A Drizzle of Honey: The Life and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews

A Drizzle of Honey: The Life and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews

by David M. Gitlitz, Linda Kay Davidson

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When Iberian Jews were converted to Catholicism under duress during the Inquisition, many struggled to retain their Jewish identity in private while projecting Christian conformity in the public sphere. To root out these heretics, the courts of the Inquisition published checklists of koshering practices and "grilled" the servants, neighbors, and even the children of those suspected of practicing their religion at home.

From these testimonies and other primary sources, Gitlitz&Davidson have drawn a fascinating, award-winning picture of this precarious sense of Jewish identity and have re-created these recipes, which combine Christian&Islamic traditions in cooking lamb, beef, fish, eggplant, chickpeas, and greens and use seasonings such as saffron, mace, ginger, and cinnamon. The recipes, and the accompanying stories of the people who created them, promise to delight the adventurous palate and give insights into the foundations of modern Sephardic cuisine.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466824775
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/25/2000
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 332
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

David Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson are professors at the University of Rhode Island. Each has written several books on Spanish culture, including Gitlitz's Secrecy and Deceit, an alternate selection of the History Book Club and winner of the 1996 National Jewish Book Award for Sephardic Studies and the 1997 Lucy B. Dawidowicz Prize for History. They are married and this is the first book they have written together. Their newest book is The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago, now available from St. Martin's Press.

David Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson are professors at the University of Rhode Island. Each has written several books on Spanish culture, including Gitlitz's Secrecy and Deceit, an alternate selection of the History Book Club and winner of the 1996 National Jewish Book Award for Sephardic Studies and the 1997 Lucy B. Dawidowicz Prize for History. They are married and A Drizzle of Honey is the first book they have written together. They are also the authors of The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago.

Linda Kay Davidson and David Gitlitz are professors at the University of Rhode Island. Each has written several books on Spanish culture. They are married and this is the first book they have written together.

Read an Excerpt

A Drizzle of Honey

The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews

By David M. Gitlitz, Linda Kay Davidson

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1999 David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-2477-5



In re-creating these recipes from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeen centuries, we have used standard American measurements, utensils, and cooking techniques. We have not roasted meat over an open flame, nor have we banked coals around clay pots filled with Sabbath stew. The recipes in this book were developed in our late twentieth-century kitchen, with ovenproof glass and ceramic casseroles, enameled pots and pans, and cast-iron skillets and Dutch ovens, with an occasional use of the microwave oven for quick heating of ingredients. We have opted for modern food processors, blenders, and grinders to pulverize spices and mix ingredients. Our directions assume that you will use similar equipment.


Medieval recipes tend to be sketchy, and what was obvious to medieval cooks, and therefore had no reason to be written down, is often obscure today. Consequently, the exact nature of some ingredients will likely never be completely known or completely duplicable. Here are some governing assumptions and the resultant modern approximations of ingredients:


Medieval Iberian cookbooks call for several kinds of cheese, including "fresh cheese" and "Catalan cheese." We use two broad varieties of cheese which approximate but which do not correlate exactly to what probably was available to medieval cooks. For fresh cheese we prefer farmer cheese, queso fresco, carried by many Hispanic groceries. If that is not available, we suggest cream cheese and/or cottage cheese, blended to a smooth texture. For hard cheeses, we recommend the Spanish Manchego cheese, which is usually available in specialty cheese shops. If that is not obtainable, then Italian Romano or Asiago cheeses are acceptable.


Eggs present a minor quandary. They are ever-present in medieval recipes, but there are no indications about what kind of eggs were to be used or what size. In the United States almost all cooking is with chicken eggs, but we cannot presume that the same held true five hundred years ago. Still, in these recipes we use large chicken eggs.

For those who must regulate their intake of cholesterol, we suggest that you try the recipes using half of the number of eggs and replacing the other half with "Egg-Beaters" or "Second Nature," unless otherwise indicated.


The most common medieval flour was stone-ground wheat flour. The more it was sifted the whiter it became. We have found no references to kosher flour. Our recipes use standard white flour or, when so indicated, a combination of three to one of white flour and stone-ground whole wheat flour.

