Friday, October 17, 2008

Dishing up an Insult, Part 2.

My lovely friend Marisa sent me an email in response to the idea of giving a name to a dish that is also an ethnic slur (or comment). She is an expert in Sicilian food and is writing her own book on it, and tells me that there is a Sicilian dessert called Testa di Turco (Turk's head) which is made of pastry and “in most parts of Sicily it is fried , and layered/topped with custard - cream.” Methinks it sounds good enough to move to Sicily for.

Ever since the crusades the Europeans have enjoyed eating Turks’ or Saracens’ heads in one form or another. There is a wonderfully apocryphal story about Richard I keeping a supply of Saracen’s handy, in case of a hunger attack. He had them apocryphally served

“soden full hastily
With powder and with spysory,
And with saffron of good colour.”

Ridiculous story of course, proving the inverse law of fakelore - the popularity of a story is inversely proportional to the amount of true fact in it.

Medieval folk who could not lay their hands on a real Turk made due with symbolic ones, and often they were glorified pies. Here are two examples from the thirteenth century (from Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections, edited by Constance Hieatt), one for fast days and one for meat days.

Turk's head.
How to make the dish called Turk's head from a fish day or in Lent. Take choice rice and wash it and dry it; then grind it thoroughly, mix with thickened almond milk, and put in spices and saffron, as directed below, and sugar. Make a pastry case; then scald eels and remove the excrement; then cut them up; and take parsley, sage, and some broth, and grind it in a mortar, and put in saffron and mixed ground spice; then cover [with a pastry lid] and put it in the oven.

Turks head. [2]
A sheet of pastry well filled with rabbits and poultry, dates, peeled and sweetened in honey, new cheese, cloves and cubeb; sugar on top, then a generous layer of ground pistachio nuts; the color of the ground nuts, red, yellow, and green.The head (of hair) should be black, arranged to resemble the hair of a woman, in a black bowl, with the face of a man set on top.

There are other Turks’ Heads too. A large variety of pumpkin, and a metal turban-shaped mould for desserts or ices very popular in the nineteenth century.

There are other Cannibal ideas too. (Warning: Shameless Plug Alert) If you are interested in cannibalism (the theoretical aspects of course), you may be interested in Human Cuisine, or part of Gary Allen’s Master-Work in Progress on How to Serve Man.

Quotation for the Day …

Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus. Peter Ustinov.


Anonymous said...

MOORKOP (Dutch: Moor's Head) is
choux pastry filled with vream and covered in dark chocolate.
Another version of a spherical
sweet covered in chocolate used
to be called NEGERZOEN (Negro's
Kiss) but the name has been
publicly abandoned.

Anonymous said...

Teste Di Duca is a Sicilian pastry. The pastry is cut into circles and woven with 4 strips that are cut into the circle,deep fried and coated with candy and honey.

Sicilian translation:
Turk's head

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks 'Anonymous' - Is the pastry meant to represent a turban (given that 'Turk's' and 'Arabians' were all the same to many Europeans!!) ??

ladylord said...

Turks head pastry is a delicious Sicilian dessert .. My nona never measured the ingredients so i am without a recipe/,all i know is that she rolled the dough into a circle and made slits then pinched it tightly before immersing it in the oil.. After turning a beautiful amber color they were placed on paper towels to cool before sprinkling lightly with powdered sugar.. My nona's dough was light and just slightly sweet and melted in your mouth .. Unfortunately most other Turk Heads are tasteless, anything but light and delicious proving that good baking like good cooking cannot be rushed and one must be meticulous with ingredients!!!!!