I was at the Strand the other day, hoping to find a nice old copy of The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, because I need to read it for the library "Farm to Table" book club, and somehow, I don't already own it. I was a tiny bit disappointed that they only had a newish paperback edition, but I was intrigued by another book on a nearby pile, called A History of Food in 100 Recipes, especially when I flipped to an Egyptian meatball recipe from 1250:
I'm so fascinated by recipes like this. It's so sketchy, and leaves so much to the imagination. And, of course, it assumes that the cook already has the basics down.
➤Cut the meat into pieces, put in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil while removing the fetid scum.
What kind of meat? How much? What size pieces?
➤Next add small meatballs the size of a hazelnut.
Are these meatballs made from the just cooked meat? Or are they meatballs from some other recipe?
➤The quantity of broth must be reduced so that when the cooking is done only a residue of light and velvety juice remains.
Is the broth to be reduced with the meat/meatballs in it? Or is the meat removed, and then the broth is reduced?
➤In the meantime, take some sour pomegranate juice, sweeten it with rose water syrup,
How much pomegranate juice? How much rose water syrup?
➤add some mint leaves and pistachios crushed in the mortar to thicken it,
How much mint? Fresh or dried? How many pistachios? Are the pistachios crushed alone, or together with the mint?
➤colour it with a little saffron and season with all the [ingredients of] atraf tib [a mixture of spices including black pepper, cloves and ginger].
Again, how much saffron? And, do you add all of these ingredients to the broth and that's it? Or does the broth need to be cooked with the flavorings? Further, if you removed the meat before reducing the broth (and adding the flavorings), when does the meat get returned to the sauce?
➤Sprinkle with rose water and diluted saffron and serve.
What is the saffron diluted with?
It's tricky, reading old cookery books.
Incidentally, I had always thought that that Alice B. Toklas had included a recipe for pot brownies in her Cook Book. In point of fact, they aren't brownies at all - they're called "Haschich Fudge" - and actually, it's not really fudge, either. For one thing, there's no chocolate. It's more like some kind of middle-Eastern sweet, made from crushed dried fruit, sweet spices, and nuts. And hash.
Somehow, I don't think there's going to be any at the library book club meeting, but wouldn't that be kind of awesome?