I will start by apologising for not posting recipes over the long weekend. I anticipate being busy otherwise.
We do not have a lot of bear recipes from before 1500. These are three of them:
24 A bear head
Prepare a bear’s head or a pig’s head cleanly. Cut it in two and boil it well and cut the skin in a checker pattern (wuirflott) in such a way that it stays attached to the bone. Then lay it on a griddle and pour hot fat on it. Strew spices into the cuts (in die wunden) and serve it dry (i.e. without a sauce).
25 Take a bear’s head and singe it very well. Lay it on a griddle and roast it very well and strew it very well with spices. And when you wish to serve it, serve a black pepper sauce with it.
Now to follow of the bear: Cut off the hands and feet and boil them very well. They should be cut lengthwise towards the toes, and serve a galantine pepper sauce (galray pfeffer) with it.
Notably, the parts that are eaten are the head – a decorative centrepiece – and the paws. This is in keeping with later European tradition. Bear was never a common meat. Hunting was the prerogative of feudal lords, and bears were dangerous and rare. Long before they became extinct in Germany, they had been reduced to marginal populations. By the fifteenth century, finding one outside of the country’s major mountain ranges was already highly unlikely. These are dishes intended to display status.
To a modern reader, the wording is disconcerting, more so in the original. The cuts made to the head are referred to as wounds (wunden), the paws and hands and feet. Bears were viewed as close to humans, but this is also a feature of Middle German generally: It does not semantically distinguish humans and animals as strictly as modern German does.
In culinary terms, the recipes are unexceptional. The head is either parboiled and roasted while hot fat is poured over it, or slow-roasted and served with a black pepper sauce (we have recipes for these from the same source). The paws are boiled and served with a galray pfeffer sauce (again, we have recipes for these). If you happen to have a fresh bear on hand, you can try them.
Bound together with medicinal, veterinary, and magical texts, the culinary recipes of Munich Cgm 384 were partly published in 1865 as “Ein alemannisches Büchlein von guter Speise“. The manuscript dates to the second half of the fifteenth century. My translation follows the edition by Trude Ehlert in Münchner Kochbuchhandschriften aus dem 15. Jahrhundert, Tupperware Deutschland, Frankfurt 1999, which includes the first section of recipes not published earlier.