In Praise of the Pig

The König vom Odenwald is finished, but I will still need to do some work on the final edit and think about what to do with it. Meanwhile, here is another poem in praise of the pig:

IX This is a poem about the pig
And its usefulness
And it was made skilfully
By the kunig vom Otenwalde

As I have nothing new at this time
Many people say: “Very well,
We should have something new,
Kunig, make us a new poem!”
If I have to write something new
I will write about the pig.
Their squealing should gladly be tolerated
Sour liver (
lebersoln) come from them
Filled and roasted
Happy are those who have them!
Boiled and smoked
They lose none of their virtue.
Now I should look at
Sausages in four manners
Made with brain and with blood
And also hot liver sausages
And sausages of sheer meat (
brod = brät)
Those last long
Roasts by the embers
Give you joy
Bread catching dripping (
betreift sniten) underneath
It is no wonder
Head, ears, tail, feet
And one part it digs with (the snout)
And the four pig legs
In vinegar and galantine
Tongue, spleen, and stomach
Of this, I, the kunig, must say
Of this come side dishes
Now hark what I say!
You also use the bladder well
Wherever it is useful.
You have bacon with peas
In your chickens and on a spit
And where there are boiled chickens
You must have bacon and parsley with them.
Further, I always serve
Fried lardons (
grieben) in mus and on porridge
Pancakes and filled fritters (
All come from the pig
Dumplings from the rump (
Appear to be so small
But they are noble (like) venison (
I will tell you more about the pig:
Shoulders and hams
Nourish nursemaids and women in childbed
Fat cabbage (
kruot) come from the pig
Bride and bridegroom eat of that
This is common custom.
All foods are improved with it
Adding a little bacon to fish
I never forget to do this
Use your teeth if you can
Women and men both!
To use the large bellies and lard
You must have salt
You use it to smear on many things
Wagon sides (
leitern) so they become smooth
Books, saddles, bucklers,
are protected steadily (by greasing)
And smiths always wear
A (pig)skin apron over their skin
Straps on the helm
Are carried on the field
Points and straps
Are inexpensively bought
The strop for the razor
I have heard and seen this
Is needed to swipe over often
When you wish to shave beards.
You also find, made of the skin
Belts, broad and narrow
I also tell you of the bristles
That they are used to brush hair
And every cobbler
Cannot be without bristles
Weavers and painters, too
Have need of bristles
And also every goldsmith
Works with them.
With bristles you make
Glasses clean, if you know how
And the noble bristles are
Put into the holy water sprinkler
Which is used in good intent
So God may have us in his protection.
The kunig has made this poem
Whoever can write a better one should do so.

This poem completes the series praising domestic animals, following the cow, goose, chicken, and sheep. While it mentions technical applications for pig products, its main focus lies on food. Pigs were kept primarily for eating.

The defense of the pig whose squealing seems to have annoyed people begins with a mention of lebersoln. I am not fully sure what these are, but I suspect it is a reference to the frequently attested roasted mashed liver wrapped in a caul. That certainly seems to have been a popular and exclusive dish. Sausages, made with brain, liver, blood, or sheer meat, are specifically addressed as four main types. This seems to be a mental classification that was current. We have surviving recipes for blood sausages, liver sausages, and the high-status bratwurst made from muscle meat. Some surviving recipes involving brain, too, may describe sausages, but I am less confident in identifying those. The poem does not mention lung sausages, a type we have several surviving recipes for. That may be owed to local custom, personal dislike, lack of status, or any other reason you care to imagine. Certainly people ate every part of the pig, and sausage making was a creative discipline.

Next, the poem mentions roast pork and the joy of eating the drippings with bread – betreift sniten possibly placed under the roast during cooking, though in my opinion more likely spread on toasted slices or loaves afterwards. I can attest to the fact that this is delicious. The feet, snout, ears and tail are cooked in a galantine. This is harder to interpret than it seems because the various words used to describe jelly today could refer to gelatin, but also to thickened sauces at the time. Clearly, though, these fiddly meat bits were cooked, taken apart, and served in an accressible and highly seasoned form.

The next section addresses bacon (speck), a useful ingredient in all kinds of dishes. This could refer to anything from mostly meaty salt-cured pork belly to mostly fat, white Rückenspeck. Interpreting individual recipes can be fraught that way, but it is likely cooks chose what they found served best. One especially interesting note is the poet’s injunction that boiled chicken must always be served with bacon and parsley (here likely meaning the root boiled with the meat). There may be the germ of a recipe in this line. Pig fat is also used as a cooking medium, which provides the connection to pancakes and the broad class of krepfelin fritters. The word usually means a filled fritter like a dumpling, but is often used for other kinds of fritter as well. The lardons (grieben) produced when rendering lard were another way of adding meaty richness to non-meat dishes, served with porridges and vegetable purees.

Two social practices are mentioned as asides: Pork shoulders and ham, probably dry-salted and smoked, are served to nursing mothers and fat kraut, most likely a cabbage dish, at weddings. We have other mentions of this and it seems to have been a custom early on. Addiong bacon to fish while culinarily plausible seems a daring suggestion given that fish was mainly eaten during Lent. It would not be a problem on meat days, obviously, so such recipes likely existed, but to find it stated as common practice in a clerical environment is a slight surprise.

What follows is a list of technical applications: Pigskin used in aprons razor, strops, helmet straps, and all kinds of other roles, pig fat for greasing leather, and bristles for sewing, in brushes, and in holy water sprinklers, the noblest avocation a humble pig could aspire to. Interestingly, we also learn that drinking glasses, still a luxury item, were kept clean using brushes. This kind of detail makes reading the König’s poems so rewarding.

Der König vom Odenwald (literally king of the Odenwald, a mountain chain in southern Germany) is an otherwise unknown poet whose work is tentatively dated to the 1340s. His title may refer to a senior rank among musicians or entertainers, a Spielmannskönig, but that is speculative. Many of his poems are humorous and deal with aspects of everyday life which makes them valuable sources to us today.

The identity of this poet has been subject to much speculation. He is clearly associated with the episcopal court at Würzburg and likely specifically with Michael de Leone (c. 1300-1355), a lawyer and scholar. Most of his work is known only through the Hausbuch of the same Michael de Leone, a collection of verse and practical prose that also includes the first known instance of the Buoch von guoter Spise, a recipe collection. This and the evident relish with which he describes food have led scholars to consider him a professional cook and the author of the Buoch von Guoter Spise, but that is unlikely. Going by the content of his poetry, the author is clearly familiar with the lives of the lower nobility and even his image of poverty is genteel. This need not mean he belonged to this class, but he clearly moved in these circles to some degree. Michael de Leone, a secular cleric and canon on the Würzburg chapter, was of that class and may have been a patron of the poet. Reinhardt Olt whose edition I am basing my translation on assumes that the author was a fellow canon, Johann II von Erbach.

I only translate the poems that deal with aspects of food or related everyday life here. There are several others which are less interesting as sources. They can be found in the newest extant edition by Reinhard Olt, König vom Odenwald; Gedichte, Carl Winter Verlag, Heidelberg 1988.

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