Lying-In Porridge

A recipe from the Kuenstlich und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

Altarpiece by Konrad von Soest (1404), courtesy of wikimedia commons

26 A Porridge (Müßlein) for Women in Childbed

Take fat, add a little white bread (Semelein) into it, and fry (prens) it as though for a gesprengten brueelein (?). Then two spoonfuls of fat, one spoonful of baking flour into the fat, turn it over (i.e. stir it?). Take two eggs, beat them in fat, pour in cold water, as much as there is egg, pour the eggs into the flour and stir it like a porridge. Do not let it boil too long, and also do not fry (brenne) the flour too strongly (hart).

This recipe is for a strengthening, soft food that can be served to a women who has just given birth, much as Joseph is preparing in the altarpiece above. Recipes specific to Kindbetterinnen are fairly frequently found in the medicinal recipe collections of the time and sometimes outside of them. They usually involve much the same ingredients as dishes served to the sick: eggs, wine, light meat or poultry, sugar, white bread, and butter.

Though the recipe itself is likely not complex, it involves a good deal of shorthand and goes-without-saying which makes it difficult to interpret. First, we have bread, probably grated, that is fried in fat. This is typical for bread porridges of the time. Next, there is a notably precise instruction to combine two parts fat to one part flour which looks like a roux, especially as we are cautioned at the end not to brenne it too hard. Brennen or einbrennen was the contemporary term for roux and is still used in German dialects. However, the next step of stirring two eggs ‘in fat’ with an equal amount of cold water is somewhat unclear. I do not think the eggs are meant to be fried, but rather stirred with melted lard or butter, something we find every now and then in other recipes. The whole is then added to the flour which would produce something like a roux custard, though it is hard to see how to stop the egg from curdling. It is not quite clear what happens with the bread.

If I had the time to reconstruct this, I would begin with fried grated bread that is reserved for the final stage. Then I would produce a light roux and quench it with a mixture of egg and water, beating continually to try and prevent curdling. once the egg mixture has cooked, I would add the bread to let it soak though and give body and aroma to the whole. It might turn out palatable.

The short Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch was first printed in Augsburg in 1559 and reprinted in Nuremberg in 1560 and subsequently. Despite its 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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