May Cake – a Herbal Tart

Another recipe from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

A different May cake, ready to bake

33 Who (Would) Make a May Cake (mayenkuchen)

Take Mayenkraut (could be greater celandine (chelidonium maius), ground elder (aegopodium podadraria) or woodruff (galium odoratum), though Grimm states this association is of recent date) and chop it small. Also take figs and cut them small, and Rosin, take out their pips, and weinberlin. Put all of this into the Mayenkraut, break eggs into it, and make it neither too thin nor too thick. Take a flat cooking vessel (scherblein) and set it on the coals. Make a bottom crust (platz) that is as wide as the cooking vessel (scherb oder tigel) in which you wish to cook it, just like you prepare a carnival cake (Faßnacht platz). Roll out a platz, put May butter into the cooking vessel (tigel oder scherben), and when it has melted, place the platz in it so it reaches beyond the vessel (dz uber das tiglein außreich i.e. is wider than just the bottom). Also put in the mass (teig) with the Mayenkraut. Stick in mayen (sprigs of the herb?) and prepare it with the platz like a fladen. Do not add much May butter. Place the scherblein over it (like a lid) and lay coals on top. Do not make much fire underneath, otherwise it will readily burn. See that the bottom is thin like a Fladen, then it is a good Mayenkuchen.

This recipe is what happens when you try to explain something by referring to something else as an example, but the target audience has a limited idea what you are talking about. The author is trying to be helpful, but we simply don’t know what made a Faßnacht platz specific. Similarly, there must be a clear idea what Mayenkraut is, but unfortunately the word can refer to a variety of culinary herbs. Woodruff is tempting, but unfortunately its popularity seems to be strictly a modern phenomenon.

Comparison with other recipes allows us a rough reconstruction of what is aimed for here. The technique of cooking pastries in a greased pan heated above and below is described in the kuchenmaistrey. There are also a number of recipes for May cake all of which involve eggs and herbs. What is aimed for in most sixteenth-century versions is a strong herbal flavour in a mass of cooked egg, coloured green with fresh herbs. I tried the version from Sabina Welser two years ago, and this seems to be a more basic version of the same principle.

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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