Book Announcement, and Quick Compost Cabbage

Again four days have passed without posting a new recipe, but now I can reveal part of the reason for my tardiness: My translation of the Kuchenmaistrey is ready for print and will very soon be published by Ellipsis Imprints. To head off any issues with international shipping charges and unreliable mail, it will be available both as a printed copy and as an e-book. Orders will be accepted as soon as the print version is ready to go at Ellipsis website.

The Kuchenmaistrey (mastery of the kitchen) was the first printed cookbook in German and the second one in all of Europe, predated only by Platina in Italy. It is one of the most important sources for elite cuisine in the later 15th and early 16th centuries, and many of its roughly 190 recipes can still be prepared with quite satisfying results. This is not a properly annotated, academic translation, but it is the first time it appears in English at all.

To add to my reasons for happiness, Ellipsis has also expressed an interest in further translated cookbooks, so I am hoping to see more of them in actual print. However, between my day job, my son, my other book contract and life in general, this means I will not be able to return to posting daily recipes for the foreseeable future. I apologise for this and hope you can see there is a good reason.

Today, I will leave you with another recipe from the Kuchenmaistrey. It is not entirely clear what it is meant to achieve, but I think Trude Ehlert is right interpreting it as a way of simulating sauerkraut.

4. xxvi. Item if you would quickly make good, well-tasting cold compost cabbage in autumn as it is first chopped from the head raw. Take a clean pot and spread out small wooden skewers into it a hand high. Pour good red wine into it up to the skewers, but not quite. Then take a cabbage head well soured (? geschwert) and cut it into four quarters almost to the base, but so that it stays together there. Lay another cabbage head on it so that it opens out. Thus invert the cabbage onto the skewers in the pot, cover it up well and close up the lid with dough (muß). Set in on a trivet and make an even fire under it that is not too large. And let it stand there as long as cabbage may otherwise cook.

Then take it out and let it cool. And take the red wine in the pot and put it into a small pan, and boil caraway, sloes and juniper berries in it. Pour it into the cabbage head. Split it well all around and let it fall apart, and then split it completely. Pour vinegar or mustard on it and serve it.

It is clear that this recipe is supposed to simulate something that is not yet in season – compost cabbage, specifically. That can refer to mixed pickled fruit and vegetables, but also simply to sauerkraut, and in this case it seems to mean the latter. Sauerkraut would, of course, be salted down in autumn as cabbage became available and ripened in casks over the coming months. Thus, there would be none during the cabbage harvest, and this recipe seems designed to remedy that lack.

The instructions are fairly straightforward: A head of cabbage is quartered and held open by another. Both are then suspended over boiling wine to be steamed. After they are cooked, the wine is reduced with a selection of spices – caraway and juniper berries seem suitable additions to sauerkraut while sloes, in season in late autumn, would provide tartness. Finally, the dish is served with vinegar or mustard. A problem with interpreting it hinges on the word geschwert. It could be interpreted as “weighed down”, but also be a typographical error meant to represent gesuwert – soured – or even gesubert – cleaned – each of which would make it something rather different. Trude Ehlert looked into this in her edition of m,anuscript versions of the early print work, and she found the word differs in various versions of the Kuchenmaistry. If we read it as ges(u)wert – soured or fermented – we have sauerkraut being cooked. Cabbage was often fermented in entire heads, so that is not a problem for this reading. However, the Köln MS has gesubert – cleaned – which would imply raw cabbage, more in keeping with the first sentence. The Solothurn MS has gesotten, boiled, which is slightly confusing, but not impossible.

I would go with raw, properly cleaned cabbage heads because it seems most plausible in the light of the first sentence – a way of making sauerkraut at a time when it would not be available seasonally. But that is, admittedly, speculative.

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