Herbs and spices

A variety of herbs grew in every medieval household garden. During the growing season, they were used fresh and we have done likewise. Some herbs, like rosemary and oregano, can be used dried. Others, especially cilantro, cannot. We are fortunate in that today's supermarkets generally carry fresh green herbs and we recommend their use.

Medieval cooking used lots of spices and multiple flavors in a single dish. We have experimented to create pleasing combinations, but you may find that certain spices are not to your liking. You can reduce the amounts of those spices. Generally, we have used whole spices (e.g., caraway, cumin seed), grinding only enough for the specific recipes, unless otherwise indicated. We have found that using preground spices (such as dried ginger, cumin, or even pepper) diminishes the intensity of the dish's flavor.

Some medieval flavorings (such as galingale, lavender, or grains of paradise) do not appear on the typical supermarket shelf. But they are purchasable from mail order herb suppliers throughout the United States and many are available in natural food stores or co-ops.

Saffron deserves a special mention here. In medieval Iberian cooking it is called for in prodigious amounts to add both flavor and color. Often its flavor is combined with several other spices. However, it tends to be costly. We have suggested its use only in those recipes in which its effect will not get lost. If you wish to further enhance the yellow color of some recipes, especially stews, try turmeric or safflower tied in a muslin bag.

Leavening agents

Medieval bakers either used a fermented vegetable starter or a live yeast culture, which they kept going much as is done with a modern sourdough starter. Since potatoes come from the New World, potato starters were unavailable. We have used packaged dry yeast.


Much like today, chickpeas and many varieties of beans were dried so that they could be preserved and eaten year round. As today, they were reconstituted by boiling or by soaking them for several hours and rinsing them before cooking. In many recipes, for convenience's sake, we have substituted canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed.

To prepare dry beans or chickpeas quickly for cooking: boil the beans for two minutes in sufficient water to cover them. Set aside for one hour. Drain.


Kosher meat was available to crypto-Jews prior to the expulsion. Afterward most kosher slaughtering was done at home away from prying eyes. There are many references to salting and soaking any meat before using it and to removing fat and veins. Recipes prepared with kosher meat will dif- fer somewhat from those where the meat has not been soaked and salted. See here for our directions for soaking and salting.

Meat parts (innards)

In the Middle Ages much more of an animal was consumed than is the common practice in modern, middle-class American kitchens: every part that was edible was eaten. Specialty butcher shops still sell tripe, heart, kidneys, livers, and chicken feet. Many ethnic markets carry a large variety. Still, it may be difficult to convince your butcher that yes, you really do want chicken necks with the skin. In those recipes whose main ingredients may be difficult to find, we suggest alternatives.


Always olive oil. We recommend the use of "extra-virgin" olive oil for those occasions when the oil is not to be cooked (e.g., on a salad).


Medieval references to salt indicate that many times a cook would buy a cone of salt and scrape off the necessary amount when needed. We have used coarse-ground kosher salt or sea salt. The recipes indicate if the salt is to be ground finer. Many recipes call for quantities of salt that today we consider unhealthy. If you choose, you may reduce the amount of salt listed.


As with salt, late medieval cooks bought cones of sugar and scraped off the needed amount, sifting it to attain finer sugar powders. Most medieval sugar was probably brown, although we have used white sugar or a combination of white and brown sugars in our recipes.


Modern cooks tend to use cornstarch or flour to thicken stews, casseroles, and some fruit desserts. Medieval and Renaissance cooks, like the author of the Sent soví, Nola, and Granado, used a variety of thickeners, sometimes more than one in a single recipe. On days when meat was not prohibited, beaten eggs or egg yolks was one popular thickener. Other times poultry livers, especially chicken livers, either raw or previously cooked, were ground and cooked into a stew. On meatless days, or when a white color was more desirable, almond milk was a popular thickener. Two other thickeners, based on starch, were also quite common. The first is almidón (or amydon), a paste made of wheat steeped in water for several days, then dried. Apparently small bricks of amydon were at the chef's side in the kitchen, to pulverize and mix into stews and pottages. A thickener made of rice flour was used somewhat less often on the Iberian Peninsula. By far the easiest, cheapest, and most common thickener was bread crumbs or bread soaked in vinegar. If the cook wished to have a white or light-color dish, the bread was soaked in vinegar and tempered with white wine. If the dish was meant to be dark, toasted bread was soaked in vinegar and tempered with red wine. The Al-Andalus cookbook also occasionally mentions "flour" in an obvious thickening process.

