Medieval Cooking experiments at Pennsic, Summer 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Michael Fuller and Neathery Fuller cooked a feast for the household of Abu Shadi Da'ud ibn Zahir al-Bularmi, at Pennsic. We selected our recipes from the Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook translated by Nawal Nasrallah (published in 2007 by Brill). All of the dishes were prepared in copper cooking vessels manufactured in Turkey and Greece; the cooking vessels were tinned in Chicago.

It took 2.5 hours to cook four dishes for the feast. We were rushed because Michael had been delayed at the InterKingdom Brewing Guild meeting where he was waiting for the judging of Safita's finest mead (received 97 out of 100 points). The tight time schedule meant fewer photographs were taken. The cook fire was already burning when we arrived at the camp. We had soaked the chickpeas the night before. I served dibs nabidh (Arabic, wine made from date syrup) made with date syrup and honey that I brewed in St. Louis. It was a delicious complement to the meal.

The recipe for Rummaniyya (Arabic, stwed chicken soured with pomegranates) comes from Chapter 57 of the Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens (Nasrallah 2007: 279 - 280). I counted out enough chicken breasts so that there would be one for each guest plus 4 extra. These were put into my cooking pot along with chopped onion, water, olive oil, and pomegranate juice. I used bottled pomegranate juice from a Middle Eastern grocery store because I could not find enough fresh pomegranates. I used what I used two bottles of the concentrated juice because I had a large cookpot with over a dozen chicken breasts. Added to the pot was approximately a cup of unflavored murri (Arabic, fermented barley and salt sauce), freshly ground black pepper, ground coriander seeds, caraway seeds, and cloves. The pot simmered over the fire for more than a hour until the chicken was thoroughly cooked. The pomegranate juice and murri sauce makes a fantastic sauce which gives the chicken a sweat/sour taste. It was delicious.

Unflavored Murri sauce had been prepared in St. Louis during the winter-spring by Michael of Safita.

Michael checks chicken cooking in pomegranate sausce

Michael watches the chicken in pomegranate sauce (large pot) and also keeps an eye on spinach (left) and chickpeas (right).

Genevieve de Saint-Malo grinds pepper for the pomegranate chicken dish.

Chicken breasts perfectly cooked in pomegranite sauce.

The Isbanakhiyyat (Spinach dish) recipe comes from Chapter 53 of the Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchen (2007:265 to 266). Fresh spinach leafs were boiled in water until almost done, then taken out, and put in cold water. Meat (in our case "fake" red meat made from soy products for my vegetarian daughter) was put in a clean pot with chopped white onion, olive oil, a stick of galangal and a stick of cassia. Water was added to cover the mixture and it was boiled. Froth and impurities was removed during the cooking. Salt and black pepper was added, then the spinach returned to the cooking pot to finish cooking. Fresh carrots were cooked and sliced into darahim (Arabic, coin size disks) and arranged on the ladled out dish. Murri (Arabic, unflavored fermented barley and salt sauce) was added just before serving.

Spinach dish (decorated with carrots) and chickpea dishes on the table.

The Himmas dish (Arabic, chickpeas) is from a 14th century recipe in The Medieval Kitchen: recipes from France and Italy (1998:56-7). Chickpeas are described in the Annales of the Caliphs' Kitchen (for example on page 732) as a food with hot humoral properties. I used I soaked a bag of chickpeas (500 grams), overnight. Drained the chickpeas and added olive oil, crushed black pepper (30 peppercorns), teaspoon of ground cinnamon, sage, rosemary, parsley, and salt. Added cold water, boiled, removed scum and allowed to simmer for 2 hours.

Banana Pie (Arabu Tajin muz and/or Judhaba) - We took two pieces of peta bread and torn them apart into fist size pieces that were placed in the bottom of a shallow copper pan measuring approximately 40 cm. in diameter. Five ripe bananas were peeled, and cut into slivers, lengthwise. The slivers were arranged on the bed of bed pieces, then sprinkled with white sugar. The banana slivers were sprinkled with approximately 50 ml of rose water (a commercially produced rosewater manufactured in France). Two more pieces of bread were torn apart to make a "covering" for the bananas. Approximately 100 ml (a cup) of water was poured across the bread cover. The dish was set aside for an hour to allow the bread to absorb the water. The pan with bread and bananas was put on the grill with medium heat to warm the contents. It was allowed to cool for 15 minutes before serving. It was delicious to some individuals, but "too strongly flavored by the rose taste" for others. The strong taste of the rosewater was not moderated when the dish was retasted an hour later. Note: The original recipe is found on page 82 of Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic Worlds (Zaouali 2009).

Banana pie slowly cooking in the flat copper pan with a piece of flat bread on top.

Michael of Safita serving the banana pie. It was delicious.

Neathery and Michael of Safita with fine serving dishes made by Gina.

Table set with small serving bowls (4 and 2 panel bowls) for the apetizer of murri sauces.

We brought a dozen flavored murri sauces for the apetitizers.

Pouring murri sauces.

The guests at the dinner had twelve flavors of murri sauce for apetiziers. The murri flavors included dill, cinnamon, grape, saffron, caraway, sesame, anise, etc..

Plate of food including spinach with carrots, chickpeas stewed, and pomegranite chicken.

Abu Shadi Da'ud ibn Zahir al-Bularmi and his wife, Atiya al-Zarqa bint Kadar, enjoy the meal.

Abu Shadi Da'ud ibn Zahir al-Bularmi savors every mouthful while Michael of Safita checks on banana pie dessert.

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