I blog about feminist fitness, not just my medieval hobbies. Every once in a while, I manage to combine these two interests. Here is a recent post I wrote about some of the women fighters in the Kingdom of Ealdormere, who I interviewed at a recent event: Women Fighters of the Modern Middle Ages.

Feast of the Hare

This event is the big one in our local group. It was also the first time since COVID restrictions were introduced that we have been allowed to have a feast. Since we weren’t sure about how many people would be comfortable with the idea, we decided to do something smaller and tavern-style, so folks could pick up a meal on their own time, and choose a spot to sit. I limited registration to 50 people.

The theme was Italian, in honour of my friend Laura Battista, who was being elevated to the Order of the Laurel. I went with a menu of dishes from Martino: stuffed eggs, herb torte for the month of May, torte in broth (chicken pie), vermicelli, copiette (yummy yummy meat on a stick with pancetta, coriander and fennel), fried mushrooms, fried squash, and marzipan with grapes.

I am out of practice organizing a feast, so I forgot to take pictures and I didn’t do a careful job of documenting the recipes as I developed them. Still, here are a few pictures for you:

Yellow-coloured pie in its pan, sitting on a dark grey counter. A second pie is in the background.
Chicken torte in broth
Pale yellow pie that is filled with green chopped herbs, sitting on a grey counter.
Herb tart for the month of May
Long-haired calico cat sits on a counter underneath a metal rack with pasta strands hanging from it to dry.
Pandora wanted to help with the vermicelli as it dried
Three women in medieval dresses and masked, gathered together in a kitchen.
I couldn’t have pulled it off without my amazing cooking and cleaning team: Jane, Petra and Sous-chef Marina. There were a couple of others, but they escaped before I remembered to grab a photo.

But wait – there was more excitement! I ended up being court a lot. I had been asked to translate texts for Baronial awards and read them out in French as the herald read the originals. There were a lot of scrolls. This was fun.

After that court ended, the Queen commented about my work that day and proceeded to induct me into the Order of the Pelican for my service over the past nearly 40 years.

Head and shoulders of two white women. The short, unmasked one has her head on the shoulder of the taller, masked one. Both are smiling.
Here I am with my troublemaking former apprentice and mistress Lucia, who organized the surprise and begged the boon.
Dark blue coat with salmon-coloured lining is draped over a white sofa. Near the hem, the coat has large appliqués of a Pelican feeding its young on the left, and a Laurel wreath on the right.
Baroness Kersteken had made me a lovely coat which Her Majesty appliquéd.

The lovely scroll, filled with cooking puns, made by Katrina Prebendsdottir. The words were from Master Berend and Mistress Augusta.

Many thanks go to Baron Brand who wrote the ceremony, Sir Shahid (chivalry) Mistress Eluned (Laurel), Master Giovanni (master of defence), and Mistress Xristina (former royalty) who spoke such lovely words.

Red currants

Back in July, I harvested about half the currants that grow in my back yard. I first learned to love these tangy jewels of fruit when I lived in Germany as a teen, and it turns out that this is probably where currants originated, some time in the late Middle Ages.

The German name for currents is Johannisbeeren, which refers to the date when they are generally ripe and ready to be collected: the feast of St. John the Baptist falls on June 24. This explanation was given by Leonhart Fuchs in his New Kreuterbuch (new herbal), published in 1543. Similar names are used in other herbals from about the same time,

One of the earliest references to currants comes from 1328, where in the “gardens of the castles of Mathilde [Mahaut] d’Artois (1268-1329), comtesse d’Artois et de Bourgogne, women were employed to maintain the gardens and to keep the planted rows of roses, grapes and red currant in good state”. (Red currant and black current, new cultivated fruits in late medieval and early modern Europe: Historic and archaeobotanical evidence). Another early reference is Le Menagier de Paris (late 14th C), where in chapter 2.2 on horticulture, point 35, the young wife to whom this book is directed is told “after the feast of the Nativity of our Lady (September 6), plant peonies, serpentine, lily bulbs, rose bushes and currant bushes,

The earliest image is in the central panel of the lower part of the Ghent altarpiece (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb). The bushes are near the top right, just behind the white lily, near the crowd of women. This altarpiece was created by the van Eyck brothers and finished in 1432.

Another early image is A Bridal Couple, by an unknown painter from around 1460-1470, found in the Cleveland Museum of Art. The currant bush, with unripe berries, is to the right of the man’s leg.

The only pre-1600 recipe I know of comes from Franz de Rontzier in his Kunstbuch von Mancherlei Essen (1598), which Volker Bach has translated. Rontzier recommends a light batter, in which the currants (among many other possible fruits, herbs and plant leaves) can be dipped and then fried. After frying, they can be served plain or sprinkled with sugar.

Fresh red currants from my garden

I made these using one egg mixed with enough dough to give me a soft batter, plus a pinch of salt. I heated about 2 Tbsp of butter in a pan. Then I dropped berries into the batter and lifted them out with a fork and into the frying pan. I let them cook until the bottoms were firm enough to flip, then flipped them over to cook the tops before removing them to a plate. I sprinkled them with a bit of sugar and ate them all.

