by Daniel Rogov
Daniel Rogov z"l was the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz as well as for the Israel version of the International Herald Tribune. He also contributed to culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.
Whether most of the men and women who joined the Crusades were motivated by Christian zeal or the prospects of loot and adventure will never be fully understood but it is known that during the thirty years following the first Crusade in 1097 fully half of the knights of France set of for the Holy Land. Small port towns like Caesarea and Atlit became such crowded way stations for Crusaders that they soon became thriving metropolitan areas. So many people accompanied these knights that Anna Comena, the daughter of the emperor of Byzantium wrote that "the whole of the west and all the barbarians who lived between the Adriatic and Straits of Gibraltar migrated in a body, marching across Europe country by country with all their household goods. ... Full of enthusiasm and ardor they thronged every highway and they outnumbered the sands of the seashore or the stars of heaven".
When the Crusaders first landed in the Holy Land they found the ingredients of the region so alien to their palates that huge industries developed, especially in Italy, all with the purpose of dispatching food to the hungry armies and the rabble that had followed them. For more than a century, hundreds of ships departed weekly from Genoa, Pisa and Venice, each bearing huge amounts of arms and food.
The Crusaders finally developed a taste for the new foods they discovered. They had a special fondness for local herbs such as coriander, parsley, basil and rosemary, all of which existed in their own nations but were virtually unknown in European cookery. Many found, for example, that the use of pulverized almonds in cooking added a delicate touch to dishes with which they were already familiar. More than anything, however, the Europeans fell in love with the Arabic system of cooking that allowed cooks to hang a large cauldron permanently over a low burning fire and to daily add to the pot whatever happened to be at hand. In every Crusader castle and camp, these cauldrons became a permanent part of the scenery and from them came thick soups, stews and dumplings made of rye flour. The Crusaders even learned that they could make puddings in these pots if the ingredients were first tied in a flaxen cloth before suspending in the pot from a hook.
Most households and camps also had at least a few pans for making special dishes. Leftover meats were often chopped and mixed together with vegetables and then made into pan-fried croquettes. Fresh fish, which were readily available along the entire coastal region were popular but the most popular dish was frumenty, a milky pudding made by soaking husked wheat in hot water. The dish was especially adored when eaten cold with milk and honey.
Several years after the Pilgrim's Castle was built in Atlit in 1220, an entire village had developed, the purpose of which was to greet Christian pilgrims who docked their small boats at the local port.
The master of the castle, Count Gaston Phoebus de Foix, was known as a "prudent knight and much beloved by all who surrounded him." According to one of his servants, the count "adored dogs, hunting his wife and eating and dined four times daily, the main repast being held each night at midnight when the count would come from his chambers to the dining hall. Twelve servants each bore a lighted torch before him as he made his way to the table, and the hall was always full of knights, squires and dozens of scoundrels who came and chose to stay to dinner". The count had a good appetite and was especially fond of poultry, eating only the wings and thighs. He also took special pleasure when fanciful or inventive dishes were offered to him and, even though he rarely partook of these, once he had seen them he immediately dispatched them to the tables of his guests.
Because Crusader food was often too highly spiced (in order to hide the fact that the meat had gone rancid), many of the dishes of that time are no longer considered palatable. Despite this, many dishes of that time have come to us intact, and even though each of the following recipes is nearly 900 years old, these will please the fussiest of modern palates: Artichoke Soup with Mustard and Yoghurt, Mutton with String Beans and Pears, Stewed Celery and Orange Trifle.
Reprinted with permission from the defunct guide by Daniel Rogov& z"l to Israeli Wine and Dining.