The common dishes in 1632 were quite different from what most western people eat today, and the following article will try to show what would have been prepared and served in the household of a moderately prosperous craftsman—say a printer or a blacksmith—in central Germany. In other words, what an American in the 1632 universe is likely to encounter if staying with a prospective business partner. The largest part of the population—the farm-workers and poor farmers—would have eaten only those dishes served to the servants in the household, while the wealthiest merchants and nobility would have dined exclusively on the richest dishes, but by choosing a middle-class household it should be possible to show the widest possible range. Most of the recipes are direct translations from a contemporary cookery book by Anna Wecker, the wife of a doctor from Colmar in Alsace, with some added explanations and comments based on other sources. That few attempts have been made to tell the quantities of the various ingredients is according to the custom at the time.
A household like the one described above would most likely consist of:
The craft master, in charge of the business,
The wife, who oversaw the household, was responsible for everybody’s food and health, and did most of the shopping,
The children, who would have chores either in the business or in the house,
An older relative or two, who would be expected to do however much they could of the mending, repairs and other light work,
An unmarried or widowed sister or female cousin, who would share the housewife’s work-load and probably be in charge of, for example, sewing, mending, washing and ironing all the linen and clothes of the household,
Two or three journeymen, and one or two apprentices, all working in the business and living in the house,
Two or three maids, to do the large amount of cleaning needed in a house with open fire-places and no modern cleaning tools or running water,
A cook, to plan the logistics of the meals together with the housewife, and cook the ten to twenty dishes served every day,
Two or three kitchen girls or boys, to do the scullery work, help the cook, and stir and turn food on the fireplace,
One or two male servants, to do the heaviest work such as chopping firewood for all heating and cooking, and for carrying every drop of water needed for cleaning, cooking and bathing into the house from whatever well had water.
All in all, this would be a household of 15-20 persons, most of whom were employees and all of whom worked hard.
If the household was old-fashioned for its time, the meals would be served to everybody at the same big table, but with different dishes placed at the high end—for the family—and at the low end—for the servants. If the household was more modern, the meals would be served at two separate tables with the family eating first, and the leftovers being passed on to the servant’s meals together with an extra pot of something cheap and filling like stew, porridge or gruel. In either case, it was possible that the kitchen staff ate separately from the other servants and had a bowl of stew, soup or porridge while cooking the other dishes, and then picked over any remains of the meals after clearing the tables.
The two main meals in a 1632 household were served by placing the food on the table in sets or courses, each consisting of several dishes, but how many dishes per course and how many courses would vary with the status and prosperity of the household. For a household of the size here presented there would have been four to six dishes for the family in addition to the bread and beer. These dishes would all have been placed at the table at the same time or, if a second course was served, it would just have been some sweets, nuts and firm cheese. For the servants there would most likely be just a stew, or else porridge or gruel with a side-dish of boiled salted meat or herring in addition to the bread and beer.
1632 was in the middle of a major change in food fashion. The medieval ideal food—often dark in color, sweetened and with as many spices, as much meat and as few vegetables as you could afford— was slowly being replaced by a new French style—often pale in color, and with few spices and as many of the newly developed Italian vegetables as you could afford. In the German manor houses this change would have taken place by 1632—unless the owner was very old-fashioned—but in a middle-class household the preference would have been for the old-style food, and something like braised lettuce or fried celery would be considered more of a novelty than a treat.
Beer and bread would have been served to everybody at all meals, but the family and guests would get strong beer and wheat or fine rye bread, while the servants would drink small beer and eat a coarser rye bread. These two major food items could be either bought or produced in the household, and how they were made has been described in other articles.
In a household where every morsel of food wasn’t automatically eaten, there would often be bread slices and beer left when the tables were cleared, and unless they—and other leftovers—were either donated to the poor or given to the servants to sell, they would be used as a kind of porridge.
Soak leftover bread in cold water overnight, drain off the excess liquid and press the bread through a sieve. Add enough beer to create a porridge consistency, and boil until thick and smooth. Serve with honey and cold cream or milk. Comment: If served in a wealthy household spices could be added.