A plate of red currant fritters.

The berries got a little sweeter from cooking, but the real advantage was that a small amount went a long way. Currants can be painstaking to harvest, and they get eaten up very quickly. This way, a few provided a satisfying snack. I don’t know if each berry was to be fried individually, but I decided to use 3–4 at a time because they were easier to handle and other items using the same recipe were much larger, so it seemed reasonable,

This recipe was a reminder about the importance of going back to original sources, and of patience. Zucchini is a new world vegetable, of course, but it is the most similar to medieval Italian gourds (calabash or bottle gourds: Lagenaria siceraria) before their skins harden. You can read more about Italian gourds here:

Various images of gourds from the Tacuinum Sanitatus

My first effort was done using the redaction by Barbara Santich in The Original Mediterranean Cuisine. Usually I am very happy with her writing, but this just didn’t work for me. She used lemon juice instead of verjuice, left out any mention of saffron (optional, but I love it), or the sauce. She also used fennel seeds instead of fresh fronds; fronds are harder to find, but it is in season so I would have made an effort to get some.

Frying large quantities of zucchini in olive oil required careful attention to ensure the zucchini didn’t burn. Work quickly, keep the temperature relatively low, and use lots of oil (I had to keep adding more, so used far more than the recipe called for). Clean out the pan regularly and start again with fresh oil if it starts to turn black.

Then I dug out the original recipe as translated in “The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery book” (Ballerini and Parzen), p. 68:

Fried Squash. Take some squash and then cut crosswise into slices as thin as the blade of a knife; and then bring them to a boil in water and immediately remove; and then let set until dry. Sprinkle with just a bit of salt, dredge in flour, and fry in oil. Then remove, and take a few fennel fronds, a little garlic, and some bread white, and crush well, and thin with enough verjuice to make watery, and pass through a stamina, and use this sauce to top the squash. They are also good topped with just verjuice and fennel fronds. If you want the sauce to be yellow, add a bit of saffron.

I did this recipe exactly as written, except for using fennel seed instead of fronds (I had already invested in buying a jar). I also used a half slice of fresh whole wheat bread since I didn’t have white on hand.

Fried squash with sauce
Fried squash sprinkled with verjuice and crushed fennel seed

I liked it both ways, with a slight preference for the version with sauce. It is definitely something that needs to be eaten right away. The zucchini loses its crispness very quickly. I cannot imagine making this for a large dinner; I used a single zucchini for the second trial and I just managed to get it nicely cooked before the oil started darkening . It almost felt like it would work better in a deep fryer (I used a lot of oil and had to add more twice as I cooked)

I weeded the purslane in my community garden plot today. Some people think that purslane is a weed, but they are very, very wrong. In fact it was eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked, in the eastern Mediterranean; it can still be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores in season.

Mind you, the grocery purslane is enormous compared to what is in my garden. That would make the tedious task of pulling leaves off the stems much simpler.

Today’s recipe is number 628 from Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table, a Fourteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook translated by Nawal Nasrallah: Clean the purslane as described above (ie discard the stems and use the leaves and the tender tips), and boil it. Fry a [chopped] onion in sesame oil, and add the purslane to it. Fold in vinegar sweetened with sugar or bee honey, if you like, in place of the vinegar, use the juice of sour unripe grapes (ma’hisrim) or lemon juice.

I used about a cup of purslane leaves, 1/4 of a yellow onion, 2 Tbsp white vinegar and 1 tsp honey. The final result was slightly sweet and sour, and definitely worth doing again (withh bigger leaves, if possible).

The Society for Creative Anachronism , like many other organizations, has been seeking to improve its diversity and inclusion. In the case of the SCA, this has meant being more welcoming of research and persona development from all parts of the world pre-1600.

The intellectual logic has not been well laid out (beyond the obvious need to be more inclusive), so I was delighted to discover historian Alex West and his blog recently.

The first articles I read were about medieval Indonesia, and I was hooked. He brings scholarly attention to questions that have long intrigues me as an amateur.

I still remember my excitement when I travelled to Malaysia almost 30 years ago, and discovered some of its pre-1600 history and its connections to Europe before the age of exploration. Subsequent travels and research have had me dig into the history of parts of North, Central and South America, Central Asia and Afghanistan, Africa, and Indonesia.

I knew there were connections within each of the two hemispheres (Africa/Eurasia and the Americas), and I knew that things in both changed quickly and profoundly following the arrival of Columbus in the Caribbean. I knew that there were many possible definitions for medieval, depending on your perspective about what is most important: printing press, a particular conflict, changes in art or world views, certain discoveries, etc.

Alex spells out, very clearly, how he defines medieval and modern, and why. He has a clear end date for medieval, though the start date is more fuzzy. He doesn’t have a good name for what happened in the Americas, though clearly they were as internally connected Africa/Eurasia.

