Medieval Easter Eggs

Playing with colours
Extra recipe - Fake eggs for Lent

Detail from the Egg Dance from Pieter Aertsen (1552), Rijksmuseum, AmsterdamDuring Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday before Easter, eggs were banned from the table. But as the days started to grow longer again after the winter solstice, hens began laying their eggs again! So you can bet that on Easter Sunday, when finally all restrictions on food were lifted, eggs returned in glorious abundance! According to Terence Scully (The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, p.64) it was customary "in some regions" (it is not mentioned which ones ) to bless eggs in church on Holy Saturday and give them as a present to family and friends. In the Household accounts of the English King Edward I (1239-1307) is a mention of an account in 1290 of 18 pence for the decoration of 450 eggs with gold leaf. The eggs were presented to favoured members of the court.
On the picture on the right you can see a detail from the Egg Dance (1552), by the Dutch painter Pieter Aertsen. The egg dance was an Easter game that could be played in several ways. Sometimes people danced between a lot of eggs that lay scattered on the floor, but in this painting another version is depicted. The egg must be rolled out of the bowl, and then the bowl must cover the egg, inside the chalk circle (a circle of chalk). Sounds easy, but you are to use only your feet, and all the other objects on the floor, like flowers and leeks, must not be touched. The (Dutch) site of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam describess this painting in detail.

Stuffed eggs, but different
The recipe on this page is not specifically meant for Easter, but fits very well on the Easter table. Empty, blown out egg shells are stuffed with scrambled eggs, skewered with a spit and roasted. There are several versions of this recipe in medieval cookbooks; I have found recipes from the fifteenth century onward. It seems to have been most popular in German cookbooks, although the French printed Viandier from 1486 also contains a version of this recipe (edition Hyman p.22/23).
In his Nyeuwen Coock Boeck (1560, see this recipe) the Dutch physician Vorselman also presents a recipe for skewered eggs. His source for this recipe was Platina's De honesta voluptate et valetudine (1474), and he in turn got the recipe from the Libro de arte coquinaria from Martino de Rosso (1464/65). It is a strange recipe: the eggs are skewered raw and then roasted. Common sense and my experience (you don't want to know) teach that the raw eggs will either run out of the shells through the holes from the spit, or they will explode. Or both. No wonder Platine calls this recipe a "stolidum inventum et coquorum ineptiae ac ludi" (edition p.404): a stupid fabrication, silliness and a game for cooks. Vorselman also judges this recipe to be a "sotternie vanden cocx" (' silliness of the cook', edition p.220). So I have chosen a recipe from one of the German manuscripts that can actually be prepared. By the way, more about the silliness of cooks can be found in this recipe.

Colouring agents in the medieval kitchen
The appearance of food plays a part in how we experience its taste. Offer your guests a cake with a blue glaze, and chances are you will be left with most of. Serve a pink cake and it's gone in the blink of an eye. However, colours can be used to make nice pictures - those pictures of icing you can order for birthday cakes for example. Medieval people also liked decorated food. Beaks of swans and peacocks were guilded with gold leaf, boar's heads were covered with green glaze, and jellies and pasties were decorated with heraldic weapons of the host and honoured guests. Or with a Turk's head (see this recipe). Sauces were also coloured. The convolute KANTL 15 opens with a list of colouring agents for sauces (''recipes' 1/8). Parsley makes green, violets and borage blue, ground nut husks make black (they were also used in ink), saffron makes yellow, as do pot marigolds and ground turmeric, purple is made with blueberries and red with dried petals from poppies or turnsole. That last one is special: in an alkaline dish it will become a bluish purple, in an acidic dish it will turn red. Sandal wood also becomes either light red or purple. Some vegetable dyes are slightly toxic, especially in large amounts. Always be very careful with them.
In several medieval recipes for this kind of stuffed eggs the stuffing is dyed, often yellow and green. During Lent the scrambled eggs are replaced with pike roe or almond milk.

Kroseier, German skewered eggs
On the front cover of Zu Tisch bei Martin Luther ('Dinner with Martin Luther') by the German archaeologist Alexandra Dapper there is a beautiful picture of her adaptation of a recipe for 'ghevulde eigere, ghebraden up der rosten' (pp 93/94) from the Middlelower-german cookbook that has been published by Hans Wiswe in 1956 (see bibliography). She also quotes part of another recipe for 'konnigeseiger' ('kings eggs'), in which green (herbs) and yellow (saffron) scrambled eggs are used to stuff the empty shells. That picture caused my search for other such recipes.
For my site I chose another version from one of the culinary manuscripts from Münich that have been published by the German philologist Trude Ehlert for ... Tupperware! During the nineties this originally American party seller of plastic kitchen- and tableware has published in Germany several beautiful facsimiles of medieval culinary texts. The recipe for Kroseier ('scrambled eggs') can be found in four of the six manuscripts from München. I used the one in ms Clm 15632, because it is the clearest recipe.

