Health Advice for Roasting Goose

Just before he launches into dietary advice, Meister Eberhard gives this recipe:

<<R24>> Item hienach volgt, wie man ein ganß pratenn soll.

Here follows how to roast a goose.

Let it starve thoroughly for two or three days so that the bad preden that are in it go out. Then it should be fed on grain. Kill it and roast it by the fire. You shall grind sage and other good seasonings (wuercz) so that the juices go through (i.e. permeate) it, and it should be sprinkled with wine or with vinegar so that the fat drips away. Goose fat should not be eaten as it makes people sick, because the fatness (of the goose) comes from bad moisture. Those who are healthy should eat goose roasted this way, so it does less damage. Those who are ill should eat little of it. If you cook it by boiling in water, it is unhealthy, because then the bad preden can not go out of it, being prevented by the water.

As a recipe, this does not offer very much. Roast goose, sage, regular basting. What makes this noteworthy is the focus on health and the instructions for treatment prior to slaughter. It is too easy to forget that cooks in medieval households had a good deal more control over the feeding, slaughter, and processing of the animals they prepared than most of us do.

The idea that goose fat is unhealthy is, of course, based on the humoral assumption that it is derived from moisture, moist by nature, and thus not advisable for most people to eat. The feared preden are a very general term for material influenceas, something akin to ‘vapours’. The fact that goosefat is easily the best thing about roast goose is a secondary consideration compared to this threat.

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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