This is a modern redaction and preparation of a German sausage recipe from the early 16th Century, taken from page 5 of a 1998 translation of Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin (Sabina Welser's Cookbook). Sausages would have been served as what we would consider a main dish at a meal during the Renaissance period.
Original recipe (Valoise Armstrong translation):
#25 If you would make good bratwurst
"Take four pounds of pork and four pounds of beef and chop it finely. After that mix with it two pounds of bacon and chop it together and pour approximately one quart of water on it. Also add salt and pepper thereto, however you like to eat it, or if you would like to have some good herbs, you could take some sage and some marjoram, then you have good bratwurst."
1 lb. pork shoulder
1 lb. beef
1 lb. salt pork
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp. marjoram
Grind the spices together in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Carefully remove all connective tissue and excess fat from the meats, then cut them up into uniformly small pieces. Grind the meats and fat together at least twice, adding the spices after the first grinding. Put the ground mixture into the refrigerator to keep it cold while you are filling the casings. Lubricate a sausage stuffer funnel with vegetable shortening or lard, and then ease on about a yard of hog casing or sheep intestine. Tie the end with kitchen string and then fill the casing carefully with a portion of the cold mixture, stopping frequently to distribute the filling through the casing to avoid air bubbles. Tie off the other end when you get to the end of the casing. Prick any air bubbles with a skewer or knife. Place the sausages in a pot of cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook gently for 20 minutes. Skim off the fat scum that rises. Dry, then fry to brown the sausage evenly, and serve. Makes about three yards of sausage.
This recipe does not indicate how to prepare the sausages - only the ingredients. So, I leafed through various Medieval cookbooks to see how sausages were prepared throughout our period of study.
In Apicius, the mixture for Liver Kromeskis was shaped into patties, wrapped in caul, and smoked. A sausage recipe from the 13th Century Andalusian manuscript directs the cook to pour the sausage mixture through a funnel into an intestine, roast the sausage, and then fry it in sweet oil. Pleyn Delit also contains a roasted sausage recipe, Yrchouns. Taillevent uses mutton stomachs held together with wooden skewers to make "Hedgehogs" and boils the sausages rather than smoking or frying them. Some sausage recipes, such as the Sawge y-Farced in Forme of Cury, are for fresh mixtures which were browned and served at once rather than formed into patties or forced into casings. Platina's Esicium ex Pulpa were meatballs which were spitted over a slow fire. The Sausedges in The Good Huswifes Jewell, like many later-period sausage recipes, were smoked and dried. There are two other sausage recipes in the Welserin book - one directs the cook to "firmly stuff" the sausages and hang them for a long time, while the other suggests placing the filled sausage skins in water before serving them. In modern cookbooks, Bratwurst is a fresh, not smoked or dried, sausage.
It seems to me that sausages which are intended to be smoked and dried were not boiled, as that process leaches out some of the fat and swells the casing. Conversely, sausages which are intended to be served fresh were often boiled to thoroughly cook the meat. Frying them browns the casings and lends pleasant taste to the filling. So, since I don't have access to a smoker, I have chosen to simmer and fry my sausages as the similar Welserin recipe directs.
As to the sausage form itself: the other two Welserin recipes specify using casings rather than wrapping the mixture in a caul or forming it into meatballs or log shapes. I purchased hog casings from a local sausage company, kept them in brine, and rinsed them out thoroughly before filling them.
I've seen several paintings, woodcuts, and other Medieval artwork which shows Medieval cooks filling the casings with a funnel - as several of the recipes I've noted above stated. Since I have arthritic wrists, I used a KitchenAid mixer with a sausage stuffer attachment to help me fill the sausages. After roughly chopping the meat with two knives and running the mixture several times through the meat grinder attachment, I added the funnel attachment to the mixer and slowly fed the mixture through the funnel. I discovered that the casing fed on much more easily, didn't break, and smoothly pulled off if I greased the funnel beforehand; I used vegetable shortening, since that is flavorless, although I'm guessing that butter or lard would be more accurate for this.
I suggest keeping the mixture cold and using only part at a time to fill the sausages. Although a warm mixture flows faster and packs more easily into the casing, it is very squishy and hard to control. I'm betting that the Medieval cooks did not attempt to keep the mixture cool, as several recipes direct the cook to "pour" the meat into the funnel - as well as the fact that refrigeration didn't exist back then! However, I believe that keeping the meat cold is wiser from a health standpoint.
