[Sca-cooks] Polenta

Suey lordhunt at gmail.com
Tue Nov 28 14:05:44 PST 2006

    Originally this message started out with the fact that I was 
confused between polenta and grits and I wanted to know if they are 
different or the same dishes. I think I have figured this out by going 
back to Flower's translation of Apicuis (1 AD) in which she translates 
/alicam/ as grits which consist of crushed barley or spelt that have 
been soaked over night. This seems to concur with the modern version 
using hominy or hulled corn kernels.
    Now I became hung up of gachas, the forerunners on couscous which 
Antonio Gazquez Ortiz says are the same as polenta. Gachas in Arabic is 
/sawiq/, dried barley. Actually it is a bread soup boiled with lard. The 
basic ingredient is flour, breadcrumbs or slices of bread. Semolina 
could be used. Gachas is a typical dish in the Mancha where it is a 
wheat porridge consisting of wheat boiled in salted water to which milk, 
honey or another liquid could be added. There in medieval times the 
principle food of the lower classes consisted of bread but when wheat 
was scarce gachas was consumed as a substitute.  
    Sent Sovi recipe CXI and Nola's xxii are for gachas which Gazquez 
calls polenta. I guess I can accept his word.
    Now this leads to confusion with couscous which prior to the 13th C 
was referred to as harira (the Jewish version of gachas) or gachas (with 
couscous grains), which is confusing as harira today is a well spiced 
soup consisting of finely mashed wheat. In the Middle Ages it was boiled 
wheat or breadcrumbs to which meat and mutton grease were added.
    Now we have the problem of couscous being referred to as polenta in 
the Middle Ages. This fact is that if it is not properly dried before 
added to soup the couscous melts and becomes a sort of  polenta. Until 
the 14th and 15th centuries couscous did not evolve into what the dish 
is today. This may make it sound like couscous was not steamed prior to 
that time. I do not know.
    Marie stated on 27 November that, "Couscous is a particular form of 
pasta and not a
grain at all...."An odd note here is that Charles Perry says couscous is 
not like pasta as it is held together by 'weaker proteins' as in grains 
not gluten. He goes on to underline Mark's statement that couscous can 
be made with any grain and mentions bran, barley, maize, ground acorns 
and millet.


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