The heads of bears, boars, and calves were sometimes used as decorative centrepieces of a festive table. Here, the focus is on the brain, exposed and cooked in hot fat as the head roasts.
53 A Calf’s Head
For a good calf’s head, cut off the lower neck, take the other part (i.e. the head) and boil it well. Break open the cranium (hiern schallen) and place good spices in it and good hot fat, and roast it on a griddle.
The number of surviving recipes for calf’s head is fairly large, and many of them describe how to prepare the meat taken off the bones, similar to modern-day Kalbskopfsülze. Another type describes cooking the head in one piece, often opening up the braincase in the process to access the brain for cooking. This is no longer commonly done (and indeed, in our post-BSE days is no longer legal to sell), but it seems to have been very popular with people who were generally less squeamish about the fact that their meat used to have eyes and a voice.
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.