A Meatless Recipe Testing Session

On the anniversary of last year’s fritter experimenting session, I got together with some local friends from my mnedieval club for an arts & sciences meeting. I, of course, provided food. It was a good opportunity to try out a few recipes from recent translations, and since the hostess is vegetarian, I picked meatless food.

The main course

As our main course, we opted for that mysterious pancake/omelet/thing called a reuschkuochen from the Mondseer Kochbuch.

48 How to prepare a Reußchkuochen

Chop equal amounts of parsley and sage and fry it in butter. Cook eggs soft and mix this together, and grate cheese and bread into it. Prepare a pancake (plat) of eggs and pour butter underneath. Set it over the fire and let it fry. These are Reuschkuochen.

reuschkuochen filling

There is a world of latitude in these sentences, but the basic thrust at least is clear. I started out with a handful of fresh sage and parsley each which I chopped and briefly fried in a tablespoon of butter. I did not let the leaves crisp and brown, though that is a possibility. Then, I added four soft-boiled eggs and mashed trhe whole. It is possible that instead, scrambled eggs is intended, but I doubt it. More plausibly, this instruction could refer to just the yolk of soft-boiled eggs, excluding the solidified whites. Since my eggs turned out a little too hard, I added another raw egg to achieve a spreadable consistency. For cheese, I used grated gouda and a tablespoon of breadcrumbs which, in this case, really served no function which suggests the eggs are supposed to be a lot more liquid.

In the pan

The next question is the plat, a word that just means a flat thing. I interpreted it as a pancake in the modern sense, mostly consisting of beaten egg stiffened with a little flour. Just egg also works, but I was concerned about burning it too fast. I poured the egg batter into hot butter, waiterd for it to solidify along the bottom, spread the filling on it, and sprinkled it with leftover grated cheese. Then I covered the pan and let it cook on a medium heat until the whole was solid and the cheese on top had melted. Again, we do not know that is how it was done – the filling could also be wrapped up and deep-fried – but the word kuochen suggests a round, flat shape. As things went, it worked. The resulting dish is rich, savoury, and very pleasant. We ate two of them between the four of us.

As a side dish, I opted for beans in a spicy beer and vinegar sauce, also from the Mondseer Kochbuch:

Heating the beans in the sauce

29 How to prepare a condiment sauce over beans

Boil green (i.e. fresh) beans until they are soft. Then take fine bread and a little pepper, and three times as much caraway. Grind it together with vinegar and with beer, add saffron, and pour off the broth. Pour on the ground (sauce) and salt it in measure. Let it boil up in the condiment sauce and serve it.

This is an interesting recipe, one of the few we have for cooking beans, which must have been much more common even on the tables of the wealthy than the paucity of sources suggests. The sauce is interesting for using beer, but otherwise it is a basic bread-thickened pfeffer sauce more commonly served over meat. Another question is the identiy of the spices. The modern Kümmel in Germany clearly refers to caraway, so that was my preferred translation, but the word is not as clear in Middle German. I am obligated to Jim Chevallier for pointing me to the ubiquity of cumin (German Kreuzkümmel) in early medieval cuisine which got me to start looking at the word again. I am not at all sure that it must mean cumin here, but I believe at least that it could, and that this merits further research. So I decided to go with cumin this day to see if the combination works, and it did.

I started out with cooked broad beans (Vicia faba, the most likely candidate whenever ‘beans’ are mentioned before the 1550s) and made a sauce by boiling beer and vinegar, stirring in breadcrumbs, and seasoning it with pepper, cumin, and salt. I passed it through once, but it could well have stood more pureeing. Because I had used too much bread, I had to dilute it with water to get it liquid enough and found that this improved the otherwise too concentrated flavour. Of course, what constituted ‘beer’ in the 1450s versus today is a far bigger stumbling block for reconstructing this in a modern kitchen. Still, the principle held and it worked. Heating the beans in the sauce melded the flavours nicely. It may not look like much, but it tastes very good. Adding copious saffron may help the optics, but is unlikely to improve the taste.

To accompany both, I decided to try a third recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch: Snalenberger or Swallenbergs sauce.

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.

Garlic in honey, before cooking

I really did not know what to expect here, but was going to give it a try. Garlic, honey, a little wine, and ginger and pepper boiled down until it begins to caramelise (at least, that is how I read “until it begins to burn”). I used chopped garlic mainly for time economy, and it turned out not to hurt, but I think mortar-pounded garlic, even heeding the instruction not to do this too much, would have a finer consistency. But this was a first attempt and as such, it succeeded beautifully.

Cooking down the honey on a low heat took over two hours, fortunately not requiring continuous stirring on a modern electric stove, and resulted in a reddish-brown liquid that, when cooled, solidified into a sticky paste. The conststency reminded me strongly of the portable honey mustard I tried years ago, and I suspect that the original may be meant as a similar instant sauce to be diluted before serving. We didn’t because we were hungry, and it worked very well with the reuschkuochen, to general surprise. Ginger, garlic and honey make a tasty combination, vaguely reminiscent of some Chinese sauces.

Clockwise from top left: beer beans, reuschkuochen, and undiluted Snalenberger sauce.

There was a dessert of pie and three kinds of krapfen, but I will deal with it in a later post.

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