15 November 2010

The Copy-Cat Taj: Material Culture sixteen: A&S 50 Challenge

The copy-cat Taj
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Copyright November 2010, Julia May

My partner and I decided we needed a new tent for SCA camping. We had a great wall tent from Fall Creek Suttlery http://fcsutler.com/ (a company we highly recommend), which was awesomely affordable and served us for 5 years. It was too small for us anymore, so we sold it to a friend who was headed to Pennsic.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto Max and Mickel’s webpage http://www.sacoriver.net/~freegate/Pavilion.html , but I found their plans for the Taj. Designed by two engineers, with details about why they made each decision, the idea appealed to my honey and we started calculating. It met our requirements of 1. being able to stand up in the whole tent, and 2. fitting a queen sized bed with the head/foot at the center pole. It has a 20 foot diameter.

We ordered Sunforger treated canvas from Itex for a great price, and borrowed an industrial sewing machine that has floated around the Barony for years. The furniture in the living room was rearranged so we could have the floor space to cut the pieces. I sewed everything together while Oswald cut and fit all the wood pieces. It was strange to realize the tent was to have more square footage than the living room, the largest room in our house.

A crying moment was had. We calculated the size of the roof panels two inches smaller than the size of the wall panels. The top and the bottom didn’t fit each other. Thankfully, the local tentmaking guru took a look at it and confirmed that I could fix it pretty easily by taking two inches out of each of the 14 wall panels. By taking it out of the middle of the panels it looks like it was done on purpose and gives us a different opportunity for decorating the tent.
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. MS Arabe 5847 fol. 38. Maqama 14.

The Taj is 14 spokes, and big enough to fit three queen sized beds (that happens when you work with round tents). It takes about 30-45 minutes for two of us to set it up, including pounding the stakes in standard ground. The stakes were created by Dan Kretchmar, a blacksmith in the Twin Cities. His website is here http://www.irontreeworks.com/  They're 18 inches long and made of half inch square stock. The bottom has a 130 degree twist that corkscrews into the ground as you pound them in. In the above image they're not pounded in all the way so that they're easy to move.

Of course, one of the side-effects of a big tent is that it weighs a ton, and takes up a lot of packing space. However, we weathered a storm that dumped three inches of rain in a very short time (producing knee-deep standing water throughout the park for several hours as the storm sewers were backed up), and no water got inside through the wall-roof connection, nor under the sod cloths.

The pitch of the roof is much lower than many of our friend's tents. People often ask us if we were going for the look of a yurt/ger, but it's just an effective way to use the fabric and make a pitch that will shed water. It's a similar profile to images from the Maqamat al-Hariri illuminations from the 12th century. We definitely need some roundels on the Taj.

We are indebted to Max and Mickel for their sage wisdom and words of advice during the process of making our first tent!

Find more details in my photostream at flickr:

12 August 2010

Medieval Islamic Women's Undergarments: Material Culture fifteen: A&S 50 Challenge

Figure A. Two woman observing a conversation. Baghdad, Maqamat al-Hariri, Late Eleventh to early Twelfth Centuries. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. MS arabe 3929 fol 134. Maqamat 40, detail.
Medieval Islamic Women's Undergarments
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Copyright August 2010, Julia May

Women’s undergarments are rarely a topic of conversation, even among friends—until you practice historical recreation! Figuring out how to meet some basic needs becomes readily apparent the minute you start putting on clothing that’s nothing like you’ve worn before. Supporting the breasts is not just a matter of style, but a function of comfort. Mundane nuisances such as urination, chafing, and menstruation become quickly magnified when your standard tools are no longer the standard choice. Only then do we recognize just how rare the conversations of undergarments have been held throughout history—and how little of it has been recorded.

When researching any kind of garments for the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, one will eventually discover the treasure trove of the Cairo Geniza. A forgotten collection of legal and trade documents, the Cairo Geniza gives us the tools to piece together a fairly good picture of daily life under the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo. One of the re-creators favorite parts of the Cairo Geniza is presented primarily through the works of Yedida Stillman (chief among them Arab Dress and her dissertation Female Garments). She was able to review many bridal trousseaux from the period and discuss the different garments and fabrics listed there. A glaring omission, however, is still the discussion of underwear. Since men were the ones recording the trousseau lists, they didn’t want to talk about or look at such things which were frequently recorded along the lines of “a box and all of its [intimate] contents”.

Therefore, the information presented here is a compilation of conjecture. We can guess at some things, and use some secular images for a few more, and a little bit of suggestive poetry to fill in some voids. Included here are the undergarments that I typically recreate for myself when wearing Fatimid clothing. Starting from the top, they are:
  •            The ma'raqa  is a small fitted cap that absorbs sweat from the brow and protects the rest of the head gear from body soil (the root word of ma’raqa is “sweat”).  
  •             The qumîs is the chemise or shift: the layer closest to the skin.
  •          Under the qumîs might be a rifada to support the breasts.
  •          A tikka is an ornate decorative drawstring for the sirwâl
  •          The sirwâl are called drawers, but were more similar to pajama-bottoms in that they reach to the ankle. They were held up with a tikka.

            The ma'raqa is a simple two piece hat or cap pattern with a crown and band. There is a smidge more information about it because it is the absolute minimum headcover a person of either gender is expected to wear. It formed the base of the headwear such as a turban or hijab (veils).

 The cut of my qumîs is copied from several extant sources, though only one dates to the Fatimid period. See Figures 1, 2. The sleeveless style of the qumîs is based on the fact that 1.) a qumîs can be worn with a sleeveless fitted dress; and 2.) there is no evidence that a sleeveless dress was worn over an item with sleeves. Therefore I believe that the qumîs can be with or without sleeves. 

Figure 2. Child's Tunic with redrawing of pattern. From Scarce, Jennifer. Women's Costumes of the Near and Middle East. London: Unwin Hyman, 1987.

The rifada is wholly a guess: a band of soft linen wrapped around the body and pinned in place with a straight pin under the arm. This is similar to a style known to be worn by Roman women in the Late Antique period which was called a ____________, albeit about 700 years earlier.

Figure 3. Striped Mamluk sirwal. Musee de Cinqantenaire.
Master Rashid developed a sirwâl pattern in common use today in the SCA based on 16th Century documentation of Ottoman clothing. Sayyeda Sol al-Andalusia has developed a pattern based on careful study of imagery from medieval Andalusia (the article is well worth a read). Rashid’s pattern is suitable for earlier use by an extant pair of sirwâl dating from the Mamluk period. The sirwâl I make are modified from Rashid’s pattern to accommodate my luxury shape by making the gussets longer and starting the point at the waistband. This modification allows me to sit cross-legged, whereas the unmodified pattern rips at the intersection of the back gusset seams. Pictorial and extant evidence suggest that they would occasionally have a decorative hem, which could be seen below the hem of the dresses (tunics/dresses were typically ankle-length instead of floor-length during this period).  See Figures 1, 3, 4.  

Figure 5. Note tikka and sheer qumis. Alphonso X's Book of Games (In Spanish: “Libro de los Juegos" or "Libros del Axedrez, Dados et Tablas”) commissioned between 1251 and 1282 A.D. by Alphonso X, King of Leon and Castile.

