Saturday 28 September 2013

Food habits, old and new

Great looking article on food (in ancient Israel), "Knaidlach, Talmudic Style," by Ronit Vered in Haaretz Magazine (27 September 2013) 28-30. The ancient people here seem to have eaten mostly only bread, according to Dr Suzanne Weingarten, researcher of Jewish food in ancient times. The lucky ones might have had dal - lentil stew - along with their bread. For most people the only additive was salt. And the flat bread would get hard very soon, so it had to be immersed in water to make it edible. Most people, according to Weingarten, did not have the money or time to gather wood and grind grain. "Producing enough flour for one loaf of bread required several hours of strenuous physical work." Work, yes, I found myself saying. But in my own physical memory I remember the home use mill stones that my grandmother used to grind rice, and it wasn't all that much work. I wonder how old home use millstones are.

As for meat, some scholar believe that it was very rare, perhaps limited to the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when they would bring a sacrifice to God, and to weddings. "Slaughtering an animal that provided milk, wool, eggs or labor was an act that was almost unimaginable." Perhaps. In my memory, it was normal to have meat once a week. In the villages, the occasional slaughter of a pig, and, more commonly, but not all that frequent, a chicken from those running free around the house, and which would docilely come into the house and jump into their cane coops at night. Free-range chickens, I guess you would call them now.

And about eggs during the Talmudic period, Weingarten writes: "A fascinating subject. Women used to raise hens in the yard in order to provide an additional income for the families." They still do, they still do, and they certainly did not many years ago in my village in Goa. 

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