For me, this has been really helpful to understand the move to studying the global Middle Ages in the SCA. Read the article. Subscribe to his blog or follow him on Twitter. You won’t be disappointed.

Scrubbing pots

As someone who loves to cook, I also need to be prepared to scrub pots. I have written about my naalbinding Pot scrubber in the past.

Parico Gallico, who does Iron Age re-enactment, did this great little video on cleaning her wooden kitchen items. In it, she mentions a scrub brush just like hers in the Musée nationale archéologique in Saint Germain en Laye, just outside Paris. I didn’t see it on display when I was there, but apparently photos do exist, so I have written to ask for copies. In the meantime, here is the modern brush I use, which is very comparable.

8 inch long wooden scrub brush with natural fibre bristles, on a black countertop

The most fun piece of cleaning equipment may be my chain Mail scrubber. Mine is stainless steel with a hanging loop from Lee Valley Tools, but it has a pre-1600 antecedent. Volker Bach, in The Kitchen, Food, and Cooking in Reformation Germany, quotes two sources. Hans Folz wrote a Hausratbuch (list of necessary domestic equipment) around 1500. His list includes a panczer fleck (piece of mail) with which you scrub away the dirt. The second source is a poem by Meistersinger Hans Sachs in 1544, which includes a piece of chain mail to scour pots.

8 X 4 inch rectangle of stainless steel chain mail, nestled in a black iron pan

Jana Ruza posted this on the Historic Cookery Facebook group. I’m so excited! I hope there are more recipes she will be able to share.

Recipe for the preparation of pickled cabbage, Sauerkraut
Second half of the 15th century. The original is deposited in the Library of the National Museum Prague sign I H 51, fol. 21V

Zelee kyselee
Rzez dluze krom kosscialow czos (nay tenie?) muozess potom ge warz v wodie a kdyz obewrze wlig na sytko a kdyz prostydne wyzdmi ge dobrze Potom wklad zase do hrncze protrzes a ruozno vczinisz na nie mandlowe mleko nechayzt wtom wrze A zelenee zelee muozess teez warziti.

Recipe for the preparation of pickled cabbage, Sauerkraut
Cut into strips, except for the stalk, then boil in water and when it has come to the boil, pour into a strainer. After it has cooled, wring out well. Put it back in the pot, pour in the almond milk and bring to the boil. You can cook fresh cabbage in the same way.

I am working on collecting pilaf dishes and that post will come soon. In the meantime, someone asked about a beginner recipe from Arab area around the time of the first Crusade (1096-1099). The closest I could come up with was Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq’s Kitab al-Tabikh, translated by Nawal Nasrallah, which provides valuable analysis to place Warraq’s original cookbook in the 10th C. She notes Warraq’s references to first-hand contacts with Caliphs and poets who lived in the 10th C; he says one recipe was made especially for a certain Caliph, and another mentions the poet and cook, named Kushajim, who died in 961, reciting to him

While we think of pilafs today as being made of rice, other grains, including wheat and millet were also used for dishies that use very similar techniques and spices.

Hintiyya (from Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens, by Nawal Nasrallah, p. 265.

Cook lean and fatty meat with hulled wheat (qamh maqshur) [and water] until the grains are cooked. However, do not let it get to the point where the wheat falls apart and gets mushy. Add bruised (mashdukh) pieces of cassia and galangale to the pot. You may substitute [white] wheat with green wheat (qamh akhdar farik). You my pour into it some milk. In fact, you can use milk with the wheat we mentioned first, add as much as it needs. If wished, you can sweeten the dish with sugar, but not much.

  • 1 lb lamb chunks
  • 1 c green wheat (sold at Middle Eastern groceries as frike, or wheat berries
  • 2 c water
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 piece of cinnamon bark
  • A few chunks of galingale (I used about 1/2 tsp)

Brown the meat, then add water, wheat and spices. Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed but the wheat fluffs apart with a fork. Add in a little milk, to taste.

Mudaqqaqat Sadhija (plain pounded meat) (A Baghdad Cookery Book, newly translated by Charles Perry, p. 65-66).

The way to make it is to cut up the fat meat small and throw it in the pot. Then take lean meat, cut it into thin strips and pound it fine, along with a little tail fat, a handful of crushed peeled chickpeas and a handful of washed rice. Then throw water on the meat which is in the pot, then bring it to the boil. Throw large meatballs which you have made from that pounded meat (sc. into the pot). When they stiffen, remove them from the pot, and the meat also. Melt fresh tail fat and take out its cracklings, then throw the meat and the meatballs in the pot and stir them in the fat until they brown. Throw on a little salt, coriander, cumin, pepper and finely ground cinnamon weighing two dirhams (in all), and cover it with water. Throw on a stick of cinnamon and a ring of dry dill (leaves). When it comes to the boil, discard the dill and throw on a handful of washed rice and half a handful of peeled chickpeas. When it is done, cut the fire from it and leave it on a quiet fire awhile to become quiet. Throw half a dirham’s weight of finely ground cinnamon on it, wipe the sides of the pot with a clean cloth, then take it up.

