Anissa: It has been quite a while since Charles Perry did a guest post here but following a discussion and various questions on twitter about fat tail, I thought I would turn to our chief historian of medieval Arab cookery and ask him to enlighten everyone! Here is what he sent me.
Charles: Europeans and Americans – and Australians, I’m sure – are always amazed when they see the huge tails of Middle Eastern sheep. One of the first to be amazed was Herodotus, who wrote in the 5th century BC that there was a breed in Asia Minor with a tail up to 18 inches wide and another with a tail four and a half feet long. The latter sort, he said, had to be supported by a little cart made for it by the shepherd.
Anissa: It has been quite some time since the great Charles Perry wrote a guest post and I was delighted when he suggested mastic, one of my favourite ingredients, except that he is writing about it in the context of savoury cooking which is fascinating.
Charles: With its heady resinous aroma, mastic seems a natural flavoring for sweets. The Greeks and Turks drink mastic syrup with coffee; they put it in ice cream and Turkish delight. The Moroccans can’t seem to grind almonds without throwing in a little mastic.
And yet medieval Arab cooks scarcely ever flavor sweets with mastic – it was more likely to contribute its aroma to meat dishes. The greatest mastic fan on record is Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Baghdadi, because mastic appears in more than half of the 96 red meat recipes in his 1226 book Kitab al-Tabikh.
As you know, I am pretty familiar with camel meat but when I recently posted a link on facebook to an article on camel burgers in Dubai, my lovely friend Charles Perry (who is the leading expert on medieval Arab cookery) left a comment about a recipe he had for camel hump. I had seen the hump for sale at my camel butcher in Aleppo but I had never seen a recipe for it. So, I asked Charles for his. Sadly, he couldn’t find it — it had gotten lost between computers — but as usual, he sent me lots of information and other recipes; and I thought it would be great to have him do a post here about how camel meat was used in medieval times. Here is his post with some photographs that I shot in the souks of Aleppo.
Charles Perry: Last May, Anissa blogged about visiting a camel butcher in Damascus and making camel kebabs. That was a new one on me – I’d only heard of camel being cooked in elaborate stews. It’s how they cooked camel in the Middle Ages.
Camel meat was reasonably popular back then, popular enough for doctors to gravely warn against eating too much of it (in the manner of doctors throughout the ages). They held it to be “heating” and to “engender thick blood,” and declared it suitable only “for those who do exhausting labor.” Or suffer from “hot stomach” and diarrhea, oddly. Read more >