Welcome

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.

Posted in Uncategorised | 1 Comment

Dagged Fritters

Another short recipe from Philippine Welser – I’m interpreting quite freely here, but I think it makes sense.

114 To make a pretty fringe (gefresch) around a tart

Prepare a dough as though for hares’ ears (hasen nerla) and it must be well rolled out . Then roll it as thin as you possibly can and fold the rolled-out dough on itself 8 times. Cut it as small as you can and put a little (of it?) into a pan. Pour hot fat over it and and press it together well, and fry it hot. That way it is pretty and curly (krauß). Sprinkle sugar on it when you serve it.

The very title of the recipe, a gefresch, had me briefly stumped. It certainly did not seem to be related to words like ‘frisch’ or ‘resch’, or at least it would be hard to get either to fit with something fitted around a tart. But then I remembered a recipe from the 15th-century Innsbruck MS:

109 If you would prepare a fritter that looks like cut dagging (gesniten fronsen), also make sheets of dough and cut them and roll them out on top of each other. Fry them in fat that is not too hot and press them together at the top before you put them into the fat etc.

A gefrens, a word used to describe such a dagged or fringed edge in cloth, would make a reasonable misspelling of gefresch, and the recipe is similar enough to make this plausible. The laster recipe looks to be finer and fiddlier, with eight layers and very fine dagging cut, and I wonder how far you could take this. Certainly, the idea of fittting such a fringe around the edge of a tart, possibly fried in one piece and lifted out of the pan with extreme care and skill, sounds like exactly the thing to impress a demanding guest.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Pudding Fritter

Another recipe from Philippine Welser’s collection, very similar to the ‘bag fritters’ I posted earlier. If you ever wondered how old metal pudding basins were – at least this old.

113 A Nuremberg fritter

Item for 8 portions (barschon en) take 10 eggs and break them into a bowl. They must be newly laid. Beat them well and take milk into it, a good two thumbs long (quantity?), (but) less than the eggs. When the eggs are beaten, add flour and make a good, viscous (zechen) batter that is as thick as a streybla (Strauben) batter. Afterwards, put the abovementioned batter into a square tin dish that can be covered well and that keeps out water (das waser heb?). Add three spoons full of sugar and not too much salt, and when you put the batter into the tin, put in fat before and melt it. That way it will not stick. Close the cover (lidt) well so that no water can get in.

Item take a large pan or cauldron with water, set it over the fire and let the container (drichlin) boil in it. Lay a stone on the container so the water covers it, and check often so it does not become too hard. When it is slightly firm, take the stone off the cover and take it out. Then put fat into a pan and let it heat up over the fire, Cut slices from the batter, they should be one finger long and one finger wide. Lay them into the fat and let them fry until the slices open up on top. When they have opened up, you must not shake the pan any more. The fat should not be too hot. If it becomes too hot, take it off the fire. Let it rise up (over the fritters) and then fry it nicely and slowly.

This is interesting. The batter itself is not too different from the one for the bag-boiled fritters – a little richer, given it uses milk only – but the cooking container is fascinating. A square (literally ‘four-cornered’) tin with a lid that closes tightly enough to keep out water and is wide and flat anough to be held submerged by a stone placed on top. I am not sure what associates it with Nuremberg, but it is possible the link is with the fame of Nuremberg’s metalsmiths and craftspeople who would find making such a thing easy.

Another point of interest is the word barschon en. Hayer reads this as persons, but I wonder whether it is not a phonetic rendering of portions, maybe from Italian or French. The word, though common in modern German, was not used at the time, but this could be evidence of an early occurrence.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hat-shaped Fritters

Another short recipe frpm Philippine Welser’s collection. These are basic fritters, but the shape distinguishes them:

A Schaube and one of the possible hats worn with it, courtesy of wikimedia commons

108 If you want to fry schaub hiettla (hats)

Take 8 egg yolks on the table and a little more cream than there are yolks, and a good lump of fat, as much as to spread on a slice of bread (wie an ain geschmaltztes brott). Beat the eggs well together and salt them. Stir in fine flour and prepare the dough as though for hares’ ears (hasen nerla dayg). Break off pieces as large as a walnut and roll them out in discs (gescheyblat). Lay them in a dish, and when you want to fry them, place them on an iron spoon beforehand and immerse the spoon in the fat with the dough sheet (bledlin). Thus it will be shaped like a hat. Turn them around quickly so they do not become brown.