  • 1 lb lamb, bones removed and chopped small, then pounded (or just use 1 lb ground lamb)
  • 1 c cooked chick peas
  • 1 c rice
  • 2 1/2 c water
  • Vegetable oil (as a substitute for sheep tail fat)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1 piece cinnamon bark

Cut up the lamb and pound it in a mortar, or use a mix of small chunks and ground lamb. Mash half of the chickpeas and throw it into the pot with the meat and a little oil, then boil it in a small amount of water (until the water evaporates). Remove some of the meat mixture and mold it into meatballs, then add them to the pot with the rest of the meat and brown it in the oil. Add the remaining rice and chickpeas, along with all the spices except 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and 2 1/2 c water, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the rice is soft, but not mushy (about 20 minutes). Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon and serve.

I love pilaf. My favourite is an Uzbek plov with lamb, chickpeas, carrots, rice, cumin and an entire bulb of garlic. The ingredients are plausible, but could I document it or something similar to the SCA period? Yes I could! There is a reasonable amount on the internet, but most is completely unsupported. Leaving out the most romantic stories, I have found the following, none with evidence to back them up:

  • Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC) has been credited with commanding his cooks to invent a meal that was so hearty his troops could eat just once a day but feel full. When Alexander visited the province of Bactria (Eastern Iran), he was served pilaf at a royal banquet. Or possibly it was a royal banquet to celebrate the capture of the Sogdian capital of Marakanda (or Markanda, now known as Samarkand). It is said that the soldiers of Alexander the Great then brought the method of preparation of pilaf to Macedonia, and this method then spread out throughout Greece. Of course Sogdiana was based in what is now Uzbekistan. Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but technically it was part of eastern Iran at the time.
  • a meat and rice dish called pulao showing up in Sanskrit texts in India more than 2,000 years ago;
  • Persian/Uzkbek scholar Avicenna was the first to write down how to prepare it in the 10th C. His name for it was “palov osh,” an acronym compiled from the basic list of ingredients (p – piyoz (onion), a – ayoz (carrot), l – lakhm (meat), о – olio (fat), v – vet (salt), о – ob (water), sh – shali) as written in Uzbek.;
  • Tamerlane included plov in his army’s rations. It is said that while planning an assault on Ankara. One of his advisors told him about a wonderfully delicious and nourishing dish, instructing: “Take a big iron bowl. It should be old and well-used. Add meat from a ram that is not too young and not too old, some of the best rice, young carrots and the bitter onions that sting as strong as an Emir’s sword. Cook it all until Allah himself smells the aroma, and the cook falls unconscious, overwhelmed by the taste of this divine dish”;

Plov is a hearty dish made from fried meat and vegetables, over which rice is cooked. Plov is considered a very “democratic” food; meaning that most people can afford and enjoy it. This can be perhaps best summed in the Uzbek saying that “if you are poor, you eat plov. And if you are rich, you eat nothing but plov.”

Uzbek tuy palov Photograph: Malika Sharif

According to Priscilla Mary Isin, in her book “A Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, “The flowering of pilaf as a distinct and diverse genre of dishes seems to have begun in Central Asia, where ‘rice served in several ways’ was served at a banquet given in Uzbekistan in 1404 by the Turco-Mongol emperor Timur (r. 1370-1405). Of the more than sixty varieties of pilaf being made in Iran by the end of the sixteenth century, a number bore eastern Turkish names. Rice pilaf of various kinds became an important feature of Ottoman cuisine, although never dominating to the degree in Iran”.

The very first references to plov-like dishes first show up in the 10th C Baghdad Cookery book by Warraq (translated by Nawal Nasrallah). One, which may be more of a pudding, is Aruzziyya by Ibrahim al-Mahdi: Take chunks of lean rump and chunks of sheep’s tail fat. Slice them thinly and smoke them until meat looks braown (ahmar, literally red). Heat some olive oil in a pot and fry the meat pieces in it until done. Sprinkle them with a little salt and water, but avoid using murri (liquid fermented sauce) lest it should discolor the dish. Take a big pot, fill it up to its half with milk, and bring it to a boil. Add galangal and cassia, a stick each. Add salt as needed. Now take some rice, wash it very well, and add it to the milk. When it is done and thickened, ad the prepared meat slices with the oil in which it was fried. Stir the rice very well and serve it, God willing.

