[Sca-cooks] Recipes for a handout

Christiane christianetrue at earthlink.net
Mon Jan 15 21:48:11 PST 2007

>Geffrei asked:
><<< Delurking to raise his hand too.....I'd be grateful for a copy of  
>your handout as well since this an area of cooking I'm especially  
>interested in learning more about.  >>>
>I'm not sure if you are asking about medieval or modern cooking in  
>Sicily, nor am I sure whether some or all of the recipes in  
>Gianotta's handout are modern or period. Gianotta, if most of them  
>are period, I'd love to have your handout for the Florilegium. Sicily  
>is a region that doesn't seem to get much attention in the SCA.

Firstly, I'll address this question. These recipes are not period, but display traits of Arabic cooking not found on the Italian peninsula. And at least two of the recipes — the emir of Catania's chicken and pasta con le sarde — have oral roots to this period. 

Cariadoc says:

>While I can see the argument about Sicilian food diverging, I still 
>have two problems with your solution.
>1. It is likely to encourage the already common confusion between 
>ethnic and period. However careful you are to explain that these are 
>modern Sicilian recipes that you think might be close to ones in 
>period, people are going to come away thinking of them as period 
>recipes and believing that they can get period recipes by looking at 
>a modern ethnic cookbook and (perhaps) filtering out the ones that 
>use tomatoes.
>2. Even if Sicilian cooking was diverging by the 900's, do you think 
>it likely that it changed more in the two hundred years from 900 to 
>(say) 1100 than it did in the 900 years from 1100 to now? If not, 
>then there is no reason to think that modern Sicilian recipes are 
>closer to the Sicilian cooking of 1100 than period recipes from 
>elsewhere in al-Islam are.
>Of course, you are getting a significantly closer match by trying to 
>find modern recipes that look to you as though they might be period. 
>But you could do the same thing in the opposite direction, by 
>selecting period islamic recipes that fit whatever you know about 
>period Sicilian cooking--for instance selecting in favor of recipes 
>with onions in them.

I considered these facts, and the reason why I chose these particular recipes rather than 100% period ones from Dar al-Islam was based on the considerable reading I have been doing about Sicilian history. It did not seem appropriate to me to choose a recipe from Baghdad when many of the dishes I cited are disappearing from the island today, the victim of assimilation into Italian general culture and where television and the Internet are omnipresent. And for me, the research touched upon the traditions of my own family; the "honey balls" of fried pastry soaked in rosewater and honey my grandmother made each Christmas, the fennel salads with sour orange slices, the chickpea cuccia my great-grandmother made for St. Lucia's day ... no surprise that these are all dishes from the "Arab" side of the island.

Interestingly enough, there are recipes with connections to Dar al-Islam that are very strong. Cubaita, a sesame seed candy (the name derived from the Arabic word qubhayt), for example. I have looked at period recipes and made connections with a few, but the fact is that almost from the first entry of the Arab settlers, even as they wrought changes on the island, the island changed them.

Also the whole point of including these recipes in the handout is to illustrate the mix of cultures the island was even then. Roger II's Capella Palatina has Byzantine mosaics on a Latin form and an Arabic muquarna ceiling. In Sicily, influences seemed to blend early and often.

As far as what is known about period Sicilian cooking — there are no extant written recipes. The cooks of the emirs and the Norman kings did not leave any records. But there are the words in dialect derived from Arabic, and the fact that parts of the island were almost untouched cultural backwaters between the Vespers and the 19th century. Words, traditions, customs survived. And the echoes of that history — my family's history — are what I want to share with folks on Saturday.


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