On a date with ancient ingredients: in which Catherine is clearly nuts

Yes, I know that’s a terrible, terrible blog title.  I’m afraid I have no self-control when it comes to puns.

Anyway, my very brilliant friend Anna alerted me to the Ancient Mesopotamia Cookoff Challenge.   And rightly so, because trying to use ancient ingredients in modern recipes, or modern ingredients to make ancient recipes is absolutely and completely my style.

I got as far as the first recipe, Mersu (ingredients: dates and pistachios), and pretty much stopped there.  I mean, I live  just about at the hub of Middle Eastern food stores in Melbourne, so getting really good quality pistachios and dates (not to mention many, many other ancient Near-Eastern ingredients) is easy.  For another thing, it’s dessert!  We all know how I feel about dessert!  And for a third thing, I had about five recipes in my head before I even finished reading the sentence.

At the moment, I’m plotting a platter of date and pistachio sweetmeats.  I have two ideas in my mind that are both ridiculously simple and definitely right for this challenge – and I can think of so many variations on each of those ideas that it’s ridiculous.  But I also want to do something a bit more elaborate, and the idea I have is leading me down some pretty odd paths.

I’m currently googling ‘carajitos’ ‘miel’ and ‘avellanos’, in the hope of finding a recipe for a Spanish macaron-style biscuit involving honey, egg-white and hazelnuts.  I don’t actually speak Spanish, I don’t know how to make macarons, and I don’t intend to use hazelnuts, despite the fact that I have now run across three different sites which say “Si no son de avellana no son carajitos“.  My Spanish is non-existent, but even I can translate that as ‘if it isn’t with hazelnuts, it isn’t carajitos’.  Whether I will be able to translate any recipe I find will be another matter, of course.  I suspect this is the first sign of madness.

But I do need to find that recipe.  Sugar wasn’t readily available in the Ancient world, and where it was available, it was used medicinally.  So if I want to make sweetened baked goods, I am pretty much limited to honey or  dried fruits as the sweetening agent, and for both aesthetic and flavour reasons, I’d rather go with honey.

(don’t worry, if I can get any of this to work, I’ll definitely be posting the recipes!)

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