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Foods and Culinary Utensils of the Ancients

Both the exterior and the kernel were eaten


Of

the first named, the most important food providing trees were the doom and date palms, the sycamore, tamarisk and mokhayp or _myxa_.

The doom palm (_Cucifera Thebaica_) grows abundantly throughout all upper Egypt. It is a very picturesque tree which, unlike its date-bearing sister, spreads out into numerous limbs or branches, reaching an elevation of about thirty feet. Its wood is more solid than that of the date tree, and was found to be very serviceable for the building of boats, etc.

The blossoms are of two kinds, male and female. The fruit, which is developed from the female blossom, grows in large clusters, each fruit attaining the size of a goose's egg, although the nut within the fibrous external envelope is not much bigger than a large almond. The flavor of the nut is peculiarly sweet, resembling our ginger bread. It was eaten both in a ripe and unripe condition--in the latter it has about the texture of cartilage; in the former it is harder, and has been compared to the edible portion of the cocoanut.

The date palm is too well known to need any general description. Two kinds, however, flourished--the wild and the cultivated. The wild variety grew from seeds, and often bore an enormous quantity of fruit. Sir G. Wilkinson is authority for the statement that a single bunch has been known to contain between 6,000 and 7,000 dates, and as it is a common thing for a tree

to bear from five to twenty-two bunches, the average total is often from 30,000 to 100,000 dates per tree. The fruit is, though, small and of poor quality, and consequently it is not often gathered.

The cultivated variety was grown from off-shoots selected with care, planted out at regular intervals and abundantly irrigated (Ibid.). It began to bear in five or six years and continued productive for sixty or seventy.

Besides the amount of nourishing food furnished and the value of the wood of the date palm, an exhilarating drink was made from its sap and brandy or _lowbgeh_, date wine and vinegar from the fruit without much difficulty.

The fruit of the sycamore (_Ficus sycamorus_) ripens in June. Although it was much esteemed by the ancients, it has been denounced by moderns as insipid.

The mokhayt (_Cardia myxa_) grows to the height of about thirty feet, commencing to branch out at a distance of twelve feet from the ground, with a diameter at the base of about three feet. Its fruit is of a pale yellow color, inclosed in two skins. Its texture is viscous and its taste not very agreeable. It was used extensively as a medicine, and was also, according to Pliny, made into a fermented liquor ("Ex myxis in Aegypto et vina fiunt").

Among other fruit trees and shrubs may be mentioned the fig, pomegranate, vine, olive, peach, pear, plum, apple, carob or locust (_Ceratonia siliqua_), persea, palma, christi or castor oil plant, nebk (_Rhamnus Nabeca_), and the prickly pear or _shok_.

The persea (_Balanite Aegyptiaca_) is a bushy tree or shrub which under favorable circumstances reaches an altitude of eighteen or twenty feet. Its bark is of whitish color, its branches gracefully curved, its foliage of an ashy gray hue. Its lower branches are supplied with long thorns; on its upper branches grows the fruit, which resembles a small date in general character. Its exterior consists of a pulpy substance of subacid flavor; its stone is large for the size of the fruit, and incloses a kernel of yellowish-white color and an oily, rather bitter flavor. Both the exterior and the kernel were eaten.


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