I am not entirely sure what a schaub hietla is, but hietla is clearly the diminutive of hat. A Schaube is a male outer garment worn by wealthy people, especially academics and officials, and the hat may be associated with it, but that is uninformed speculation. I am no expert on clothing.

EDIT: I am indebted to my learned friend for the information that a Schaubhut as early as the fifteenth century refers to a wide straw hat worn for field work in summer. It is only etymologically related to the Schaube, but had a shallow bowl surrounded by a wide brim – much like a sombrero, and exactly like the shape you would expect to produce by draping a dough circle over an inverted spoon. Thank you!

More like this, late fifteenth century courtesy of wikimedia commons

Certainly the fritter is interesting. It is very rich with cream and fat, almost like a modern cookie dough, and reallys looks better fit for baking than frying. The shape it is given over a metal spoon would not hold up in an oven, though, so that is most likely why it went into the pan. Note how it is carefully lowered into the fat still attached to the spoon – these must have been fragile things. My problem in reconstructing them is that while I am sure everybody then knew what kind of hat they were supposed to look like, I have no idea which of the many different kinds of sixteenth-century headwear to copy. I could absolutely see shaping the dough over an inverted cupcake pan, though.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

Posted in Uncategorised | Leave a comment

Bag Pudding Fritters

Two brief recipes from Philippine Welser’s collection, and I beg your forgbearance with all the gaps. I have once again been distracted by a fascinating source and had to finish a manuscript. Sadly, it does not look like my time will be more plentiful, and since another book badly needs finishing, I cannot promise the posts will become more frequent in the near future.

110 If you want to make a pounded (gestosenn) fritter

Take 8 eggs, 8 spoons full of milk, 4 spoons full of water and make it like a streybla (Strauben) batter. Put it into a cloth, grease the cloth with fat (beforehand) and hang it in a pan with water. Let it boil until it turns nicely thick. Then turn it over (out of the cloth) and cut it into long slices two fingers wide. Lay them in fat and let them fry slowly, and keep the dough warm in warm water.

112 If you want to fry bag fritters (sack kiechla)

Take as much water as there is eggs and make the batter thinner than streybla (Strauben) batter. Put it into a small bag and lay that into a pot so it boils. After it has boiled a good half and a quarter of an hour, open the bag and push your finger into the batter. If it is boiled to the point you can insert a finger, cut it apart in the middle like you cut a semel loaf. Lay it into cool fat and stir the pan well, that way it rises (kleubts auf). Fry it gently. Make the bag narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, that way you get it out in one piece and can cut it properly.

There is very little difference between these two recipes, which once again raises the question why they were recorded separately. A fairly thin, egg-based batter is first boiled in a greased bag (I assume that you would grease the cloth in both cases because it is really the practical thing to do). Once it has firmed up, you take it out, slice it, and fry it at a gentle heat. Since the original batter included no added fat, and milk only in recipe #110, it would likely take well to deep-frying. Given the proximity in time and geography, it should not be surprising that the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch has a parallel recipe, though it is less detailed.

Both recipes have some interesting aspects. The first uses spoons as as measure, likely a common practice though we would love to know what size they were thinking of. The second instructs us to cut the cooked batter apart in the middle like a semel loaf. It is at least possible that people already routinely cut their semel rolls – roughly the size of today’s breadrolls – as we do our Semmel. Since, as far as we know, they did not put jams, cheese, or cold cuts on them it is hard to see why, but the suggestion is there. Of course, neither of this is central to the instructions here. The proportion of egg to water or water-milk mixture abnd, more importantly, of flour to liquid is likely the deciding factor in how these fritters turn out, and I find it hard to predict. Neither am I sure I want to try it, though I may if given the opportunity.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A New Kitchen Toy

Once you get into historical cooking, you start becoming an equipment collector. The techniques and tools of the past are fascinating, even if we can’t fully replicate them. I am an avid flea market shopper anyway, so this part comes easily to me.

