Hemp Milk Cooking

Another interesting set of recipes from the Innsbruck MS:

Hemp from Leonhart Fuchs’s Herbal, courtesy of wikimedia commons

81 If you would prepare a soup of hemp, take raw hemp and pound it well. Then pass it through. If you wish, boil it in a pan and cause it to curdle. Prepare a puree from the curds (topfen), add spices and honey, and leave it white as it is. Prepare it as thick as a thin porridge (ein prein, der len sein).

82 If you would press the hemp, also prepare it this way and press it, and then serve it sliced and put sweet spice powder (ein suss stupp) on it. That is good etc.

83 If you wish, fry it like pressed milk. But if you do not wish to eat it with fat, it is better sweetened (ersust) or you prepare it with a ziseindel sauce or pfeffer sauce.

84 If you would roast it, you can also well do that. If you eat fat (smaltz) on a Saturday, you can prepare and season it exactly like pressed milk.

85 If you would make a cake (chuechen) of it, prepare it in the same manner as a porridge (den prein) and pass it through, and also let it cook in a mortar.

Almost every German recipe collection from the 1400s and 1500s includes multiple mentions of almond milk and often instructions for making it. This is despite the fact that almonds were very hard to grow in a Central European climate and mostly had to be imported from the Mediterranean at great expense. Hemp thrives in Germany and was cultivated widely, but it is rare for a recipe collection to mention it more than in passing. That is what makes these recipes so interesting.

In technical terms, there is nothing surprising here. You can make butter, curds, and cheese out of almond milk and though the latter was usually faked by thickening or gelling agents, there are descriptions of this in the sources. The fascinating part is that we have, assembled in one place, an alternative to the luxury option in all its versatility. Hemp seeds (or possibly entire seed pods) ground up with a liquid and strained will produce a milky emulsion just as almonds will. Hemp milk is still in use, and regaining popularity. It could be used to make curds that were then eaten fresh, with honey and spices, or pressed into a cheese that could then be sliced and eaten or used in other dishes. The suggestion of serving it in a ziseindel sauce – a combination of fruit and spices – vaguely recalls paneer masala,

It probably should be said here that the hemp referenced is European Cannabis sativa which produces very little THC and even if eaten in large quantities will not produce an appreciable psychoactive effect. Until the first half of the twentieth century, hempseed and hempseed oil were commonplace food items in Central Europe, though they were regarded as uncouth. Hemp was grown mainly for its fibres used to make rope and cloth. The seeds were a byproduct and usually eaten by those who could not afford more highly regarded oils. As the twentieth century progressed, hemp cultivation receded and the seeds increasingly became used as animal feed rather than human food. However, there are some traditional recipes that still use them. I will point out, in case this needs saying, that making milk or cheese with psychoactive cannabis oil is not recommended for a variety of reasons even where this would be legal.

An interesting point in recipe #84 is the mention of eating smaltz on Saturdays. In contemporary German, the words schmalz is not yet limited to rendered animal fat, but it does refer to melted and solidified animal or dairy fats in contrast to liquid vegetable oils. The author clearly envisions that some people will eat this on a Saturday (a meatless day in the stricter Christian tradition of the time) while others do not. I am not sure whether this refers to individual piety or regional distinctions in church jurisdictions, but it casts an interesting light on the way fasting practices could differ.

I have very little experience with non-dairy milks or with cheesemaking, but this may be worth trying out.

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

This entry was posted in Uncategorised and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Hemp Milk Cooking

  1. Daniel Myers says:

    This is a wonderful find! I don’t think I’ve seen references to hemp in any medieval English or French source. I’m really curious about how these would turn out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *