Carp in Pastry

A recipe in two variations that I may try come winter, from Philippine Welser’s recipe collection.

Carp, sixteenth-century drawing courtesy of wikimedia commons

79 If you want to make a fish pastry

Take a fish, be it a carp or another kind, scale it and next cut it through up and down on both sides (make cuts along the sides?). Open its belly and take out the gall. They take spices as are written in the first capon pastry, but with a fish, you must use more salt than with meat. You must look to that because fish are sweeter. Then take the fish and season it first under the fins. Then remove the innards and season it well inside. Also season the innards and return them into the fish. Then rub the fish with spices on both sides and see that it is well salted in the cuts you made. Then lay it on the dough which must be made as though for venison pastry. (Have) two parts and fold one over it. But beforehand, lay fat worth 4 batzen (a small coin) and close it. Shape it like a fish and stick in a small tube (rerlin – cinnamon stick?) on top so you can pour in a sauce and let it bake for 2 hours.

80 A pastry of cut-up fish

Take the fish and cut it. Then make it into pieces as though you wanted to boil it. Then make a round pastry crust from the dough and sprinkle spices on the bottom as described in the first (recipe), but stir in more salt or otherwise salt the fish more strongly. Lay the fish into the pastry and sprinkle on spices and salt and put two good pieces of fat on top. Close it and brush the pastry with egg, and let it bake properly. When it has baked for an hour, take the white of an egg and good wine, beat it well together, make a hole at the wreath (ain krentzlin – at the edge of the top crust?) and pour in this sauce (brie) with a small funnel. Then let it bake well. You shall treat all fish pastry this way, with the sauce.

This recipe is interesting and very different from the way fish are usually cooked. Carp, of course, have a strong flavour that can take the rather strong spicing with ginger, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon recommended here. The whole fish would be enclosed in a pastry following its natural outline and no doubt aretfully decorated. Once the fish is fully cooked, it should be possible to detach the top crust and flake it off the bones, seasoned and juicy, though I am not sure how I feel about leaving in the innards. They may be meant to add flavour, or to be eaten on their own. The pastry of fish pieces would be opened at the top to remove individual ready portions, a convenience for serving.

Note the relatively large amount of fat added to both pastries; A batzen, while not a large sum, is a sixteenth of a guilder which is not insignificant. Estimating how much fat this would buy is hard since prices fluctuated seasonally, but it is more than most families coiuld comfortably have afforded on a daily basis. Another question is the tube that is inserted into the fish pastry. The word rerlin used to describe it is normally used for cinnamon, and it may well have been a cinnamon stick. It would certainly be another instance of conspicuous consumption.

Finally, this recipe contains two cross-references (to venison and capon pastry) connecting it with other recipes in the collection. Clearly, there is a plan of some sort in evidence and unlike in many fifteenth-century sources, these references lead somewhere (see the links in the recipe text).

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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