Four weeks ago, I planned to go to the archeological museum in Munich with a friend who lives in Bamberg. In the end, her health did not allow the long trip and extensive walking that day, so we went to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum and a flea market in Nuremberg instead. At that flea market, I stumbled across what the owner described as an antique flowerpot and bought it for a lucky 13 Euros.

It turned out to be a three-legged cast-iron cooking pot, much like the grapen I wrote about a little earlier. At 14cm tall and 16cm wide, it is not very large and holds a little over a litre comfortably, but it weighs in at a hefty 1.6kg. Its stint in someone’s garden had not been healthy for it, but the underlying material was sound. I set about rehabilitating it.

The first step was cleaning it. A soak in hot soap water did the trick and it wasn’t even very dirty. Next, the rust needed removing. Fortunately, it was all superficial, a thin layer of reddish brown with no flaking or pitting. I set the pot in a bucket and covered with with hot water and acetic acid. The rust came off easily with a light touch of the wire brush and I was very grateful for the second-hand Dremel set I’d purchased recently. If you want to recover old kitchen equipment, you really want power tools. I used to do this by hand and it is a very frustrating experience.

De-rusted and soaking

After the dirt and the rust had come off, a surprise was waiting at the bottom of the pot. I had feared it would be rust-pitted, but instead it was covered in a thick, smooth layer of limescale. How this could have happened is beyond me, but it was lucky because it protected the metal underneath. However, removing this proved a test of patience. I tried to dissolve it with acetic acid, but it proved quite resistant. A wire brush mounted on my electric drill produced white powder, but abraded it so slowly that I would have taken days of work to get it off. in the end, I chose the oldfashioned approach and picked up a hammer.

Quite a bit of the limescale has already been taken off

It was slightly worrying, trying to strike hard enough to shatter the limescale, but not hard enough to damage the metal, and I started out far too timidly. To get at the inside curve, I had to use a 15-cm steel nail that I placed against the side and struck with my hammer. After two weekends of work, I was able to put the cleaned pot into another de-rusting bath, scrub it with steel wool, and begin the seasoning.

Ready to go

Yesterday, I burned in the last coat of canola oil and tested the surface. Water droplets formed and ran off easily, and even a thorough scrubbing did not produce and dirt or rust. It is now ready to join my kitchen gear and I hope to use it for making sauces or small portions of meat and stew.

Posted in Uncategorised | Leave a comment

Mortar Fritters

As we return to more regular shorter recipes, this is a species of choux paste frittrer. It is from the recipe collection of Philippine Welser, and the point appears to be that it puffs up quite spectacularly:

105 If you want to fry mortar fritters (mayrser kiechla)

Take eggs and pour cold water over them. Then lay them in hot water and keep them warm. Put water over the fire and salt and fat and let it boil like a soup. Take good flour and sprinkle (ses) it in. Stir it with the handle of a cooking spoon. Take the pan off the fire and stir the lumps (knollen) to pieces. Then set it above the fire again and dry it well. Turn it over thoroughly, and when you have dried it, put it into another pan. Break the abovementioned eggs into it one after another and stir it until the dough is smooth. It is better to do this with your hand. When you want to break the eggs into it, dry them off beforehand so no water can drip off the eggs into the dough. Make this dough smooth and stiff like wax with your hand. Do not make it too thin. If you want to lay it in (the fat), tilt the pan If the dough flows a little, it is proper. Take a piece of dough as big as a hen’s egg with an iron spoon and lay it into hot fat, but not too hot. Let them fry slowly, and when they open up, turn them over with the opening downwards, and shake the pan.