While the sirwâl are seldom mentioned, there is somewhat more information about the decorative drawstring because tikhat (pl.) are an item of interest in writings of an intimate nature. Occasionally a young man would carry the tikka of his lover on his belt as an outspoken token of her affection (see Stillman’s Arab Dress). An extant tikka from the Mamluk period is embroidered with blackwork stitches on the ends. My tikka are often tablet woven. Though there is no evidence of tikhat made from this narrow ware, the Fatimids were no stranger to the art (see Nancy Spies' tome Ecclesiastical Pomp and Aristocratic Circumstance). Further, there are examples of extant embroidered narrow ware that are remarkably similar to tablet weaving in ornamentation  (see Marianne Ellis’ Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt). See Figure 5.

            With a little more knowledge about what the foundation garments were, the historical re-creator can use some imagination about how to utilize them for suiting our so very personal—and common—needs.  Of course some questions remain unanswered and speculation abounds. With time, new information might come to light from yet-unknown sources. Plus, additional work is being done to translate the contents of the Cairo Geniza, making it more accessible to the armchair historian.  

If you have thoughts, research, or other tidbits of information, please feel free to share it with myself and others in the comments.

26 April 2010

A&S 50: Food item eight: Grains of Paradise

Spice: Grains of Paradise
Julia May, aka Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Copyright March 2010

According to legend, wonderful grains are collected by the pound from the river which flows out of Paradise!

While Islamic cooks had known about them for a long while, the spice was introduced to the Italian markets in the thirteenth century. Grains of Paradise, or Paradise seed, enjoyed almost instant stardom across Western Europe, with the pungent flavor being compared to black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger all at once.

While it would be wonderful to trace the origins back to Paradise, these seeds actually originated from West Africa. Being a member of the ginger family, grains of Paradise are also related to cardamom. The plant grows 2-3 feet high and has spiky fern-like leaves. The plant pods are dried before the seeds are extracted. At one time grains of Paradise, or Aframomum meleguetta, were transported by camel overland across the Sahara Desert and were traded throughout Islamic lands. Spanish traders later discovered waterways and risked being washed out to the Ocean in the fabled undercurrent located where the sea and the ocean joined.

Its European fame was relatively short-lived. In the fifteenth century, as the Ottoman conquest was concluding, trade across the Eastern Mediterranean revived and the price of black pepper dropped by almost half, while grains of Paradise remained stable, and therefore unable to compete.

About the size of a peppercorn, grains of Paradise can be substituted in any recipe that calls for either pepper or cardamom, whether savory or sweet (including shortbread). Being hot and moist, according to humoral theory, they refresh the body’s natural tendencies and therefore were frequently listed in recipes for restorative drinks such as hippocras, a complex spiced wine which was prescribed by medieval doctors to balance humors in the sick.

I heartily recommend biting into a grain of Paradise when you have the opportunity. It is a cornucopia of flavor! Find grains of Paradise in your local brewing store (it’s still used in modern micro-brews), or on the Internet. I have had good luck with Auntie Arwen’s Spices at http://www.auntiearwenspices.com/.

If you don’t have one yet, get a new coffee grinder and dedicate it solely to spices. These grains are tough to crush!

Jaunce, French sauce for grilled meats (dated 1420) from The Medieval Kitchen

2 oz. bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 c. broth
3 T. verjuice (or equal parts cider vinegar and water)
½ t. ground grains of Paradise
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground black pepper
1 pinch of saffron

Mix the egg and breadcrumbs and allow to stand for a minute. Add the broth and spices, then the verjuice, stirring to combine. Transfer to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add salt to taste and serve hot.


Dalby, Andrew. Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. California Studies in Food and Culture ed. Vol. 1. Univ. of California Press, 2000.

Keay, John. The Spice Route: A History. Univ. of California Press, 2006.

Redon, Odile, Françoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. Trans. Edward Schneider. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998.

Turner, Jack. Spice: The History of a Temptation. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

29 March 2010

Medieval Islamic cloak-type wraps:Material Culture fourteen: A&S 50 Challenge

Medieval Islamic Cloak-type Wraps
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Copyright March 2010, Julia May

Protecting one from the sun, the cold, and the eyes of the unknown, cloak-type wraps were, and continue to be, an important part of the material culture of the Middle East. Wraps are simply large rectangles of fabric draped and pinned to conceal the body, yet there were no fewer than ten different types of wraps used in the Fatimid period of Middle Eastern history.

Studying Fatimid clothing
Many sources aid modern researchers in the study of Fatimid period clothing in Cairo (969-1171 C.E.). Primary among them is a collection of hundreds of extant documents discovered outside Cairo in a geniza, or storehouse. Many of these documents are trade records and bridal trousseau lists which describe the colors, style, and adornment of clothing and household objects. Another significant research source is the large number of extant Fatimid fabrics now housed all over the world, owing to the dry climate of Egypt which preserves abandoned textiles. Additionally, there are secular illuminated manuscripts, the creation of which reached its height in the thirteenth century.

Figure 1 Women listening from the gallery. Image from the Maqāmāt al-Ḥarīrī. MS Arabe 5847, fol. 58v, detail. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Note: borders and colors of the over-wraps.
There are, of course, limitations to the sources. First, the contemporary writers whose records exist in the Cairo Geniza inherently knew the differences between clothing types and therefore only recorded details which distinguished, say, two ridâ’ from each other, instead of a ridâ’ from a mulâ’a. While that information might give a baseline, it becomes muddled as writers from different generations would use different words to describe the same garments. Second, many of the extant fabrics known today were discovered by nineteenth century archeologists who would cut apart garments to keep only the repeat, decoration, or design. Further, the beautiful illuminated story books still in existence were not created in the Fatimid period, but some one hundred years later. And finally, Scholars over the last 70 years have used different standards of transliteration (for example, Koran and Qur’an) when looking at the same extant manuscripts.

Known elements of Fatimid costume
  • In one collection of extant Fatimid fabrics studied by Kühnel and Bellinger, the loom widths range from 0.665 meters to 0.992 meters. Items that don’t have both selvedges attached reach up to 1.016m (about 40 inches) along the weft.
  •          Linen was traded more than any other commodity in medieval Cairo markets. Among the fibers, wool production and usage follows next. And while sericulture was practiced in Fatimid Egypt, silk is used quite a bit less than wool. Cotton usage trails at a distant fourth (Goitein). 
  •            Fabrics were produced in a rainbow of colors at this time. Color names used include snow, pearl, cloud, silver, lead, soot, pepper, sky blue, turquoise, pistachio, emerald, pomegranate, pink, purple, violet, crimson, ruby, purple-brown, apricot, bitter orange, sandalwood, saffron, safflower, and sandgrouse, plus many more (Stillman 1972).
  •           In the Fatimid period, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived, worked, and shopped side by side. They all spoke Arabic in daily interactions and dressed much the same as each other.
Figure 2 Two men talking. Image from Kalila wa Dimna, MS Arabe 3465, fol. 15v, detail. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. circa 1200 Syria. Note: two ways of wearing their wraps.

Fatimid period cloak-wraps
Of the eleven known Fatimid wraps, six have been fairly well identified by Yedida Stillman in her dissertation examining the bridal trousseaux found in the Cairo Geniza. The remaining five are still somewhat elusive. Unless otherwise noted, all references in this theme are to Stillman’s dissertation, listed below in the references section.

