As of this moment, I have in my possession a book entitled Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchen. It is a fairly remarkable book, as it’s a translation of Kitāb al-Ţabīkh, a tenth century Arabic cookbook. From a historical perspective, Kitāb al-Ţabīkh is remarkable as it is the earliest known culinary documentation found from the medieval era. From my perspective, it’s the perfect document to provide some insight into what people…err, well-off people, were eating during the mid 900′s.
I immediately went to the desserts/sweets glossary, and found, not one reference to honey, but thirteen. Honey is defined by its color, texture, and how clear of detritus it may be. It takes into account whether water has been added to the honey, or whether the honey has been boiled. There’s even a distinction between honey that has foam retained within it from boiling, and honey that is free from foam.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I can hear you say. “Their focus on honey is all well and good, but what about their candy?”
Good question, and something interesting does come up.
Nougat is there, which is no surprise at all. Nougat had likely been around, in some variation, for 1000 years by that point, give or take a century or two. Mixing honey with nuts and egg whites is not a difficult proposition.
And yes, their are nut confections in the cookbook. This is also not surprising. There IS a recipe for almond brittle, made with refined sugar. This is the primary evidence that this cook book was for the wealthy, because refined sugar, in the 900′s, was a very limited resource. The brittle recipe also calls out for copper pots, further cementing the need for some level of wealth for this recipe.
The interesting bit? Puddings. There are several categories of puddings, including condensed, crumbly, and one category called “chewy”. Well, technically it’s called mu’allak, but the boffins who translated the book called it “chewy”. Made with honey, olive and sesame oil, clarified butter, rose water, camphor, and (most importantly) sweet starch, a confection was made that would have been related in some measure to Turkish Delight.
So, by the time the Muslims were in Sicily, known confections that we would recognize today as candy included nougat, brittle, and a chewy pudding similar to turkish delight. There’s likely more, but we can definitively point to these.
It’s this kind of information that makes me grin from ear to ear.