Beerbread was most common as a breakfast dish, but gruel and porridge made from barley, oat or dried peas formed the base of all the three daily meals. Porridge, in many households, would be all the servants would get to eat along with bread, beer and leftover meat dishes from the family’s meal.
Soak whole or cracked barley grain overnight in cold water. Rinse it in the morning and bring it to boil covered with fresh water until the water is reduced to half and the grains are tender. Comment: If this was also served to the family, washed raisins, honey, mace and white wine could be added.
Before the potato became common, it was the winter-hardy kale, that kept the population healthy, and this—now all but forgotten—dish was the most common of all winter dishes.
KALE GRUEL version 1
Carefully clean and chop fresh green kale. Cover it with water and boil until tender. Other vegetables and a piece of salted or smoked pork may be added. Once cooked, remove the meat and thicken the kale soup with oat meal or barley flour.
KALE GRUEL version 2
Soak barley grain overnight, and bring to a boil in water with finely chopped onion. Add finely chopped kale and simmer until it is all soft. Add butter or fat.
APPLE GRUEL WITH PORK
Soak a piece of salted pork, and boil it until tender. Sieve the soup, and add crushed oats, chopped leeks, bay leaf, and some thyme. Add fresh or dried apples, and cubes of the boiled pork, and boil again before serving. Comment: If this dish was also served to the family, the soup might be spiced with ginger, and the pork fried before being returned to the stew, perhaps along with some dumplings.
Soak the dried peas for 1-2 days. Rinse carefully, and pick out any bad peas by placing each handful on a plate. Boil for a long time until the peas are tender. If the skins of the peas are very tough it helps to add lye to the water. Press the drained peas through a coarse sieve until only the skins remain. Leeks, carrots, or parsnip may be added during the last part of the cooking. Comment: If the peas are served as a thick mush, fried chopped onions and cubes of salted or smoked pork may be sprinkled on top. If the peas are served as a soup, apple pieces and herbs such as parsley or thyme may be added.
In addition to the basics of beer, bread, and gruel all three daily meals would also contain some kind of protein—at least for the family. If the business was prosperous, the servants would also receive some kind of protein.
For breakfast the protein could be sausage, cheese or cold boiled meat from the day before spread with mustard or another condiment and placed on a slice of bread, but a hot side-dish of fried salted herring, black-pudding, or the meatballs known as faggots would also be common.
FRIED SALTED HERRING
Soak salt-preserved herrings in water over night. Clean out any remaining blood and remove the head. Dip the fish in a batter made from rye flour mixed with beer, and fry in lard until crisp. Comment: This was eaten by biting the meat off the backbone, or dipping the fish in sweet mustard and just crunching everything.
This boiled sausage—made from stirring the fresh blood from a butchered pig with oat meal, raisins and bits of lard—would be cut into slices, fried and served with apples cooked with vinegar and honey.
At the time faggot could mean either a bundle of kindling for the oven, or a mix of pork meat, liver and organ meat finely chopped, pressed to balls, fried and preserved in a jar sealed with a layer of fat. When served the balls would be removed from their protective fat seal, heated and served with the porridge or mashed peas plus pickled beetroot and/or mustard.
This, the most common condiment, could be bought in several versions at the apothecary, but many households preferred to buy the black or yellow seeds whole and make up the large batches needed in the house. This was often done by placing the seeds in a big clay bowl along with a cannonball. The bowl would then be placed on somebody’s lap, and the mustard seeds would be crushed by moving the thighs to make the ball roll, while the person did other work with his or her hands. Once the seeds were finely crushed, the ball would be removed and the mustard mixed with water, oil, vinegar, honey or cream depending on the wanted taste and texture. Unless cream was used, the mustard would keep as well as modern mustard.
The second most common condiment would probably be an applesauce made by cooking apples and onions in beer or wine, and then thickening the sauce with grated bread before pressing it through a sieve. For serving to the family the sauce could be spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and made sweeter with honey or sweet wine syrup, but the basic version would be used by the servants to vary the flavor of their salted meat and porridge. This condiment doesn’t keep well, and was usually freshly made.
