Of Taste and Origins

Originally appearing in the journal Petits Propos Culinaires

The name of the confection in its various forms — French massepain, Italian marzapana, Spanish mazapana — has been a puzzle. "Pain" or "pana," it is thought, means bread. But what about "maza" or "masse"? I would suggest that it arose from the experience of the Franks and other Westerners in Outremer. They encountered Saracen food and also Saracen alchemy, and may have been aware of the echoes of he alchemical elixir of life in the dietary of the Arabs. The Saracen name for the art was alkhimia. But the Franks called it by a Greek word, maza (Latinised as massa), which had earlier been a term for the bronze used in some of the experiments. For the Franks, the delicious golden pastes of sugar, ground almonds and saffron may well have seemed magical creations, brought into being by the alchemy of the Saracen cooks, and thus earning the name of maza pana — alchemical bread.
C. Anne Wilson. "The Saracen Connection: Arab Cuisine and the Mediaeval West" reprinted in The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy: 20 Years of the Best Food Writing from the Journal Petits Propos Culinaires.

And so for day 2036
10.07.2012