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Who were the secret Jews of the Iberian Peninsula? I have heard the term "Marano", but this book talks about "Crypto-Jews" and "Conversos." There are other terms as well. They were Jews who forcibly or willingly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition and continued to live in Spain, Portugal, and their colonies after the 1492 expulsion. "Crypto" refers to those who tried to still live as underground Jews, at least in the first two generations, and to preserve something of their Jewish heritage, always in danger of being informed on and subject to the Inquisition. Even today, there are people who can trace their ancestry to the Maranos or conversos.
This is a meticulously researched historical cookbook by a husband and wife team who are professors at the University of Rhode Island. The documentation comes from medieval cookbooks and surprisingly from Inquisition trial records, where we have the actual names of the accused. The culinary influences span the 14th through the 17th centuries, but the focus of this book is on the recipes of conversos, converted Jews who continued under Spanish and Portuguese rule after the the 1492 expulsion.
In many cases, the original recipes of those on trial were only lists, but through the medieval cookbooks, they were able to clarify a lot of the confusion. This is not a Kosher cookbook. There is even a recipe which includes pork, which shows the extent to which some of the conversos had assimilated. Indeed, as the authors point out, what makes these recipes Jewish and proof of the accused individuals' Jewish practice, is sometimes in doubt, as prior to the Inquisition period at the beginning of the 14th century, the three main religions lived side by side and all cooking was largely a mixture of Mediterranean and Arabic influences, and what was available in the region. The inquisitors, albeit not looking for true justice, must have recognized that, and appeared much more interested in obtaining "proof" of "Judaizing" through observance and practice - evidence of Kashering meats for example, not eating pork or shellfish, and evidence of preparation of special holiday foods, such as Matzoh, and preparing foods especially for Friday night.
The authors have lab tested the recipes and updated them for the modern kitchen, while preserving the text of the original. For example, they humorously tell you how they have altered receipes for Almori, a fermented down mess of rotted barley, vegetables, unleavened bread, salt, herbs, and spices. Lamb was a popular meat dish, and is replicated here in meat pies. Sausages, fish, cheeses, and various egg recipes are represented. There are several matzoah "Pan Cenceno" recipes and one for "Harotzet Balls."
This is an important contribution to a little known period of Jewish history and a tribute to those who died or suffered for their religion. Whether you try these recipes in your kitchen or not, without a doubt but you will want to read and relish this book from cover to cover.