Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Front Burner | Forklore

The Other White Milk

November 08, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

These days, almond milk is a mere substitute for dairy milk. In medieval Europe, though, it was considered far grander than milk. As the preferred base for fancy sauces, it was as essential to medieval haute cuisine as spices.

The fact that almonds were an expensive import had a lot to do with the almond milk craze. And it was certainly convenient that almond milk made for a wider color scheme than the muddy greens and browns of everyday dishes. The grandest medieval European dish, blancmanger, was usually chicken stewed with sugar and almond milk (though sometimes with dairy milk). Almond milk also took colors well. Add some henna and you had a rosy-colored dish, or some turnsole for purplish blue, and so on.

Since almonds came from the Middle East, historians have assumed that the Europeans learned about almond milk from the same source, but that's doubtful. Arab recipes very occasionally refer to "milking" ground almonds by adding water and pressing, but the milk was an extremely uncommon ingredient. It's at least as likely that Europeans developed almond milk on their own as a luxury replacement for dairy milk on days of abstinence such as Friday or Lent.

True, the grandest Middle Eastern dish was called isfi^dhaba^j, which means "white stew" in Persian, much as blancmanger does in French, but it was quite different. Only one of the dozen or so recipes for it uses almond milk, and isfi^dhaba^j didn't need to contain almonds at all.

Basically it was the simplest stew, considered suitable for invalids because it contained few spices and no sour ingredients. If there's any European legacy of isfi^dhaba^j, it's probably not blancmanger but the Italian idea of dieta in bianco: mild and simple foods containing no tomato.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|