The monastery Rott in Rott am Inn (South-east Bavaria) around 1700The original recipe
The culinary text covers only ten sheets (twenty pages) in the manuscript Clm 15632 from the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München, ff 143r to 152v. For the transcription of the German text I used the edition of Ehlert. From the description of the manuscript it seems that it was written (shortly) after 1490 in the Benedictine monastery Rott am Inn which was founded between 1081 and 1085 in South-east Bavaria. The remainder of the 164 leafs (328 pages) contains (slaat terug op remainder niet leafs) mainly Latin texts of a religious nature. Some have didactic or musical subjects. More about this codex, the monastery and the several copyists that have contributed to the cookbook can be found in the edition (see bibliography at the bottom of this page). The transcription and translation in modern German of the recipe is on pp 244/245.

Jtem schlach aÿer auff an dem grossen spitz vnd thue daz Inder dar auß. vnd zer reib daz wol. vnd gilbs vnd pfeffers. vnd hack petersil vnd saluan. vnd röst daz mit schmaltz in einer pfann. dar nach hack ez clain vnd thue ez wirder in die gucken. vnd stoß an einen spiß vnd pratz auff einem rost.<7> Item. Break eggs on the big end and get the inside out. Beat it well and colour it yellow and add pepper. Chop parsley and sage. Roast it with lard in a pan, then chop it finely and put it back in the shells. Skewer them and roast them on a roast.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
Other versions of the recipe for Kroseier use butter instead of lard, so you can just use what you like best. Some recipes add an extra egg or extra egg yolk. This is a good idea,because there is always some loss because of spillage.
The amounts are for 1 serving; preparation in advance 40 minutes; preparation 5 minutes.

The 'easter eggs' after peelingIngredients
1 or 2 eggs per person, for every 2 eggs 1 extra egg or yolk
1 thick needle
For 1 egg
pepper (and salt) to taste
1 Tbsp lard or butter
1/2 Tbsp chopped parsely (without stalks) and 1/2 tsp chopped sage (without the thick rib in the middle)
pinch of saffron, crushed in 1 Tbsp hot water or milk
1/2 tsp sandal wood powder

Preparation in advance
Blow out the eggs - How to blow out eggs is described here. Keep the egg carton. Gather the raw eggs in one bowl if you want to make one kind of stuffing, otherwise use as many bowls as you want to make different colours. For the dish on the picture I prepared the colours below, and for every one I used two of the blown out eggs and one extra egg. I ended up with eight stuffed eggs, the last two multicoloured because I used leftovers.
The coloured eggs before scramblingPrepare the stuffing - If you want to prepare several colours, first stuff the eggs with the scrambled egg of one colour before making the next, so the egg can solidify further in the shell.
Yellow stuffing - Crush the saffron in a little hot milk or water and add this to the eggs. You can also use turmeric instead. This spice was already -sporadically- used at the time.
Green stuffing - Chop parsley and sage very finely and add to the eggs.
Purple stuffing - Add a half teaspoon sandal wood powder to the eggs. Before baking they are a light-red colour, after preparation the eggs have turned purple.
Scramble the eggs - Melt the butter or lard in a non-stick pan on low heat. Add the eggs, raise the heat a little and stir with a wooden spatula until the eggs start to set but are still moist. Quickly remove the pan from the fire and scoop the scrambled egg into the piping nozzle. If the scrambled egg is too dry, add some extra raw egg or yolk.
Stuff the egg shells - Put all the empty egg shells with the large opening up in the egg carton. The first few times I prepared this dish I used a piping bag to stuff the eggs, but that was rather difficult. For the photographed version I used a piping nozzle, which was much easier. I have no idea how they did this during the fifteenth century; maybe they made much larger holes. Mind that you do not stuff the shells to the rim, there must be room for expanding. Use a long thin nozzle to stuff the eggs.
Skewer the eggs - Skewer the eggs on wooden sticks or a thin metal spit. Start at the large opening, then gently push through the small opening from inside. If you prepare the eggs some time before eating, keep them in the refrigerator.

During summer you could roast the eggs on a charcoal grill. But you can also roast them in the oven at 150 dgC/300 oF for about five minutes. The stuffing will become firm, so when you peel the eggs you'll have scrambled eggs in the shape of, well, an egg.

