[Sca-cooks] olive oil too expensive to be used as a cooking oil?

Sayyeda al-Kaslaania samia at idlelion.net
Mon Jan 30 02:43:41 PST 2012

Here is what S.D. Goitein says, all typos mine:

p 120
"Next to wheat, the nutrition of the common people depended mainly on 
oil, obtained either from plants or from the olive tree. As oil, 
together with wax, was also the almost exclusive material for artificial 
lighting, its importance can be easily gauged. Because of the enormous 
extent of flax-growing, linseed oil was widely used, in particular for 
lighting. It was exported from Egypt to olive-growing Syria sand to 
far-away Aden in South Arabia (n.28). Edible oil was won to a large 
extent from the sesame plant, which was grown in the Nile Delta, in 
particular for its northern parts, and in Palestine. "Makers of sesame 
oil" as a name occupation occurs frequently in the Geniza records, while 
"sesamist," dealer in the crop, in rare (n.290. The dyeing plant 
safflower (the English word is derived from Arabid 'asfur, which 
designates its flowers) or rather its seed (called qurtum, ef. the 
scientific name carthamus) also provides an oil, used mainly for 
medicinal purposes. In the Geniza, we find the see sent from a village 
to the capital, while the red dye made from the flowers, which was used 
widely in cosmetics, was a common article in the international trade of 
coloring stuffs (n.30)"

"The noble olive tree, in the Bible (Judges 9:8) regarded as the king of 
all trees, is indigenous to the Mediterranean area, but almost entirely 
absent from Egypt. Olive oil, however, was a vital ingredient in the 
daily food of the population and also provided the choicest lighting. No 
wonder, then, that its import to Egypt was one of the largest branches 
of the Mediterranean trade. Still, it was partly processed also in the 
country. In a document made out in Tunisia in 1074, a woman claimed 
"[olive] oil makers' equipment" in Old Cairo which belonged to her, and 
in 1203, a man called baddi, operator or proprietor of an oil press, 
appears as a party to a contract in the same town. (n.31). Zayyat, maker 
or seller of olive oil, is one of the most common names or occupations 
mentioned in our papers, and repeated reference has been made here to a 
bazaar named after that profession. In an olive-growing country like 
Spain, it was of course natural that the lending of an object like a 
stone used in the oil press should form the object of a contract 
(Lucena, before 1021) (n.32). "

S.D. Goitein. _A Mediterranean Society, Vol I_.  Berkley: U. of Calif. 
Press, 1967.

These statements don't disagree with Miller (whom I read as saying olive 
oil was used, just not as the primary cooking fat), but I don't think it 
says enough to agree either. The one paragraph almost seems to conflict 
with the next, but that might be 4am talking.

Sayyeda al-Kaslaania

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