Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Sources 1

Dear readers, I apologize for not having posted anything for a while, but I had to learn for the final exam of an Italian course. So the blog was not top priority for the last week. 

In the category sources I intend to publish bit by bit a selection of sources I am working on for my thesis. I want to give a short impression of the kind, format, origin and history of the material. On the other hand I will show you, how I work with the sources and what intentions I have by doing so.

At the beginning there are, of cause, the recipe collections and cookery books. They naturally give more then all other sources an inview into composition of dishes and cooking methods. An extensive study of all available sources is because of several reasons not possible, therefore I am concentrating on German, French and English manuscripts of the 14th century. This ensures that I have enough but manageable material for my research. In addition I have the possibility for a better comparison of different „national cuisines“ of the same time level.

     The oldest recipe collection in German language is the "buoch von guoter spise" (book of good food/ dishes).[1] It was written around 1350 and was bound together with various texts on different themes in the so called “Hausbuch” (house book) of Michael de Leone, protonotary of two bishops of Würzburg. This compilation originally consisted of two volumes.[2]
     Concerning the remaining index in the second volume, the lost first one contained works on virtues and vices, various didactic poems, e.g. on correct table manners, on the seven Fine Arts, the four elements and a book on grafting fruit trees.
     The second volume contains a collection of liturgical texts, mostly in Latin, Freidanks “Bescheidenheit“ (humility/ modesty), didactical examples, fables of the Stricker, two Latin books on knowledge about the structure of the world and the importance  of liturgy, the above mentioned "buoch von guoter spise", followed by a "Regimen Sanitatis" (health advices), texts of Konrad von Würzburg,  other health advices, courtly love advices, song collections, texts of the “King of the Odenwald” and other poems, partly in Latin. After 1350 different other mostly Latin texts were added, containing prayers, medical works, two tractates on the plague, blood-letting rules and a regimen for the months. Some texts were composed by Michael de Leone himself, too.
     This „Hausbuch“ contains thus a compilation of clerical and worldly texts thought to be useful for everyday live, didactical works, prose, medical guidebooks, love songs and the recipe collection dealt with here.[3] The latter is divided into two parts. Both are structured differently and they seem to be copies of two presumably no longer existing older manuscripts. The first part contains 57 partly numbered and captioned recipes, including two jest recipes. It seems rather unsorted, some times association lines can be traced. The other part consists of 44 unnumbered but also captioned recipes and is roughly divided into dishes for fasting days and Lent and meat dishes. Sometimes the systematics of fasting dishes is broken by associated meat dishes. There can be distinguished some undercategories like fish dishes,  sweet dishes with fruit fillings, fruit and vegetable dishes, egg dishes, fruit dishes, almond and nut dishes, as well as ornamented and sculpted dishes.
     The origin of the cookery book still is unclear, but it seems a cook was involved in the composition, this can be seen in the structure and the concise contents of the individual recipes. The beginning of the text gives “unverrihtige ko<e>che“ as the target group of the book. The meaning of this phrase is uncertain and was discussed many times. Mostly the term “unverrihtig“, which means concerning to Trude Ehlert as much as “unsorted, not fixed by right and law“,[4] is referred to cooks who work for the first time of their live with written recipes or who do not have enough experience yet.[5] In my opinion it could also refer to experienced cooks with knowledge about housekeeping and cooking in other peoples houses, but who had not been trained professionally. The book would therefore act as a means to enable a cooking experienced person to prepare new dishes after higher culinary examples.  If this book ever found its way to the kitchen, may be doubted.  The representative layout and the inconvenient measurements would have prohibited this. Trude Ehlert actually doubts, that contemporary cooks would have been able to read at all.[6] Oral tradition was a very common practice for medieval professional cooks. But for me it seems possible, that Michael de Leone read the desired dishes to the person responsible for cooking and the cook tried to remember the instructions and to implement the recipe.
   For working on the cookery book, I created an excel-file categorized into number of the recipe, original title, kind of the dish, mentioned equipment, mentioned ingredients, measurements and weights,  statements regarding time, notes on striking features, statements on texture, my own transcription, translation, recipe developed by me. I am quite aware, that some of these features have been part of research of other people too and that there are many transcriptions and translations available especially of  the “buoch von guoter spise”. But I made the experience, that by this procedure I get a much better knowledge of the sources and I find many new aspects.