Boil beetroots until they are tender and remove the skin. Cut to slices if the roots are big. Place in a glazed jar with spices such as peeled and chopped horseradish, caraway seed, mustard seeds, dill seeds, cloves or cinnamon, and cover with vinegar or vinegar and sour beer. Comment: These roots could keep for a year.
PEARS IN MUSTARD
A less common condiment, but one that’s still used in the area of Hanover, was made by boiling the firm bergamot pears in apple juice or cider until tender. The pears were then removed, and the liquid concentrated to a thick syrup by boiling. Finally the pears were returned to the syrup along with as much mustard as was wanted. These preserved fruits could keep for months.
In a craftsman’s household the biggest meal would be in the middle of the day, and in addition to the basic beer, bread, and gruel or porridge there would also be several protein dishes, both warm and cold, fish and meat. For the servants the protein would most likely be limited to a platter of boiled, salted pork, beef or mutton or a few salted herrings, but for the family there would be 3-4 carefully prepared dishes with meat or fish, probably in a sauce, possibly in a pie, as well as something sweet such as baked apples. During the summer there might also have been a vegetable dish or two for the family—the same if any version of Lent was kept.
Meatless days during Lent or on certain days of the week were not limited to Catholic families, but were considered spiritually cleansing by all faiths, so fresh and salted fish would remain in demand regardless of the changing politics.
Carefully clean and skin the freshly caught fish, and cut to finger-long pieces. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, dredge in wheat flour, and fry until golden in butter or olive oil. Let the fish get cold. Bring vinegar or a mix of vinegar and sour beer to the boil and let that get cold too. In the bottom of a glazed jar now sprinkle thyme, marjoram, crushed black pepper and mace, and place a layer of fish on top using a big spoon so you don’t touch the fish with your hands. Repeat this until the jar is full, and pour over the cold vinegar. Thinly sliced onion should be placed on top to keep the fish down and covered with the vinegar.
Boil a fresh firm fish in salted water, drain and let it cool before picking the meat off the bones. Chop the meat finely, and mix it with currants, ginger, pepper, salt and saffron plus grated fine bread or flour. Add eggs and a little cream until you have a firm paste. Shape to balls and fry in butter. Another way to prepare this paste is to make it thinner with more cream, and bake it like a pie. Cut this to pieces once baked and serve with a little sugar on. Comment: Dried or dried and salted cod was served in much the same way.
BERGENFISH IN POLIAN SAUCE
Soak the fish (salted and dried cod) in cold water, changing the water several times, until you can bend it, and then boil in water with some vinegar until tender. Make the yellow sauce as described below. Place the fish in a broad pan and pour over the sauce. Bring the dish to a boil, cover with a lid, and remove it from the fire. Let it rest for half an hour before serving to let the flavors mingle. Comment: Another source gives the following treatment: Bergenfish, the dried cod from Bergen in Norway must be beaten well to tenderise, cut to pieces, soaked 2-3 days in lightly salted water, soaked again in “lud” boiled from beech-ash for a day, soaked again in pure water for 2 days, and finally cooked in, for example, a pie.
As the use of the dinner plate replaced the medieval slice of coarse bread, it became increasingly popular to serve food in a sauce. The bread-thickened sauces, the black sauce and the yellow sauce, had been common since medieval times, and such sweet, dark spiciness was still popular, but the popularity of the first of the lighter and more modern flour-thickened sauces, the white béchamel sauce, had also spread to middle-class households.
Boil a hen or a carp in blood mixed with vinegar and water. Remove the meat from the liquid, thicken with grated gingerbread or rye bread, and season with chopped salted lemons, black pepper, cinnamon and saffron. Finally adjust the taste towards sweet or sour with sugar, honey or vinegar.
YELLOW SAUCE (also called Hungarian or Polian)
Boil chopped onion, apple, wheat bread and green parsley in a mix of water, white wine and vinegar. Use this soup for boiling your meat or fish unless it is already boiled. Season with pepper, saffron and sugar, and garnish with salted lemons.