106 Mortar fritters in a different way

Take a querttlin (about a cup) of water and boil it. Add a little fat and salt, and when it boils, stir in flour and dry it well over the fire. Put it into a mortar and pound it with eggs until it is like a dough for byette kiechla (choux pastry). Then lay it into hot fat with an iron spoon into fat that is not too hot and let them fry gently.

107 Another way to fry mortar fritters

Take milk worth a pfennig and as much water, let it boil and add a piece of fat the size of a walnut. When it is boiling, sprinkle in good spelt flour (keren mel) until it becomes very thick and dry. Let it dry slowly over the fire. Then put it into a mortar and pound the lumps to pieces. Then break in one egg after another until it becomes rather soft, but thicker than a streybla (Strauben fritter) batter. Break the eggs into it when they are quite cool. If you handle them right, they will turn out well and be as large as a semel loaf.

Despite sharing a name with the ever popular mortar cakes, they are not at all the same thing. Their name kiechla is a dialectal variant and diminutive of kuchen(n), a word that had a much wider meaning then than it does today, and though it strictly means “small cake”, in the Welser collections it always refers to a fritter. Here, the mortar is not the cooking vessel, but used to prepare the batter. It is needed to breask up the lumps in the choux pastry as the egg is mixed in, a tedious but necessary process.

The three variants here are, again, very closely related, one being made with a mixture of milk and water and using spelt flour spoecifically, the others using fat and water. The first recipe has more detailed instructions, but we can assume that they apply to the other ones as well. As the dough is passed into the fat, it is meant to rise and expand, tearing open its already cooked surface, and a careful cook will turn it over to expose the raw dough emerging to hot fat directly to cook it evenly and prevent it becoming misshapen. We do not know howe big the spoon used to transfer it into the fat would have been, but a semel loaf was a substantial breadroll, so it does not seem out of place to think the expansion similar to our vol-au-vents. That would have been quite a spectacular trick.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Buccaneer Wedding Feast

I apologise for missing more posts yet, but things are returning to a more normal schedule and I hope to be back to regular short recipes soon. Today, I want to post a little about the project that took up so much of my time:

A good friend asked me to cook for the wedding she was hosting of another good friend’s sister, both of whom are in my medieval club. This time, though, the food would not be medieval. The couple had ordered a Cuban-style roast pig from a local butcher and asked me to prepare side dishes in the buccaneer style. I’ve been working – albeit frustratingly slowly – on a cookbook based on the seventeenth-century Caribbean, so this was a good opportunity to try my recipes.

With the main meat dish covered, I decided on two additional meats for variety and to provide for guests who do not eat pork. Fish, as I originally suggested, was disliked by too many and did not make it onto the menu. Instead, I chose to fake it.

The first dish was a plastron, the meat from the back shell of a turtle, as described by Jean Baptiste Labat. Obviously, sea turtles are a protected species and thus unavailable for eating. We went with veal which is the suggested substitute in cookbooks from a time when turtles were still sold. I rubbed a piece of roast with allspice, chili, salt, and cloves, added lemon and orange juice, put some of the peel into the liquid, and slow-baked it in a covered dish. The original recipe envisions the shell filled with the liquid and baked in a slow oven. The result was not comparable, obviously, but reasonably close.

The second fake was vers du palmiste, again based on Labat’s account. He describes the technique of coating unseasoned meat in a spiced breading while it roasted several times, most precisely in his account of eating palm grubs. With a view to the children at the table, and because grubs are very hard to source, we decided to use chicken instead. Coated in a breading seasoned with pepper, nutmeg, and salt, they were easily the most universally popular item.

A third protein dish made to accommodate vegetarians, but also popular with carnivores, was scrambled eggs seasoned with bitter orange juice. This does not have any link to the Caribbean I am aware of, but is attested both in the fifteenth-century Registrum Cocinae and later in various recipe books down to modernity. Most later versions are sweetened, but that seems to be owed to the modern idea that citrus needs to be. It does not. Orange works fine with savoury dishes.