The next reference to what appears to be pilaf (though the actual word isn’t used in the information I have) comes courtesy of Timur Hayytbayev, who provided the Russian, and Facebook, which provided the translation (which is what I blame on the weirdness). His source is Alphabetical List of Countries (Extracts from the Kitab Mu’jam al Buldan by Yakut, https://www.vostlit.info/Texts/rus/Jakut/otryv1.phtml…). Khorezma, or Khwarazm, is a large oasis area on the Amu Darya river delta, in what is now Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Yāqūt Shihāb al-Dīn ibn-‘Abdullāh al-Rūmī al-Hamawī (1179–1229) (Arabic: ياقوت الحموي الرومي) is known for his great “geography”, Mu’jam ul-Buldān, an encyclopedia of Islam written in the late Abbāsid era. Yāqūt spent ten years travelling in Persia, Syria, and Egypt and his significance as a scholar lies in his testimony of the great, and largely lost, literary heritage found in libraries east of the Caspian Sea, being one of the last visitors before their destruction by Mongol invaders. He gained much material from the libraries of the ancient cities of Merv – (present-day Turkmenistan), where he had studied for two years, – and of Balkh. Circa 1222 he was working on his “Geography” in Mosul and completed the first draft in 1224 (source: Encyclopedia Britannica).

Yāqūt’s Arabic text of Mu’jam al-Buldan (Abu Dhabi, 2002). (Muslim Heritage)

“They (the inhabitants of Khorezma) are so unpretentious that someone takes one ratl or some rice and add pieces of meat and turnips in it. Put all this into a large cauldron, (pour) nine cups of water, and light a fire under it to boil, and put Ukiye (Ukiye – an ounce) of oil in there. Then they begin to scoop out from this cauldron and scoop everything in one or two vessels. (In this message we have, apparently, the oldest recipe for pilaf. ) And they are content with this for the whole all day And if they crumble thin cakes of bread in it, then this is an extreme degree. This is so common among them, despite the fact that among them there are rich people who are spoiled by life, but the life of their rich people is close to this. There are no great expenses in their life, such as are found in others, although a little in their country is worth as much as a great.”

In the 13th C, the Kitab al-Wusla ila I-haviv fi waf al tayyibat wa-l-tib (Book of the Relation with the Beloved in the Description of the Best Dishes and Spices), probably compiled in Syria, has a recipe called Indian rice (arruz hindi). From p 193 of Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali, we have the note “Wusla says of a recipe it calls Indian rice (arruz muflfal “rice [grains as separate as] peppercorns”). But this by itself is not enough to show that the pilaf technique came from India, where pilaf (pulao, the Middle Persian word still used in India) is considered a Muslim dish and most pilaf dishes have Persian names.” The recipes from Wusla that Zaouali has translated are as follows:

104. Indian Rice. Rinse the rice in boiling water and cook it immediately in a copper pot [dast]. The quantity of water must be equal to two and a half times that of the rice. Once it has absorbed all the water, add samn [clarified butter, often salted], cover it, and cook it for an hour. In this way it will become mufalfal; that is, the grains of rice do not stick together. Add some powdered sugar and remove [the pot] from the fire. The secret of cooking rice well lies in not rinsing it until the very moment of cooking.

105. Mufalfal Rice (with Meat and Chickpeas). Cook the meat in water, then [take it out and] braise it in sheep tail fat, and finally put it back in its broth. Some whole chickpeas soaked in water will have been cooked together with the meat [during the first cooking]. Add next some rice that has been cleaned and rinsed and cook it; then drain off the excess water and put in some melted sheep [tail] fat. Cover the pot and let an hour go by. In place of chickpeas, one can use blanched green pistachios. Sprinkle with sugar and rose water and serve.

Another recipe from Wusla shows that lots of garlic (in whole cloves) was used.

111. Rice with Spinach. Cut the meat into big pieces and boil it together with chickpeas. When the meat is cooked, remove it and braise it in fat [duhn] and olive oil, then moisten it with its broth. Wash the rice and pour it into this broth. Cook [the rice and broth] with much garlic in whole cloves. Separately, boil all of the spinach in water, then put it over the rice, where it is left alone until the liquid has evaporated and the whole mixture has thickened. One may make the same thing with rishta [noodles] over which eggs are broken [at the end of cooking].

Charles Perry has also translated the Kitab al Wusla as Scents and Flavours, though not all the same recipes show up in both translations. He identifies several recipes as pilafs:

5.74 – Chicken Rice. Boil a fattened chicken. Cook rice pilaf as usual, substituting pistachios for chickpeas. When done, add rose water and two grains of musk and bring it to the boil; it will become entirely flavored with musk. When done and ladled out, sprinkle with pounded sugar. The foundation of this dish is the fat.

6.92 – Fourth dish, rice pilaf. Boil meat with soaked whole chickpeas, fry in tail fat, and return the broth to it. Add washed, picked-over rice and leave on the fire until done. Strain out excess water, pour in melted tail fat, cover the pot, and leave a while. Instead of chickpeas, you can use green pistachios. Sprinkle with sugar and spray with rose water; ladle out and serve. This is recipe 105 in Zouali.

6.93 – Fifth variation, yellow pilaf. Color the rice with saffron and make in the usual way, but add 4 1/2g of ground camphor for every mithqal of rice, Hama weight (2g).