As to the cut of the meats, the Welserin recipes specify using pork from the "area of the leg" and beef from the back. The Goodman of Paris suggests using the "flesh of the ribs," while Platina says to use the haunch. Obviously, sausagemaking does not require tender cuts of meat. I purchased shoulder or rump pieces and cut off all the connective tissue and gristle.
The original recipe definitely specifies bacon as the fat. However, I felt that the bacon overwhelmed the pork and beef flavors, and so I substituted salt pork for the fat in the recipe. Salt pork or fatback provided a good texture without an overpowering flavor. Perhaps modern bacon is much smokier-flavored than Medieval bacon? Or maybe bratwurst is supposed to be really "bacony?" Anyway, I bought salt pork, cut it into small pieces, then chopped the fat and meats together with two knives in an alternating rhythm until my wrists hurt and I had to switch to the KitchenAid meat grinder.
The recipe's ratio is equal parts of meats to a quarter as much fat. However, repeated recipe testing aptly proved to me that I needed a much higher ratio of fat to the meats. Following the original recipe's ratios resulted in a very dry, crumbly, and badly textured sausage. Perhaps the Medieval sausage makers did not cut off the connective tissue and excess fat from the meat, thus raising the ratio of total fat to meat? Medieval animals were not force-fed antibiotics and grains, so the meat would have definitely been different from our modern meat - but I haven't found any definite documentation as to whether it was tougher or fattier. Anyway, I found that a 2-to-1 ratio of meat to fat resulted in the best taste and texture, and modern sausage recipes and instructions supported my decision.
As for the proportion of spicing, the amount I suggest above results in the a nice balance of flavors without overwhelming the meat. The original recipe gives no indication as to amount of spicing, so I went with what I thought did not overwhelm the meat flavors.
Medieval Europeans extracted salt by boiling down briny wellwater, by burning seawater-soaked peat, or by collecting sea salt. (Bridget Ann Henisch, Fast and Feast, p. 161) I ground up coarse Kosher salt in a mortar and pestle, reasoning that Medieval salt did not contain added iodine. Kosher salt was the only pure salt I could easily obtain at the time of this redaction.
Pepper, according to Ms. Henisch, was the least expensive of the period's popular spices. Therefore, it was very common in recipes and it seems to me that it was often used very liberally. I have seen certain Medieval recipes specify white pepper as opposed to black pepper, so some merchants must have been able to purchase the dried flowerbud before it was aged and the white hull removed. A cursory search through other recipes in the Welserin collection does not uncover any references to white or green pepper, so I am assuming that she meant black pepper. However, I've seen grains of paradise and cubebs, two other dried peppery-tasting flowerbuds, specified in English and French recipes where pepper would have been used. So, during my various redactions I sometimes used them in place of the pepper in this recipe - which led to very pleasant results. This may not be strictly accurate for this specific recipe. but I think it is a delicious and appropriate substitution - one which, by the use of now unusual spices, may better evoke a Medieval "taste."
In Medieval times, spices were bought whole from spice merchants and ground in a mortar with a pestle (Cindy Renfrow, Take A Thousand Eggs Or More, p. 60). So, that's how I ground the salt, pepper, dried sage, and dried marjoram. Herbs, vegetables, and flowers (virtually interchangeable in period) were grown or gathered locally, rather than bought from a merchant. (Henisch, p. 108) I used dried herbs which I bought from Penzey's, although I would have used fresh ones which I bought from an organic grocer and dried myself if I'd had the chance. The recipe does not specify whether the sage and marjoram are fresh or dried, but since it suggests using them "if you have some," I believe that they were most likely dried herbs from the manor's stores.
I want to give credit to two people who helped me greatly when I redacted this recipe for a German feast; Lady Katrina of York willingly tasted the numerous versions I made of this dish with differing meat-to-fat ratios and offered excellent suggestions as to taste and texture, and she and Lord Ulric of Thescorre helped me prepare and grind the meat and stuff the casings over the course of three days for that event. Although I redacted the recipe, I feel that they should be acknowledged in its creation.
I am serving the sausage with homemade mustard. The mustard recipe is based on Traite de Cuisine.
©2000 Chris P. Adler 10/25/00
Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina