Another piece of illusion food
<<11>> Aier smalcz in der vassten
Fried eggs during Lent
Take blanched almonds, grind them up and pass it thick through a cloth with water. Boil in a pan like a mus so that it thickens. Take fat Hausen (a freshwater sturgeon), cut it into cubes and fry it in a pan like fat bacon. Remove the fried bits (grieben – lit. the cracklings) and put the almond puree into the fat. Spread it out with a spoon and colour spots (lit. ‘eyes’) on it like yolks. Press the fried bits of fish into the white part between the yolks, sprinkle it with sugar, and keep it near the warmth (of the fire) warm until you bring it to the table.
This is yet another take on using almonds to simulate egg for days when eggs were not permitted. Clearly we are looking at a luxury dish. This would not have served as a substitute, but as a treat for the wealthy intent on impressing guests. A similar dish was served at my 2020 Lenten Feast.
An interesting point in this recipe is the use of fish to simulate grieben, the crackling pieces that are produced by rendering fat bacon. The description here suggests this is something you would expect to see in a dish of fried eggs, and that, in turn, may say something about standards of quality regarding this commonplace meal. Fried eggs – airimschmaltz, aier smalcz, Eier im Schmalz in modern rendering – were a staple of German eating in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, mentioned on the tables of rich and poor. Visible crackling would have meant that the quantity of fat used was generous. This is unsurprising, given everything we know about German cooking of the time. It would also have shown that the fat was freshly rendered, something that was probably not the norm in poor kitchens. We know that fat was collected from soups, stews, and roasts and re-used in other dishes. The underappreciated Teutsche Speißkammer describes a mix of beef tallow and pork lard for the use of the poor. If you are set on reproducing a lower-class meal that is still indulgent at some level, rendering bacon or pork belly rather than using ready-made lard to fry your eggs might be a way of signalling modest prosperity.
Or you reproduce this dish to illustrate the depth of your pockets. Good luck finding affordable freshwater sturgeon, though.
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.