“Brown Cloth” from de Rontzier

Towards the end of his chapter on jellies, Franz de Rontzier gives instructions that must have made complete sense to his contemporaries:

If you would make Brauntuch (lit: brown cloth) that are used for jelly, pound black cherries in a mortar and pass them through a haircloth. Moisten cloth in this three or four times, but so that each time they are dried again in the sun. You can also make Brauntuch of blueberries, brambles, Morbirn (cowberries or lingonberries?) and Keylkenbirn (?) this way.

The instructions are admirably clear and the result easy to envision. What I find hard to imagine is how I would then use these things. It is possible that jelly was strained through them before setting, imparting flavour and colour in the process, or (I imagine more likely) that they were soaked in smaller quantities to produce strong colours, like ‘lake’ cloth was used by illuminators. This may make an interesting experiment for the coming berry season, and perhaps I will have found references to a more general culinary use by then. It certainly makes me wonder about the pfeffertuch and brundoeck other sources mention in passing.

Franz de Rontzier, head cook to the bishop of Halberstadt and duke of Braunschweig, published his encyclopaedic Kunstbuch von mancherley Essen in 1598. He clearly looks to Marx Rumpolt’s New Kochbuch as the new gold standard, but fails to match it in engaging style or depth. He is thus overshadowed by the twin peaks of Marx Rumpolt and Anna Wecker. What makes his work interesting is the way in which he systematically lists versions of a class of dishes, illustrating the breadth or a court cook’s repertoire. He is also more modernly fashionable than Rumpolt. Looking to France rather than Italy and Spain for inspiration, and some of the dishes he first describes may be genuine innovations.

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