Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook Edited by Candida Martinelli

You may be wondering what this book has to do with Italophiles.  Well...  much of what is unique about Sicilian cuisine comes from the early Arab-Moor colonizers of the island who brought with them new agricultural techniques, new plants and spices, and new cooking traditions.  And many of the recipes from this cookbook became the basis of many classics of Italian cuisine.

I have created a free e-book and an at-cost paperback of this book that was made from the English text of the book that was translated by Charles Perry, working from the original Arabic, a printed copy of the Arabic and its translation into Spanish, and assisted by an English translation by various persons translating collaboratively the text from Spanish to English.  These translators generously put there text on-line. I follow there example, and put my e-book on-line for free, and the paperback book at cost.  I make no money from it!

I have altered the English translation by:
  • editing the translated text,
  • reorganizing the recipes logically into cookbook chapters,
  • adding extra text and explanatory text in brackets,
  • repeating some recipes in more than one section for ease of use
  • incorporating many of the translator(s) and editor(s) notes into the text, and
  • adding a complete Table of Contents and Appendices. 

This book’s original title was:

Kitab al tabij fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus fi `asr al-Muwahhidin, li-mu'allif mayhul (or majhul).

It means:

The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads, by an unknown author.

It is commonly known in English today as:

The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook.

The book was complied by a scribe in the 1400s, whose name appeared on the first page of the text, but the first page has not survived the ages.  His work contains recipes copied from a number of older works in the 1200s, some surviving and some not surviving independently to today.  

The major part of the English translation is by Charles Perry, a scholar, food historian, and writer of a food column for the L.A. Times.  Additional notes are by various other writers, including myself.

Like all ancient cookbooks, this one is made up of pieces of other cookbooks.  Think of it as a recipe notebook from a busy estate kitchen.  The reigning cook added to his recipe collection by:
  • combing through other cookbooks,
  • learning from kitchen help who had worked for other households,
  • receiving recipes collected by members of the household while abroad,
  • learning from cooks who visited the estate together with their employers, and by
  • corresponding with cooks in other households.  

Periodically, these cooks published their recipe collections for the honor of their patron, or for their own honor.  Then scribes would copy the books for a client, or for the book’s owner to give to friends, or as a gift, or even just for posterity.

This cookbook borrows directly from several well-known cookbooks, all from roughly the same period.  One of these is by Muhammad bin al-Hasan bin Muhammad bin al-Karīm al-Baghdadi, usually called al-Baghdadi [d. 1239 AD], who compiled a cookbook called Kitab al Tabih, or The Book of Dishes, written in 1226. Some recipes come from cookbooks by the gastronome Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi [b.779-d.839 CE], half-brother of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid.  Some recipes come from cookbooks by authors unknown to us today.

The Andalucía, or Al-Andalus, of the 1200s was not today’s southern region of Andalucía in Spain.  It was the name used for all of the territory controlled in Spain by Arab Muslims, originally from North Africa.  The major part of Spain, excluding only it’s Northern regions, was under Arab rule between 711 and 1492.

To read more about the time and the book, visit (Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site), my Italian culture website.  My Andalusian Cookbook page has lots more interesting stuff about this fascinating book!  And there is a page dedicated to the Arabo-Sicula cuisine that came from these recipes.

My favorite recipe from the Andalusian Cookbook, for its sheer audacity, is this so-called lamb dish: 
Roast Lamb, which was made for the Sayyid Abu al-'Ala in Ceuta

The Governor and admiral of Ceuta, son of the Almohada Caliph Yusuf I, was treated to this calf stuffed with a lamb, stuffed with various birds, stuffed with smaller various birds.  It think of it as a Russian doll dish.

Take a young, plump lamb, skinned and cleaned.  Make a narrow opening between the thighs and carefully take out everything inside of it of its entrails.  

Then put in the interior a roasted goose and into its belly a roasted hen and in the belly of the hen a roasted pigeon and in the belly of the pigeon a roasted starling and in the belly of this a small bird, roasted or fried.  All this is roasted and greased with the sauce described for roasting.  Sew up this opening and place the ram in a hot tannur [clay oven] and leave it until it is done and browned.  

Paint it with that sauce and then place it in the body cavity of a calf which has been prepared clean.  Sew it up and place it in the hot tannur [clay oven] and leave it until it is done and browned.
Then take it out and present it.

It seems that meals for the exalted in that era were never just meals; they were entertainment, too, and very hard work for the cooking staff!

I have made a free-to-download PDF.  The free Adobe PDF Reader allows for simple movement between recipes and chapters using a hyperlinked table of contents and bookmarks, and to search easily by any word, any ingredient.  You can also easily print out the book or sections of the book.


I have used's CreateSpace print-on-demand company to create a paperback version of this cookbook.  It is priced at cost, 4.22$, and is 210 pages long.  It is as secure a site as

Visit my review on this site of free e-books of Italian Medieval and Renaissance cookbooks.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

No comments:

Post a Comment