Contributions of Medieval Food Manuals to Spain‘s Culinary Heritage

Contributions of Medieval Food Manuals to Spain‘s Culinary Heritage

Nadeau, Carolyn A.  (Illinois Wesleyan University)

Cincinnati Romance Review, 33, (Winter 2012): 59-77  


This article examines and compares the contributions of five Medieval Muslim and Christian recipe manuscripts to Spain‘s culinary history. Specifically, it explores notions of authorship and implied reader; the works‘ structures and shared culinary lexicon; strategies of imitation from vague, shared cultural tastes to exact ―borrowings‖ of recipes; and diverse narrative voices that express pride, satisfaction or even disappointment in describing different recipes. In addition, it examines unique features that contribute to Spain‘s culinary history. For example, it points to Jewish contributions as recorded in the Kitab al-tabij, unique bread recipes from the Fadalat found in no other medieval or early modern Spanish cookbook, the development of spices and use of seeds and nuts from Hispano-Muslim traditions into the Christian cooking manuals, among others.

Before Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400–68) revolutionized printing with his discovery of moveable type, manuscripts of collected recipes from the Iberian Peninsula grew out of several traditions. Most notable are two manuscripts directed toward the urban aristocracy from the waning years of the Almohad dynasty, two works from the aristocracy of Aragon and Castile, and one woman‘s manual that weaves together recipes for food, home remedies, cosmetics, and general hygiene. These manuscripts and subsequent published cooking manuals are not the work of any one single author. Even those that carry the name of an individual, like Ibn Razin al Tugibi, author of Fuḍālat-al-Hiwan Fi Tayyibat al-Ta‘am Wa-l-Alwan (Relieves de la mesa acerca de las delicias de la comida y los diferentes platos) [The delicacies of the table and the finest of foods and dishes], are better understood as a compilation of previous works that have been amended along the way by other cooks. Recipes overlap from one to another, sometimes word for word and other times in a modified version that reflect changes in taste, regional shifts, or changing political and economic interests. It should also be noted that while several manuscripts may share certain common ingredients, or exhibit parallel recipes, we cannot assume that a direct influence from one to the other has necessarily taken place.

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