Thursday, January 01, 2009

Mishmish at New Year, 1851

George T. Lowth was one of the nineteenth centuries intrepid travellers who turned his adventures into a book. He made his journey in 1850-1, and published his account under the title of The Wanderer in Arabia: Or Western Footsteps in Eastern Tracks. At the turn of the New Year he was ‘in the wilds of Upper Egypt’, and he and his fellow guests aboard the Cambria sat down to dinner presented by ‘the caliph and Selim.’

A Nile fish, with Prince of Wales’ sauce (a small silver fish, delicate as a Thames flounder).
Pigeon-pie – lamb kufties, with wine sauce
Roast turkey and fried bacon.
Mashed potatoes – boiled native légumes – unknown.
Mince-pies – puddings of Damascus mishmish of apricot.
Gloucester cheese – pale ale.
Oranges, figs, almonds and raisins, dates from Mecca.
Nectar from Yemen – English biscuits.

The menu details are somewhat lost in interpretation. The dinner was clearly a mix of local and English ingredients and dishes: the lentsiche soup was presumably lentil soup, the kufties presumably meatballs (kofta, kofte.) The nectar from Yemen is a mystery – it is not likely to have been alcohol in any form, so perhaps was a sweetened fruit drink? The Gloucester cheese was, and is unequivocally English, and along with Cheshire cheese, was a seafaring staple for centuries.

I had thought at first that mishmish was a simple compote of apricots, but it is described in another book of travellers tales from Egypt as ‘an excellent dish of small apricots, dried and stewed, and served up in general with boiled rice.’ The dried apricots of Damascus are particularly admired, and some books refer to the apricots alone as the Mish-mish.I guess the name means the same as mish-mash, or ‘a confused mixture; a medley, hotchpotch, or jumble’. The OED ascribes a German origin to mish-mash, and admits to perhaps some Yiddish influence – but I would love to know what this dish is called in Arabic. Any experts out there?

The recipe for the day could easily be the simple description above, but I also offer you:

Compôte of Apricots.
Pick out the stones of twenty-five apricots that are not quite ripe, prick and blanch, but do not boil. Put them into a pound of clarified sugar, upon a slow fire, that the sugar may penetrate them; dish them in the compôtier, give the sugar a boil, and pour it over them: a kernel may be blanched and put in each.
Domestic Economy and Cookery, for rich and poor, by a Lady (1827)

Quotation for the Day …

Travel by sea nearly approximates the bliss of babyhood. They feed you, rock you gently to sleep and when you wake up, they take care of you and feed you again
Geoffrey Bocca.


Liz + Louka said...

According to Claudia Roden in A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, mishmish is the Arabic word for apricot. She has a recipe for a dish called Mishmishiya which is a delicious lamb and apricot stew thickened with ground almonds. I guess you would know that -iya or -ia ending signifying a dish featuring a certain ingredient. Roden also mentions khashkhashiya, made from khashkhash, the opium poppy. Barbara Santich's The Original Mediterranean Cusisine has Limonia (lemon chicken) and Romania (chicken in pomegranate juice, from rumman, the Arabic word for pomegranate).

Liz + Louka said...

Oh, I meant to add, Happy New Year!

The Old Foodie said...

WoW! Kiz - that is fantastic. I had not looked any further than the original story - now I dont need to! Happy New Year to you, too.

Anonymous said...

Mischmasch was Lewis Carroll's
family newspaper. Jabberwocky
('Twas brillig, and the slithy toves...) was first published there, as a piece of "anglo saxon
A brillig New Year to you!

The Old Foodie said...

The Turkish food historian Aylin Oney Tan emailed me with the following comment:

"'Mişmiş' is the local word used in for apricots in the city of Malatya, the apricot capital of Turkey. The Turkish word for apricot is 'kayısı' however in Malatya the arabic name 'mişmiş' is used. The khashkhasiya Claudia Roden mentions comes from the Turkish word 'haşhaş', the poppy seed. The root of 'haşhaş' goes back to Hittite word for poppy, haşşika. In Arabic haşhaş, is pronounced like khashkhash or hashgesh."

Thanks Aylin.

The Old Foodie said...

Another emailed comment - from David Halperin who says:

In Modern Hebrew mishmish is simply the word for apricot; taken from Arabic but maybe in Arabic it has a narrower meaning. I should add that the dictionaries (generally prescriptive) call it mishmesh but in speech it's almost always pronounced mishmish.

Anonymous said...

Lowth explains on p. 27 what nectar from Yemen is - coffee!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi "anonymous" - I must track that reference to coffee as nectar down!