For this cookbook, we occasionally suggest a specific thickener when its use reinforces the dish's flavor. This is especially true for mild white dishes for which almond milk is best. For certain recipes from the Al-Andalus cookbook, the directions include thickening with chicken livers and we have followed the thirteenth-century work's instructions. Other times a vinegar-soaked bread adds depth of flavor to the stews. On other occasions, especially with the Sabbath stews, we leave it to the cook's own preference. Here are general instructions for various medieval thickeners. The quantities suggested here should thicken a stew meant to serve four people.

Bread thickener

1. Toast 2 pieces of dry stale bread (whole wheat is good). Do not use commercial bread crumbs.

2. Pulverize the toasted bread in a grinder. You may have to do this in two batches.

3. Place the crumbs in a nonreactive bowl. Pour 3 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons white or red wine over the crumbs. Let the crumbs soak up all of the liquid, making a very thick paste. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes.

4. Slowly pour 1 cup of the hot stew liquid into the bread mixture. Mix thoroughly with a fork, dissolving all lumps.

5. Gradually stir the mixture into the stew pot. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until the stew thickens to the desired consistency.

Flour paste

1. Place 2 tablespoons flour (white flour or a combination of white and whole wheat) in a small bowl.

2. Slowly add 2 — 3 tablespoons cold water and dissolve the flour completely.

3. Slowly mix in 1/3 — 1/2 cup of the hot stew liquid into the flour and water mixture.

4. Stir the flour and liquid mixture back into the stew and simmer until the desired consistency is reached.

Rice flour

1. Take 6 tablespoons uncooked rice and pulverize it in a grinder. You may have to do this in two batches.

2. Place the rice flour in a small bowl. Stir in 9 tablespoons cool liquid (water or almond milk).

3. Mix in 1/2 cup of the hot stew liquid.

4. Slowly stir the rice mixture into the simmering stew, about ¼ cup at a time, and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the stew thickens to the desired consistency. The pulverized rice will swell in cooking, adding a subtle granular texture to the stew.


Vinegar is a basic ingredient of medieval cuisine. We know that vinegar, as well as wine, agraz (a liquid made of unripe green grapes), and orange juice from the sour, Seville oranges were used to give a special tang to the foods. In every recipe we indicate which souring agent we have used. Generally speaking, we prefer balsamic vinegar because its fermentation process, in wood casks, probably resembles the fermentation and storage of medieval vinegar. But we also use red wine vinegar in certain recipes.

Sabbath Stews

Many of the recipes reported to the Inquisition tribunals were for Sabbath meals. The ingredients did not necessarily evoke suspicion. Instead, it was the manner in which the meal was cooked. The defining element of the Sabbath meal is that it is prepared before sundown on Friday and then not touched again until time to be eaten on Saturday. Often the pot was sealed and put on the side of the fire, near banked coals, and kept warm until it was time to serve it on Saturday afternoon. Others were eaten at room temperature. In medieval times and still in modern North Africa the pot is sealed with a collar of dough of flour and water which bakes on tightly, keeping the juices in the pot.

