12th Century Cookery from all the World

This historical masterpiece on Arab/Islamic cooking by Kammaluddin Ibn Al-Adeem a famous historian, religious scholar, poet and calligrapher was written at the end of the 12th Century, and shows the rich culinary culture of Muslims at the time.

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(Edited by Ms Slama Mahjoob & Ms Duriyya Al-Khateeb)
Published by IHAS, university of Aleppo 1988, Vols. I & II, p.1076.

This short review is about a historical masterpiece on Arab/Islamic cooking written at the end of the 12th Century by Kammaluddin Ibn Al-Adeem a famous historian, religious scholar, poet and calligrapher. Ibn Al-Adeem was well known for his voluminous encyclopaedia on the history of Aleppo (Bughyatul Talab-fi-Tarikh Halab) where he was born in (558 AH/1163 CE). He lived through the Mongol invasion, of Iran, Iraq and Syria, led by Hulagu and died in Cairo in 660AH/1261 CE where he was buried. 

The edited version of his cookbook falls in two volumes. Volume I (413pp) reviews the literature on Arab food from pre-Islamic times until the Mamluk dynasty, detailing habits, customs of peoples with reference to various literary and historical works of the time. He critically describes the evolution of cooking and its transfer from non-Arab societies, who had newly accepted Islam. A special chapter is devoted to herbal foods and their uses for medical purposes.

Vol. II (661pp) identifies the locations of the various editions of the original manuscript in the various libraries of the world and also shows a copy of the original manuscript which contains ten chapters viz.:

1. On types of perfumes and their manufacturing methods.

2 & 3. On drinks from juices and flavoured drinks.

4. Methods of extracting fat from sheep tails.

5. Cooking chicken in 60 different ways.

6. On cooking dry foods including meat steaks and roasts. Also on vegetables, rice and fruits cooked with meat including 150 recipes.

7. Describes 100 types of sweet and pastry.

8. Describes various sauces, salts and vinegars and how to cook vegetables in oils and various types of omelette.

9 & 10. Fully describe methods of preparing scented water, scented soaps, and distillation of various flavours and finally ends the book by describing methods of making materials for refreshing mouth washers.

The edited version of the book contains extensive notation (explaining old names especially ones which have become extinct) and tables of weights and measures as well as names of ingredients used arranged in alphabetical order.

What is most remarkable is that Ibn Al-Adeem says he based his book on personal experience, as he prepared and tried every recipe personally. In explaining the reason why he wrote the book he states

"worldly and heavenly pleasures are mainly in eating delicious foods and drinks. Perfuming the body and clothes brings friends and lovers closer. Good eating enables people to worship and to offer thanksgiving. They are mentioned numerous times in the book of Allah (the Quran) and in the sayings of the Prophet. That is why I called my book Al-Wasslah ila- lhabeeb-fi- Wasf al-Tayibat wal teeb" (literally ‘The link to the loved one- the Prophet-in describing the delicious and perfumes').

It is perhaps surprising that a person of such a high standing in scholarship and in Jurisprudence would devote so much time and effort to writing such a voluminous work on cooking and to have actually cooked every recipe personally. Perhaps this indicates the level of high culture of the time and that cooking was not only confined to women but an activity enjoyed by all.

It is worth noting that the book describes recipes from a wide geographical area ranging from India to Morocco- he even describes some recipes from the French Crusaders!  The location of Aleppo as an international centre of trade must have helped in the development of the cooking skills and variety of meals described by Ibn al-Adeem.

One of the unique attributes of this cookbook is its focus on recipes, which have medical benefit in addition to their nutritional value a forerunner of today's ‘nutriceuticals'. In general, the recipes are low in fat and salts but light in sugar. Not surprisingly, Ibn Al-Adeem makes no mention of tomatoes as it was to be another 600 years before they arrived in Aleppo.

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