in soft grains

Rye flatbread

We do not know that bread ever played as important a role in Scandinavian cooking as it did further south, but we have found storage racks for flatbreads at Elisenhof, a farmstead on the Eider river opposite Haithabu on the Jylland peninsula. Rye is found in both Haithabu and Elisenhof, most likely used in bread baking because that is what it works best for.

I made a sticky and stiff dough from Type 1150 rye flour with sourdough starter and some salt, let it rise for several hours, and finally cooked it in a pan. This may have been the function of a number of flat, long-handled iron pans found in several graves around Scandinavia, though again this is speculative. Thermal mass bread ovens and the requisite tools were found at both Haithabu and Elisenhof, but this time, I opted for the pan method. It worked, and the resulting flatbreads were soft and aromatic. They might have made satifactory biscuits sliced through the middle and dried if any had survived the evening, but served with fresh butter, they were easily the most popular item on the table.

That is it for today. More tomorrow.

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