The side dishes to accompany them were less ambitious and more honest: sweet potatoes, carrots in a mustard sauce, and coconut rice. The first is described so universally that it must have been a very common dish. Alexandre Exquemelin claims that the inhabitants of Tortuga ate sweet potatoes with a chili sauce for their first meal daily. They cooked them in pots covered with cloth in very little water, a process that I approximated by steaming. There is nothing exceptional about this dish, but it went well with the other things we had.

Labat is almost lyrical in his description of the gardens of Martinique and mentions that carrots, though imported from Europe, grew extremely well there. The inhabitants, he stated, eat them in mustard sauce or cooked with meat and pureed. Since he also described mustard being a popular condiment on flibustier ships, I opted for this as a safely vegetarian option. The sauce is a simple roux, described in French sources of the time. This would have been a bit of a luxury in the Caribbean where wheat flour was expensive, but not implausible. I had hoped to add palm hearts which were cooked in the same way, but there were none to be had.

The third side dish was coconut rice, a dish described by William Dampier. The original was cooked in coconut water after chickens, so it would have absorbed a lot of chicken fat and flavour. In order to keep it vegetarian, I opted for a vegetable stock to which I added rasped coconut, coconut milk (it should have been coconut water, but again this was unavailable) and round-grain rice, which was the type then popular in Europe. Cooked slowly in a crockpot, it turned out delicous, as it always does.

We served fruit and a small salad with these dishes, artfully arranged by my friend who is much better at these things than I am. Salads were a staple of seventeenth-century festive cuisine, though they were usually much more elaborate than this, and tropical fruit is described by all European explorers with awe. Many settlers ate it so regularly and in such quantities that physicians despaired for their health.

Two sauces rounded out the meal. One was the chili sauce so universally described that it must have represented a staple, probably descended from Native American cuisine, though strongly Europeanised. Labat calls it pimentade. The basic approach was a combination of salt, lemon juice, and ground chili peppers, sometimes with an addition of fat or other spices. I opted for some fairly mild chilis (we Germans do not deal well with hot foods as any döner salesman can tell you) with just lemon juice and salt, and the result was quite good.

The other sauce was a sweet and sour avocado mash, seasoned with lemon juice and sugar as described again by William Dampier. This does not show up in other sources and I suspect it was a rather limited specialty, but it has proven universally popular not just with the plantains he recommends it with.

To contribute to the sweet course which also included large numbers of cakes from various guests, I made two kinds of marzipan. Labat describes both in different parts of his account. The first was simply a European-style marzipan substituting peanuts for almonds. Labat was not particularly fond of this, but described that settlers cook it because almonds do not grow in the Caribbean. The second, though, is something he is deeply fond of: A marzipan made with cashew nuts and cocoa nibs. I am not sure what proportion he envisions, but a ratio of 1/4 cocoa to 3/4 cashew yielded a wonderfully chocolatey, though slightly brittle mix. I was in the kitchen when these went out and cannot attest to how popular they were, but when I brought leftovers to work Monday, they disappeared very quickly.

I thoroughly enjoyed cooking all of this, meeting lovely people, and feeling welcome and appreciated. The journey by rail was more of an adventure than I would have liked – there was flood damage to several main lines, and everyone is scrambling to complete overdue repairs before the European Cup – but that is just one of the usual vexations of living in Germany. Altogether, it was a good day and I hope a proper start to married life for the lovely couple.

We will soon return you to our regularly scheduled German Renaissance programming.

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Antler-shaped fritters

I am sorry for the long silence. This weekend, I was busy cooking a historical wedding feast for the sister of a good friend in South Germany, which involved as good deal of preparation and some pretty crazy travel arrangements. I preomise there will be pictures and descriptions of the dishes. I am back home today, but there is only time for a short recipe, one with which we return to Philippine Welser’s collection:

101 If you want to fry antlers (hirsch horn)

Take 6 eggs and beat them and take 4 large spoons full of sugar and stir in good flour. Make it as a dough for hares’ ears (hasen nerla) that is well rolled out, Cut off a piece and roll it out lengthwise about as long as a spindle and make it (cut it) so that it resembles an antler with its points. Then let it fry nicely and properly in fat. When you want to serve it, you should always set two and two opposed to each other in the bowl and sprinkle them with sugar.

