Food preservation and storage from the Kuchenmaistrey

A chunk of advice

1.xxxviii. Hereafter follows about how to keep fruit fresh for long.

If you would keep apples fresh throughout the year. Lay them onto a hurdle high above the ground in a dry cellar, on fresh straw where they lie with plenty of space (wol geraum ligen). If one shows spots (malig wirt), throw it out. It is no different with all fruit as it is with mangy sheep.

1. xxxix. If you would keep walnuts or hazelnuts fresh, lay them in fresh dans into the corner of a dry cellar. And (do) not (put them) into pots, because they do not last.

1. xl. Item what of fish and venison you wish to keep long, you must salt and dry and store dry. Thus it is also with all (other) meat.

1. xli. Item to keep fruit over the year to cook with: (Dry) the cherries or tart cherries (weigsten od[e]r kirschen) in the baking oven. Store them in a cheese basket (? keßstorb) that is airy, high in the house. As you need them for sauces in Lent or in other times when you want to have them, lay them in a bowl and pour fresh well water on them. That way then return to their previous virtue (ir recht alte kraft). You may serve these to guests or delight sick people with them and make all manner of spoon dishes (müsser) as are described above.

1. xlii. If you would keep Frankish (frenchisch, i.e. local) grapes. Take a vine that has ten or twelve clusters hanging from it. Make a good glue, thinly, with well water, in a wide vessel and immerse the vines in it so that they do not touch the bottom. Hang them in a cellar until you need them. Use as much or as little as you wish. And when you need them in unusual times, fill a vessel with well water, suspend them in it until the glue softens, and rinse it off. Then pour other fresh water over them, let them dry, and then serve them.

1. xliii. Item to keep ears of grain over the year such as spelt or wheat, take them while they are green when they are ready to cut (seng) and dry them in a baking oven or in the sun. Store them high, as you do cherries, and when you would have them, lay them in fresh well water and they will return to their virtue (zu ir krafft). Boil young chickens with this or cook them with small pieces of bacon and salt, or with butter. Gamebirds boiled with this are also easily digested.

Item you can also keep dried pears of all kinds this way.

1. xliiii. Item of dried root vegetables and turnips (ruben vnd steckruben), those are best when smoked suckling pig is boiled with them and they are seasoned with salt and butter, that is proper.

1. xlv. Item smoked meat with nettles, that does not suffer and get wormy over the year.

Preserving food must have played a much greater role in the considerations of medieval householders than we usually allow for. Especially in cities, the ability to lay in stores was a mark of status in itself as well as providing insurance against periodic price spikes. These recipes combine basic technique with some refined and surprising tricks.

German householders stored apples and nuts in the fashion described in xxxviii and xxxix well into the twentieth century. The instructions to dry cherries in xli may seem stranger to modern sensibilities since modern recipes usually preserve fruit by cooking it with sugar. That technique was not common in the fifteenth century, though, and given the large number of recipes involving cherries, having them available outside of their very narrow season must have been useful.

The method of preserving grapes in xlii is reminiscent of the way fresh grapes are encased in clay in Afghanistan and Iran, but the use of glue – presumably bone or hide glue – to produce an airtight seal is an interesting approach. The failure rate must have been high, but in principle this could work. It is easy to forget how much of a novelty fresh fruit out of season were in medieval Europe, and how much effort could be put into producing them.

Drying unripe grain as described in xliii was long a way for farmers in mountainous and otherwise inclement regions to secure their harvest against early rains. Here, it is described as something that householders might do for its own sake, for the flavour. The technique is used today to produce Grünkern, dried unripe spelt, in Germany and freekeh, wheat treated similarly, in North Africa and the Levant. These can be used to replicate the recipe if you wish to try it.

There is also a redaction for the modern kitchen in my Landsknechtkochbuch (English translation forthcoming in Spring 2022)

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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