26 March 2010

Embroidered Fatimid Northshield-y griffin: Material Culture thirteen: A&S 50 Challenge

This medallion measures six inches across. The ground is linen (black warp and white weft) and the embroidery is worked in linen and silk-ivory (a blend of silk and wool). The design is based on an extant Fatimid ceramic bowl, luster-painted in one color. The bowl is housed in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, item 14930 and was featured in Jenkins, Marilyn. "Muslim: An Early Fatimid Ceramist." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 26, no. 9 (May, 1968).

I was delighted to find the bowl as it neatly brought together three elements: the Fatimid period, a griffin (the mascot of Northshield), and it could be altered to echo the compass rose motif (also associated with Northshield). To emphasize the compass rose, I simplified the filler between the cardinal points, and highlighted the north indicator circle with the only white embroidery on the piece.

I wanted the griffin to be gold (a Northshield convention), and I selected colors from my stash that would accent it. I used stitches found in extant embroidered Fatimid pieces—stem stitch, split stitch, and chain stitch—that were best suited to the different thicknesses of the yarns I selected.

It was amazingly difficult to transfer the design onto this dark fabric. I ultimately scaled the design to six inches on the computer, printed it, taped the printout to a sunny window and pinned the fabric to the paper. I used a light colored fabric pencil to trace the general design, then pulled it down and filled in the details with chalk. Because of the nature of embroidery (essentially plunking the fabric every time the needle is drawn through, which causes the chalk to loosen and float away) I used a narrow needle and sewing thread the “draw” the design in running stitch over the chalk, and then covered the running stitch with the embroidery.

For more information on extant Medieval Islamic embroidery see:
Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001.

19 March 2010

A&S50 Challenge: Material Culture Twelve: European Medieval Hood

A&S50 Challenge: Material Culture Twelve: European Medieval Hood
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania

This is a project I’ve been working on for a while with the intention of making houppelandes and cotehardies for myself and Oswald. I finally finished the hood for Oswald only to figure out that I never measured his head three years ago when drafting the pieces. Sigh. So I promptly gave that one away to someone who would love it. For the life of me I cannot remember who, and I never got a picture. It was royal purple (Medieval royal purple, as opposed to modern) and finished in blue edging.

I tried again! And promptly made another one too small for my love. This one traveled to Castel Rouge and was put in the Investiture basket of the new Baron and Baroness. The pattern came from the Honorable Lady Petranella when she helped me with fussy details of making houppelandes three years ago now. When searching for period images of hoods like these I see that Cynthia Virtue had the same idea about the pattern, so I’ve included Ms. Virtue’s link here:

It’s intended to be worn with 14th century clothing. Wool in the winter to conserve heat and shed snow and water, linen in the summer to protect from the sun.

This one is a lovely lightweight wool in a green herringbone weave. It is stitched with gold silk-wool blended yarn in a button-hole/blanket stitch to keep the seams flat. It took a drive to Winnipeg to complete. Both this and the purple one were cut from leftover yardage. Once I get one made for Oswald it will be trimmed with fur.

11 March 2010

From the archive: Hais (fruit and nut cabobs)

Hais (fruit and nut cabobs)
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
copyright Julia May 2010

Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up well. Take a ratl of this, and three quarters of a ratl of fresh or preserved dates with the stones removed, together with three uqiya of ground almonds and pistachios. Knead all together very well with the hands. Refine two uqiya of sesame-oil, and pour over, working with the hand until it is mixed in. Make into cabobs, and dust with fine-ground sugar. If desired, instead of sesame-oil use butter. This is excellent for travelers.
--al-Baghdadi, A Baghdad Cookery Book (1226 A.D./623 A.H.), A.J. Arberry, tr., Islamic Culture 1939.

I made this recipe a number of years ago for a showcase. I made notes more than redactions at that time, so I’ll expand on things. When reading this recipe the first thing that stands out is the measurements. They’re not what we expect, and it really alters how we read a recipe. So I did some digging and found these conversion notes:

1 ratl = 1 lb = 1 pint; 12 uqiya = 1 ratl; 10 dirham = 1 uqiya; 6 danaq = 1 dirham (information from Arberry's introduction to his translation of al-Baghdadi).

I made my own chart based on this information, noting that the recipe only calls for amounts of “uqiya” and “ratl”, which is 12:1. I then replaced quantities with something I was familiar with.

12 parts= 1 c
9 parts= ¾ c
3 parts= ¼ c
2 parts= 3 T

Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up well. Take [12 parts] of this, and [9 parts] of fresh or preserved dates with the stones removed, together with [3 parts] of ground almonds and pistachios. Knead all together very well with the hands. Refine [2 parts] of sesame-oil, and pour over, working with the hand until it is mixed in. Make into cabobs, and dust with fine-ground sugar.

Now that it’s easier to read, here are then things that stand out. Biscuits have more fat than bread. Fresh and preserved dates would have different liquid contents (though I’ve never seen a fresh date in Minnesota). Butter is solid at room temperature, while sesame oil is not. Note that in this cookbook “cabob” is a shape.

2 c bread crumbs
1 1/2 c dried dates
½ c almonds
½ c pistachios
6 T butter or plain sesame oil (not toasted)

Mincing dates is a pain, but the finer the better with this recipe. My little food processor was employed for the nuts to make them finer than store-bought. It’s important to note the difference between Asian toasted sesame oil and Mediterranean sesame oil. Not only are they night and day in color, but also in flavor. It is not an acceptable substitution.

No matter what I did these little guys were not “good for traveling”. They were tasty, but very crumbly. I would suggest starting with biscuits if doing this again to see if the extra fat helps make them firm up without getting greasy. I would also spend some time in the Mediterranean groceries asking about dates to find out which are stickier than others.

23 January 2010

From the archive: Candying Ginger

Candying Ginger
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Julia May Copyright 2007

Ginger has been known since ancient times for its use as a culinary spice and medicinal herb. It has been cultivated for so long that it no longer propagates from seed, and has been found in so many places that its region of origin is unknown. Typically called ginger root, it’s actually the tubers of the ginger plant, zingiber officinale. In the late Roman Empire it was one of the cheapest spices available, a pound of it costing only 3 days wages for the average worker.[i]

Ginger is identified modernly as a pumpkin pie spice to most US American pallets. Those with a more adventurous gastronomy will recognize the much more spicy appearance of ginger in Thai cooking, and as a pickled accompaniment to sushi. It is a hot spice, sometimes compared to the capsaicin of hot peppers, however, gingerols, the natural compound that makes ginger spicy has a similar structure to capsaicin but functions differently in the body.[ii]

For centuries, cultures have considered ginger a natural remedy for gastrointestinal disorders and general pain.[iii] Modern studies have borne this out as the gingerols compound acts as a natural pain reliever (COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitor).[iv] Studies have also found that ginger acts as an anti-nausea, better than commercial travel products.[v]

In grocery stores, candied ginger can go for $3 per ounce! Making candied or crystallized ginger at home is easy, not very messy and provides enough to share with friends. Ginger “root” can be found in the produce section of many grocery stores. Select one or two “hands” of ginger with golden papery skin that is plump, smooth and glossy. Avoid wrinkled or dessicated hands. The candying process takes a few days, but is low maintenance.