This is basically a ‘short’ cookie, though the fat is introduced by frying instead of being added to the dough. This is familiar from other recipes, among others the common manner of making pastries in greased pans. In one recipe from Northern Germany, we also find a sheet of such dough spread with butter before baking. These are ancestory to the plethora of German Plätzchen and Kekse of today, and a parallel recipe from 1598 refers to a variety of shapes beyond the antler.

These antlers must have been pleasant – sweet, rich, warm, elegant. Arranged in pairs to look like a set of antlers laid out after the hunt, they must also have looked the part on a well-set banqueting table. There is, obviously, always the option of adding some butter and baking rather than frying them if you prefer a more modern approach. As fresh fritters, they are especially delicious, but do not keep well.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rules for Cookpots

Just a short post today, but this is one of the little things that I so enjoy finding. I was writing about the massive grapen cookpots, three-legged bronze vessels that stood in the embers of the fire, at the kitchen of the Heilig-Geist-Spital in Hamburg. Through the sheer weight of metal that went into them, these were expensive and long-lived items, but they were also widespread enough for the Hanseatic cities to support entire guilds of the artisans who made them. It is from the records of one of these, the Hamburg guild of pewter and bronze casters that we get regulations for the material from which their products must be made.

Grapen courtesy of wikimedia commons

The 1357 ordinances specify:

Pewter casters are to produce bottles, bowls, saltcellars and footed dishes from pure tin without lead. However, if the tin is too hard (i.e. brittle) so it cannot be cast without lead, they may properly add a sixtieth or fiftieth part of lead, depending on how hard it is, and no more than that. They may add a fourth part of lead when casting pitchers, but if anyone should wish to have them made from pure tin, they may do that, too.

Further down, the document also records an agreement made between the guilds of the cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, Rostock, Stralsund, Wismar, Greifswald and Stettin (Szczecin) in 1354. Is specifies:

Grapen must be cast with soft copper, with the addition of half recycled grapen metal (gropenspise) or 4 Livonian pounds (28.4 lbs) of tin to each Schiffspfund (136 lbs) of copper, without any lead. Grapen must be marked.

A further agreement of 1368 adds:

Grapen may also be cast from good, hard and pure copper that has half recycled metal (spise) added. Lead must be added to this.

Finally, we have an addition made in 1444 noting the council of Lübeck agreed with its guild of bronzecasters that grapen can also be made from different materials, namely using a mixture of 3 lbs of soft copper to 1 lb of hard copper. Where the prized soft copper was not on hand, 2 lbs of Swedish copper could be used to each 1 lb of hard copper. The text adds that all soldering must be done with tin, never with lead.

At first sight, this does not make much sense to a modern reader used to the idea of getting materials in a pure and standardised form, but it provides a fascinating insight into the struggles of craftsmanship in an age before industrial supplies. Clearly there was an interest in ensuring standardisation and the purity of the metal that people paid large sums for. Notably, the regulations – most likely instigated by the city councils – also show that people were concerned about lead being added to the metal. The regularity with which this is repeated suggests it was more than the suspicion of paying high prices for substandard material. Most likely, they understood the health implications at some level.

At the same time, the regulations show a pattern that is drearily familiar today. A ban on lead, very likely initially intended to be complete, is riddled with exceptions as it faces the practical realities of the industry. After all, you could not just order any quantity and grade from a reputable copper merchant. Metal was simply not available in its pure form, and the products of different mines varied in their qualities due to their composition. Clearly, the coveted soft copper was not in unlimited supply, and after 14 years, the councils relented and allowed the use of less promising material with an admixture of lead.

The pewter casters are under a similar injunction. They must not add lead to their tin unless it is absolutely necessary – in this case the permission is given immediately, not after a span of years, but the quantity is clearly defined and quite small, between 1.7% and 2%. It is horrifying by comparison to find 25% lead permitted to be added to kannen (pitchers), but of course these were used daily and subjected to considerable stress. No doubt the practicality of making them from a softer, more malleable alloy that would not tear when bent outweighed other concerns. Lead is, after all, an extremely useful and pleasant material to work with. Wine served in these pitchers must even have tasted sweeter than from pure tin ones, and it is doubtful the creeping effect of their toxicity would have been noticeable. We are not the first generation to face this kind of test – nor to fail it.

