Honey-Ginger-Garlic Sauce

I apologise again for my long absense – it was a busy week, and then I had the pleasure of spending the weekend in the company of a new friend helping with a wonderful history-inspired feast. I learned a lot about different approaches to food, art, accuracy and pleasure which you will hear about in due time. Today, there is a sauce recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch, possibly the first mention of a cook in the German corpus by name:

45 How to prepare Snalenberger sauce

Take wine and thick honey and let it boil. Add ground ginger, more than pepper, and pound garlic, but not too much. Make it strong (season it strongly) and stir it with a piece of wood (ainer schinnen). Let it boil until it begins to burn. You shall eat this in cold winter.

Again, this is not an isolate. This is one of the recipes we also find in the Buoch von Guoter Spise (#49) where it reads thus:

A good sauce

Take wine and thick honey, set it on the fire and let it boil. Add pounded ginger, more than pepper. Pound garlic, but not too much, and make it strong. And stir it with a length of wood (eyer schinen). Let it boil until it begins to brown (brünnien). You shall eat this in cold weather. It is called swallenergs salse.

In culinary terms, the contrast of honey and wine, ginger and garlic sounds promising. Balancing the sharp heat, pungency, and rich sweetness could give you something reminiscent of Southern Chinese cuisine if it is done right. The profusion of warming spices makes this humorally suited for cold weather, and all ingredients would have been available in winter. The Mondseer Kochbuch and the Buoch von Guoter Spise share a number of honey-based sauces, as we will see. This appears to be a feature of this particular tradition, perhaps a regional specificity or early fashion.

As to who Swallenberg (or Snalenberg) was, we have no idea. Both geography and the use of the -s genitive suggest that it is a person, not a place, but beyond that we are entirely at a loss. Eminent food historian Trude Ehlert suggested this may be the name of a cook honoured as its inventor, and the suggestion is not implausible. The person could equally well be a patron known to have had this sauce prepared or for serving it to his guests, or a physician or apothecary who recommended it. Many culinary names come about when famous people are credited with ‘inventing’ a dish.

The Mondseer Kochbuch is a recipe collection bound with a set of manuscript texts on grammar, dietetics, wine, and theology. There is a note inside that part of the book was completed in 1439 and, in a different place, that it was gifted to the abbot of the monastery at Mondsee (Austria). It is not certain whether the manuscript already included the recipes at that point, but it is likely. The entire codex was bound in leather in the second half of the fifteenth century, so at this point the recipe collection must have been part of it. The book was held at the monastery until it passed into the Vienna court library, now the national library of Austria, where it is now Cod 4995.

The collection shows clear parallels with the Buoch von guoter Spise. Many of its recipes are complex and call for expensive ingredients, and some give unusually precise quantities and measurements. It is edited in Doris Aichholzer’s “Wildu machen ayn guet essen…” Drei mittelhochdeutsche Kochbücher: Edition, Übersetzung, Quellenkommentar, Peter Lang, Berne et al. 1999

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