Infidel Peas – an odd recipe

Today’s recipe is short, but intriguing. Another one of the parallels from the Mondseer Kochbuch:

57 To prepare infidel peas (Haydenisch arbeis)

Take almond kernels and pound them very small, and mix them with a third as much honey and with good spices, the best that can be had. This dish (kost) is served cold or hot.

Again, this is paralleled in the Buoch von guoter Spise (#63) where it is identified both as infidel and Bohemian peas (neither recipe involves actual peas):

63 Infidel (Heidenische) peas

If you wish to prepare Bohemian (behemmische) peas, take almond kernels and pound them very small, and mix that with a third as much honey, and mixed with good spices, the best he has. This dish (koste) is served cold or hot.

Firstly, the nomenclature here is a little odd. There is another dish known as ‘infidel’, the heidnische Kuchen we encounter in many iterations. we do not know why these were called that, either. The double naming in the Buoch von guoter Spise does, of course, make every medievalist’s ears perk up: Bohemia’s association with unbelief seems to offer an explanation. Unfortunately, the timing is off. The Buoch is conventionally dated to the 1380s, well before the Hussite wars. Also, there is a well documented dish called Bohemian peas. It actually involves peas that are shelled, mashed and spiced. It is possible that the recipe recorded here is simply an illusion food meant to imitate the appearance of mashed peas with more expensive ingredients.

Reconstructing the dish is also challenging because of the aspects left unsaid. Actually pounding almonds in a mortar and mixing them with the indicated quantity of honey produces something very much like marzipan. You could shape that mass into small balls to resemble peas, but if you were to fill it into a serving bowl to look like mashed peas, it would be challenging to eat. However, a number of recipes instruct the reader to pound almonds in a mortar and use the milk, so clearly the addition of a liquid is envisioned, even if it is not explicitly mentioned. If we were to add water during the processing, this could become a soft mush similar to mashed peas. We simply do not know.

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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