1. Remove and discard any dried exposed ends of the hand.
2. Wash, then peel the ginger with a vegetable peeler, breaking off the fingers as necessary to facility peeling. (Avoid touching the eyes and other sensitive body parts before a thorough hand washing.)
3. Slice across the grain to create pieces a little less than a ¼” thick. Cut up all the useable bits of fingers in the same manner.
4. Select a pot with a lid about twice the volume of your ginger and place all of the sliced ginger inside. Add enough water to cover and about half as much sugar or honey (different sugars and single source honeys produce different flavors). Stir to dissolve the sweetener.
5. Heat, uncovered, until it boils, stirring frequently.
6. Allow to boil for 3-5 minutes, cover and remove from the heat. 
7. Once it cools, or overnight, repeat steps 5 and 6 three to four more times, adding water as necessary to keep it from burning. Do this until the pieces become translucent, letting the water level get a little lower as the ginger pieces get closer to translucent. Let cool enough to handle.
8. Place wire racks over wax paper. Put sugar (any variety, but the grains should be the size of table sugar) in a bowl. Pick out the individual pieces of ginger from the syrup, wiping off the excess on the side of the pot. Dredge them in the sugar and let dry on the wire racks over night or longer. Package in glass jars or plastic containers. It last for a few weeks.
9. Reserve the remaining syrup for another use. Suggestions include: Slathering on hot biscuits, making ginger ale, adding to pear cordial, or drizzling on ice cream.

Remember to warn the uninitiated-- who often think of ginger as that pumpkin pie spice-- of the intense heat of ginger. You might also try candying galangal, a cousin to ginger and fellow popular period spice in the Mediterranean. Enjoy!

[i] Dalby, Andrew. Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. U of California Press: Berkley. 2000.
[ii] Kingsley, Danny. Ginger has painkilling properties: research. Internet website accessed 2/27/07. http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/health/HealthRepublish_433324.htm
[iii] Keville, Kathy. Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Freedman/Fairfax: New York. 1994.
[iv] Kingsley.
[v] Keville.

From the archive: Rethinking Cinnamon

Rethinking Cinnamon
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Julia May Copyright 2007, revised 2010

The word cinnamon recalls memories of Grandma's baking, holiday treats and Cinnabon at the malls. It is a powerful word for evoking memories today, it is also a powerful word in trade during the period of SCA study. Yet, somewhere along the way society has replaced the flavor of cinnamon with the flavor of cassia- while continuing to call it by the evocative name of “cinnamon”.

A distinction between them has been noted since ancient times, when cooks and physicians would admonish the use of “true” cinnamon (also called Ceylon cinnamon) in order to get the proper balance in a dish or remedy. Not surprisingly, cinnamon is dry and hot in humeral theory, best suited to use in January and February according to one Byzantine text.[i] By the eleventh century, cassia was included in perfume recipes.[ii] Both kinds of cinnamon were pricey. Stories would abound of the dangers in collecting cinnamon-- thereby explaining the costliness of the spice. Phoenix nests were reportedly made of it, and had to be watched daily in case shuffling in the nest would cause some of the precious spice to fall to the ground below. Other sources of cinnamon were said to be culled from trees in terrible swamps where giant bats would protect it.[iii] Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of cinnamon at the death of his wife, so noted because of the exorbitant cost. 

True cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is grown in Sri Lanka (once called "Ceylon") today, though is probably native to India. Cassia, C. Cassia, is also from the bark of an Indian tree. Both have used since ancient times. Centuries later Columbus found the source of what is today know as Mexican cinnamon. A fellow Spaniard, Dr. Chanca, wrote of the white cinnamon, Canella winterana, also stripped from the bark of a tree.[iv] The difference in flavor is striking. While each is clearly “cinnamon” to a modern pallet the Ceylon is richer and less pungent, whereas the cassia is bolder and spicier in flavor. Mexican cinnamon is the flavor in Red Hot button candies.

The modern cook, while shopping at a traditional grocer, will be hard pressed to find anything other than cassia. Labels simply say “cinnamon”, as do ingredient lists. However, in specialty stores (such as Penzys) and on the Internet (Auntie Arwen's) one can find selections of four or more different cinnamon choices including Saigon cinnamon, or Cinnamomum loureirii, used in modern perfume making; Ceylon cinnamon and two to three kinds of cassia.

[i] Dalby, Andrew. Flavors of Byzantium. Prospect Books: Devon, England. 2003.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Faas, Patrick. Around the Roman Table: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome. Palgrave: New York. 2003.
[iv] Dalby, Andrew. Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. U of California Press: Berkley. 2000.

From the archive: Fatimid Embroidered Milhafa

Fatimid Embroidered Milhafa
Julia May, aka: Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Copyright 2004, revised 2010.

Within the SCA we have the opportunity to research social history in such a way that the study of history comes to life in our hands. Our stated area of focus is pre-Seventeenth Century Europe, concentrating on the Western High Middle Ages[1]. Through casual research we encounter European countries bordering the Mediterranean and discover it is not so far a leap across that great waterway to any area that was controlled by the Byzantine and Islamic empires. It is within this greater context that the following research is presented.

Wraps in the Medieval Mediterranean were as ubiquitous as the women who wore them. To the Roman woman it was her palla, protecting her from the elements; to the Byzantine woman it was the paludamentium, protecting her embellished clothing from excessive wear; and to the Muslim woman is was the izar, protecting her from unwanted attention.

In recreating the dress of a Fatimid woman from Cairo in the eleventh century, I have made a specific izar called a milhafa. It is approximately 1-½ yards wide by 3-½ yards long and is frequently pictured as worn over the head and around the back with the decorative borders “ribboning” down the front. Ideally, a garment of this fine quality would also be perfumed[2].
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Arabe 5847, fol. 125, Maqâma 40 : Abû Zayd devant le cadi

Defining which Arabian wrap a person is looking at is no small undertaking. The large rectangular wrap-garments carried many names. They are defined by the size and adornment, fabric weight, and weave—and also by the way the garment is worn and who is wearing it[3]. On top of that many names for these wraps were used synonymously. 

A unique fabric often used for a milhafa was called jallaya. The term loosely translates to “shiny” or “glossy” and it was a highly prized fabric according to the Geniza bridal trousseau records. Interestingly, jallaya fabric was only used for the milhafa according to those records[4]. It is from this description that I connected the idea for this garment to a well-loved but unused fabric in my stash: the body of my milhafa is a 90% linen, 10% metal blend and nearly sheer with a distinct glossy sheen.

The borders adorning the short ends of the garment (called mutarraf) depict a repeating motif of paired stylized peacocks dancing under the tree of life[5]. Each pair of peacocks is worked in a solid color of turquoise, red, green, or purple, using silk-ivory yarn and worked in both split stitch and satin stitch. The seams are flat felled and the hems are finished with a running catch stitch. The borders are applied with a modified slip stitch. The linen used for the borders is orange shot with red.
Samia's embroidery of peacocks

Birds were a popular motif among Islamic decoration, with the word “mutayyar” meaning “birded,” indicating that a fabric is adorned with birds[6]. The particular design for the mutarraf on this milhafa comes from an extant Fatimid textile fragment held in the Asmolean Museum[7]. Though Marianne Ellis in her 2001 publication indicated that this peacock fragment on linen ground was probably for furnishing she does not elaborate, whereas Stillman notes that—although there is nearly identical overlap in the types of fabrics used for furnishing and clothing among the Geniza—linen appears rarely in the furnishing category and quite often among the clothing[8].
Extant image of peacocks.  Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, 1993.248
Variations from the extant peacock design occur in part because I chose to narrow the
complexity of the design (seen when comparing the tree of life between the extant fragment, above, and my milhafa, far above) and to lend better identification of the creatures as peacocks—by making the “eye” of the feather more pronounced and adding the feather crowns to each peacock[9]. The embroidery on the extant fragment is executed in silk. My choice for silk-ivory (a 50/50 blend of silk and wool) is simply because of easy availability of the product.

