Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back to the research grind: Bread bread bread

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Greetings, strangers who happened to wander onto my page!

You’ll notice that this is the first posting in quite awhile. There are lots of good real-life reasons for this, which I am not going to get into here. But now it looks like I will have some time to take up my research into 12th century Sicily again.

My papers on Sicilian food continue to be some of the most-viewed ones on Academia.edu. Rather than letting you dig around for them here on the blog, here are Food in Medieval Sicily, and Food in Medieval Sicily, Revised.

Over the past few years, I have taken up baking my own bread. First it was a way to save money, now it’s because I prefer the taste. I like rustic loaves the best; just water, flour, salt, and yeast. Fresh-baked bread also makes the house smell yummy.

But I couldn’t say I was baking in a medieval manner at all. Commercial yeast didn’t come on the market until the 19th century. But I was at a loss of how to create my own starter. All the recipes just seemed too intimidating.

This dilemma was addressed last winter, when I was given a jar of starter by a friend. I immediately started learning how to use it effectively, through trial and error. I now have three jars of starter; the original white; a rye starter; and most important for my Sicilian research, a semolina starter. I started each of the other two jars by pouring out half my white wheat starter into them, adding rye or semolina flour, and repeatedly using them and feeding them the appropriate flours. The rye starter makes an appealingly tangy rye bread; and the semolina starter makes loaves more akin to the ones I tasted at a luncheon in Selinunte. These were huge yellow loaves baked in a wood-fired oven and were dense and tangy.

So, my next steps will be to research contemporary sourdough semolina bread recipes; and do some all-semolina loaves. I have baked with the semolina starter, but I have been mixing the starter with regular white flour. I have gotten very good loaves with this. But I want to compare and contrast methods and recipes as well as flours. Apparently there were several types of wheat grown in medieval Sicily; soft red winter wheat and durum wheat being two of them. Most flour sold in the US for baking is of the hard white winter wheat variety; soft white wheat flour can be found as pastry flour. Finding a red wheat pastry flour may be a bit of a challenge. I’m on firmer ground with durum wheat flour, as a I can get a good silky fine durum flour and a coarser semolina at my local Amish market.

Stay tuned for hopefully tasty results!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More on the muqarnas, and something for the men

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More on the muqarnas, and something for the men

In my previous post about the Cappella Palatina muqarnas, I concentrated on the images of the female dancers and musicians. But there are some stunning single portraits of men, the “nadim”,” or drinking courtiers, and there’s wonderful details of their clothing. Let’s take a look.

This first one seems to be of a non-Arab or Berber, perhaps a Greek scribe or scholar, as he seems to be making a point. I am not sure what the halo around his head means in the context. His robe is a deep red, with golden trim; the motifs, as I recall, are either black or a very dark blue, also edged in yellow.

Our next man presents me with a bit of a quandary. Beardless, with feminine side locks, but definitely a man. However, the diwan (chancery) of the Norman Sicilian court was staffed with eunuchs, who had allegedly disavowed Islam for Christianity but were practicing Islam secretly. One of them, Philip of Mahdia, rose to the high post of admiral before being tried and executed for apostasy. If this man is Philip or another eunuch, we’ll never know. But the pattern of his robe is intriguing – what look to me like tiny little hamsas, or hands of Fatima, in an abstract pattern.

This tanbur player is most definitely Arab, with a very interestingly wrapped and tied turban. Note the dot between his eyes, the three tiny dots on his hands and feet. Tattoos and markings for protection? I don’t know. Note his carefully trimmed mustache and beard.

This last image is of a female musician. Her pyramidal hat intrigues me; there are some streamers hanging down in the back.

There seems to be some patterning on the hat. Could it be a cone of gilded leather? The color in the original is a pale yellow, but the palette of the muqarna paintings is rather limited. It’s definitely a very stiff shape, so I don’t think it’s a turban per se, though there my be some headwrap underneath it. If there is a similar hat found elsewhere, or in a later period, please let me know. It’s the only one I noticed in the muqarna images.

That’s my name, don’t wear it out

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I am still trying to get my name passed in the SCA as I want it to be passed. So I am just putting up here the documentation I have found.

There’s a lot of versions of the name Adelisa in period. Adeliza, Adalaisa, Adelasia, etc. But that’s not what I want. I want Adelisa.

So I managed to run down a document that actually has the name spelled as I want it. In the “Bullettino dell’instituto storico Italiano per medio evo” from 1960, in the article “Note di diplomatica normanna,” there is the translation and the original text of a charter by Henry, Count of Gargano, from March 1083, in which he makes a donation in the memory of his mother Adelisa, daughter of Count Roger of Sicily. The original document is from the archives of the monastery of Santa Trinita, Cava dei Tirreni.

Besides the Italian translation of the charter text, the article contains the original Latin text as it appeared in the charter.

Thanks to Lord Mungo Napier of Atlanta, who tracked down the article in the university library he works in, copied it, and sent it to me this past spring. I just sent him some handspun silk after a long delay on my part, and I apologize heartily for my slackness.

Here is the appendix, just the charter I am concerned with.

The last name, Salernitana, I picked because the proper way, apparently in Latin, to say a woman is from Salerno is “Salernitana.” I am looking to “A Copious English-Latin Dictionary,” by Sir William Smith and Theophilus Hall, published in 1870. The reference is buried on page 1003, under “Salerno.”

Hopefully, the next go-around to get the name passed will be better than the first time, when I had none of this documentation.