A Very Nutmeg-y Cake Recipe

This short recipe from the Innsbruck MS is neither remarkable nor terribly enticing, but that is a seriously large amount of nutmeg.

103 If you would make a good fried dish (paches), take semel bread and egg yolks and also four nutmegs. Cut each one into four parts. Heat fat in a pan and stir it in that, then put it in a mortar that is hot and has a little fat in it. Cover it above and put coals on it that are fresh, and let it fry in that.

Spice seller courtesy of wikimedia commons

This is the kind of pancake or mortar cake we find in many sources, a mixture of eggs and breadcrumbs fried in plenty of fat. It is not unattractive, especially if you are hungry and cold, but it is a very basic dish of no particular distinction. What makes this version stand out is the specific quantity of spice that is given: four whole nutmegs. We very rarely have any quantities given, and this one is not only exact, but preposterous.

the reciope is not entirely clear on many points. First of all, we do not really know how much bread and egg goes into the mix, so it is hard to say exactly how heavily spiced it would be. However, recipes for other dishes cooked in mortars (not least May Cake) indicate we are not talking about very large quantities. The other question is what exactly happens with the nutmegs. The recipe would support the idea that the pieces are fried in the fat and then possibly removed. The problem with that interpretation is that nutmeg cut into the filling is a recurring theme in parallel recipes for Mortar Cake, and in one case the text specifies three. It seems that this dish was just very nutmeg-y. It is an open question how much of this cake would be eaten by a single person in one sitting. The quantity is still unlikely to induce nutmeg poisoning, but it certainly must have been an intense experience.

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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