Mediterranean textile historians are blessed with the deserts of Egypt and the desiccated treasures held therein. Utilizing discoveries of the extant textiles used in the period under study in conjunction with written records and illuminated images, we can produce reasonable facsimiles of everyday items from period. As an armchair historian, I believe that I have brought together sufficient research and scholarship to showcase this milhafa as a garment for a Fatimid woman.
Samia and her partner.

[2] Stillman, Yedida K., Norman A. Stillman, ed. Arab Dress from the Dawn of Islam to Modern times: A Short History.  Boston: Brill, 2003.
[3] Stillman, Yedida K. Female Attire of Medieval Egypt: According to the Trousseau Lists and Cognate Material from the Cairo Geniza. PhD Dissertation. Unpublished: University of Chicago, 1972.
[4] Stillman, Yedida K. “New Data on Islamic Textiles from the Geniza.” David Waines, ed., Patterns of Everyday Life. (Series: The Formation of the Classical Islamic World, 10). Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Variorum, 2002.
[5] Stillman, 2002, pp. 205. “If a piece of cloth for a shawl or cloak had a single central colour with a different colour at each edge, it was called mutarraf--that is, like a horse whose head and tail are black and whose body is white, or vice versa.”
[6] Stillman, 1972, p. 42.
[7] Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001. Image 4, p. 15.
[8] Stillman, 1997, pp 38-39.
[9] The feather crown can be seen on peacocks on a silk woven fragment contemporary with the extant peacocks here. (Patricia Baker, Islamic Textiles. 1995, p 42).

14 January 2010

Northwatch Article: Winter in Fatimid Cairo

Middle East Winter: An image of Cairo during the Middle Ages
Julia May (aka Samia al-Kaslaania)
October 2009

Cairo was a bustling metropolitan area during the Fatimid Caliphate (969-1171), with merchants arriving from all over the Mediterranean to trade goods, shop the market, and share news. As anywhere in the Middle Ages, urban living shifted with the seasons as much as rural life.

In the home, extra furniture such as curtains and rugs would come out of storage for the winter season. These would join the everyday couches (in this case a matched set of cushions and pillows without a wooden frame), draperies, carpets, and low tables. Additional multipurpose cushions in the home would be stacked next to the door, ready to serve as seating in the evening.

Evenings during the shorter winter days were illuminated by linseed oil, wax, or—for the wealthier families— the preferred olive oil [1]. Family time might be spent studying religious texts as it was a mark of pride for people of all ages to be able to quote from them; and such continuing education was also regarded as an act of devotion [2].

When they weren’t studying, children could be playing indoors with puppets, dolls, or board games such as chess and backgammon [3]. Women might be doing handicrafts which could be sold in the market, or perhaps mending a “Byzantine” bed cover, prized among the home’s possessions [4]. Adult men would be gathered in a different part of the house when hosting guests. They might play card games, talk philosophy, or discuss the thriving trade in the city.

When preparing for bed, cushions, mats, and blankets would be collected into the interior rooms. There were no designated “bedrooms” in urban Cairo homes during the Middle Ages, instead family members would spread out during the hot summer months to the windows and patios, and draw together during the chilly winter months. By the end of November most of the family would be sleeping in the smaller, inner rooms to conserve heat as it can at times get cold enough to put a transparent sheet of ice on water at night.

Rising in the morning, family members would stack their bedding neatly in the corner. Cushions used for seating would return to the main gathering rooms to be stacked next to the door. Men would prepare for working at their store in the market, and mothers would dress children neatly for school at the local mosque, church, or synagogue. Men would then accompany the children and attend morning prayers before starting their day. And so the work day would begin.

[1]Goitein, S.D. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, Vol. 1. Berkley: Univ of California Press, 1967.
[2]Goitein, S.D. Vol. 2., 1971.
[3]Lindsey, James E. Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.
[4]Goitein, Vol. 1. Byzantine made, or made in the Byzantine style, bedcovers were an expensive item and listed in many Fatimid-era trousseaux.

Northwatch Article:Some examples of Fatimid Veiling

Some examples of Middle Eastern Veiling
copyright Julia May
(aka Samia al-Kaslaania)
November 2009

Clothing in the Middle Eastern city of Cairo was often a display of conspicuous consumption during the 11th to 13th Centuries. One of the greatest sources for displaying wealth was the headwear. In Medieval Egypt fully half of the clothing an individual owned was headwear, whether the owner was Jewish, Christian or Muslim [1]. While many of the head coverings found in period source can be defined through contemporary comparison or backwards-tracing etymology, several are still a mystery to modern researchers.

One of the core items for both men and women was the ma’raqa. This close fitting cap was the foundation for dressing the head. As the root word “sweat” indicates, it was used to protect the more expensive pieces from body soil*. Women would typically have two or three of them in their trousseau. The ma’raqa is the minimum that a man would appear in public wearing, and usually only if he were quite poor.

A basic and typical women’s head covering is the ‘isâba. This mini-turban is a cloth that is wound around the head to conceal the hair*. It is distinguished from the mi’jar, an elegant garment equivalent to the ‘imama (men’s turban) *. Gilded and/or brightly colored mi’jar appear to have been popular.

A popular shawl or scarf used to cover the head was a radda, which is often listed as matched to an ensemble. This veil might be adorned with borders, fringe, gilding, or embroidery*. The long and narrow cloth tied around the head to hold such veils in place is the taqnî’a*. The taqnî’a was often tied so that a loop poked out above the knot.

A mystery clothing item is the kuwâra. It means “beehive,” and the rare occurrences of this word in period documents only suggest that it is an item of headwear*. Another is the mukallaf. This expensive piece of women’s headgear came in a vast array of colors from “mandrake” to “pearl-colored”, which is distinguished from “white-grey,” to “apricot” and “pomegranate” *.

Only extreme circumstances, such as mourning the death of a loved one, would drive an urban woman out of her home with her hair exposed. Men would not be considered fully dressed until wearing a turban. Such modesty was a sign of respect for one’s faith and one’s family. It is difficult in our modern day to image placing such importance on clothing for the head, but it is an essential key to understanding the culture under study.

[1] All reference in this theme are to Stillman, Yedida K. Female Attire of Medieval Egypt: According to the Trousseau Lists and Cognate Material from the Cairo Geniza. PhD Dissertation. Unpublished: University of Chicago, 1972.

A&S 50: Food item seven: Spinach Tart Recipe

Spinach Tart, based on a 14th Century recipe
Redaction by Julia May, aka Samia al-Kaslaania
August 2009

After a few years of playing with ingredients, reading other’s redactions, and finding a few translations, the following recipe has emerged from my kitchen and has been approved by the Northshield Equestrians. Young beet leaves are difficult to find so I, like many others redacting this recipe, substitute spinach primarily. You could also use carrot greens, celery or lovage greens, or young sorrel, each with a different flavor. Dried chervil can be found at Pensey’s, and imparts an almost nutty flavor. Grains of Paradise, or Paradise Seed, can often be found at home brewing supply stores.

