Zwickau Chickens

I am finally back with a chicken recipe. Life was intense in the past week or so, I cooked a Late Roman feast (recipes and pictures to follow) and prepared Christmas cookies all the while covering for sick colleagues at work and other stuff. But here it is, from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

Poultry Market (Joachim Beuckelaer 1564) courtesy of wikimedia commons

42 Zwikische Chickens

Take a chicken and scald it all around. Then take four or five eggs, according to how large the chicken is, beat them, take bacon and a little parsley and chop that well, and mix that with the eggs. Take a little mace, lay that into a broth if you can have that from elsewhere (anderst i.e. from a different meat). But if you wish, pound an entire nutmeg and strew a little on this. You may also beat quite thick milk into the eggs, the people of Zwicken (Zwickau) do it thus. If they do not use thick milk with it, they (the chickens) do not turn out well. And if you can have no bacon, take marrow from meat bones or May butter, and fill the chickens inside while the guts are in them (da die derm in liegen). Sew them shut. You may also use the broth if there is much of it. Let it boil up smoothly (fein glat i.e. simmer, not a rolling boil), and the sooner it boils and is served up, the better it will be. They are not good if they stand long.

What I find most interesting about this recipe is the fact that it is named after a city, presumably its origin. Zwickau was a textile manufacturing town in Saxony and, as far as we know, without culinary distinction. It is thus a little surprising that it provides the name for a recipe, but it does. Neither is the recipe implausible as such. The eastern parts of Germany, including Saxony, were at this point home to the Wends, a people speaking a West Slavic language that is today extinct. Like all West Slavic peoples, they were later known as skilful producers of dairy products, and that tradition may go back far. Especially Saxony also had a reputation for rich cookery. A chicken filled with eggs and clabbered milk could easily have come from that area of Germany.

Using eggs to fill chickens also goes back quite far, with the first mention coming from the Anthimus text in the Lorscher Arzneibuch. Combining eggs with the organ meats of the chicken and, at times, spices and fruit for a filling is recorded frequently and may well have been what the Ulenspiegel stories refer to as the ‘German manner’ of filling chickens as opposed to the herb fillings called the ‘Italian (welsche) manner’. This looks to be a variation on that theme.

Here, the chickens are prepared and filled with a mixture of beaten egg, parsley, bacon, and clabbered milk, most likely something like the Herbstmilch that Coler later associates with the same geographic area. The organs of the chicken are placed in the body cavity along with the filling, though we should probably assume that the guts were cleaned out and the connective tissues removed beforehand. They may have been cooked and chopped, as they are in other recipes, but that is not a given. After sewing shut the chickens, which would prevent the filling from escaping, the whole would be cooked in hot broth and served fresh. The filling, hot and rich with dariy and egg, certainly must have been best straight out of the pot. I have not tried this, but I just may.

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 k├╝chlein, 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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