For purposes of this cookbook, we have prepared nearly all of the dishes as if they were to be served at the time of preparation, or refrigerated to be eaten cold or to be reheated later. Only occasionally do we replicate the Sabbath stew preparation. In general, any recipe can be held for a Sabbath meal by following these few directions:

1. Use an ovenproof cooking pot with a tight lid, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven.

2. Prepare the stew, adding all ingredients, including spices and herbs.

3. Follow the recipe directions until the stew's meat or main ingredient is nearly tender.

4. Cover and place the cooking pot in the oven and keep it at 200° until ready to serve.

Recipes, Stories & Commentary

Salads and Vegetables

Salads tend to be eaten raw, while vegetables are usually cooked, but the line of demarcation between the two has always been a thin one. Beets, peas, and spinach, for example, are served both cold and hot; they can stand alone as a main dish or be mixed with other ingredients. Lettuce can be eaten cold in a salad or fried in oil, and its stalks can be boiled with lots of sugar to make a conserve.

Spanish culinary traditions and terminology complicate matters further. Spanish categories overlap: an hierba is a grass or an herb; a legumbre is a vegetable, but especially a legume; verdura gives the sense of something green; while an hortaliza is almost anything that grows in the huerta, or garden. All of these terms were used in the Middle Ages, sometimes interchangeably. Enrique de Villena's Arte cisoria (The Art of Carving) lists twenty "yerbas," including thistle, carrots, lettuce, turnips, onions, garlic, borage, purslane, fennel, caraway, and mustard. The seventeenth-century dictionary writer Covarrubias even uses the same two examples — lettuce and radishes — to illustrate two different categories, verduras and hortalizas. For Covarrubias, the legumbre has fruit that develops in a pod, while hierba denotes produce without stalks that can be either cooked in stews or served raw in salads.

In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, salads must have been ubiquitous. The occasional references suggest that they included a wider variety of ingredients than are common today. Covarrubias defines "salad" (ensalada) as "different herbs, meats, salted [ingredients], fish, olives, conserves, condiments [,] egg yolks, borage, sugared almonds, and a great diversity of things ... ." He also tells us that its name derives from the custom of sprinkling the miscellany with salt (sal). The single salad recipe in the late fourteenth-century cookbook from the kitchens of English King Richard II lists more than a dozen different ingredients, including some still-common greens and herbs such as parsley, garlic, onions, and watercress, and others not quite so common: fennel, leeks, borage, mint, rue, and purslane. Renaissance literary references tell us about "sliced lettuces and carrots with oregano" and "onion ... artichoke ... and chopped cucumber." Sources such as these suggest that anything green and edible raw could be thrown into a salad, but that a salad was not limited to greens. Other ingredients depended only on what was seasonably available. In the temperate regions of the Iberian Peninsula, including the humid north where varieties of chard are common, people could count on salad greens during much of the year. Though rarely cited, seasonal varieties of lettuce were undoubtedly common in salads. People then believed that lettuce contained properties that calmed lust and thus it was the symbol for continence.

No matter what went into the salad, salt, vinegar, and oil were its constant dressing, and this is still the norm on the Spanish table. The account ledger of a sixty-eight-day journey in 1352 from Estella to Seville lists the purchase of vinegar on forty-three occasions generally accompanying some reference to salad makings, such as lettuce, radishes, and rocket. According to a Spanish proverb, "To make a good salad, four men are needed: for the salt, a wise man; for the oil, a prodigal man; for the vinegar, a stingy man; and to mix it, a crazy man. ..." Granado's recipe for cooked white beans insists that if they are to be served as a salad one must add vinegar and oil.

Elsewhere during the rest of the year, people largely consumed cabbage and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips. One popular proverb states, "There's nothing better than turnips with cabbage." Radishes were so common that they gave their name to several Iberian towns, such as the Salamancan and Leonese Rabanal. Other proverbs substantiate the radish's popularity: "A tender radish, no matter the size, is good" and "There is no good life without radishes and candles." Covarrubias adds that radishes help people suffering from jaundice.


Excerpted from A Drizzle of Honey by David M. Gitlitz, Linda Kay Davidson. Copyright © 1999 David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Recipes, Stories & Commentary,
Lamb and Goat,
Meat and Fish Pies,
Desserts and Snacks,
Holiday Foods,
Vegetable Broth,
Salsa Fina,
Cilantro Juice,
Nigella Almorí,
Simple Almorí,,
Pennyroyal Almorí,
Almond Milk,
Also by,
Copyright Page,

Customer Reviews