Almond cheeses from the Innsbruck MS

I am very glad to say that I can type again (though carefully) and thus will resume my semi-regular recipe postings. For today, a few short and mildly confusing ones for illusion food:

Almond, illustration courtesy of wikimedia commons

44 If you would make a curd cheese (ziger) of almonds, pound the almonds and drain (seck) them through a cloth. Take half the milk and boil it, and then pour cold milk on it mixed with sugar.

45 If you would make a hedgehog out of almonds, take almond milk and boil it very thoroughly, drain it, and let it dry on a cloth. Prepare it in such a way that it hardens. Then stick slivered (getailt) almonds into it and pour almond milk over it. And if you would colour it yellow, you may also do that etc.

46 If you would make a cheese (chäs) out of almonds, take almond milk and boil it with wine so that it curdles (gerin) and then drain it through a cloth over straw. And let it harden. Then put it into a vat (kar) and mix it with sugar and with other spices (read gewürtzen for gelbürtzen) and serve it dry.

47 If you would prepare poached eggs (verlornew ayer) of almonds, divide the (almond) milk in two parts. Colour the first part yellow and put a yolk into it. From the other part, you make white cakes (zeltel) etc. Pour more almond milk on it that should be coloured yellow, and also sugar it. This is good etc.

Almond milk was used in many luxurious illusion foods that were often meant to simulate dairy or eggs during Lent. Almond cheese is the most frequently encountered. This dish is meant to resemble a much more commonplace meal of fresh curd cheese served with milk or whey (the ‘curds and whey’ of Little Miss Muffet). The almond dishes can variously be firmed up with bread, curdled with wine, thickened with rice flour, or made into an isinglass jelly. None of these are mentiopned here, which makles me wolnder whether it is simply left to the cook’s discretion or whether there is a way of coagulating almond milk by heat alone.

The almond hedgehog is another fairly commonly encountered dish, as are hedgehog shapes in general. Here, the body seems to be made of coagulated almond milk.

The second recipe for cheese (chäs rather than ziger) illustrates a dialect distinction between fresh curds and aged cheese. Today, the word Ziger denotes a cheese made from whey, but that is clearly not, or at least not always, the meaning in medieval recipes. What we can lewarn from it is that hard cheese was served dry, but fresh curds were commonly eaten with a liquid, probably whey, to accompany them.

The recipe for verlornew ayer is the least clear of the four. Today, verlorene Eier refers to poached eggs, but it is possible the word then referred to what we would call fried eggs. It sounds to me as though the idea is to make small rounds of white almond jelly and place yellow-coloured ‘yolks’ inside them. Beyond this, I can say very little about it, but again, fake egg recipes are not uncommon.

The Innsbrucker Rezeptbuch is a manuscript recipe collection from a South German/Austrian context. It dates to the mid-fifteenth century and survives as part of a set of medical and culinary texts bound together. The editor Doris Aichholzer published it together with two related manuscripts and drew attention to the less elaborate, more practical recipes. The manuscript is of unknown provenance, but has been owned by the Habsburg emperors since at least the early sixteenth century. It is now held at the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. An edition, German translation and commentary can be found in Doris Aichholzer: Wildu machen ayn guet essen… Drei mittelhochdeutsche Kochbücher, Peter Lang Verlag Berne et al. 1999

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