Spiced sour cream from the Inntalkochbuch

I am continuing the process of cleaning up my old, buggy translations and have now reached the Inntalkochbuch. Today, instructions for spicy sour cream:

<<2>> Ein smetten zu machen

To make a smetten

Put cream into a pot as large as you want it to be and harden (curdle) it in the pot and turn it out onto a pretty (i.e. clean) cloth. Let it dry and then take it out of the cloth. Put it into a char (probably a vat) or multer (probably a carved dish) and salt and spice it gently. Add saffron and mix it all together, then put it into a clean cloth again and hang it up to harden. Remove the cloth and you have a good smetten.

Curdled milk products of all kinds seem to have been widespread in medieval Germany. this is clearly an upper-class recipe, involving cream (which would have gone to make butter in most households) coloured with saffron and seasoned with unspecified spices. We are world away from the proverbially unloved saure Milch peasants ate.

The name smetten is also interesting dialectally. Its cognate Schmetten is used to refer to cream in many East German dialects today. It has roots in West Slavic languages (cream is smetana in Czech) and is also where the German word for a butterfly – Schmetterling – derives from. Reconstructing this dish calls for some kind of curdling agent – most likely wild lactic acid bacteria – and some experimentation with how well to drain and how long to store it. I suspect it could arrive at something fairly hard and cheeselike, but I have not yet tried.

The Inntalkochbuch is from a monastic library in Bavaria’s Inntal region (the Inn is a tributary of the Danube), dating to the late 15th/early 16th century. It is written in Upper German and strongly reflects local culinary traditions, though some of its recipes are commonplaces found elsewhere.

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