Posts filed under: ‘Food, cooking, Jewish, Spanish‘




By Fire, By Water, By Turrón

Turrón is a Spanish holiday treat similar to nougat, and over the Christmas, New Year and Three Kings celebrations, incredible amounts of the stuff is sold and consumed. So imagine that this innocuous, delicious candy once sealed the fate of Jews during the 1480s, and in a twist of fate, the fate of the Santángel family.

The name of Santángel was brought to my attention recently when I devoured Mitchell James Kaplan’s stunning debut novel ‘By Fire, By Water’, which tells the story of the near apocalyptic days leading up to 1492, the year Columbus set sail for the Americas and Fernando and Isabel finally expelled the Jews from Spain. Santángel is the man in the centre of it all and you will have to read the book to find out precisely why, but this morning, I came across the Santángel name again, this time in testimony to the Inquisitors made by the family maid and two of the Santángel’s own children, their daughters, Alba and Brianda.

By and large, Spanish Jews ate what everyone else, Christian or Muslim, ate, with obvious exceptions of course. However, as we know, it wasn’t just what you ate, but when you ate it, or when you didn’t eat it that also mattered. People who ate meat during Lent were under suspicion. If your fire was not lit on a cold Saturday morning, you were also under suspicion. And if you fasted while everyone else gorged, or vice versa, that was also something of an eyebrow raiser.

History records that Brianda de Santángel, who married Juan Garces de Marcilla, a man destined to carry out the Inquisition’s sentences in Teruel, was so virulent in her condemnation of her parents’ secret Judaizing that the Holy Office absolved her and her sister of all guilt and they were reconciled with the Catholic Church without penalty.

History also records that a converso maid of the Aragonese family, told the Inquisitors that on Passover, the Santángels received gifts of matzah and turrón. I do not know what happened to Rita and Jaime de Santángel but while some experts claim the first Spanish recipe for the nougatine delicacy appeared in a cookbook in the 16th century, the de Santángels were busy eating the stuff one hundred years previously.

Turrón de Alicante is the most famous and probably the original recipe, as it contained honey, nuts and sugar.

Here is the recipe for today’s Turrón Alicantino which uses egg whites. It might be sinful to eat so much sweetness, but you won’t be tortured over it.

1 small metal loaf pan, 7x3x2 inches
2 eggs whites, beaten stiff
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 tblsp cinnamon

Line the loaf pan with baking paper and dust with flour. Prepare a piece of baking paper to cover the top.

Beat the egg whites stiff and combine them with the honey and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil…then stir constantly for about 10 minutes. The syrup is ready when a drop of mixture dropped into cold water forms a ball. Remove syrup from heat. Let it cool to lukewarm. Stir in the nuts and cinnamon. Spread the turrón into the loaf pan and when it has nearly hardened dust with flour and cover with the paper. Let it cool until it is completely hard.

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Add a comment July 29, 2010

The Perfumed Garden – the contribution of Spanish Jews to food & cooking

This little collection of thoughts, notes, histories and recipes was inspired by Madeleine Brener, who is not Spanish but who is Jewish. However, I am both, by way of other places, which is not uncommon in the Jewish world.

Before the Islamic invasion, there were Jews in Spain. But it was during the “Golden Years” of Al-Andalus that the Jews thrived. The Muslims brought with them, amongst other things, aubergines and chickpeas. The Jews took these new foods around Spain, where they became part of Spanish kitchens and there they still remain. If you’ve ever eaten a savoury dish with pine nuts and raisins, you’re eating Spanish-Jewish heritage. Jewish merchants delivered oriental spices to medieval markets via Kiev and when the conquistadors returned with foods from the New World like tomatoes and chile peppers, the Jews were the ones who took them to all corners of the Mediterranean and Europe.

Cumin, mace, cinnamon and honey were the favourite flavourings of Spanish Jews back in the days of Al-Andalus and throughout the terrible years of the Spanish Inquisition. Today, the flavours of oranges, lemons, almonds, pine nuts and raisins persist in Spanish cooking and are, in part, legacies of its Jewish past.

There are, of course, many books already on the subject of Jewish food and I make no claim to bettering them. Food historian and writer Claudia Roden is the last word on Jewish and Middle Eastern food, so if it is authenticity you seek rather than some girl’s delight in sharing Jewish-Spanish recipes with you, then please check out Ms Roden’s amazing and authoritative Book of Jewish Food.

I hope you enjoy what delights me – stories about food, recipes included, not just a list of ingredients and how-to-do. Don’t expect exact quantities because the eye is everything, though this comes with experience and learning is all part of the fun. Improvise. Make it better. Tell me about it.

Food is meant to be enjoyed and shared and my table in the Perfumed Garden of Andalucia awaits you.

1 comment June 13, 2009

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