Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pig out!

I feel like I've pigged out today! But, boy, was it good!

This morning, I was running late so I didn't have time to pack a lunch for school. I'm totally tired of all the food on campus so I had no clue what I was going to do for lunch... Went anyway...

I got to class and it turned out that two people decided to do a presentation instead of writing a term paper. And just my good luck, they did it on medieval Iberian food. Woot! So I got to taste gazpacho... which wasn't bad, but I'm terribly unfond of tomatoes. I also got to have paella, which I had somehow avoided when I was in Spain 6 or 7 years ago because the whole prawns frightened me. They also had olives, roasted chestnuts and clementines - all staples of the medieval Iberian diet. They also brought in these delightful almond cookies that were made by nuns, who gave them to the farming peasants who provided their convents with food as a "thank you" if not a real payment.

The only issue I had with it is that they made modern paella and modern gazpacho rather than the medieval versions, which omitted the tomatoes, peas and carrots which they included. Gazpacho originally did not include tomatoes, which were brought to Spain after Columbus from the Americas. Originally, it was made with a water and olive oil base and seasonal vegetables, stuff like onions and cucumbers, etc... It was always served cold. That was generally served as the lunch of field hands and serfs, so the nobility scorned it because it was considered common... Paella was a dish very popular in southern Spain, the areas dominated by Muslims for the majority of the period. Muslims brought rice to Iberia (and also the clementines mentioned earlier). It was used sparingly by the non-Muslim Iberians at first, but eventually made its way into the mainstream diet. Paella also included seasonal vegetables and any kind of meat that was on hand, if meat was on hand... including but not limited to all the seafood that is in the typical modern paella. It was traditionally cooked by men, outside in the open, in a pan which was a Roman design (basically the same kind of pan used today to cook paella), and was then eaten straight out of the pan. A single pan typically fed about 7 people. Paella was considered a hearty meal and was eaten by farmers, peasants and some merchants and artisans. It was therefore also considered a peasant food, so the nobility and those who had ideas of grandeur didn't eat it.

All very interesting!

Dr. Milton also explained about meat, which they didn't go into in the presentation very much (he said he didn't fault them for that, he just wanted to add it since he thought of it). Mutton was favored by Muslims as Christians didn't generally like to eat it if they had access to other types of meat (most especially pork). Jews had their own slaughterhouses and their food was usually kept entirely separate. He also said that the Christians of Iberia loved pork so much that it almost became a 6th food group in the years after 1492. One way to show that one was a good Catholic was to be seen eating pork, since abstaining from eating pork was something that the Muslims and Jews did. So pork was put in almost every dish to force people to eat it or really make a scene in not eating it so that they would be caught by the Inquisition. The popularity of pork remains to this day. He said it's almost as if culturally the Spanish don't consider pork a meat, so that if you order a salad in Spain, 9 times out of 10, you're going to get ham in it. And so it's very difficult to travel in Spain if you either don't eat ham or you're a vegetarian because unless you can really speak the language people likely won't understand why you can't have pork in your food. Made me think of the line from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding": "What do you mean he don't eat no meat! ... Oh, that's okay. I make lamb!"

Totally makes sense now why I had such a difficult time in Spain. It was either totally gross seafood or pork every night, and ham everywhere during the day. After the 4th night of that, I couldn't take it anymore and I asked our tour guide to make sure I got a vegetarian/kosher meal that night (because they were one in the same). I and the three vegetarians on the trip were shocked and vaguely appalled when our hotel wait staff placed a plate of boiled spinach with pine nuts and raisins in front of us as if it were spaghetti... That was our dinner... Couldn't believe it. But now, it makes sense...

Anyway, so I had lunch for free. Then after my Latin class I bought a piece of rocky-road fudge and a brownie from a sorority who was raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, a Make-A-Wish Foundation-like charity. Ate those...

Then I got home and my mom was making tacos... I hate my mom's tacos... most tasteless things in the world! So I made myself a Morningstar Black-bean burger with pickles, relish, and horseradish sauce, on a Smart Balance-ed multi-grain bun with garlic-basil-parmesan red potato wedges on the side. Yummy! I totally recommend that instead of a hamburger, at least sometimes (I'm not a vegetarian, I just like some vegetarian-like food once in awhile). I figure it cuts out a lot of the fat and calories that hamburgers generally have, but it's still super satisfying in the same kind of way.

Anyway... I just had to share my totally yummy day... I'm stuffed!


ilana said...

Mom, during the course of her research into cryptojudaism, found out that the Conversos would do things like hang a ham outside the house "to cure", and make it look like they were avid pork-eaters.
My Medeival History prof here at Shepherd intimated that medeival meat was heavily spiced when it was available, to cover up the fact that it mightn't be exactly fresh.
Have you seen Claudia Rodin's books? She writes a lot about Jewish food from places like Yemen and Spain. Not sure how much research you want to do after all the food, but... :P
That does sound like a yummy term paper.

Rachael said...

Dr. Milton didn't mention the thing about hanging ham outside the houses, but it would not surprise me in the least that they would have done something like that.

In some parts of Europe, I would not be surprised about them doing things to cover up rot in meat, especially in England and in France. I got the impression though that Iberia never really had problems feeding itself, even with meat, because the climate and land is such that food can be grown, be it vegetative or animal, just about anywhere on the peninsula. Sheep and pigs were especially in abundance everywhere, and cattle were commercially ranched for their meat on the southern plains in herds that numbered in the thousands. So I would think that in Iberia, while everyone might not have been able to afford it, those who did usually got it soon after butchering or it would have been smoked or salted to preserve it. Even during the Black Death, Iberia wasn't especially hard hit like elsewhere in Europe, and the Plague ran its course very quickly there, in a matter of about 3 months (granted they did loose about 30% of the population in Iberia). They also didn't have significant food interruption during the Great Famine years a few years before. Some issues with a grain shortage, enough to cause a riot in Barcelona over the possibility that some municipal officers were hoarding grain for themselves, but the rest of their food stuffs were mostly uninterrupted and they didn't suffer a lot of deaths due to hunger, especially when compared to elsewhere in Europe.

I have not seen Claudia Rodin's book. That sounds very interesting! I'm going to look it up on amazon.

It was a very yummy term paper! ;D