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BMR: Gitlitz and Davidson, Drizzle of Honey (Ward)

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  • Micky & Sue Weingarten
    Just got this book review from the Bryn Mawr mediaeval review and thought some of you might be interested, even tho it s a bit later than the usual period.
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9, 2000
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      Just got this book review from the Bryn Mawr mediaeval review and thought
      some of you might be interested, even tho' it's a bit later than the usual
      Susan Weingarten

      >David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson. <i>A Drizzle of
      >Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews</i>.
      >New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. 352. $29.95.
      >ISBN 0312198604.
      > Reviewed by Seth Ward
      > University of Denver
      > sward@...
      >The Spanish Inquisition represents a nearly unparalleled
      >resource for details about daily lives in Spain and its
      >overseas possessions for several centuries following its
      >institution in 1480; in the annals of pre-modern history,
      >perhaps only the Cairo Geniza is a richer source. The
      >Inquisitors took great interest in a myriad of details,
      >recording oral testimony at great length. The Inquisition was,
      >of course, a quest for information about practices not
      >consonant with Catholicism, often with disastrous results for
      >its victims; it was not a neutral observer and interested
      >primarily in testimony relevant to what it believed to be its
      >sacred office.
      >The Inquisition was painstakingly interested in everyday
      >practices that provided evidence of Judaizing. Many of these
      >concerned food or festive meals: what food was eaten, how it
      >was prepared, when eaten, in what context. The Inquisitors did
      >not generally inquire about precise measurements and
      >comprehensive cooking directions. But the references to
      >ingredients and preparation allow for a tentative
      >reconstruction of the recipes.
      >This beautiful book presents both the stories from the
      >Inquisition and the reconstructed recipes, adapted somewhat to
      >the needs of the modern kitchen. Each recipe is preceded by an
      >account of the testimony from which it is taken, with the
      >history of the people mentioned in the testimony, to the extent
      >that it is known. The authors include, as far as possible, the
      >end of the story as well. Despite the very real horrors of
      >torture and the autos-da-fe, the authors maintain that we know
      >only about half of the dispositions of the individuals whose
      >food-preparations are recorded in the cookbook; of those which
      >are known, some will be surprised that many escaped an untimely
      >The authors have reconstructed the recipes on the basis of
      >solid research. They consulted dictionaries and treatises on
      >agriculture and herbal medicine available in late medieval and
      >early modern Iberia. They show a depth of familiarity with
      >classical and medieval Arabic and European sources, including
      >several Spanish cookbooks published in the first century of
      >The Inquisition sought evidence of Judaizing, and what it
      >sought it frequently enough found. All the individuals were
      >living openly as Christians, and in some cases their families
      >had been Christian for generations. Some may have consciously
      >attempted to preserve Jewish religious practices; others merely
      >maintained social ties with former coreligionists, and yet
      >others were faithful Catholics. Clearly, for many, these
      >practices did not reflect Kashrut--Jewish dietary law--or
      >religious practice, but the traditional training of their
      >mothers and grandmothers (or, for servants, of their
      >mistresses). Nor is it comprehensive, as we know only about
      >the elements the Inquisition was looking for. Thus we know
      >little about Hanukkah practices (270); perhaps these vanished
      >quickly after conversion to Christianity or did not exist; in
      >any case, even if they did, they did not show up on the
      >Inquisition's radar.
      >The Inquisition was interested in Friday practices such as
      >lighting candles and the preparation of <i>hamin</i> or
      ><i>adafina</i>, meals prepared on Friday and "hidden away" to
      >be slow-cooked for the Sabbath. Not only the Sabbath, but
      >food-related items for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and
      >Passover all show up in Inquisition's records.
      >Washing hands before eating, and Kosher-style slaughter,
      >soaking and draining meat in the Jewish way, removing fat and
      >the sciatic vein all figure in Inquisitorial records. Browning
      >meat in olive oil does not seem remarkable at first glance, but
      >was often noted with suspicion in these records, as the typical
      >Iberian practice seems to have been to use lard instead. Yet
      >some of the testimony about Judaizing involved preparation of
      >milk and meat together or even of pork, items proscribed by
      >traditional Jewish practice.
      >Inquisition records testify to kitchen practices, relations
      >between the family and the servants, and the wealth of products
      >available to the Spanish kitchen. Beef was food for the poor
      >(146-7), chicken and veal for the rich. Each recipe is
      >preceded by an account of the inquisition testimony and the
      >background, as far as it can be known, including whether or not
      >the people involved were eventually burned at the stake. These
      >stories, most of which are every-day occurences recounted under
      >very trying circumstances, bring middle class Iberian society
      >to light. Although they might be somewhat repetitive to those
      >interested in the book for its recipes, to this reviewer, these
      >accounts are the highlight of the volume, together with the
      >documentation for late-medieval cookery and herbaries.
      >The recipes in this book strike a middle ground between
      >contemporary and Iberian practices. The authors have made
      >allowances for a modern kitchen, including microwave. Although
      >they refer to period Spanish sensibilities about seasonings,
      >they claim to hav e toned down the heavy dose of spices that
      >seems to have been typical of this cuisine. Nevertheless, the
      >recipes will not always be easy for the modern cook, and rely
      >on ingredients that may not always be easy to obtain outside of
      >specialty grocers. This reviewer, impressed by the cookbook's
      >historical research and presentation, is fond of cooking--but
      >not of recipes. Presented with a gift of the cookbook, the
      >reviewer's mother--who does use cookbooks--was not immediately
      >impressed with the viability of the recipes in her kitchen.
      >Although introductory material makes it clear how to "re-adjust
      >back" to the historic measurements, some purists, too, may be
      >disappointed that these allowances have been made, and other
      >cooks might want more readily accessible products or an
      >internet reference for where some of the more exotic ones can
      >be purchased.
      >Since the mid-1980s, there has been growth in interest in
      >crypto-Judaism and Sephardic Jewry, and recent years have seen
      >many important publications of Inquisition material. It goes
      >without saying that the same period has witnessed an explosion
      >in Women's studies. This cookbook is an important contribution
      >to these fields. Reflecting solid scholarship, it will also
      >provide dedicated cooks with an opportunity to counterbalance
      >somewhat the popularity of reconstructing medieval jousting and
      >war, and allow us to re-create a reasonably realistic
      >approximation of the culinary experiences of the subjects of
      >our research.
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