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A 15th century recipe for a giant egg

A 15th century recipe for a giant egg

Several 15th century cooking manuscripts contain a recipe for a giant egg made from 30 or 40 normal eggs using two pig's bladders of different sizes: the smaller one for the yolk, the bigger one for the yolk and the white. The recipe for the giant egg in the manuscript UB Basel DII30 is probatum. We prepared it in 1994 with the help and the surgical experience of Heinz Schmidberger. It took us about four hours to prepare the egg and about twelve minutes to eat it. Any experienced cook of giant eggs can do it in two hours, I think. But we were beginners. We took 36 pictures of the event. But there was no film in the camera...

We were eight persons, and there were nine parts of the giant egg. One of us, Thomas Wilhelmi, the bibliographer of incunabula, heroically volunteered to eat two ninths of the egg. Seven of us were in good health the following day...

The cookery book is part of the manuscript UB Basel D II 30, a rich miscellaneous manuscript with various parts. The cookery section is on folio 300a-310b, the recipe for the giant egg on folio 307b. Here is my transcription of the recipe from the Basel manuscript, followed by a rough translation into English.

Ein essen von dreyssig ayeren

Wiltu machen ein essen von dreyssig ayeren oder virtzig zu einem ey nym zwo sew plosenn daz dy ein cleiner sey den dy ander vnd swem sie gar schon mit wasser jnwendig vnd nym den dy ayer vnd schel sie schon von ein ander daz weisz besunder vnd dy totter besunder vnd nym denn dy clein plossen vnd rur dy totteren durch ein ander vnd geusz sie in dy plassen daz sie vol werd vnd verpint die denn schon vnd wirffs in ein haffen vnd lasz sie wol sieden daz ez hert werde vnd schel denn dy plotter ab den dottren vnd nym den dy plassenn vnd sneid den ein loch dor ein daz der totter dor ein mug gen vnd ne den dy dotterr in dy plossen schon vnd clopff den daz weisz durch ein ander vnd nym denn ein trichter vnd stosz in in daz loch vnd geusz denn daz weisz auff dy totteren hinein daz dy plosz vol werd vnd pint sie denn zu vnd leg sie den in den haffen vnd losz sie aber sieden so sewd sich daz weisz vmb den tottern vnd wirt ein ay vnde gib ez hin vnd einen essig dor zu rc

A dish made from 30 or 40 eggs

In order to make a dish from 30 eggs or 40 in form of one big egg, you must take two pig's bladders, one of them smaller than the other. Rinse them carefully inside. Then take the eggs, remove the shells, and separate the whites from the yolks. Take the small pig's bladder, mix the yolks and put them into the smaller bladder, until the bladder is full. Tie the bladder up carefully and give it into a pot. Let it boil, until the big yolk becomes solid. Then take away the bladder from the big yolk. Take the bigger bladder and cut a hole in it, big enough to put in the big yolk. Sew up this hole in the bigger bladder with the big yolk within. Then you have to mix up the white of the eggs. Take a funnel, put it into the opening hole of the bigger bladder and pour the white of the eggs on top of the yolk within the bigger bladder, so that the bladder is filled. Tie it up, put it into the pot and let it boil once more. The white of the eggs will boil around the big yolk, and there will be one big egg. You can serve it with a sauce of vinegar.

Three comments

Preparation. -- I would like to give just one hint concerning the cooking of the giant egg, the rest should remain an adventure. The giant yolk made from 30 or 40 normal yolks took about one hour to get solid; cooking the giant white around the giant yolk took another 40 minutes. So be patient. For the preparation of the pig's bladders, it is good to have someone with some experience with things like that (e.g. a surgeon, a biologist or a butcher).

Dishes of representation. -- Dishes like the one described in this recipe were part of a so-called »Schaugericht«, a dish for the purpose of representation at the tables of the nobility and of rich citizens in towns like Nuremberg or Augsburg. There are lots of other dishes for representation of the same kind in the 15th and 16th centuries, and this one here is not the most bizarre of all.

Textual traditions of cookery recipes. -- It is not unusual that the same or similar cooking recipes can be found in different manuscripts or imprints. Like other texts for daily use, cooking recipes were collected and compiled from other collections of recipes, and thereby possibly altered. Parts were omitted, other parts were added from one's own experience. Similar recipes for a giant egg can be found in at least three other early manuscripts: in a 15th century manuscript in Salzburg (see Jourdan/Müller 1984 Nr. 44), in another Basel manuscript, the famous »Maister Hanns« (1460), and in a Middle Low German cookery manuscript, edited by Wiswe in 1956 (Nr. 20; see also Nr. 45). Alessandra Sorbello Staub recently pointed out, that there is a late version of this recipe for a giant egg in the 18th century cookbook of Sophie Schlosser ("Ein Ei so groß wie ein Kürbis zuzurichten").


Jourdan, E./Müller, U.: Laßt uns haben gute Speis. 66 der ältesten Kochrezepte aus dem Mittelalter. Mit einer kulturhistorischen Einführung von U. Müller. Stuttgart 1984.

Kochbuch der Handschrift »UB Basel D II 30«. Transkription bearbeitet von Th. Gloning. Tübingen/Gießen 1993. [Edition by Alessandra Sorbello Staub in preparation.]

Maister Hanns, des von Wirtenberg Koch: Guot Ding von allerlay Kochen (1460). Handschrift A.N.V. 12 der UB Basel. -- Facsimile ed. by Trude Ehlert, Frankfurt a.M. 1996.

Sorbello Staub, A.: La problematica dell'edizione di testi tecnici medievali sull'esempio del ricettario Basel, Universitätsbibliothek DII30. In: Annali, Sezione Germanica N.S. VII/1-2 (1997) 33-49.

Wiswe, H.: Ein mittelniederdeutsches Kochbuch des 15. Jahrhunderts. In: Braunschweigisches Jahrbuch 37 (1956) 19-55. See also: Wiswe, H.: Nachlese zum ältesten mittelniederdeutschen Kochbuch. In: Braunschweigisches Jahrbuch 39 (1958) 103-121.

Wiswe, H.: Kulturgeschichte der Kochkunst. Kochbücher und Rezepte aus zwei Jahrtausenden mit einem lexikalischen Anhang zur Fachsprache von Eva Hepp. München 1970.

Thomas Gloning, IV/2000