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Jews, Food, and Spain: The Oldest Medieval Spanish Cookbook and the Sephardic Culinary Heritage

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by Hélène Jawhara Piñer
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This scholarly examination of Kitab al-tabikh, a twelfth-century Andalusian cookbook written in Arabic, uses that work—which was not a Jewish cookbook—as a place to begin exploring practices which may have been specifically associated with Jewish kitchens, both in Spain and, after the later expulsion of the Jews, with the those who would be called the Sephardim.

Hélène Jawhara Piñer, who is also the author of a historically rich cookbook called Sephardi, holds a doctoral degree in Medieval History and the History of Food.  She carefully teases out differences in cooking by Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the era in which Kitab al-tabikh was written, and then goes on to compare later sources, including the work of the Inquisition, to understand which ingredients, cooking methods, and other culinary habits were attributed to Jews.

Her work includes references to a deep range of sources from throughout the area of the Sephardic diaspora as well as from within Spain. She explores the use of particular ingredients—for instance, the replacement of cilantro with parsley as Christian influences returned to Spain and the decline in eggplant recipes over roughly the same period—as well as the evolution of the very idea of a Jewish cuisine.

This is an impressive perspective which suggests many further areas for exploration. Thankfully, the work is well supported by footnotes and bibliography, allowing other scholars to begin that journey.


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