About lampreys, from the Oeconomia

Apologies for the lack of a post yesterday, I was stuck on a train till two in the morning. For Good Friday today, how to preserve lampreys until Lent, among other things.

… Smoked lampreys are also a quick dish, you just quickly roast them over the coals on a griddle for a short time and you have an enjoyable meal. They are sold on strings, the Schock (= 60 pieces) is sold for 8 silver Groschen or for half a Thaler, depending on how large they are. One goes for four new Pfennige or more expensively if you seek it out at the grocers. …

(p. 326)

(marginalia: lampreys, how to prepare them)

You boil them right out of the salt (freshly salted) like other fish because they are still green (i.e. fresh) and alive, or roast them like other fish and strew them with spices, or you boil them in a sweet black broth or you pickle them so that you may have them throughout the winter and bring them to the table at a moment’s notice (augenblick) at any hour whenever you want them.

And this is how you pickle them (macht …ein)

(marginalia: lampreys, how to pickle them)

Firstly, you scald them with hot water. They you dry them with a clean white cloth and scrape their skin and roast them nicely slowly and gently until they are done the way they should otherwise be (prepared) for eating. Then you take a nice, clean small cask and strew it with pepper at the bottom. You lay in the lampreys in layers after one another. You (then) mix the following: pepper, cloves, and cinnamon, and strew them with it. After that, you lay in another layer of lampreys and strew them likewise (with spices), and so forth until the are all in the cask.

Finally, you pour on wine vinegar until it covers them and weight them down. This way, they stay good all year. You take them out again and bring them to the table whenever you wish to have them.

(marginalia: lampreys, how to keep them alive)

If you would keep lampreys alive for long, put them into a grinding bowl (Reibetopff oder Reibasch) or any other large, earthen, unglazed pot so that they can attach to it well. Pour on water, cover them with a board that has holes in it so that they can have air, and set them in the cellar. Or put them in a sieve, cover them with another sieve, and and lay the in a trough that water runs through. That way they stay nicely fresh.

p. 664

Aside from the obvious – smoked fish was a trade good that fishermen sold in industrial quantities – the first entry points to the many small dishes that no recipe book would mention because they are too basic for cooks to pay much attention to. It also indicates another of the myriad ways that being poor in Early Modern Germany sucked. The wealthy could afford to buy wholesale quantities and store food in their homes, thus both paying less per item and gaining a measure of safety against shortages and price spikes. The poor bought retail. This needs to be kept in mind every time historians compare day wages to grain prices; whatever quantity of cash bought a pound of wheat would not buy the bread made from that quantity, or anywhere close to it.

The actual cooking instructions are cursory because any competent cook would know how to do these things. Preservation, on the other hand, was a valuable and not entirely a common skill, it seems. Hence, pickled lamprey.

The fish here called Neunauge is very likely the European river lamprey, not the sea lamprey.

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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