WHITE SAUCE (in the new French style)
Boil a hen in beef stock with a chopped onion, vinegar and sliced fresh lemons. Remove the meat, thicken with fine flour, and season with mace, and ginger. Finally stir in some butter and garnish with chopped parsley. Comment: Beef stock was made like this: Beef stock is boiled on the bones and stringy meat with onions and roots until the meat may be easily pulled apart. Sieve, cool. Skim off fat, boil to concentrate
It was characteristic for the cooking of the time that the fish, poultry and meat in the dishes for the family would have been prepared not just in various ways, but in several ways. A piece of salted pork could thus be soaked, boiled briefly, and cut to cubes and fried, before being mixed with a sauce and baked into a pie, or it could be soaked, boiled until very tender, and pounded to a paste in a stone mortar, before being mixed with eggs and other ingredients, shaped to meatballs and fried or boiled again.
DUCK WITH TURNIPS
Place a cleaned duck in a lidded pot on a piece of fat pork rind, and add carrot, onion, cloves, salt, pepper, and chicken stock. Seal the lid with a flour paste and bake or simmer in a cauldron for an hour. Sieve the sauce and skim off the fat. Fry turnips in this fat, and serve them with the duck. Smoked duck and salted goose are also good this way, and so are squabs.
PORK ROLLS WITH CAPERS
Soak thin slices of salted, streaky pork in cold water. Chop capers, onion, and anchovies or red-spiced salted herrings, and fry this in butter along with grated bread and salted lemon. Stir in beaten egg until you have a paste. Spread the paste on the pork slices, roll, and place in a pie dish. Spread more grated bread on top and bake until golden. Serve with yellow sauce or mustard.
PORK IN YELLOW SAUCE
Boil a piece of ham or loin of pork. Grate wheat bread and peppercake into a pot and bring it to a boil in sweet wine. Add sugar or honey to taste, and also pepper, ginger, clove and saffron. Cut peeled apples into quarters, and braise them in a pot with yellow raisins, saffron, pork fat and a little wine. Serve the meat—whole or in pieces—garnished with the sauce and the apples.
Wash rice and mix with finely chopped fat pork, whole pepper, cream, salt and marjoram. Fill into clean pig intestines or stomach, and boil well. Serve with apple sauce.
BEEF IN BLACK SAUCE
Soak a piece of salted beef and boil it until tender. Take chicken blood and beef stock, and boil it with chopped apple and onion. Sieve and add fried onions, pepper, and cinnamon. Add the meat cut in pieces, and boil again. Season with vinegar, and serve garnished with apple or almond compote, and small black raisins.
The servants would most likely get anything left of the dishes above in addition to their gruel, but a simple meal of broth with bread and the boiled meat from the broth making was also possible. On days when the household had little time for cooking—such as washing, baking or slaughtering days—a cold meal of boiled eggs, or slices of cheese or sausage with bread and beer might be served to the servants as well as the family.
Soak a leg of mutton, and boil it until tender. Take some of the cooking liquid and boil it to a sauce with vinegar and sage leaves. Cut the meat from the bone, and cook the pieces again in the sauce before serving.
The most common preservation methods of drying and salting meant that long soaking and boiling were often necessary to make the food even marginally eatable again, but the long and complicated preparations were also a matter of preference. Not only was elaborately prepared food with minces and stuffing an indication of status, but food in its natural state was considered coarse and unhealthy, so even lettuce was usually cooked, and what was called a salad consisted of boiled vegetables in a marinade.
SPINACH THE HUNGARIAN WAY
Finely chop onion and mix with raisins in a pot. Add spinach and sour wine, and boil. Season with salt and sugar, and add some butter or olive oil. Good with fried salmon.
FRESH PEAS IN WHITE SAUCE
During the brief season for green peas this dish was as popular then as it is today.
Take fresh peas from their pods, and put them in a well tinned pot with good beef stock. Bring to a boil and add fine flour mixed with butter and finely chopped green herbs. Boil for a few minutes and serve warm. Smoked or salted pork may be cooked along with the peas or served beside them.
