[Sca-cooks] The use of sumac in medieval Arabic cooking

Stefan li Rous StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
Wed Jan 30 17:57:50 PST 2008

Gianotta asked:

<<< I guess the question is, was it ever used in the medieval period?  


 From the following file in the PLANTS, HERBS AND SPICES section in  
the Florilegium:
sumac-msg         (24K) 10/22/06    Period uses of sumac. Identifying  

The following is from the URL listing in the spice catalog:
        0480 SUMAC BERRIES
        "The tart red powder of these berries is an essential
         'souring agent' in Middle Eastern cookery, used in place
          of vinegar or lemon. Also makes a refreshing summer
          drink. (N.B. - this is not the same as the North American
          wild sumac, some varieties of which are poisonous.)"

As to the use if the ground seeds of the myrtle sumac with
other herbs in the Middle East (sumak), the arabic peoples
were historically the middlemen in the oriental spice trade
to period Europe.  Many fruits and vegetables also reached
Europe through the arabic region (bananas, limes, oranges,
lemons, etc.).  The spread of the sumac as a spice in
the Middle Eastern cultures probably was because they
are accustomed to sun drying so many plants and using them
in their cuisine uniquely (rather like their use of powered
dried limes for example).

  I would like to add that the modern word 'sumac (var. sumach)' is  
from the Middle English 'sumac' which in turn is derived from a  
Middle French
word which is ultimately derived from the Arabic summaq. The word in  
current form was first used in English print in the 14th century CE.

  Sumaqiyya, IIRC from the 'Description of Familiar Foods' contains  
sumac, and
Milh Mutayyab from both that source and al-Baghdadi can. I also think  
is something the the Ni'Namatma (sp?) - that Malwan cookbook. Haven't  
able to read it through yet.

<<<I do not specifically see it mentioned in Perry, so I am just  
wondering if there is a term I am missing, or whether it was Turk- 
specific and they brought it with them into the lands they had  
conquered. >>>

Which makes me wonder which book of Perry's you are referring to,  

Mmm... the only European recipes i know of using sumac are
adaptations of Arabic recipes. There's an Italian recipe for
sommachia (the Arabic original is summaqiyya)

Sommachia - Chicken with Spicy Sumac Sauce
Zambrini, Libro della cucina
from Perry, Medieval Arabic Cookery<

Take some jointed chickens and fry them in bacon fat. Take some
almonds, some sumac and water and cook with the chicken. The dish
should be quite thick. Serve. The same recipe can be applied to fish,
partridge, capons, etc.

Polastri a Sumacho boni e perfecti
Frati, Libro di cucina
as reproduced by Perry in "Medieval Arabic Cookery"

THLord Stefan li Rous    Barony of Bryn Gwlad    Kingdom of Ansteorra
    Mark S. Harris           Austin, Texas           
StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
**** See Stefan's Florilegium files at:  http://www.florilegium.org ****

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