Finally, it is not surprising that all agreements specify a large proportion of recycled metal in the bronze mix. Medieval society could not afford to be wasteful, and the economic ecosystem of a medieval city found profitable uses for almost anything. An old metal pot, broken or battered beyond the willingness of the poorest to use, would be turned into a new one.

The relevant texts (and much more material of interest) can be found in Otto Rüdiger: Die ältesten hamburgischen Zunftrollen und Brüderschaftsstatuten, Lucas Gräfe, Hamburg 1874

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Sixteenth-Century Institutional Kitchen

We looked at the 1547 meal plan of the Heilig-Geist-Spital in Hamburg before. However, there is another interesting resource. Its fortunate survival allows us a glimpse of the kitchen in which all of these meals were produced. Kitchen inventories are rare except in the context of probate estates, and those are usually quite limited. However, when the Spital was handed over to the committee of the Oberalten in 1528 as part of Bugenhagen’s Lutheran church reform, a list of all properties and possessions was made. Such lists also still exist for a number of other church institutions, preserved again not in the original, but in Staphorst’s source collection, the 1723-29 Historia Ecclesiae Hamburgensis Diplomatica. As in so many cases in the history of Hamburg, the losses of 1842 and 1943 are only partly made up by the work of the city’s historians.

The kitchen equipment in the Spital is recorded with a view to its value as a household asset here, listing metal vessels by weight. This was commonly done with larger kitchen gear whose mass of bronze or copper represented its resale value. Some of the pieces are quite large.

In the kitchen:

6 large grapen of 339 lbs (at about 55 lbs apiece, quite substantial)

2 small grapen of 25 lbs (a quarter the weight, about as much as my biggest potjie)

1 large Schüsselgrapen (wider than the usual) of 105 lbs

3 large cauldrons of 29 lbs

2 small cauldrons of 12 lbs

1 large cauldron holding 3 tuns of water of 65 lbs

1 cauldron holding 2 zuber of water of 44 lbs

1 cauldron holding 1 zuber of 22 lbs

2 long dripping pans (Bratschapen), not usable

1 colander and cauldron of 14 lbs

1 chopper

1 bankschive (metal tray?) and slaughtering knife

2 spits, one long one short

2 old spits

1 water ladle

1 large and 1 small griddle

1 brass lid of 10 lbs

At the baking house:

1 large cauldron of 23 lbs

4 small cauldrons of 23 lbs (6 lbs each)

1 large mortar of 35 lbs

Obviously, this is not a complete list. It lacks the majority of articles of daily use – the wooden coopered and lathe-turned bowls, the earthenware pitchers, pots, and cups, the wooden spoons, cutting boards, ladles and whisks, and the tables and benches all the work was done on. All of these were effectively articles of consumption, things that used up over time, and thus not considered assets the way metal gear was. The kitchen certainly had these things and must have regularly restocked them.

What is listed here is considerable wealth. Such stocks of kitchen gear, much like lands and treasuries, accumulated over generations in the hands of the church where they were never divided up in inheritance. We know from recorded wills that wealthy people sometimes left pieces of their kitchen equipment or silverware to the church, and this likely explains some of the eclectic nature of this collection. This source also demonstrates how long-lived some of these items could be: The same reform process that delivered the Heilig-Geist-Spital to the secular clergy also took the estate of the cathedral chapter. The list of their domus panum includes several items that can be identified with reasonable certainty in wills dating almost a century earlier. This is not unexpected – I use a pair of pots and a kitchen knife that are about a century old myself – but it shows clearly how long cooking pots could last. As an aside, we know from its early 16th-century statutes that the cooks’ guild of Hamburg required new members to add a piece of equipment to the communal store of cooking and serving gear, so the principle also applied in secular contexts.

