Boiling crawfish and dietary advice from the Kuchenmaistrey

Crawfish with a side order of misogyny

1.xvi. Item fish, crawfish and all manner of fruit that is of cold nature as well as milk and water must be tempered with spices. But people with illnesses of a hot nature do not require spices or salt because it increases their illness. Strong wine unmixed with water is also detrimental to them If you recognise your nature, so too will you recognise what is against it. Prepare your food accordingly.

1.xvii. Item a cold person or a cold nature is harmed by anything that is cold and phlegmy (schleimig) such as fish, the fatter, the more harmful, he may prepare and season them as he would. If he eats fish and drinks water with it, the cold illness will befall him. The same (is true of) spoiled and rough (zehen) wines. And spiced wines bring death. Therefore consider how your food and drink shall be prepared and served (geschickt) and what belongs to your nature. He who lives properly shall have right enjoyment and a long life for himself. Each according to their state (i.e. humoral nature). As the four complexions are ordained in creation by God. Hot, cold, dry, and moist. Thus all my day I could not enjoy immoderate eating (laffen). And the women secretly are greater in immoderate acts and gluttony. That is why many of them must die. As do many maidens who neither look to their honour nor their health and do not grow old. Thus many of them must perish who do not follow distinction or have shame.

1. xviii. Item if you would boil crawfish, place them in a pot and cover them up well. Add wine, vinegar or water to it. And salt them. Also make a steady fire beneath them, and when they turn red, they are cooked enough. Serve them hot in covered bowls. You may have cherry sauce with fish and crawfish when you entertain guests.

1.xix. Item note that whoever eats fish and crawfish must guard himself against drinking milk or water.

This is the kind of dietary advice you would expect to see in a medieval cookery text. Foods should be chosen and prepared according to their nature (hot or cold, dry or moist) in order to maintain the balance of the four humours in the body: blood (hot and moist), phlegm (cold and moist), yellow bile (hot and dry) and black bile (cold and dry). Depending on your own physical nature, indulging in food of the wrong kind could create dangerous imbalance. The expectation that women were given to immoderate living in secret is a standard trope of medieval literature and need not be taken seriously.

My current project are recipes from the Nuremberg Kuchenmaistrey produced around 1490. This was the earliest printed cookbook in German (and only missed being the earliest printed cookbook in any language by a few years). The Kuchenmaistrey (mastery of the kitchen) gave rise to a vibrant culture of amended and expanded manuscript copies as well as reprints spanning almost a century. The recipes seem designed to appeal to a wealthy, literate and cosmopolitan clientele.

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