Language of Cookery 8: The etymology of kuskenole

As a follow-up to my post on the kuskenole, I thought I’d share this short note about the origins of the name of this delicious pastry. Thanks go to Salma Quereshi for asking about this via Twitter… and consequently motivating me to look into it in more detail.

According to Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français (DEAF), the dish’s Anglo-Norman name kuskenole derives from an Arabic recipe called xuškānaǧ via a medieval Latin recipe cusculenez.[1]

In the late-thirteenth century work Il liber de ferculis (‘the book of dishes of food’), Giambonino Da Cremona translated his cusculenez from the Arabic recipe found in the medico-dietetics text by Ibn Jazla (died 1100).

The derivation of the Arabic name is from Persian ḫušk-nān [‘dry-bread’], a ‘dry bread, biscuit, a kind of sweetmeat’, according to F. Steingass’ Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary.

Apparently referring to the Arabic dish, DEAF explains, ‘It is always a piece of leavened pastry, rather dry, made from cut spread dough, filled with almonds, sugar and perfumes, cooked in an oven or in water or fried.’ (My translation of the French).

This is essentially what appears as khushkanānaj in Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh (‘The Book of Dishes’), composed by the thirteenth-century scribe commonly referred to as al-Baghdādī, his version being baked in a brick oven.[2]

The Anglo-Norman kuskenole seems to be several steps removed from the dish that inspired its name, introducing a selection of both dried and fresh fruit, dry spice powders, rather than the ‘spiced rose-water’ of the near-contemporary khushkanānaj, though it keeps the almonds.

The dough, or ‘paste’, also shifted significantly, going from the leavened mixture of flour and sesame oil of the khushkanānaj (the dough is left ‘until it ferments’) to an unleavened one made from flour and eggs.

The late-13th-century Anglo-Norman kuskenole was a pastry filled with minced dried and fresh fruits, almonds and spices, parboiled and cooked on a griddle.

Bibliography


[1] Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français DEAF électronique (uni-heidelberg.de) [accessed 01.12.21], KUSKENOLE.

[2] Charles Perry, A Baghdad Cookery Book (Prospect Books, 2005), p. 102.

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

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