[Sca-cooks] Wanted: Ash Tree Keys/Seeds

lilinah at earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 25 09:22:59 PDT 2012

Atraf al-Tib has come up on this list before. I've brought it up myself.

The twelve ingredients of Atraf al-Tib are:
1. Betel leaf, Piper betle (tanbul)
-- Recent research, especially in Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's book, as well as previous personal experience chewing betel, leads me to feel certain it is the LEAF that is called for and not the nut, which comes from a different plant, the areca palm (Areca catechu).
2. Green Cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum (hal)
-- this is the kind commonly available, although sometimes the pods are bleached white.
3. Cloves, Syzygium aromaticum (kibash qaranful)
4. Ginger, Zingiber officinale (zanjabil)
5. Long Pepper, Piper longum (dar fulful)
6. Black Pepper, Piper nigrum (fulful)
7. Nutmeg, Myristica fragrans (jauz al-tib)
8. Mace, Myristica fragrans (bisbasa)
9. Bay Laurel Leaves, Laurus nobilis (warq rand)
10. Rose Buds, Rosa damascena (zir ward)
11. Spikenard, Nardostachys jatamansi (sunbul)
-- this was mistranslated as lavender, either by Maxime Rodinson or his translator - since lavender was not used in either eastern Arabic cuisine or medicine - but knowing the Arabic, it is clearly spikenard.

And finally the mystery ingredient for which i am searching:
12. lisan al-'asafir

Lisan al-'asafir means bird's tongue. For some reason, Rodinson or his translator got beechnuts, which are undoubtedly NOT at all what is called for, for a number of reasons. Nawal Nasrullah said it was elm seeds / keys. Charles Perry said it was common ash, but did not specify whether bark, leaf, or seed.

In my attempt to recreate Atraf al-Tib, i am searching for Ash Tree Keys. These are the seeds of the tree encased in a wing-like leafy fibrous coating. Unlike Maple Keys, which have two wings and spiral beautifully, Ash Keys have a more tongue-like shape, in keeping with the Arabic name of that mystery ingredient.
Photo of keys of one type of ash:
I've read that they can even stay on the tree until spring. I also posted here some time ago a message i received which said they have something of a bitter-almond taste and were used in European cooking at some point.

Unfortunately i have no ash trees near me, so i am hoping that someone on this list has healthy ash trees in their vicinity and can send me a healthy hefty packet of them. I will gladly reimburse mailing and other costs.

If someone has healthy elm tree keys available, i'd be open to trying them, too, although they are far less bird tongue-shaped. Here's a photo of the keys from one type of elm:

I realize that there are currently insects attacking both ash and elm trees, so perhaps a brief drying in an oven on a very low temperature would be a good thing before putting them in the mail.

Write to me off-list for my mailing address.

Thanks in advance,
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
West Kingdom

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