“Organic” Tools for Social Standing: Oehm’s and Allestein’s Recipes for Brain, Lung, and Udders, 1850-60s

Kristen Ann Ehrenberger's picture

A What is a Recipe? contribution by Claudia Kreklau, MA MA (History, Emory University)

When studying cooking recipes from the nineteenth-century German States, historians are provided with a plethora of culinary mechanisms—habits, practices, customs—with which the then so-called “middling social standings” could seek social distinction. Part and parcel of this reflexive process was the emulation of their social betters—royalty, aristocracy, nobility, gentry—and a rejection of rural, artisan, working, and poorer parts of society.

Meat was a primary feature of middle-class eating habits and yet, as late as the 1860s, particularly in small towns and semi-rural areas, Germans seeking to be recognized as “middling” could not afford to throw awayless conventional parts of the animal. Organs thus played a major part in middle-class dining. Sometimes baked, sometimes marinated, boiled, or seared, cow’s lungs, brains, and udders demonstrate the slightly paradoxical aspects of being “middling” in the 1850s and 1860s in the German States, where efforts to dine well and appear to dine well meshed with the practical necessity of hunger and scarcity of meat, as well as the processing of limitations in the aftermath of the harvest failures and hunger in the years 1845-1848.

Rare print sources from the archives in the Thuringian town of Gotha, such as Christian Oehm’s 1854 Practical Cookbook for Middle Class Housewives, and Emma Allestein’s 1869 Small Cookbook for Training Cooks, demonstrate the tastes and efforts of housewives and cooks to turn organs into acceptable, middle-class meals for their families.

Emma Allestein instructs her readers to marinate a calve’s brain by “laying the calve’s brain into fresh water, one warms this up bit by bit, until all the blood has drained out, and one can easily pull off its outer skin. ...then, one must place [the brain] back into lukewarm water, until the brains are completely white.” Cook in water with vinegar and “a carrot, parsley root, a head of celery, 3 leaves of laurel, 10 pieces of clove, 10 pieces of pepper and 3 pieces of ginger with six pounds of butter,” then prepare the vinegar with water and salt, and leave the cooked brains in the water for eight days. Apparently, this went “well with spinach.”[1] Lungs received a similar treatment, the blood being drained from it, then “boiled” along with the heart in saltwater, and cooked in a casserole with butter, breadcrumbs and parsley, an egg, and a bit of flour.[2] Udders, in turn, could be either boiled in water,[3] or thin-sliced, salted and peppered, “pan-fried in butter until brown,” then served with salad or vegetables, lentils, peas or Sauerkraut.[4]  Baked with “parsley, onion and lemon-peel, in some butter, covered in eggs and bread crumbs,” they went best with mustard or gherkin-sauce.[5]   

Allestein, however, was well-aware that not all organs appealed to the middle class: regarding the serving of kidneys, for example, she wrote that “in some households, the kidneys are seldom, or begrundgingly eaten.”[6]  Oehm provided a remedy for this a recipe for: “False Oysters from Cow’s Brain.”[7] “Boiled, let to rest in water for eight days, served with anchovy-butter” and broth, bread-crumbs and lemon pieces, baked, and served in oyster-shells, these soft pieces of cow’s brain transformed into an apparent luxury dish: “when oysters are in season,” Oehm specified, “one can receive some deep shells in guesthouses, which one can clean, dry, and keep” to serve the cow’s brain in repeatedly.[8]

Not only does the transformation of brain matter into oysters aid an attempt at distinction and the appearance of being well off, but this recipe clothes the idea of eating brain with the idea of something else—much as food processing can and does today, be that a meal-worm burger, or a chicken-nugget shaped as a tyrannosaurus. If these mid-nineteenth-century “how to” instructions failed to clothe mental images with presentation, then “lemon or anchovy-sauce” might at least remedy an organic taste,[9] as aspiring middling Germans pursued their characteristic distinction through a high consumption of meat.


Archival Sources:  

FUBEG: Forschungs und Universitätsbibliothek Erfurt-Gotha (Research and University Library Erfurt-Gotha). 

FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/08, Christian Oehm, Praktisches Kochbuch für Bürgerliche Hausfrauen, Wirthschafterinnen, Köche und Köchinnen: Ein Gründliches Lehrbuch zur Richtigen und Geschmackvollen Zubereitung Warmer und Kalter Speisen und Getränke, Mehl-, Milch- und Eierspeisen, Aller Arten Braten und Anderer Fleischgerichte, Mit Verständlicher Belehrung Zum Einmachen der Gemüse, Salate, Früchte u.s.w., Nebst Anweisung: Gefrornes, Torten und Andere Conditorbäckereien Schnell und Billig zu Bereiten, Dabei Hauptsächlich die Richtige Angabe des Maaßes und Gewichtes. Coburg: J. G. Riemann, 1854. 

FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, Emma Allestein, Kleines Kochbuch Für Angehende Köchinnen Und Kleinere Wirthschaften. Gera: Verlag von Hermann Kanitz, 1869.  


[1] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, 35.

[2] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, 111.

[3] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, 19.

[4] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, 19.

[5] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/08, 39-40.

[6] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, 123.

[7] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/08, 33.

[8] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/08, 33.

[9] FUBEG: Math 8° 01467/17, 19.