May Dish from the Kuenstlichs und Fürtrefflichs Kochbuch

A different take on the theme of ‘May dish’:

5 A May Spoon Dish (Mayen muß)

First, take eight eggs, break them into a pot and beat them well with a spoon until they become nicely clean/clear (fein lauter). Then take a maß of milk and pour it into a pan. Let it boil until it firms up (herdt wirdt). Then take a strainer (durchschlag) and strain the eggs into the boiling milk. Sprinkle a little vinegar through it over the eggs in the pan. Let it all boil together nicely. Push it together with the spoon and let it boil as long as soft eggs. Take it out of the pan with the spoon and put it into a small sieve (Syblein) so that it drains finely through it. Then place it in a clean flat grinding bowl (scherben) and grind it well. Add May butter (Mayen Schmaltz) the size of a nutshell and grind it again for a time. Afterwards again another one (repeat the step), and you shall add May butter six times and cook it down well (einsieden) each time and also grate sugar into it, as much as the butter and very finely so that it melts in the mouth like the butter. Then put it into a bowl like other porridge, and strew ground sugar on it. Thus you have a Mayen muß.

There are several surviving recipes for ‘May dish’, Maienessen, cibus Maiis or, in this case, Mayen muß, from a number of sources and the unifying feature seems to be butter and sugar. Butter, of course, was a seasonal pleasure of spring when cattle returned to pasture and gave more copious milk again. May butter referred to fresh butter that was neither salted nor clarified to preserve it. At the time, this was not available year round.

This recipe is not entirely clear, but it seems to involve combining butter and custard in a laborious process, adding small quantities and possibly heating it repeatedly. It seems to be fairly closely related to the cibus Maiis described in the libellus de lacte. The use of custard instead of cheese seems like a major difference, but as we see from Anna Wecker’s Koestlich New Kochbuch of 1598, the two were often considered interchangeable. That is also interesting because it suggests that while there is little or no textual connection between Anna Wecker’s work and this recipe collection, they belong to the same culinary culture.

This short book was first printed in Augsburg in 1559 and reprinted in Nuremberg in 1560 and subsequently. Despite ist brevity, it is interesting especially as it contains many recipes for küchlein, baked or deep-fried confections, that apparently played a significant role in displaying status. We do not know who the famous cook‘ referenced in the title may have been or if he ever existed.

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