Capon Pastries

I was writing about the capon pastry in Philippine Welser’s recipe collection we tried a few weeks ago, but the book actually contains several versions of capon or chicken pastries:

59 To make a capon pastry

Prepare the pastry crust (denn hafenn lit. the pot) as you know and clean the capon as you know, chop off its head, neck, and feet and carve it as though it was served at the table, but not all through, only loosened. Then lay it into a bowl or platter and take the mixed spices as is described after this: 8 lot of ginger, 4 lott of pepper, 4 lot of nutmeg, 4 lott of cloves, 3 lot of cinnamon, pound all of that together and add a third part (dryttel) of salt, that makes eight and a half lott, this is proper with all pastries that are served hot. Now put as much of that spice on the capon as it requires and sprinkle it well with this spice between the wings and elsewhere, wherever it needs it. Then put it into the pot and lay in 4 long slices of fresh bacon and another 4 slices lay on it (on the bottom and top?). If you have no bacon, use fat. Then put a top crust on it and put it into an oven or tart pan and stay with it until it rises (auff gatt). When it has risen, poke a hole in it or the heat will break it open. Then let it bake for another 2 hours, and when you want to put in liquid, take one egg and some verjuice, beat it well together, and pour it in at the small hole before it is fully baked. Then put it back into the oven and leave it in another good hour, that is proper. Brush the pastry with egg before you bake it.

60 If you want to make a capon pastry

Make the pastry crust as you know and take the capon and clean it well. Parboil it a little, but not long. Then take it and chop off its neck and its feet. If you want, carve it up, but not all the way through, and season it well with pepper, ginger, not much mace, and a little cloves and cinnamon. Put it into the pastry crust together with the neck and the feet, and add the yolks of hard-boiled eggs and raisins. Take capon fat or marrow and also put it in, and put the leftover spices on top. Add sugar, and do not forget the salt. Close it and let it bake slowly, and brush it well with egg all around.

61 If you want to make a capon or chicken pastry with herbs

Take the capons or chickens, chop up their wings, put them in water and let them boil up. Chop up the fat of ox kidneys or their marrow and chop all kinds of good herbs with that. Spice it well with pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and raisins and sugar. Take the capons or chickens, put them into the pastry crust, place the abovementioned on top and the sides until it is full (?bys hin nein kunptt). Close it with a top crust and put it into the tart pan. When it is half baked, add verjuice to broth suitable for soup (suben brye) or use wine, make a hole in the lid, and pour in the broth. Brush it well with egg and let it bake fully.

62 To make pigeon or chicken pastry

You shall not carve them up (?erlegen) like the capons, but crush their backs, wings, and feet. Otherwise, you treat them as described above with regard to spices and larding (steck), but without the bacon if you wish, as is also described of those pastries. These pastries must not bake too long, only about three and a half hours. You can also add liquid with an egg and verjuice. Let it boil well in there. If you have no verjuice, use wine that is sour.

These recipes follow directly after the instruction for making pastry crust, so the remark “as you know” is less despair-inducing than it usually is. Beyond that, they are also quite interesting in culinary terms. The proportions of spices and salt given in #59 even suggest a kind of standard meat pastry spice mix as well as telling us this recipe is meant to be served hot. Not all meat pastries were, and some were meant specifically to preserve meat and/or make it portable.

The idea of pre-carving the bird in recipe #59 also shows a sense of practicality, making it possible for diners to take ready portions out of a pastry without needing to saw at the bird in its inconvenient dough shell. The flavour is probably undistinguished, a lot of spices with a touch of sourness, but certainly not unpleasant. Recipe #60 adds sugar, egg yolks, and raisins for a fashionably sweet note, but we found it adapted well to our palates. I am curious to play with #61 with its undefined herbs and unspecified amount of sugar. It could be meant as a slightly sweetened, strongly aromatic chicken pie or something more reminiscent of cough drops, as this source often combines herbs with sugar.

The shift from capon to capon or chicken to chicken or pigeon from recipes #59 to 62 is interesting, but not surprising. It locates the recipes in the domestic sphere – chickens and pigeons were kept by many wealthy householders – and suggests that capons were more luxurious, which they were. For any serious reconstruction it is safe to assume that capons would have matched modern broiling chickens in terms of fat and tenderness while chicken was more like soup birds.

Finally, it should be said that the cooking times given are very unlikely to be anywhere near accurate. I suspect they are estimates since even at a lower temperature than modern ovens usually have, they seem quite excessive. I will give it a try at some point. Four to five hours at a modest 150°C seem unlikely to improve a single chicken, but I have been surprised before.

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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