Another “Knitwork” Fritter

A recipe from the Innsbruck MS, and something interesting is going on here:

Cheese, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis Casanatense (late 14th c.) courtesy of wikimedia commons

110 If you would make a string-shaped (gestriktz) fritter, make a thick strauben batter and take a small courtly serving dish (hoff schüssel), and make a hole through and through (dar durich und dor durich). Thus fry it, and it it starts to come together in the middle, prevent it with a small wooden skewer, thus it will become (shaped) like a cross etc.

This recipe by itself is nice, but not particularly exciting. It sounds a lot like funnelcakes, a batter poured into hot fat to produce a mesh of fried ‘strings’. That also fits the word used to describe it. A gestriktz is a piece of ropework or stringwork. It could already mean knitwork, the thing we today associate with stricken, but that denotation is not yet exclusive.

What is interesting is that we find other recipes with very similar names dating to around the same time, but describing a very different process. Both recipe collections in Cod Pal Germ 551 include their own entries for gestrickte/gestrick. Section A has:

22 How to make a string/knitwork (gestrick) of cheese

Take brittle (murben) cheese and white wheat bread and grate that together. And take more cheese than bread. And lay it on a board. And knead it with eggs so that it does not become too thick (stark). And make cylinders (zoel – usually means a log or stump) that are not too large. And cut them not too small. Take a mortar and put fat into it and set it by the fire. And let it get hot and lay the logs into that. And take eggs as much as you wish and sugar and raisins and season it well. And then draw it out no thinner that yarn. And take it off the fire, and watch that it does not grow too cold or it spoils.

Section B has a close parallel:

12 A dish of a knitwork (gestrickte) of cheese you find here

If you would make a knitwork of cheese, take a brittle/dry (murben) cheese and white wheat bread and grate that together. And take (?lacuna) cheese than flour, lay it on a board and roll it out with eggs so that it does not become too thick (?starck). Make cylinders (czollen – usually means logs) that are not too large. Cut them up small, take a mortar, put fat into it, set it by the fire and let it get hot. Lay the pieces (czollen) into it. Take eggs, as many as you wish and sugar and raisins and season it well. Then no longer move it about it the mortar and (see) that it does not become too cold and do not oversalt it.

It is interesting that while the recipes are quite similar, their spelling is different almost throughout which suggests that if one copies the other (as the two sections generally seem to do in large parts), it was done by dictation, not from a written copy. Obviously, this is also a completely different and not entirely clear dish for which, I think, cheese fritters are pulled into melted strings in hot fat. And as if that was not enough, the same source has another two parallel recipes for gestrickts/gestrickten fritters. Section A gives it as:

24 Make a dish of knitted fritters thus

If you would make knitted fritters (gestrickts pachens) of a dough, make it as hard as (for) infidel (haydenisch) fritters and also make sheets as though for infidel fritters (heydenische pleter) and make cuts that are round (sinibel can mean rounded, circular, or wavy) like a finger. Take fat in a pan or in a mortar and set it (by the fire) that it gets hot and agitated (wellig). Take a wooden stick or spoon and reach for the sheets with that, and lay one each on it and then lay the other across, and throw it into the pan on that wooden stick (use the stick to place in the fat). Let it fry, and turn it around in the mortar. And then make a good sauce (suppen) for it with honey and good spices and add a little wine vinegar so that it ‘bites’ (pitzel) through the honey, and strew a little raisins in. And pour the sauce on the fritters and serve it. Do not oversalt it.

Section B has:

14 A dish of knitted (? gestrickten) fritters

If you would make a knitted fritter of dough, make (a dough) as hard as though for an infidel cake (heidenyschen kuchen – a common fritter) and also make sheets like the infidel sheets and cut it in slices that are rounded (? synbeller) like fingers. Take fat into a pan or in a mortar and set it (by the fire) so that it becomes hot. Take a wooden spoon or piece of wood to pick up the sheets, lay them one across the other and throw them into the pan with the wooden implement. Let them fry and turn them over in the mortar. Make a good sauce (supen) to go with them of honey and good spices and add a little wine and a little vinegar so that it is tasted (piczell) through the honey. Strew a little raisins on them and pour the sauce over the fritters. Then serve it and do not oversalt it.

Here, the knitwork appears to be make by interlacing long, conical pieces of a thin, firm dough before immersing them in hot fat.

I have not yet tried any of these recipes, though I hope to experiment with all three at some point in winter. What they clearly illustrate is that in the German tradition, names of dishes are a very changeable and unreliable indicator of their nature. They are typically descriptive and often not limited to a single dish. We should not rely on them to reconstruct menus or food habits unless we have corroborating evidence.

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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