Monday, February 17, 2014

Of possible period crackers

I am half cross posting this from a discussion on the Medieval and Renaissance cooking and recipes group on Fbook, partly so I will remember to actually give it a try soon. Someone asked about medieval crackers, which turned into a discussion about bread, which turned into a discussion on toast and whether toasted bread would have been served to an English lord in the Saxon period. 

This discussion got me hunting and I found a recipe for "A grilled cake with chicken filling".  This provided me with a lovely opportunity for my favourite hobbyhorse... critical thinking and questioning assumptions.

So let me share the story with you as it happened, because well, I just found the whole discussion fascinating and exciting.

The recipe is from Manuscript W (1213 - from the Herzog August Biobliothek of Wolfenbuttel, Germany) of the collection of manuscripts dubbed by Grewe and Hiatt as the Libellus de arte coquinaria (from the 2001 publicationof the book).

The recipe is for making a thin dough of eggs and flour, frying it and topping it with chicken. Pretty straight forward eh?  

So here is my conversation on it:

Me:  The original text says "Item, nym eigere unde mel; werke daraff eynen dunnen dech. Sette dat uppe eyn iseren unde sla eigere myt mele unde gutdarin". The translation offered by Grewe and Hieatt is "Next, take eggs and flour. Make it into a thin dough: onto a gridiron pour [the] eggs beaten with flour". 
I don't have a word of medieval Low German vocabulary, but I would love to have clarification on the translation of the word 'pour' and whether it could be translated in a different slant, if you think of the dough as being less of a pancake dough and more like a bread dough.... anyone out there have Low German?

Response: sounds like a crepe.

Me: It does indeed, if you pour.. but if you think of the words 'thin dough' as being less a batter and more along the lines of thinly rolled dough (for example pasta dough is just flour and eggs), you can see why the word translated as 'pour' makes such a difference. Is the word 'pour' or is it 'set it' or 'place it' or 'put it', and the context of thinking of it as a batter made the translator translate it as pour? Looking at the original text, I think maybe the word 'Sette' is the relevant word, and the online low medieval German dictionary I found translates that as 'setzen', which is modern German for 'set'. Which gives the possibility of it being a much thicker dough. See what I mean?

Response (from someone is a native German speaker): Kiriel you are very likely right that "sette" is to set it upon the irons, Like waffles.

Me: Thanks. See now this is one of the things that excites me about medieval cookery! We may well be the first people in 800 years to look at this recipe and see the possibility that it could be cooked this particular and different way. How we experience our own lives affects our vision of these recipes. Someone from say America might see a recipe for something that uses a wafer iron and interpret the content as being a batter, where someone from Belgium might interpret it as a dough (as waffles in Belgium are made from a yeast dough). The key is to try and see all the possibilities and make choices knowingly. Sorry, I am waffling on (pun intended), but I really do get excited by this stuff!

Response: Belgian waffles are risen with yeast, but are still poured

Me: Not in Brussels they aren't - at the street stalls making them they have balls of dough, and you watch them grab a ball and put it on the iron. Definitely NOT poured.

Response:  Hmmm..  If lets say they don't pour the dough and are using a thin dough- and rolled it thin, or spread it thin, or griddled it- it would be a cracker! 

Me: Not necessarily but quite possibly - we should properly check the translation, and you will have to try and cook it and see what comes out - but certainly it looks like the possibility is there! See, isn't that exciting? 

 The next step will be, of course, to try making variations and see what we get.  Watch this space for more on that front soon!  I would love to hear from you if you have had a go at this recipe, or if you want to join me in some experimentation.


  1. I love the way your mind works- always questioning :)
    This is going to be fun!

  2. Oh, and since then we have found a recipe for pretty much Gouda crackers, which are crisp and delicious!

  3. Gouda crackers? Yum! I'd love to see the recipe!!