BEETROOT IN SOURCREAM
Take round beetroots of an even size and remove the leaves. Boil the roots until tender, let them cool, and remove the skin. Chop the leaves, and heat briefly in a pot. Add sour cream, but do not boil. Add mustard to the cream, and pour this over the roots.
Raw fruit was considered unhealthy, and—aside from a few berries and cherries—fruit was usually cooked before being eaten.. During the summer season there would be the various berries both wild and from the gardens, and as few of these dried well for storage at least some of them would probably be served as a compote or in a jelly during their brief seasons. In the autumn grapes, wild damsons, plums and prunes would ripen, and most of this harvest would be dried and stored for treats during the winter. Just before the first freeze was expected, the storage apples and pears would be picked and either dried or stored fresh on trays in a cool cellar to last as long as they could for the winter.
Of these fruits, apples were by far the most common, followed by grapes in central and southern Germany, and these two fruits were those most commonly preserved for storage. Preserving fruit mainly meant drying at the time, as sugar was so expensive that even a prosperous household would buy it only for special occasions. Preserving berries in a mix of honey and alcohol was also done, but such would be regarded more as a medicine than as a dessert.
Press strawberries crushed with sweet wine through a sieve, and sweeten to taste with sugar or honey. If the dish is too runny, it may be made thicker with crushed wheat bread or peppercake.
Heat raspberries with grated wheat bread until the juice is released. Sieve and heat again. Serve with sugar on top or bake it into a pie. It is equally good cold or warm.
If a stiff, clear compote is wanted for decoration, the berries must be boiled with quinces or green apples, and the juice allowed to drip through a fine cloth. Boil again until a drop remains hanging from your spoon, and let it set on a glazed platter or in a mold smeared with a few drops of almond oil.
Place cherries on a grid, so that they do not touch, and place in a warm oven. When dried they keep well. When wanting to serve the cherries, this is a good way: take equal parts water and wine, and heat the cherries in this. Sweeten with sugar. Fry bread in butter, and serve the cherries on top of the bread.
Mix flour to a batter with milk or wine, and add thinly sliced apples, currants, and sugar or honey. Bake in butter in a frying pan, and serve with more sugar or honey.
De-core apples and fill the hole with butter, cinnamon, and sugar or honey. Bake in a lidded pan heaped with coal. If bread is being baked in the house, the apples may also be wrapped in fine dough, and baked in the oven once the bread has been removed. This is also a good way of cooking quinces.
Make a thick batter of fine wheat flour, beer and eggs, dip rings of fresh or dried apples in the batter, and fry in ox or pork fat. The batter may also be made thicker, and fried as balls, before being eaten with a sweet applesauce.
Peel firm pears, dip them in a thin batter of flour and egg, and fry in butter until fine and brown. Grate peppercake and bring to a boil in sweet wine. Season with cardamom and serve with the pears.
Grate fresh, fat cheese, and mix with egg, ginger, mace, saffron, currants, crushed almonds, and wheat flour or grated wheat bread. Fry in fat and serve quickly.
BLACK CURRANT REMEDY
Mix black currants with honey and cover with brandy or aqua vitae. A spoonful of this mixed into a mug of hot wine is good against a cold in the body or head.
The same dishes that were served to the family at the mid-day meal could also be served in the evening either as cold leftovers or freshly prepared, but the most usual combination would be to serve any leftover meat or fish combined with a fresh pie or another delicate meat dish. Some families also had soup for their evening meal.
BEEF WITH GARLIC
Boil beef in good beef stock with peeled garlic, grapes and parsley. Season with salt. Serve the meat in slices on a platter with the sauce poured over.
Soak salted meat for at least a day. Cut the meat to pieces, and place it in boiled and cooled sour wine for several hours. Chop the meat finely and mix with the marinade, saffron, cloves, cinnamon, grapes, raisins and chopped ox marrow or pork fat. Place it in a pie dish and cover with more spices, raisins and grapes. Press a lid of fine dough on top, brush with egg white, and make a hole in the middle of the dough. Bake and when half baked pour in stock spiced with saffron. It is well to place a layer of boiled, peeled eggs or chicken meat in the middle of the minced meat.