In the Middle Ages, this was probably a spring recipe eaten outside of fast days. It uses the first of the fresh greens the earth provides, along with milk (in the form of cheese and butter), which people relied on heavily during the period between end of winter and start of spring growth, and eggs which were an important protein staple of Medieval diets. --Samia

 Samia’s redaction (for a 9” pie pan)

6.5 oz spinach, washed and chopped
½ c parsley, washed and chopped
¼ c chervil, washed and chopped (or 1 T. dried)
6 eggs
11 oz, combined of two cheeses: Swiss and Romano-Asiago blend was very received
Powder fine to taste (below) (More than a teaspoon and less than a tablespoon)
Single pie crust

Preheat oven to 400 F. Pre-cook pie crust in pie pan for 10 minutes. Mix greens, cheese and everything else in a bowl. Reduce heat to 350 F, add filling to crust and bake about 40 minutes, or until the center is set.

Tip: leave the pie pan on the oven rack and add the filling in place. This avoid both handling the hot pan and sloshing the soupy mix.

Note: Buying a "bunch" of fresh spinach from the grocery store typically yields about 14 oz of spinach, so I usually just make a double batch for two tarts.

Source: Le Ménagier de Paris, J. Hinson (Trans.).
TO MAKE A TART, take four handfuls of beet-leaves, two handfuls of parsley, one handful of chervil, a bit of turnip-top and two handfuls of spinach, and clean them and wash them in cold water, then chop very small: then grate two kinds of cheese, that is one mild and one medium, and then put eggs with it, yolk and white, and grate them in with the cheese; then put the herbs in the mortar and grind them up together, and also add to that some powdered spices.

Source: Le Ménagier de Paris, J. Hinson (Trans.).
FINE POWDER of spices. Take an ounce and a drachma of white ginger, a quarter-ounce of hand-picked cinnamon, half a quarter-ounce each of grains[of Paradise] and cloves, and a quarter-ounce of rock sugar, and grind to powder.

Le Menagier De Paris is a medieval guidebook from 1393 on a woman's proper behavior in marriage and running a household. (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_M%C3%A9n
agier_de_Paris/. Accessed August 31, 2009.)

A&S 50: Material Culture eleven: Hand stitched Fatimid-inspired Dress

Hand stitched Medieval Middle Eastern inspired dress
All rights reserved. Copyright Julia May. 
September 2009, revised August 2016

This dress recreation is intended for a man or woman of the bourgeoisie class in Cairo during the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171 C.E.). Judging from the descriptions of garments discussed the Cairo Geniza, I identify this garment as maqta’(1). The maqta’ is described as a common garment like the thawb, but available in a wider variety of prices and occasionally made in fabrics of more than one fiber.

Fabric Choice
The fabric I have used is composed of linen and silk, with one fiber shrinking more than the other post-production causing the seersucker effect. Seersuckers are known from at least the fourteenth century, the word deriving from a Persian root(2). Striped fabrics are known to have been used frequently in Middle Eastern clothing for both men and women(3). Further, records indicate that maqta’ were made in cotton-linen blends, silk alone and linen alone.
photo credit: Elashava bas Riva

Pattern Layout
The pattern I chose to use is copied from several extant sources(4). Although none of the examples included here date as early as the Fatimid period, we know that weaving technology and vanity advanced far beyond the typical early Coptic T-shaped tunic in that time. Further, tailored clothing was recorded as a mark of an urban-dweller in the Fatimid period, and fitted garments are listed among items in Fatimid trousseaux (5). We also know that this pattern is strikingly similar to contemporary European clothing. One could speculate this is either from a confluence of ideas, or the active Mediterranean-European trade system.

The striking difference between this and the typical European garment is the lack of fitted sleeves—rarely in the illuminations or extant pieces do garments for men or women have sleeves fitted to the wrist. In fact, there is some pictorial evidence for sleeves to grow wider as wealth increased and the need for personal manual labor decreased (personal servants were more common at higher income levels).

The slit neckline is typical of Mediterranean garments for several hundred years before, and at least one hundred years after the Fatimid period. The floor-reaching length of the garment, though rarely depicted, is discussed in trousseaux of the Fatimid periods as being reserved for more expensive garments(6). It is also the preference of the tall owner, ill at ease with seemingly too-short garments.

The dress is finished by hand with flat felled seams to control for unraveling fabric. There is extant evidence of this finishing technique in the Mamluk period(7). I used a locking running stitch, which is speedy and plain.

Completing the look
Both men and women would wear this garment over another in polite, city-dwelling society. It would itself be partially or fully covered by a wrap or coat when worn out of the home. It could be belted or not, adorned with pins or not. A necklace might be worn with matching earrings by a woman, or she might choose her matched set of wide bangle bracelets (one for each wrist). I have not discovered if a maqta’ is in the category of garment that would have a pair of coordinating shoes.

A head covering would be worn by both men and women, regardless of which of Peoples of the Book they identified with(8). For men, a garment of this quality would demand a turban (seldom do urban-dwelling men wear only a cap). For women, a variety of head coverings would be appropriate(9).

(1) Stillman, Yedida. _Female Attire of Medieval Egypt_. Dissertation, unpublished. 1972.
(2) Given that mine was flat until washing, I’m willing to believe that similar textured fabrics have been around as long as mixed woven-fiber fabrics.
(3) Stillman, Yedida K. “Textiles and Patterns Come to Life Through the Cairo Geniza”. Salim, Muhammad ‘Abbas Muhammad, et. al. _Riggisberger Berichte 5: Islamische Textilkunst des Mittelalters: Aktuelle Probleme_. Aberg-Stiftung: Riggisberg, 1997.; Andalusia, Hadith Bayad wa-Riyad, 12th Century, Vatican, Arabo 362. Image).
(4) Ellis, Marianne. _Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt_. Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001. ; Syria, Materia Medica of Dioscurides, 1229, Two students & frontispiece. Iraq or Syria; Alphonso X's Book of Games (In Spanish: Libro de los Juegos" or "Libros del Axedrez, Dados et Tablas) commissioned between 1251 and 1282 A.D. by Alphonso X, King of Leon and Castile.; Baghdad, _Maqamat al-Hariri_, Late Eleventh to early Twelfth Centuries. Image.
(5) Stillman, 1972.
(6) Goitein, S.D. _A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza_, Vol. 1. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.
(7) Ellis.
(8) Though the majority of the Fatimid Caliphate was known to welcome peacefully their Jewish and Christian neighbors (once they paid the appropriate tax), Islamic culture prevailed over all in dress and outdoor customs.
(9) Records in the Cairo Geniza show that fully half of the garments in each trousseau were head coverings.

A&S 50: Material Culture nine: Fatimid inspired modern embroidery

July 2009

This is a small project, but it required a lot of umph on my part. Since it's a break-through accomplishment I'm including it in this project list.

I took Arabic modern text and rewrote it in a period Fatimid script. Converting to the period script has been my hang up. "I don't know the lettering or the special characters; I don't have a handle on the spacing or extra artistic fluff."  I gave it a try anyway and added it to the under dress of the Walnut-husk Brown Ensemble. The dress is so light weight that I've added it as court garb for camping.

