Stockfish from Meister Eberhard

An interesting recipe with an eye to technique.

Stockfish, reconstituted and ready for cooking

<<R23>> Wiltu einen gutten stockfisch machenn.

If you want to make good stockfish.

Let it boil as long as veal and let it boil down at a simmer (auff halben wogk). Pour off the broth and take out the fish and pick it apart well. Then take a pan and put fat in it and let it warm up. Then place the stockfish into the butter and let it heat up in there. Then take ginger and saffron and the broth of the fish and color it with that, pour it over the stockfish into the pan and let it boil up (ein wal oder drei thun) once or three times. That way it is well done.

The content of the recipe is as unsurprising as it is uninspiring: Take stockfish, do your best to make it not seem like stockfish, then add fat and spices. Many comments by culinary writers from the fifteenth and sixteenth century attest both the method and its shortcomings. Marx Rumpolt states in one of my favourite passages from his New Kochbuch (p. CXXXII v):

“Recipe 12: Of the Manscho Blancko that is made from stockfish you can make many dishes as is stated before. And if you were to make however many dishes of a stockfish, it is still just a stockfish and remains a stockfish, do what you will, it still is a stockfish. It goes through all the lands except Hungary, because they have enough fish there and a Hungarian says rightaway “Bidesk Bestia” that is, the rogue stinks. And you can make many dishes from stockfish, but it isn’t worth the trouble.”

What is interesting about this recipe, aside from the fact it does not seem to belong to the tradition of Cod Pal Germ 551, is the terminology it uses to describe boiling. We find this in several German sources. The halben wogk, a word related to Woge, a wave, describes the way the surface of simmering water is just barely agitated, but not bubbling. The wall or walm, related to wallen, to bubble, wave, or billow, describes an instance of coming to a rolling boil, but not remaining there. This is actually easier to manage with an open fire than a continuous boil. Clearly, the cooks of the time paid close attention to boiling technique and understood water temperature and agitation without thermometers or an understanding of phase transitions, simply by watching the pot.

Meister Eberhard is a recipe collection that belongs into a south German context, most likely associated with the court of Bayern-Landshut during its ascendancy in the first half of the 15th century. We know nothing about the putative author other than that he claims he was part of the kitchen staff there. The text contains an eclectic mix of recipes and dietetic advice heavily cribbed from a variety of sources, including the (unattributed) writings of St Hildegardis Bingensis. The text is published in A. Feyl: Das Kochbuch Meister Eberhards. Diss. Freiburg i.B. 1963 and online on the website of Thomas Gloning.

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