CHICKEN PIE WITH QUINCES
Remove the cores from the quinces, and chop one finely. Mix the chopped quince with salt, ginger, cloves and pepper, and place it inside a big chicken. Place the chicken on a layer of bread-crumbs in a big pie dish surrounded by the rest of the quinces and a little white wine. Sprinkle more of the spice-mix on top as well as many small cubes of butter. Cover with a lid of fine dough, brush with beaten egg, and bake for at least two hours. The baking time becomes shorter if the chicken is half-cooked and the quinces softened in butter before being baked in the pie.
The dish below is in the new French style; notice that this is not a sweet dish.
EGG PIE WITH APPLES
Fry peeled apple boats in butter, remove from the heat, and add fresh raw eggs—beaten or unbeaten—to the pan. Cover with a lid and surround the pan with coal. Bake, but not too hard, pour off any liquid, and sprinkle with salt and ginger.
Finely chop a fresh tenderloin, and mix carefully with egg, salt, pepper, ginger and saffron. Shape to elongated balls, and let them simmer in an inch of water until firm. Remove them and serve with the cooking liquid either as it is or used as a base for one of the sauces above. The spiced meat paste may also be stuffed into clean intestines before being boiled. Such a sausage may then be cured in a strong brine, and hung to be smoked in the chimney. Instead of being served in a sauce such a sausage is very good with soup or a dish of cabbage.
HEN IN HORSERADISH
Peel and crush almond, and mix it with peeled and grated horseradish. Place the meat from a boiled hen on toasted wheat bread, and spread the horseradish paste on top. If the paste seems too dry, a bit of the cooking liquid from the hen might be added.
For the servants, the evening meal would most likely be the leftover boiled meat from the mid-day meal turned into a stew with lots of coarse vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, roots and onion, and with plenty of barley or oat to make it filling. If such a stew had been their main fare for the mid-day meal, it would also be quite normal to dilute any leftover stew into a soup for the evening meal, along with the usual bread and beer
CABBAGE STEW OR SOUP
Boil bones from a pig in water for several hours along with the coarse green leaves of leeks, the stalks from parsley, the top of parsnips, and any other greens you might have. The bones may be from a freshly slaughtered pig, or from salted or smoked pork. Sieve the soup, and scrape any bits of meat from the bones. Return the soup to the fire and add the meat, along with chopped head cabbage, leeks, thyme and carrots. The dish may be made thicker with oat meal or cracked barley, and it is equally good as a soup or a stew. Serve with rye bread and mustard.
Nearly all modern European dishes could be made the kitchens of 1632 if the household had access to the ingredients—from pancakes and pot roasts to the Yorkshire Puddings made by pouring batter into the tray with hot drippings beneath the roast. But the traditions for how the food was acquired, cleaned, preserved, cooked, spiced, etc. had their basis in the medieval traditions, and would seem quite strange to a modern American.
Take a thing like cleaning. A 1632 kitchen would probably seem dirty to a visiting American, what with its open fire, sooty walls, and dirty floor and tables. But what has to be remembered is that one of the processes that differed the most between then and now is how water was acquired. Water in 1632 might not be good to drink unless boiled, but it was still needed for all the usual tasks of cooking, cleaning, and washing. And every drop had to be winched up from a well and poured into buckets for carrying or barrels on a cart before being carried, pulled or driven to the house and poured into the big water barrels inside or outside the kitchen. It would then be ladled into smaller containers when needed. After use, the dirty water would be carried out of the house and thrown on the ground or in the open gutter. It was not that the technology wasn’t able to make water-pipes and various pumping systems, and in several places in Europe experiments with indoor water was taking place, but this was not something people in general had either heard of or would consider a possibility for them.
Standards of cleanliness and sanitation are sure to increase with the spread of new technology and knowledge about how important hygiene is in keeping people healthy. Freezers and refrigerators, along with knowledge about nutrition, are also sure to replace much of the salted meat with fresh and add more fresh vegetables to everybody’s diet. However, a lot of people are also going to want the food they are used to, and an American staying with a local family—or in an inn—should definitely expect pea mush and black pudding rather than meat loaf with potatoes.