I know from reading Kuhnel and Bellenger's Dated Tiraz that pieces in period were inconsistent, had bad spelling, and occasionally ended up illegible even to the experts. There is evidence that many pieces were inked by a calligrapher and probably stitched by someone else. There is evidence that the stitcher took liberties (sometime wild liberties) with the design, suggesting that they might have been illiterate, or simply and artist who knew his audience didn't care much as long as it looked like the expensive pieces being copied.

Textile evidence shows that tiraz were stitched directly to the fabrics, while pictorial evidence suggest they were stitched to a piece of fabric that was applied to the garments. It could be somewhere in between-- the written records indicate that the bourgeoisie class spent energy copying the expensive gifts bestowed by the caliph to the royal and noble classes (Goitein in A Mediterranean Society firmly calls out five economic classes). The extant fabrics we have could largely be representations of these copies.

My new tiraz was applied with couching. It is a period technique that gives me the control I wanted for the tight swirls of this design. The orange yarn is a linen 2-ply, couched with cotton sewing thread.  The hand or script is copied from two 10th C extant pieces that are representative of early Fatimid calligrahpy.The text is repeated once to better fill the space, another period practice. It appears only on the right arm of the garment at the bicep.

Unfortunately, the tiny photos here get some artifacts from the shot linen pictured.

A&S 50: Material Culture seven and eight: Walnut Brown Fatimid Hulla (ensemble) and head gear

Last week I entered this garb into the Baronial A&S competition and was selected as the annual Baronial A&S champion. That's pretty cool.

I have decided that, for the purposes of the A&S 50 Challenge, these are two pieces with the headgear taking extra time and documentation since it's a new style for me.

Fatimid Court Garb
“Walnut Husk Brown Ensemble”
All Rights Reserved. Copyright Julia May
April 2009

The clothing I present would be worn by a city-dwelling bourgeoisie class woman in Fustat (Old Cairo). It is a complete indoor outfit made entirely of linen and silk. The block construction pattern I use can be found in images from contemporary sources, and is a fitted garment style that was more commonly seen in the city. Since it is also more flattering to my luxury shape, I use it exclusively. The primary source of documentation for this outfit is Yedida Stillman’s translation of dozens of Fatimid bridal trousseaux from the Cairo Geniza, compiled in her doctoral dissertation [1].

Trade among Mediterranean groups was so routine that many items of clothing are worn commonly across the great sea. Indeed Yedida Stillman, pioneer in the work of Medieval Islamic dress, identifies a pan-Islamic style of dress in the whole region (excepting Persian clothing) [2]. Because of this great exchange, images of clothing can rightly come from what seems to be far-flung sources.

A&S 50: Food item six: Carrot Jam Recipe

Carrot Jam Recipe
Redaction Julia May, aka Samia al-Kaslaania
April 2009, revised May 2011

Two Original Recipes:

Carrot Jam
It is necessary to select fresh red carrots, to wash them, clean them and cut them as thinly as possible. Put them in a ceramic pot, add a little bit of honey, and cover them with water.  Cook them until they are soft, then strain off the water with a sieve and add a quantity of skimmed honey equal to that of the carrots. Mix in seasonings chosen from among pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cubeb, spikenard, mace, galangal, alosewood [aquilaria agallocha], saffron, and musk.  Cook it to thicken the carrot jam [jawarish]. Pour it into glass jars and consume it as needed.

Another Carrot Jam
Take some carrots, clean them, scrape them and crush them properly. Take two and a half measures of honey for every measure of carrots. Boil it for a little while and take off the fire.  Put the crushed carrots in a casserole [dast] without water; dry [them] a little bit over the fire, pour over them the filtered honey, and cook until it has thickened. Take it off the fire and season.

Kanz al-Fawai’ad fi tanwi’ al-mawa’id (“The Treasures of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).  13th C Egypt. Translated by M.B. DeBevoise. As it appears in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali.

Samia's Redaction

1 lb yellow carrots (often found in the organic section of groceries)
1/3c honey (using single source honeys will produce different flavors)
9 oz honey

Use a combination of spices, equaling about 2 teaspoons:
½ t. cubebs
½ t. galangal
1 t. cinnamon (cassia)

Wash, peel, and slice the carrots. Add these to a 3 ½ qt pot with 1/3 c honey and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 40 minutes (it stopped smelling like cooked carrots and began to smell like sweet corn). Drain (you can reserve the cooking water for stock), push through a potato ricer, and return them to the pot. Alternately, send them through a food processor before cooking. Spoon about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of cooked carrots at a time into a linen towel and squeeze out the excess liquid.

Add spices, 9 oz. of honey, heat to a simmer and cook down to a jam.

Serve this with hummus and pita bread.

A&S 50: Food item five: Middle Ages hummus recipe

Period hummus recipe : Puree of Chickpeas with Cinnamon and Ginger
redaction Julia May, aka Samia al-Kaslaania
April 2009

Cook the chickpeas in water, then mash them in a mortar to make a puree. Push the puree through a sieve for wheat, unless it is already fine enough, in which case this step is not necessary. Mix it then with wine vinegar, the pulp of pickled lemons, and cinnamon, pepper, ginger, parsley of the best quality, mint, and rue that have all been chopped and placed on the surface of the serving dish [zubdiyya]. Finally, pour over a generous amount of oil of good quality.

Kanz al-Fawai’ad fi tanwi’ al-mawa’id (“The Treasures of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”). 13th C Egypt. Translated by M.B. DeBevoise. As it appears in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali.

1 can Chickpeas, heated and liquid reserved
4 Pickled lemons (about the size of a key lime) and 3 T. white wine vinegar
½ of a pickled Meyer’s Lemon (they have more juice and don’t need the vinegar)
1 t. Cinnamon
1 t. Pepper or long pepper
1/2 t. Ginger
¼ c fresh parsley
6 leaves fresh mint
Scant ¼ c fresh rue
Sesame oil (pale, untoasted Middle Eastern oil, *not* toasted Asian oil)

Roll the cooked chickpeas around in your hands to loosen the skins. Submerge them in water again and swish to let the skins float off. A food processor will pulverize the remaining skins. Halve tiny lemons and mash the pulp with your thumbs over a fine mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Zest the lemons if desired and discard the rind. Add the liquids and dry spices to the chickpeas. Blend in a food processer until it is a fine consistency. If it is too dry, add the chickpea liquid or more vinegar (to taste). Stir in the chopped greens and allow to sit, covered and refrigerated, for several hours for the flavors to blend.
Layer chopped fresh rue on the bottom of the serving plate, put the puree on top and create a well in the middle. Pour sesame oil in the well and over the rest of the hummus.Bring to room temperature and drizzle with sesame oil to taste. Serve with flat bread or veggies for dipping.

This image shows the chickpeas in the bowl, the skins next to it, and the pickled lemons in front. I found a jar of the pickled lemons at a Mediterranean grocery in Minneapolis. I hate peeling chickpeas, but it makes for an awesome puree.

Clearly the biggest difference between this and modern hummus is the lack of tahini (sesame seeds crushed to the consistency of peanut butter). Pickled lemon, of course, has a different flavor than fresh lemon. The other differences is the change in spices. Instead of olive oil we have raw sesame oil (giving us the hint of tahini flavor) and four spices not seen in modern hummus. Rue has an extraordinary flavor that must be experiences to understand-- fresh rue is clearly preferred. The cinnamon and ginger are well suited to the chickpea flavor.  

