Miripsae and how to rectify foods

We are still with Ishaq b. Sulaiman Israili

Cap lxv of miripsae, that is salsamenta

The purpose of miripsae is threefold: For when foods are cold, and by their nature hard in penetrating the veins, those must be made subtle so that they more easily pass the paths of the body (vias corporis). If foods are insipid and very moist and abominable, the abominableness of their taste must be relieved and good taste given them so they do not offend with the heaviness of their smell. But you must not apply much miripsa to foods, only enough to alter their bad flavour, because too much will counter the humidity of the food and coarsen it and make it indigestible. Hence a condiment that solely consists of the juices of herbs should be applied to foods that are coarse of body and hard to digest.

Cap lxvi of rectifying foods

After our purposes how foods are to be prepared have been explained, it is now time to say how they are to be rectified. We begin with the flavours that the Ancients said existed. There are six unacceptable and intemperate flavours, namely watery (aquosus), acidic (acetosus), salty (salsus), harsh/sour (ponticus), bitter (amarus) and sharp/hot (acutus).

If a food is watery and insipid, it is best prepared with salt and water, if convenient, with miripsa.

If it is acidic, salt alone suffices, and if it is salty, vinegar. For these two flavours are, as it were, contrary and each reverses the other’s power.

(…)

If a food is harsh/sour, it is good to immerse and soften it in fresh water (aqua dulci) and afterwards boil it in different water, and if you wish for a bit of the bitterness to remain, do not cook it much, but if you want to remove all of it, cook it until it dissolves. All foods that are boiled in water lose their qualities. Galen says that all foods boiled in water are weakened in their powers, and if they are boiled for long, they lose all of their qualities, more so if the water is changed. And sauces (iuscula) do the same if salty foods are cooked in them and they bring out (efficiuntur) the salt from them. Because the fire extracts their subtleness with the smoke and leaves the grossness and saltiness within (if they were roasted).

If foods are bitter, those that can be boiled should be boiled in water and, taken out, should be treated with salt, vinegar, and other suitable things. If they cannot be boiled, such as watery olives, they should first be placed in water and salt and then be brought back to good flavour with salt and vinegar. And if they are bitter and oily (unctuosa), like olives from which oil is pressed, salt alone suffices because it dries out their humidity and hardens them so they do not corrupt.

If foods are sharp/hot, those that are only hot such as onions, and the branches of green mustard, they are submerged in water and salt and a little vinegar is added. But if their sharpness is combined with bitterness and harshness, they are boiled a little with water and vinegar and afterwards treated with oil and thus is their sharpness and bitterness mitigated. For as Galen says, sharp and hard foods should not be served unless it is with oil or another oily thing.

(…)

Thus legumes and grains must be thus prepared (apparanda) if they are to be good to eat. For they must be (as said above) first softened in water and then prepared (condiantur) with oil. Then they must be varied depending on their nature and what we wish to do with them. Some must be given flavour, some have their harshness lessened, some hard ones must be softened, some made to open the belly, some to provoke urine, some to soften or constrict the belly, and some to provoke sleep. According to these conditions, various oils should be added. If the dishes are to be eaten with their sauces (iusculis), they are brought to the table in them and not removed first.

If meat is to be cooked in summer, it must be placed in much water and the vessel should not be placed over the coals covered for thus they emit a grave odour and if they change (cook?) in this grave odour, their bones must be removed. For thus the putrescence enters the marrow and they must me thrown out so that the sauces do not obtain a bad flavour. If venison (carnes sylvestres) are to be cooked, they must be left alone for a day or more after the killing so they become more tender. Fish must be cooked fresh and moving up to that point (adhuc semoventes), because their flesh cannot be served except with salt on account of its softness.

If meat of two kinds of animals (duorum animalium – suspect misprint for durorum animalium – tough animals) is to be cooked, they must be tired out in many ways for thus they become more tender. And if gross and tough meats are to be served to those who do not digest well such as the elderly and sick, it must first be beaten and then be placed in water with a little salt, thyme, and calamint. A little later it is taken out and then cooked, well washed. That is also to be done with fish, for salt lifts up their humidity and viscosity, and for that reason it also is suited to help with the fatness of meats. For Galen says that meats that are fat and moist and have much blood must be strongly salted and be placed long by a fire lacking flame (i.e. the coals). But those that are lean, not humid, and do not have much blood must be salted with little salt and are to be placed by a gentle fire and roasted, and nearby vessels full of water should be placed so that the steam rising from them tempers their dryness.

Again, no recipes as such, but a few pointers to cooking techniques, spicing, and serving combinations. A little more about techniquie will follow, then we get back to talking ingredients.

Isaac Iudaeus de diaetis universalibus et particularibus, originally written in Arabic in the late ninth or early tenth century, was translated and adapted by Constantinus Africanus in the late 11th century and circulated widely in Italy and beyond soon afterwards. While the original applies to a different context, it is still reasonable to use it as a guide to the advice that Siculo-Normans would have found useful. It is an open question how much the original was altered in translation – I cannot say since I read no Arabic. However, the extensive reference to eating pork suggests that some alterations took place.

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