[1] In this I posts I can only give short remarks on the text collection. Further descriptions can be found in: Brunner, Horst [Hrsg.]: Das Hausbuch des Michael de Leone (Würzburger Liederhandschrift) der Universitätsbibliothek München (2° Cod. ms. 731). Göppingen 1983; Ehlert, Trude: Das Bůch von gůter spîse: kulinarische Bedeutung and kulturhistorischer Wert. Begleitheft zum Faksimile von Tupperware Deutschland. Frankfurt 1993; Hajek, Hans [Hrsg.]: Das bůch von gůter spise. Aus der Würzburg-Münchener Handschrift neu herausgegeben. Berlin 1958; Hayer, Gerold [Hrsg.]: Daz buoch von guoter spîse. Abbildungen zur Überlieferung des ältesten deutschen Kochbuches. Göppingen 1976; Weiss-Adamson, Melitta: Daz bůch von gůter spise. (The Book of Good Food.). A Study, Edition and English Translation of the Oldest German Cookbook. Medium Aevum Quotidianum, Sonderband IX. Krems 2000.
[2] On the house book: Ehlert (1993), 3; Weiss-Adamson (2000), 12-19; on Michael de Leone: Ehlert (1993), 8-10; Weiss-Adamson (2000), 7-11.
[3] On the bůch von gůter spîse: Ehlert (1993), 5-7; Weiss-Adamson (2000), 2-25, 33-54.
[4] Ehlert (1993), 7.
[5] Ehlert (1993), 7f; Weiss-Adamson (2000), 21-22.
[6] Ehlert (1993), 7f.


  1. Hello

    This is very interesting reading, and I am linking this page to my own. Yesterday I decided to try to cook each and every dish in the "Buoch von guoter spise", as a bit of a project. It's funny, really, as I then stumbled upon your blog - and this post!

    It will, of course, take me a lot of time, and present quite a few challenges. I'm not a native German speaker, and even though I can understand most of the medieval German texts, I can't always understand the details.

    Therefore, I hope that you and I can have a continuous discussion on the book, the recipes and the terms, so that my interpretations will be more correct.

    I would also be very interested in reading the Excel-file you mentioned.

    I am looking forward to hearing from you!

    /Peter Ahlqvist

  2. Quote: Yesterday I decided to try to cook each and every dish in the "Buoch von guoter spise"

    That sounds like an interesting project, too. I will be concentrating on a selection of about 10 recipes, but I have to examine the others, too. In addition I want to compare these German dishes to food from British and French sources. In the end I intent to get a corpus of about 30 to 40 recipes from 3 countries of about the same time level (14th century) – I will post more details on the other sources in the near future.

    Quote: ... even though I can understand most of the medieval German texts, I can't always understand the details.

    Well, even for a native German medieval texts can be quite a challenge. For the “buoch of guoter spise” there are some good English translations available – for instance “Melitta Weiss Adamson: Daz buoch von guoter spîse. The Book of Good Food”. Also there are German, Italian and French translations – some better, some not that good. But even a good translation should always be checked with the original text at hand. Additional there are some terms that can’t be translated correctly, so a translation will always include some kind of interpretation by the author. My experience is that combining an existing translation in your or another language with your own work can fasten work up a bit. This process can give new ideas on translation and recipe interpretation, too.
    About translation problems: As long as it is just some questions on details, feel free to ask.

    Quote: I would also be very interested in reading the Excel-file you mentioned.

    That might be a problem. The excel files I am working on for all my sources are one of the basic parts of my work and I will have to think about it for a while whether or not to share them before publishing it in my thesis. May be I will put some examples on my blog – a bit censored of cause, but not now.

    Thanks for your comment and I am looking forward to more communication in the future,

    Andreas Klumpp