I pureed it in a food processor, using the chickpea liquid to thin the paste to the desired consistency. I haven't decided if the parsley, mint and rue are place on the surface of the dish, or mixed in. I tried mixing this one in and it resulted in a good flavor, but I didn't have the fresh herbs I would have preferred.

A&S 50: Food item four: A molded and fried pastry

This was a great success! I owe a big thank you to Iohanna for pointing me to this cookbook, and to Katriona, and Ivetta for loaning me the rosette irons. I really enjoyed making these, and I entered them into the Spring Coronation A&S Feast this past April.

"A molded and fried pastry" 
Rosette recipe from the Renaissance
 Julia May, aka Samia al-Kaslaania
April 2009

As it appears in Das Kuchbuch der Sabrina Welserin, translated by Valoise Armstrong, 1998, recipe # 88. This is a German cookbook dated 1553.

Translated original recipe:
"Take eight eggs and beat them well and pour them in a sieve and strain them, put a little wine with it, so that it goes through easily, the chicken embryo remaining behind. Afterwards stir flour into it, until you think that it is right. Do not make the batter too thick. Dip the mold in with proper skill and let them fry, then it is well done. Salt the eggs.”  [Footnote by translator:] The molds for these pastries are still available and consist of a decorative metal shape attached to the end of a long rod. The mold is dipped in to the batter and then into hot fat.

Special Equipment:
-Rosette Iron (I prefer the handle with a double end for attaching two rosettes at a time).
-1 quart casserole dish (small, square and flat bottomed with just enough room to accommodate the double iron)
- 9" cast iron skillet (it has just enough room to accommodate the double iron)
-Candy/ deep fry thermometer

about ¼ C red wine
½ C flour
1 t. salt
1 ½ pounds of lard
Sweet or savory spices

Makes about 2 dozen

Heat the lard in the 9” cast iron skillet.  Using a candy/deep fry thermometer bring the temperature to a constant 350°F to 375°F.* On my stove this is gas mark 4. This process took about half an hour to get the temperature stable.  Note that lard smokes at about 400°F.  *In this shallow pan, after making your first set of pastries, the thermometer will fluctuate in this range, rising when you add the batter-covered irons and falling as you remove them.

While the lard is heating, beat the eggs with the wine. The result will be an ugly grey color but that’s fine: once cooked the pastries will be a golden brown. Run the mixture through a sieve into the square casserole dish. Using a whisk, blend in flour a little at a time until you get the consistency of heavy cream.  Some flour lumps are ok.

Be sure the irons are thoroughly dry before proceeding (otherwise the oil will spatter the first time you immerse them). If using a double rosette iron handle, set the irons flat on the counter and adjust the tightness until the irons are even with each other. 

When the fat is at temperature, dip the irons in the fat for about 30 seconds.  Lift the irons and allow the excess fat to run off. Dip the hot irons in the batter (the batter will sizzle).  Be careful that the batter does not rise over the top of the irons, this would make them impossible to get off cleanly when they're done cooking. Lift the irons out of the batter-- the batter should not drip or run off the irons (add more flour if it does, and do not cook the batter on the irons-- it would just make your cooking fat grungy). Immediately dip the irons in the fat and cook until the bubbling slows down and they are a light golden color. The color will deepen slightly as they cool.

Gently slid the pastries off the irons with a wooden spoon, and flip them over to drain on paper towels. Season as you wish while still hot. These pastries have an eggy flavor that will accommodate either sweet or savory spices.  I have used the following combinations: a sprinkle of rose water, Ceylon cinnamon, and powdered sugar; or Italian spices (basil, oregano, garlic, and parsley). Orange flower water would be good, as would honey.

Interestingly, all of the modern recipes for rosette pastries that I can find include milk instead of wine.

A&S 50: Food item three:Qunice Drink Syrup Recipe

This one was well loved at Haire Affaire! I clearly need to make more. I think it would also work well with pears and peaches. This is quince after cooking:

Quince Sekanjabin Syrup Recipe
Redaction by Julia May aka Samia al-Kaslaania
April 2009

This is a fabulous hot weather electrolyte drink. Though the vinegar might cause trepidation, by keeping this on the heat for so long the acid from the vinegar is boiled off leaving just the flavor behind. Quince is a fruit in the same family as apple and pear. Their color will change to a bright golden orange when cooking. The juice of the limes is subtle, and the rose water can be striking for palates not accustomed to it. Go sparingly on both until you know your camp will appreciate the added flavors. Travel with it in the concentrated form and either mix it in a pitcher or in each glass as it’s needed.

ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Take some quince, peel them, pit them, and cook them in water. When they have become tender it means that they are half cooked. Take them off of the fire and reserve the cooking liquid. Dissolve some sugar in this liquid and add vinegar. Then, the moment it begins to thicken, throw in the quinces and bring them to a boil once or twice. Then take them off the fire, and add the juice from one or two limes, and scent with rose water. “

Kanz al-Fawai’ad fi tanwi’ al-mawa’id (“The Treasures of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”). 13th C Egypt. Translated by M.B. DeBevoise. Found in: Zaouali, Lilia. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, 2007.

5 lbs quince (peaches are a good seasonal substitute)
2-3 lbs cane sugar (brown or white)
1 c. apple cider vinegar (optional)
Two limes (optional)
3 T to ¼ c. rose water (optional)

Wash fruit and cut quince into wedges, coring like an apple. If using peaches, pit them and cut into wedges. Put fruit into a large pot and cover with water 2 cups at a time, then add an equal amount of sugar. Add vinegar and heat the pot, stirring constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until liquid is reduced to a syrup. The syrup is reduced enough to be shelf stable when it coats a spoon like cough syrup once cooled. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding lime juice and rose water (to taste). Strain out the fruit, pressing lightly to extract more of the syrup. Store in tightly closed containers. Reconstitute to taste, beginning with 1:6 syrup to water ratio.

I believe the peel of the fruit gives a nice flavor, so I don’t peel mine. I don’t know how that affects the humors of the drink though, which would have been a serious consideration in period. I believe that the first removal from the fire in the original is a tool for quickly dissolving the added sugar without burning it. Bringing it to boil a second time gives you more evaporation time when you can’t set your fire to gas mark 4 for a controlled simmer.

This is quince before cooking. The color change tells you it's ready to eat if you were making a simple quince candy.  This recipe cooks it past that stage and it looses much integrity.

A&S 50: Food item two: Failed candied citron recipe

What I got was a caramelized mess. I tried to spread it out on the marble slab to cut candies, but it got rock hard! I wonder if I should let it thicken at a lower temperature?

Candied Citron Peel recipe

Take peels of citron, immerse them in salted water to eliminate the bitterness, then rinse them in fresh water and lay them out to dry. Cut them into pieces.  Take a pound and a quarter of sugar and as much honey and blend them together in a casserole [dast] that one puts on the fire.  Skim and throw in the peels. Let it thicken Before taking it off the fire add some ginger, long pepper, Chinese cinnamon, and mastic. If the syrup becomes quite thick it will be very good.

Kanz al-Fawai’ad fi tanwi’ al-mawa’id (“The Treasures of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).  13th C Egypt. Translated by M.B. DeBevoise. As it appears in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali.

Citron peels
Long pepper
Cassia Cinnamon