A standard fritter from the Inntalkochbuch

Zu haidnischen kuchen

Infidel fritters

Make a dough with plenty of eggs, as hard as you can make it, colour it, roll it out to make a flat cake like a pancake and fry it in fat. Take good wine and half the amount of honey, boil it together and draw the cakes through it when you wish to serve them.

This recipe is interesting not so much for what it is – it’s pretty boring – but for what it tells us about a staple of German upper-class cuisine. Heidnische kuchen – infidel or pagan cakes, actually a kind of fritter – are referred to frequently in recipes, usually instructing the cook to prepare a dough suitable for making them before going on to use it for something else. This is what the actual thing was.

We do not actually know why they are called ‘heidnisch‘. The word technically should refer to a pagan, but at the time means any non-Christian and non-Jewish person and is usually used to refer to Muslims. A (real or purported) origin of the recipe in the Arab world would have added cachet, so it is possible that this is the background of it, which supports a rendering as ‘infidel fritters’. It is also possible that it comes from Eastern Europe, of course, either at a time there were actual pagans around (until the late 14th century, in Lithuania), or that it got stuck with the name by mental association (we need not believe a given German cook or merchant would be able to distinguish between Russian Orthodox, autochthonous non-Latin Catholic, and actual non-Christians, or care to do so). Finally, it has been suggested that it was simply made from buckwheat known at times as ‘Haiden‘ or ‘Heidenkorn‘. The latter, I do not find convincing largely because it tastes nowhere near as good as the same made with wheat flour.

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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