Root Vegetable Tart

Another small recipe today, but an interesting one:

23 To make as root vegetable (raubenn) tart

Take roots (ryeb) and peel them. Then put them in water and let them boil. Then, you pound them very small in a mortar and add six egg yolks and freshly melted butter, sugar, cinnamon and ginger, grated semel bread and a little milk. Salt it well and let it bake a quarter hour, then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on it.

The first thing modern readers are likely to notice is that, except for the absence of pumpkins, this is a modern pumpkin pie. That is not a surprise given the deep roots that recipe has in Early Modern European cooking, but if you ever felt like using a carved turnip in place of a Jack o’Lantern for Halloween, here is the pie to serve.

The problem or advantage when reconstructing this recipe, depending on how you look at it, is that we don’t really know what kind of root vegetables were used. The word Rüben is not very clear. Used without a qualifier today, it usually means sugar beets, but these are both thoroughly modern and an industrial crop. In old cookbooks, it usually means a turnip, a plant massively out of favour since the end of the World Wars. In the sixteenth century, a variety of root crops were grown across Germany, and the word Rüben could be used to refer to locally dominant types in the same way the English term corn could mean the locally dominant bread grain before the meaning settled on maize. Rüben is the root-y counterpart to Kraut, a term that covers all kinds of leafy greens, and Kraut und Rüben described the vegetable stew a poor family might gather from its kitchen garden. In modern German, it means a disorderly mess.

That said, the Welser family was ridiculously rich. These were people with refined palates and we have no reason to think they allowed anything coarse or tasteless on their tables. A number of root crops make credible candidates, including small turnip varieties like Mairübchen, but also parsnips, salsify, parsley roots, or indeed carrots. They may well have been used at various times during the year, changing the flavour of the dish with the season.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

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