6.94 – Sixth dish, white-grain yellow-grain pilaf. Take meat, boil, and fry as usual for pilaf. Then boil white rice separately and color the rice yellow with saffron; boil and strain the water. Put the yellow rice on the meat, add tail fat, and cook a while. Then put the white rice on it and leave to cook a while. Instead of chickpeas, you can use peeled fresh pistachios. Ladle and serve. This is recipe 107 in Zouali.

A Baghdad Cookery Book (Kitab al-Tabikh, by Muhammad b. al Hasan b. Muhammad b. al-Karim al-Baghdadi, translated by Charles Perrry), written in the 13th C, also has a recipe for Aruzz Mulfalfal. He notes that the name may have an influence from the Persian word pulau, or pilaf.

The way to make it is to take fat meat and cut it up medium. Melt fresh tail fat and throw away its cracklings, then throw the meat on it and stir until it is browned. Sprinkle a little salt and finely ground dry coriander on it. Then leave water to cover on it and boil it until it is done, and throw its scum away. Remove it from the pot after its liquid has dried up and it has started to stew, lest it be dry. Throw on as much dry coriander, cumin, cinnamon and finely ground mastic as it will bear, and likewise as much salt. When it is completely done, take it up from the pot, having been dried of moisture and fat. Sprinkle a little of those mentioned spices on it. Then take a measure of rice and three measures [and a half] of water. Melt fresh tail fat weighing one third as much as the meat. Throw the water in the pot. When it comes to [a boil], throw the melted fat on it. Throw mastic and sticks of cinnamon in it, then boil it until it comes to a full boil. Wash rice several times and colour it with saffron and throw it in the water; do not stir it. Then cover the pot awhile until the rice boils up and the water is boiling. Then open it and arrange that meat on top of the rice, and cover it with a cloth over the lid, and wrap it so that the air does not enter it. Then leave the pot until it grows quiet on a gentle fire for a while, then take it up. Some people make it plan, not coloured with saffron.

The recipe for Shurba is very similar, except that it uses dill, ginger, pepper, cinnamon and coriander, and it includes chickpeas, with the option of adding meatballs. The instructions for Mujadarra say to make it like aruzz mulfalfal “except that you don’t colour it with saffron, and you add half as much lentils as the rice”. The recipe for Isfanakhiyya (from isfanakh, or spinach), is also very similar to aruzz mulfalfal, with garlic added to the spice mix and meatballs added at the end.

The Description of Familiar Foods (Kitab Wasf al-At’ima al-Mu’tada, translated by Charles Perry in Medieval Arab Cookery, was completed in 1373. The core of this book is the 160 recipes of the Baghdad Cookery book, with many additional recipes, some of which were added at different times and from a variety of sources. It also has the recipe for Isfanakhiyya and Aruzz Mufalfal; both are virtually identical to the Baghdad Cookery Book version, except that Perry notes here that Chinese cinnamon (rather than Ceylon cinnamon) is used. There is also a recipe for another Isfanakhiyya:

Another Isfanakhiyya. Cut meat up and wash it, then throw it in the pot and stir it until its moisture goes away. Then you throw pounded cumin and coriander on it, and the heart of an onion, a piece of Chinese cinnamon and sesame oil, and stew the meat in that. Then cut up spinach small and throw it with it, and fry it until its evaporates and it is fragrant. Then throw water on it until the meat is nearly done. Then throw rice on it, after being washed, and kindle a gentle fire under it until it is done. Melt tail fat and pot it on it ladling it out.

Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table, a Fourteenth-Century Egyptian cookbook translated by Nawal Nasralla has a recipe for aruzz mufalfal (fluffy rice with separate grains) on p. 140.

You need a lot of meat and duhn (sheep-tail fat), rice, mastic gum, Cylon cinnamon (qarfa), and chicpeas. Boil the meat, [drain off its broth], and fry it. Then return some of the broth to it. Add the rice after you wash it, and cover the pot to help the rice soften and become fluffy (anbut). Pound the sheep-tail fat and render it (yusla), and then pour it all over the rice. Cover the pot with something and remove. Leave it on the ground for a good hour, and then ladle it.

Marianna Yerasimos notes in her book “500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine” that rice pilav culture of the Ottomans  was similar to that of the Persians, but developed differently. In her list of 15th century rice dishes culled from Dishes of Mehmed II Period, The Place Accounting Books, and Sirvani (p. 109), she notes both a rice with chickpeas and a rice with meat and carrots. However, she doesn’t offer recipes for either. Urtatim al-Qurtubiyya has shared two recipes by Mehmet bin Mahmoud Şirvani from around 1430, that she has translated. I don’t know where she accessed the manuscript, as it is unpublished.

