Gilding food from the Kuchenmaistrey

Back to the regular source with some first-order decadence.

1. xxxii. Here I teach gilding spoon dishes or whatever roast or fried foods that are cold. Make a small (amount of? or weak concentration?) honey water, brush the material with that and place (scheüß) the gold or silver on it while it is wet and press it on with cottonwool where it does not lie evenly. You may gild gingerbread and other things this way, but no other metal serves for edible things. Make a wooden pincer (hültzen scher) with which you lift the gold and do not touch it with your bare hands, otherwise it will be spoiled.

Gilding food was a popular conceit in medieval gastronomy (though probably rare in real life outside of courtly banquets). These instructions look practical and experience-based. Gingerbread or almonds – as described in the previous recipe – likely make a better base for gilding than most foods. The word for cottonwool – baumwoll – clearly means cotton, in this case very likely the unspun fibers, and that cannot have been a common material in kitchens even in the late fifteenth century. The verb used for applying the gold leaf on the surface – scheüß – is related to schießen and describes, among other things, how bread loaves are placed in an oven with a peel. That is a fairly good description of how leaf gilding works. I still do not relish the prospect of trying it with porridge dishes.

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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