Almond ‘cheese’ from the Kuchenmaistrey

Show dishes of thickened or jellied almond milk are very common in the 15th century.

1. xxxi. Item if you would make coagulated (gerennet) milk, take rice and pound it fine and searce it through a small sieve. Take blanched almond kernels, pound them well and make milk. Strain off the best (the grammar implies ‘the best ones’, but I assume what is meant is the creamy part of the almond milk) and take the others. Set it by the fire and see that it does not boil over or burn. Add the rice flour before the milk turns hot and make a thick porridge (müßlein) of it. Then pour it into a small, wet bowl and let it cool. Cut it in pieces in the manner of a small white bread loaf (weckleinß weiß) and lay it into another bowl. Then take the thick milk of almond milk, pour it around that and stick it with almonds (that are) coloured or gilded.

The purpose of this lavish Lenten dish is to imitate fresh cheese served with milk – forbidden during strict fasts. The price of almonds and rice alone would have made it a conspicuous luxury, and adding dyed or gilded almonds added a decorative flourish for for lordly tables. Unfortunately, the actual taste usually leaves much to be desired.

The experiment I made with a similar recipe from the Mittelniederdeutsches Kochbuch in late 2020 dispensed with the gilding or dyeing and did not stipulate decorative cuts, but otherwise it was much the same thing. Even chilled and served with sweet rosewater wafers, it was conspicuously bland. But just imagine it stuck all over with gilded almonds shining in the candle light.

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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