Dāne-i Ḳabūniyye / Kabuniye pilavı (Dane is the Ottoman word for pilaf; it is a loan word from the Persian), 113 verso-114 recto

Cut fresh mutton up small, boil [in water], and skim off the foam. Then put some cumin, cinnamon, and pepper that have not been pounded onto the meat, and boil them together. The meat being cooked it is then removed, strain the broth so that it is limpid and clear. Then lay the cooked meat on the bottom of a pot. Lay finely chopped onion on the meat, also put in some ground black pepper, and pour one or two ladles of broth into the meat. Cook the onion [and meat] over low heat, add salt. To rice that has been cleanly washed add twice the amount of broth, and boil with some [pre-cooked] coarsely chopped, peeled chickpeas until the rice is cooked. To it add a bowl of clarified butter. Then cook some tiger apricots, water, and butter together. When the dish comes to the proper consistency discharge it into [serving] dish, arrange apricots individually on the dish, and eat it.

[123 recto] Nergisiye pilavı — Narcissus or Daffodil Pilaf. Cut a little fatty mutton or hogget up small and make into kalye (Turkish meatball with lamb, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, mastic, pepper and salt) [123 verso] When it is a bit cooked then add over it some carrots cut into pieces, and cook them together. Also put in some peeled chickpeas and a little onion. The meat being cooked, take the pot off the fire. Add rice to water/broth, the [quantity of the] water/broth should be twice as much the rice [in another pot], also put in fat [butter] as desired. When the ingredients are cooked, take it off the fire, and arrange meat on top. Again, the rice is cooked separately from the meat and to serve, the meat is arranged on top of the rice.

This may be the first pilaf recipe with carrots, though carrots also show up in the 13th C Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook as a narcissus stew, and in a dish of carrots called jazar in Scents and Flavours. While wild carrots were known in Europe from prehistoric times, and early forms may have been used as food from Roman times, the cultivated carrots that were the ancestors of what we eat today were first cultivated some time before 900AD, in what is now Afghanistan and spread from there (http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history.html).

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The cultivated carrot from the Juliana Anicia Codex (ca. 512 A.D.), housed in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. This is the oldest known manuscript of Dioscorides’ work. (Carrot Museum)

The Sultan’s Feast, a fifteenth C cookbook by Ibn Mubarak Shah, translated by Daniel L. Newman, also has a recipe for arruzz mufalfal, which Newman translates as rice pilaf (P. 38): 76. Rice Pilaf (arruz mulfalfal). You need meat and a lot of rice, fat, mastic, cinnamon and chickpeas. Boil the meat, knead it and add. Little bit of broth. Add the rice after washing it and parboil. Remove from the fire. Leave [the pot] for a good hour on the floor and ladle up.

266. Rice Pilaf (arruzz mulfalfal). Once the meat has been tenderized, soak the rice and then rinse it. Add cinnamon, mastic and a little salt. When adding the rice make sure that the meat is immersed in water – for each ratl (about 1 pound at this time), take three uqiyas (there are 8 uqiyas in a ratl, so approximately 6 ounces) of rice. Add a bit of water to the top of the pot until it heats up. If you want something else, pour it on top, and then eat.

The 15th Century “The Nimatnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu (The Sultan’s Book of Delights)”, translated by Norah M. Titley, offers one recipe for broth with pulao (pilav) on p. 67: take well-flavoured pieces of meat and add finely cut fresh ginger, dried ginger juice and lime juice and cook it. Eat finely cut dried ginger with it. Mandu was the capital of an independent state in Central India, which arose following the collapse of centralised Muslim rule in India after the sack of Delhi by Timur in 1398. The Book of Delights appears to date from about 1495-1505.

Maddat ol-Hayat [The Substance of Life] is a collection of Persian recipes written by Nurolla, chef to the Safavid Dynasty’s Shah Abbas I in 1596. published as Dining at the Safavid Court, translated and modernized by M.R. Ghanoonparvar in 2017. It contains some 63 pilaf/palav recipes. Part I of Maddat ol-Hayat is on Khoskhk Palav, and offers a recipe for Yazdadi Palav (a dish made of raisins, walnuts, dried apricots, pomegranate paste and, usually, duck, which is served over top of boiled rice. Part II is broken down into three chapters: plain palavs, tart palavs and sweet palavs. Among the plain palavs (which are mostly not plain at all), one (Torkman palav) stands out as being similar to the Uzbek plov I love. Part V, On the varieties of Sholeh Palav, also has a recipe for Sholeh Palav Sadeh, which has carrots and spinach along with the rice, meat and spices. Part VI has a recipe for Shir Palav, along with more instructions on the various ingredients of Palav. One of the nice things about this little book is that many of the recipes have been redacted into modern versions. It is interesting to note that Vachu Palav and Qabuli Palav are noted as being commonly known, so there is no recipe. Qabuli Palav is probably the most common palav I see served in modern Persian and Afghan restaurants.

Kabuli Pulau, which has lamb, rice. Onions, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and even almonds. Image by Wikipedia: Jost Wagner

Torkman Palav (Turkoman-style rice)
Its method of preparation is that meat is browned, and after it is cooked, whole chickpeas and onion rings and spices are added, and the rice is prepared and steamed.