Looking at the equipment in detail, the first thing to notice is the predominance of vessels for wet cooking processes. Large, heavy three-legged cooking pots to stand in the embers (grapen) and thinner vessels designed to suspend over the fire (ketel) are the largest and most numerous items. The larger ones, weighing in at over 100 pounds in the case of the wider-mouthed Schüsselgrapen and over 50 in that of the other large ones – are legitimately enormous, but even a regular-sized one at 12 pounds was not exactly convenient to handle. This is about the weight of a 5-litre potjie, though bronze could potentially have held more in a somewhat thinner-walled vessel than cast iron. Meanwhile, a potjie of around 100 lbs – the second largest size that seems to be produced – holds about 60 litres today. You can produce a lot of porridge or stew in one of those.

The cauldrons are designed to hold more liquid. While we do not know exactly which tun measure is referred to here (there are several), the largest one holds at two tuns at least 350 litres, upwards of 500 if – improbably – the largest tun measure is assumed. A container this large may have been intended for brewing rather than cooking, though this would be an unusual use of the word ketel. Hamburg was a brewing city, and the vessels used for that were usually referred to as pans (panne). Again unfortunately we do not know which measure a zuber represents, but it puts the larger of the two at between 100 and 200 litres, the smaller one between 50 and 100. Guesstimating from these already speculative figures, the smaller cauldrons recorded would then hold anything between 10 and 30 litres, a good size for a household, but more suitable for side dishes in an establishment the size of the Spital.

Griddles, spits, a colander, and various other instruments round out the equipment. Clearly, though the Spital kitchen was able to provide roasts if called upon, that was not what it was set up for. The absence of pans seems more surprising, but you can easily fry things in a grapen. It is interesting that the only mortar recorded is found in the bakehouse. Perhaps that was just where it stood – moving the 35-lb hunk of metal cannot have been a welcome task – but there may also not have been much call for one in the day-to-day operation of a kitchen that neither produced much in the way of complex delicacies not routinely ground spices.

We also have a record of serving gear and silver kept at the Spital. Unlike the kitchen listr, though, this one must be read with some caution. We know from a different listing that a significant quantity of serving gear, including tableclothes and candleholders, were held at the Spital’s chapel and may have been used for festive occasions. What we have here may just be the basic things they did not bother moving every time. The Spital had the following on their premises:

In the Hall:

6 large handwashing basins of 32 lbs (5.5 lbs each)

2 ewers of 22 lbs (11 lbs each)

2 candlesticks of 28 lbs (14 lbs each)

3 fire baskets and one additional candlestick

14 grapen of 47 lbs

2 wreath-shaped and 2 crown-shaped candelabra of 6 candle holders each

28 pitchers

7 additional pitchers kept in the office

32 eating bowls (Näpfe)

29 serving bowls (Kohlschüsseln und Salferen)

20 plates

3 bowls

6 small pitchers

4 brass Stülper (candle extinguishers)

7 small grapen and pitchers, not weighed

5 bellows

6 seat cushions

1 long and 1 short bench cover

1 cupboard, 1 Schenkschive (serving tray?)

19 old chair cushions

Silver tableware at the Spital:

1 large silver drinking cup

1 bowl decorated with a face

1 bowl decorated with a rose

1 bowl decorated with a face and angels

1 bowl bearing the names of the three Magi

4 silver pitcher

1 silver cup

1 silver fork and pen

1 silver scoop

9 silver spoons

3 broken spoons

(total weight 135 Loth 2 Quentin,a little over 2 kg. The silver in the church weighs several times that).

This is an eclectic mix, but in that, it is not atypical. Many recorded sets of silverware consisted of individual pieces accumulated over time, not the matching sets from the 18th and 19th century we are used to seeing in museums and stately homes today. Since the Spital was a charity operated by Franciscan friars, it is unlikely any of it was purchased. Most likely, the pieces were left to the Spital in wills and kept as a store of wealth as much as for use.

Posted in Uncategorised | Tagged , | Leave a comment