Spit-roasted eggs

To serve
Put the eggs, still skewered, on a plate. You can provide a preview of the stuffing by peeling a part of the eggs. This is especially fun when you have prepared several colours. Another way is to peel the eggs completely before serving them. If you like, you can serve the eggs with a garlic sauce (see below) or medieval mustard.

Garlic sauce
Medieval cuisine is abundant with sauces. So here is an extra little recipe for garlic sauce, from the Middle Dutch convolute Gent KANTL 15.1 (around 1500). You don't see recipes using garlic in medieval cookbooks often; on the contrary it is frequently mentioned that you have to use a mortar which doesn't smell of garlic! You do not have to be a genius to conclude that garlic was used plenty, but not for the 'high table'.

Noch een goede loeck sausse
sauije sout peper loeck ende wijn peterselij
Another good garlic sauce
Sage, salt, pepper, garlic and wine, parsley.

Very concise. Just an enumeration of ingredients, which is probably not even complete as there is no mention of a thickening agent. My interpretation: steep 1 slice of white bread without crust in 1 deciliter or 1/2 cup white wine and puree in a blender. Add chopped sage and parsley and as much garlic as you like. Finish with pepper and salt to taste. The sauce is not heated. Experiment with the amounts to find out what you like best. A modern version would be a kind of alioliaioli: stir 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and pepper and salt, add oil as you do when making mayonnaise, finish with adding the chopped herbs and garlic. Very good, but not medieval at all.

How to blow out an egg
The Easter version of the Christmas tree is the Easter twig, decorated with painted eggs. You can buy those eggs (often plastic ones, they won't crack), but it is great fun to paint your own eggs. But then you'll have to empty the egg shell first. After some experimenting, I must say that I prefer this method:
Place the egg in an egg cup, small end up. Take a thick needle and hold vertically on top of the egg. Now very carefully tap the needle with a light object. A hammer is too heavy, so I used a small glass. Keep tapping until the needle goes through the shell. Turn the egg around and repeat this at the other end. Depending on how you want to hang up the eggs (big or small end up), you carefully enlarge one of the openings. I use the needle to break off small pieces of the shell until the opening is about one square centimeter or half square inch. Now use the needle or a wooden toothpick to stir in the egg, or in other words to break the skin of the yolk. Otherwise you'd have to blow very hard! Put a bowl under the egg, place your mouth over the small opening and blow. The egg will empty itself. I admit it is not an attractive sight, but who cares. You can use the raw eggs to bake omelettes. To use the shells as decoration in an Easter twig, use thin thread. Tie into a loop with a bead in the knot. Thread this through the small opening in the egg shell; the bead will prevent the shell falling off. I will leave the decorating of the egg to your imagination.

All descriptions of ingredients

Lard - This is pig fat, heated and strained. Nowadays lard is not as popular as it used to be, because of the high percentage of saturated fat. But, just as one can occasionally eat an oversweet cake with heaps of whipped cream, one can prepare a dish with lard once in a while. Lard was widely used as cooking fat in the past, and modern Chinese cuisine still uses lard a lot.
To make lard: Take a pound of fresh or salted pork fat. Chop it in chunks, put in a skillet without adding anything, heat at low temperature, stir occasionally. After 30 to 45 minutes you'll have cracklings and lard. Cracklings are a treat for those people who like them (I do!). Dogs and cats also love cracklings, but give it sparingly if at all, because of the fat and the salt (if you used cured fat). During the heating of the pork fat you can add herbs or spices like bay leaf, mace, clove, pepper. Strain the lard, put in a jar and keep in the refrigerator (keeps for months).
Pastry dough prepared with lard instead of butter tastes great. An added bonus is that your hands will become incredibly smooth when kneading the dough, as lard is very good for dry skin (and your dog/cat will surely love to be petted by you afterwards!).
Sage - A decorative perennial evergreen, Salvia officinalis. If you have a garden, be sure to plant one! You can pick the leaves all year round. Classical combinations are with chicken livers, with onions as a stuffing for pork, and in several egg dishes. Be careful, because the taste can become overbearing.
Originally sage was used as a medicine (as the Latin name shows), but by the Late Middle Ages sage also became an ingredient in recipes for food.
Sandal woodSandalwood - Yes, it is wood! Red (from Pterocarpus santolina) and yellow or white (both from Santalum freycinetianum) wood dust from fragrant sandal trees was used as food colouring in medieval and early modern Europe. Before tomatoes and red bell peppers were introduced in the European kitchens, it was difficult to give your dishes a red colour, so red sandalwood was used amongst other things. You can buy it as wood chips, but for colouring you need the fine, deep red powdered wood. Sandelwood is also used in scents and incense.

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)