A Persian Cookbook: The Manual by Bavarchi, was drafted in 1521 by Haji Mohammed Ali Bavarci Baqdadi, more commonly known as Barvarchi, and translated from the Persian by Saman Hassibi & Amir Sayadabdi. It contains five chapters on various kinds of pilafs (pilafs, sticky rice, noodle, colourful, and sour). While none have the combination of carrots, chickpeas and cumin of my favourite pilaf, there are several that use lots of caraway of Kerman (which is actually cumin), and a few have carrots in combination with other vegetables. I have blogged about my experiments with one of these pilafs here.

The one that comes closest to my favourite is Boiled Meat Pilaf: [Both] are alike. Take fat mutton or fat lamb or fattened hen, whichever is available, and wash thoroughly. Pour the necessary amount of water in a pot [and heat]. Once the water is heated, throw in the meat and remove the foam. Throw in one diced onion and three mesqals of cinnamon so they boil together. If boiled meat (yaxni) is wanted, let the meat cook thoroughly. If [you] wanted to fry it, take the meat out when it is yet to be fully cooked, wash with salted water and fry in oil so it is browned well and strain its broth. The recipe is for every two mans of white rice, [take] one man of oil, two and a half mans of water, and three caraks of chickpeas. Wash the rice add it to the pot. Once the rice is half-done, drain its water. Add half a man of diced onion, two mesqals of caraway of Kerman, and two mesqals of whole peppercorns. Whichever spice is desired can be thrown in. Throw in oil, toss from bottom to top and steam with the lid on until it is done. Grind half a mesqal of mastic in cold water and sprinkle, and place the boiled meat (yaxni) and the fried meat on top of the pilaf so it remains warm. Then, at the time of serving, first serve the rice in a dish, the meat in the middle, and rice on top of the meat again and if there was hean [instead of the meat, it should be served] as per this method.

Preparing Plov in a huge kazan at the the Tashkent Plov Center in Uzbekistan. Plov is traditionally prepared by men for important feasts such as weddings, births, circumcisions, turning 63 (the age of the Prophet), and funerals.

By the late 1500s and early 1600s, rice dishes that bear similarities to some of the Ottoman pilafs begin to appear in Europe. Marx Rumpolt, in Ein Neu Kochbuch (1581) CLIII verso #169 has a recipe for ‘Turkish rice’  which is washed, boiled, washed again, then has almonds roasted and added in with raisins. The whole is finished in butter and served ‘dry’, sweetened, and clearly as loose grains.

Another example appears in the 1620s Transylvanian cookbook: Recipe 89 Lamb with rice (Manka Balanka) , which is like a chicken/blancmange-type dish with rice.

(669) Manka Balanka. Do it like this: wash the rice, crush it in a copper mortar. Then cook capon breasts, then slice it a bit and add sugar. Take the fat parts of beef into an iron pot, boil milk in a tin pot, pass it through a strainer into the tin pot, while the milk is boiling put the rice into it with the capon, add some sugar, stir it. Boil it well.

By the early 1600s, the Nuskha-e-Shahjahani (a book of recipes from the kitchens of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan) has numerous recipes for pilafs. Mughal cuisine was influenced by Persian, Afghan, Turkish, Punjabi, Kashmiri and Deccan cuisine. A copy of the book is found in the British Library, but you can also try redacted versions in The Mughal Feast, by Salma Yusuf Husain.

According to the folks at the Sogdians and Central Asians historical group on Facebook, where I asked about pilaf history, there is still a modern Chinese dish called hualuo, or braised rice, which is a mixture of rice, lamb and raisins, similar to Xinjiang lamb pilaf. Given the similarity of the words when spoken aloud, there is a possibility that the word may have originated in Central Asia or Western China (though there is no conclusive proof).

Surprisingly, although the Spanish dish paella would appear to be related, in fact that may not be the case. Paella comes from a completely different root word, panela, which is the pan it is cooked in. However, Roger, Delphine), “The Middle East and South Asia (in Chapter: History and Culture of Food and Drink in Asia)”, notes that rice, a key ingredient of paella, was introduced to Spain when it was under Muslim rule. Nawal Nasralla, in “Best of Delectable Foods and Dishes from Al-Andalus and al-Magrib (a translated cookbook from the 13th C), notes that some foods that had been associated with Spanish Muslims (Moriscos) gradually lost their associations with the Moriscos and continue to be eaten. She cites the example of a novel published in Venice in 1528, called La Lozana andaluza. “Aldonza, the main character, is a penniless converso from Cordova who ….enumerates the many dishes learnt from her grandmother… The arroz entro [Aldonza describes] is a rice dish in which the grains are kept whole; and the arroz seco suggests that the grains are allowed to absorb allthe moisture in the pot, resulting in what in thirteenth-century Baghdad was called ruzz mufalfal ‘rice with separate grains.’ Arroz grasso, which is rice cooked in fat, points to the emergence of … the would-be paella, the signature dish of Valencia” one of the key rice-producing regions of Spain.