[Sca-cooks] Substitute for Potatoes?

lilinah at earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Tue Aug 25 13:14:11 PDT 2009

Judith wrote:
>  On Aug 23, 2009, at 11:13 PM, Solveig Throndardottir wrote:
>  > Greetings from Solveig! Potatoes are from Peru. However, there are a
>  > number of old world tubers available such as yams Dioscorea species
>  > which originated in West Africa and Asia.
>  Yes, and I fully intend to use yams in my Period cooking.

Well, that depends on what you mean by yams...

I've still got 10 digests from Monday left to read and 9 from today, 
so i'm a bit behind, and this has probably already been addressed...

Anyway, in the US there's a tuber called "yam" that isn't. It is a 
variety of sweet potato. I get them confused, one has brownish skin 
and a yellow interior (i think that's what gets commonly called a yam 
in the US) and the other has purplish skin and an orange interior. 
The one with the yellow flesh is starchier than the orange, but 
they're both New World, known in England and Spain in the 16th c., 
but i'm not sure if they were known anywhere else. Anyway, both are 
Ipomoea batatas, NOT really yams.

The *true* yam is African - our word comes from Spanish nyame', which 
in turn is derived from the original Wolof word. It is a starchy 
tuber not in the slightest like the sweet potato and its close 
sibling the not really "yam". These are in the genus Dioscorea. They 
are often being quite white inside - or pink or purple, as is the 
Filipino ube' - i used to get ube ice cream when i lived in LA - and 
they can be up to 7 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds! African 
yams apparently were not known in Europe until the 16th c. and were 
not traded with or grown in North African or Southwest Asian Muslim 
countries, as far as i can tell.

I ate several different varieties of Dioscorea, white or 
greyish-white tubers called "ubi", when i lived in Indonesia.

The New World tuber cassava, often known as yucca or manioc (Manihot 
esculenta) is also eaten in Indonesia, where the leaves were called 
singkong and the root was called ubi kayu. But it wouldn't be known 
in the SCA-period Near or Middle East.

On the other hand, Colocasia shows up in quite a few SCA period 
Arabic language cookbooks, where they may be called qulqas or kilkas. 
It is often known as taro, a starchy tuber, but does not add the 
qualities of a modern potato to a dish. I can get them here in the SF 
Bay area and have used them a number of times in medieval Arabic 
recipes. Colocasia esculenta are also eaten in Indonesia.

Several of these tubers often eaten first cooked, cut longwise into 
halves or quarters, then rubbed with ragi (a type of dried yeast 
often mixed with some spices), and left to ferment - which often 
takes only a few hours in hot and humid Java. They are then cut up 
into large cubes and eaten as snacks after the afternoon nap before 

Another way to eat starchy tubers in Indonesia is to cook them in 
coconut milk with sugar and eaten as a sweet. Sweets are not 
generally eaten with/after meals, so unlike our desserts. Rather they 
are eaten at snack time - there are several in a day, most especially 
in the afternoon after the nap and before dinner, and again several 
hours after dinner, often quite late. These are purchased from 
street-vendors with mobile pushcarts. Few people eat a lot at meals - 
often because they can't afford much - and it is also very hot and 
humid, so it makes sense to eat lightly multiple times during the day.

Anyway, i digress... back to SCA-period Near and Middle Eastern 
starchy tubers...

Colocasia is the most likely starchy tuber for your persona, Judith, 
if you place her anywhere from al-Andalus to Mesopotamia (and that's 
a BIG distance). I do not know if they were grown and/or eaten in 
Persia, Transoxania (aka Transoxiana), or other parts of Central 
Asia. Anyone?
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

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