Dried pear recipes from the Kuchenmaistrey

Things to do with dried pears

1.xxi. Item a fritter (küchlein) of dried pears or of large dried pears (hutzeln) such as melbirn (lit.: flour pears). Eschenbacherin, Wasserbiren (lit.: water pears), kolbiren (lit.: cabbage pears) or schmaltzbirn (lit.: fat pears) dried well in a baking oven and these keep over the (whole) year. If you would cook them, you need to take them clean from warm water, remove the core and stem, and let them dry. These serve for many dishes. If you boil them in wine and lay them into a sauce (ziseünlein) with figs, they will help you like figs and the dishes will be good for you (if they are) well prepared.

If you wish to make fritters of them, peel them cleanly and boil them well. Pound them in a mortar with flour and with gingerbread (leckuchen) and make it yellow. Pour wine or fresh milk into it. That way it mashes well (müsset es sich schon). Take them out, beat a fresh egg, coat the palms of your hands (with the egg) and shape the fritters well together so that they stick. Also coat them in a yellow batter. Lift them out with a spoon into the pan and fry them nicely. Boil wine and honey in a small pan and sprinkle them with that. Serve that for it is a courtly and easily digested dish.

1.xxii. Item if you would have dried boiled pears in any kind of filling, they serve like figs and are digested well by constipated (bloden) people.

1.xxiii. Item eating such dried pears from a spicy bread sauce (brotpfeffer) is a good food for poor men. Rye bread stirred in and eaten, that nourishes well and strengthens a sick stomach (boßen magen), Seasoned with salt and pure ginger, only with wine and with vinegar.

This recipe is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it confirms what we always suspected: Cooks substituted expensive imported ingredients like figs with cheaper homegrown ones, like dried pears.

Secondly, it gives us a glimpse of the depth and variety of the late medieval fruit market. It is not just pears, they come in various sizes and varieties. Eschenbacher pears even still exist as an heirloom variety in the area around Nürnberg, though there is no way of telling how much they resemble the medieval Eschenbacherin referenced here. Modernly, Eschenbacher are grown for making pear cider, but also serve as cooking pears.

Thirdly, the recipes are actually good. Dried pears are hard to source, so you may have to make your own. Tart, firm pears are best suited, the kind sold in Germany as Kochbirnen for cooking rather than eating raw. The fritters are difficult to get right, you have to cook the pears until they are slightly softened only to make them hold together. Using strongly spiced, hard lebkuchen rather than soft modern gingerbread also helps. There is a roughly contemporary recipe for this in Cod Pal Germ 551 that I tried out. The pears in bread-bound pepper sauce are also excellent. A redaction is included in my Landsknechtkochbuch (2021, English translation forthcoming).

Finally, it is interesting to see a complex and satisfying dish made without recourse to meat or fish, or large amounts of eggs and/or cheese. Medieval German cusine has unexpected depth sometimes.

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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