The Medieval Review 15.10.14


Hofmeister-Winter, Andrea, Helmut W. Klug, and Karin Kranich, eds. Der Koch ist der bessere Arzt: Zum Verhältnis von Diätetik und Kulinarik im Mittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit. Mediävistik zwischen Forschung, Lehre und Öffentlichkeit, 8. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2014. pp. 334. $75.95 (hardback). ISBN: 978-3-631-66247-3 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Albrecht Classen
The University of Arizona
aclassen@email.arizona.edu

This volume consists of the papers that were originally presented at a conference in Graz, Styria (Austria), in June 2013. The contributors explore the intricate and maybe especially for us once again very interesting and significant correlation between dietetics and health, or between the kitchen and the apothecary in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. All chapters are written in German, but English abstracts accompany them all. The contributors originate mostly from Austria, but then also from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Canada. After an introductory article by Kay Peter Jankrift about the central topic dealt with here, which he exemplifies through the analysis of various famous examples of massive poisoning through bad foodstuff, three scholars examine the important medical manuscript Cgm 415 in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, Germany. This is followed by three studies dealing with specific aspects of medieval and early modern dietetics in the medical context. The next group of four investigations looks at cooking recipes and how they were intended for medical purposes. Subsequently, four essays examine material aspects relevant for cooking with recipes. Finally, Trude Ehlert, the nestora in this field, offers an edition of twelve culinary recipes and fifteen notes on alms giving in a fifteenth-century manuscript in the Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe, Germany (GLA 65 no. 247) originating from the Cistercian nunnery of Günterstal south of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.

The volume addresses fascinating, intriguing aspects that deserve to be taken very seriously in our on-going research on dietetics. Good nutrition has always been the basis of good health, and it might not be too far-fetched to consider, at least in general terms, some of the advice provided by those medieval and early modern authors. The editors have brought together studies that focus both on the Middle Ages and also on recipe books from as late as the eighteenth century. In the Liber de coquina from the late thirteenth century, for instance, we can read that delicious, hence healthy food, is to be privileged over any possible medicine, as long as it is not consumed in excess, hence in moderation, and as long as its properties are taken into account vis-à-vis the four humors, the seasons of the year, and the location where it is eaten (8). The same is expressed in the oldest printed German cookbook, the Küchenmeisterei from 1485, and also in the cookbook by Anna Wecker, the only significant female author of such practical guidebooks. Even though the editors refer to her in the foreword, they do not date it (1597) and do not offer any bibliographical information (see ch. 10 of Albrecht Classen, The Power of a Woman's Voice in Medieval and Early Modern Literatures, 2007). But they are absolutely correct in emphasizing that pre-modern cookbooks deserve our full attention today because of their emphasis on prophylaxis, keeping the body healthy and preventing any sickness to befall the individual (10). At the same time, the cookbook requires an interdisciplinary approach, involving both the medical and the culinary scholar, along with the historian and the literary scholar.

In the article by Melitta Weiss Adamson we learn that the dietetic treatise in Cgm 415, a miscellany manuscript, is based on originally Arabic teachings by the Bagdad physician Ibn Gazla from the eleventh century, which were later translated into Italian by Jamboninus from Cremona, and subsequently into German by an anonymus from Bavaria. The manuscript also includes a book with medicines that are based on water, rose water, vinegar, etc. Again, medicine and cooking went hand in hand, and this is also what Anna Wecker argued about, when she practically competed with her husband, a physician, as to who could do more in healing patients.

Verena Friedl discusses this cookbook in light of her effort to make it available in a dynamic edition consisting of a basic transliteration and a more pragmatic edition for the reader not interested in all graphematic details. And Natascha Guggi examines the translation of Italian recipes into German and the explicit references either to their Italian origin or to the Italian town where they originated from.

The next section begins with a study by Karl-Heinz Steinmetz on the Spiegel der Gesundheit by Lorenz Fries von Kolmar (1518), who taught his readers how to pay attention to the dietetic properties of food, considering the humoral categories of taste, fragrance, color, substance, nutrition strategies, and tempering of food. Fries specifically targeted sick people and provided extensive advice on how to prepare food in order to combat the disease. The same approach to health and cooking can be found in many other cookbooks, such as in the translation of Platina's De honesta voluptate et valetudine (1475) by Stephan Vigilius in 1542. Thomas Gloning introduces this treatise and discusses the relationship between the original and the translation, such as the elimination of the critical debate about dietetic aspects as it raged at the Roman Academy during the 1460s. Gloning's particular interest is dedicated to the vocabulary in Vigilius's version. Simon Edlmayr and Martina Rauchenzauner analyze Conrad Hagger's famous Neues Saltzburgisches Koch-Buch from 1718, which consists of recipes for more than 2500 dishes. The two authors focus on the rich array of sources from around 1700 and on the role of imported lemons which made their way north of the Alps in greater numbers since the middle of the seventeenth century; but to be sure, they had been introduced there already in the Middle Ages. Although this cookbook proves to be highly important and meaningful, the article is extremely short and lacks further details.

Johanna María van Winter introduces the subsequent section with critical reflections on the Regimina duodecim mensium, that is, health rules for a twelve-month cycle which were created and copied throughout the Middle Ages, but probably, as she argues, not specifically for monasteries or for lay monks who allegedly took care of the rural population in the vicinity of a monastery. It is much more likely that those Regimina addressed priests who lived among the lay people and had to take good care of themselves in order to carry out their duties. Again, here we observe specific instructions regarding foodstuff and especially drinks that served to maintain one's health, such as vermouth mixed in with wine. Maríaluisa Caparrini discusses the sixth-century Epistula Anthini de observatione ciborum which enjoyed a great popularity throughout the following centuries. Here as well we come across the same concept that a healthy diet in accordance with the humors would serve well to maintain one's overall physical health. Anthini's Epistula prove to be a cookbook in its own right, containing many specific recommendations regarding the preparation of meals, obviously drawn from practical experience. Caparrini compares the fifteenth-century German translation with the original Latin and identifies the major adaptations, cuts, and changes, which all signal that the translator must have been a physician in his own right, as the comments and additions, above all, indicate. Karin Kranich examines the Tegernseer Wirtschaftsbuch from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century composed by the kitchen manager of the Benedictine monastery of Tegernsee which contains specific information about what to eat during the time of fasting and outside of that period. In fact, 'fasting' did not mean to reduce the food intake and to abstain from eating and drinking, but instead to change the diet according to church rules. That the medieval tradition of the dietetic cookbook did not come to an end with the late fifteenth century is demonstrated by the Tiroler Kochbuch from 1714, which Simone Kempinger examines in her contribution.

The last section deals with specific aspects of medieval cooking practices, such as dying foodstuff (Helmut W. Klug), the use of "electuarium," a kind of paste made out of a variety of products, for dietetic purposes (Andrea Hofmeister-Winter), cooking ingredients and kitchen utensils (a project outline for her doctoral dissertation, by Andreas Klumpp--why would such a pre-research summary be included in a scholarly volume like this?), and the depiction of cooking ingredients in paintings from the seventeenth-century Dutch Golden Age (Inke Beckmann).

The volume concludes without an epilogue, an index, or a collective bibliography. But the contributions are all fascinating, well researched, and offer excellent insights into the world of premodern dietetics. The editors can be commended for their efforts organizing that conference and for publishing these important papers in a timely fashion.



Copyright (c) 2015 Albrecht Classen



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