Heritage of German medieval cookery texts
The recipe collections originate in the late medieval period. Still, the recipes can be used for providing a broader picture of the Middle Ages in general because other resources show that similar dishes were served in the High Middle Ages and even before. In order to get a manageable corpus of recipes, however, we apply some common constraints: the generally applied dates 500 to 1500 are used to qualify the medieval period and separate it form Antiquity and from early new times transmission. This is a rather arbitrary decision, because culinary history does not always run parallel to other lines of history – but to find a more appropriate date of separation it would be necessary to process the recipe collections after 1500 and to define rules for segregation. Limiting the corpus to handwritten sources excludes only one source – the Küchenmeisterei – the first printed collection in the German language (four editions before 1500). But it also keeps at bay all changes that are introduced with the new medium book.
The decision to apply these constraints was made to limit the number of recipe collections in our corpus. Applying these parameters, the heritage of medieval handwritten recipe collections consists of 60 manuscripts that hand down one or more cooking recipes. These collections hold approximately 5000 recipes. Until today 36 collections, i.e. approximately 3000 recipes, have already been edited and published, they are collected in the electronic Corpus of Medieval Cooking Recipes.
The recipe collections generally are part of collected manuscripts, there are only two exceptions: a Basel manuscript (Basel, UB Basel, AN V 12) containing the collection of Meister Hanns, is an individual codex and a Berlin collection (Berlin, GStA PK, XX. HA, OBA, Nr. 18384) consists only of fragmented quires. The texts accompanying the recipes usually are from the medical domain (treatises, dietetic texts, recipes) or home economic texts (about gardening, grafting, spot removal, ink, glue, or grease recipes). Highlights from a historical or cultural historical point of view are the bouch von guoter spîse – the book of good food, it is the oldest collection of cooking recipes from 1350 and is part of a house book (München, Universitätsbiliothek, Cim 4 (2° Cod. ms. 731)) that also hands down legal treatises and even literary texts. It can be attributed to one Michael de Leone of Würzburg. Another is the collection of Meister Hanns, chef in the kitchen of the count of Würtemberg, the codex is dated to 1460. Or the collection of Meister Eberhard of Landshut (Augsburg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. III.1.2° 43) who had a medical background and most likely was employed by Henry XVI, Duke of Bavaria.
But one can view the collections using other focal points, for example an editorial or manuscript oriented: in this context the Erlangen Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. B 37 collection could be of interest, as we have here a scribe that most begrudgingly wrote down what probably a chef dictated him – adding all false starts, duplications, rephrasing, often even not bothering to revise errors. Another focus would be lingusitic: here we have a Viennese manuscript that is written in the South Bavarian variety of German most likely preserving a historical form of the Viennese dialect. Some might even be interesting for art historian research.
The following illustrations shall provide an overview of the distribution of our culinary heritage. I have prepared simple statistical analysis of this data.
Date of origin: most of the recipe collections originate from around the middle of the 15th century.
With the regional and dialectal distribution the core area is the southern part of the German language area.
Only a very few collections contain up to 300 recipes, most are around or below 100.
Demography: the origin of nearly three quarters of collections is unknown. More were produced in a clerical than a worldly setting.
We know very little about authors/compilators/initiators of recipe collections.
The word cloud shows the frequency of ingredients, most important were: spices, eggs, fat, wine, honey etc.
Focussing on spices in general the general call for spices leads the ingredient wine, salt, honey, vinegar, safran etc.
These contents were presented at the IEHCA Conference 2018 and are licensed under the Creative Commons Namensnennung 4.0 International Lizenz.
Helmut W. Klug