Hulling Oats

Just a brief recipe today, I managed to catch the latest bug making the rounds and need to get back into bed. The Mondseer Kochbuch on hulling oats:

Oats, sixteenth-century woodcut courtesy of wikimedia commons

160 To prepare oat grains

If you want to prepare oat grains or oat flour, take a metzen of oats and sift it well. Then boil it until you can see the white kernel. Then let it dry very well and pound it until the kernels become clean (lauter).

This is interesting because we do not often get to see these things described in cookbooks. In modern kitchens, of course, we get our ingredients ready to use, and oats mainly rolled flat for muesli. Medieval cooks would often get relatively unprocessed ingredients, especially in large households that received rents in kind. Nobles, but also cities, wealthy burghers, and church institutions often held land whose tenants owed them part of the produce, so at certain times there would be eggs, butter, and cheese, grain, legumes, but also live animals and fresh fish coming in. Oats were a common porridge grain as well as animal feed, but needed to be processed to be acceptable on a higher-status table.

Here, the grains are boiled until the hulls burst, then dried and most likely worked in a mortar until the papers hull detaches from the kernel. Today, this tends to be done in industrial mills prior to rolling or grinding the oats. I do not think I ever saw hulled whole oat grains sold anywhere, and I am curious what boiling them for a porridge would produce. The quantity in question – a Metzen would be somewhere around thirty litres – suggests this was done to keep the hulled grains for future use.

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 the book stating it 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 currently held as Cod 4995.

The collection shows clear parallels with both the Buoch von guoter Spise and the Meister Hans recipe collection. 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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