Take Moor Chances with Thanksgiving

Moorish Thanksgiving is a descendant of Persian Thanksgiving, and this marks the fifth year of the tradition of celebrating the medieval Islamic East or West.

This year, we mixed the ancient cuisine of the Moors into Thanksgiving.

This may seem like a bad idea:

  • When it comes to Thanksgiving, people are serious about their turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberries;
  • ancient food usually is not a crowd–pleaser, example: “For today’s meal, I have replaced butter with the fat of rendered sheep tail”;
  • and cooking ancient food, by nature, is really educated guessing; old recipes, assuming you can read the language they are written in, have vague instructions, lack exact measurements, and often use unknown or unavailable ingredients.

Let me attempt to offer an explanation of why we might bring 28 guests down a risky path, especially on Thanksgiving.

In the 8th century, The Moors, an extension of the Islamic Empire, conquered and occupied the Iberian Peninsula, what is now Spain and Portugal. From Northern Africa they brought a culture of innovation, technology and knowledge into Europe.

Islamic architecture, medicine, arts, law, astronomy and engineering were several hundred years beyond Europe. This advanced culture with new ideas, such as paper and books, the Arabic numeral system (1, 2, 3) and progressive math like algebra, has ultimately become the cornerstones of our modern-day culture. The Moors in Al Andalus (Islamic Spain and Portugal) essentially sparked the Renaissance and set the groundwork for the exploration of the New World.

The Moors also introduced new food: sugarcane, rice, vegetables, almonds, citrus. From Asia and Africa they brought spices: cumin, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, mustard, cloves, nutmeg, saffron, black pepper. This influx of new ingredients and cooking techniques proved pervasive and enduring for Spain, the rest of Europe and the New World, clearly impacting Mexican and South American cuisines. Spanish paella, considered a national dish, was birthed from Moorish casseroles of rice, fish and spices.

On January 2, 1492, Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, surrendered to the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Christopher Columbus was in attendance at Alhambra, where he witnessed the Moorish king emerge from the city gates and kiss the hands of the Spanish king, queen and prince. It was the end of the Moors and their rule in Spain, after some 781 years in total. Later in 1492, on August 3, Columbus would begin his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to, as it would turn out, the New World.

We celebrate the Moors and the Islamic culture that brought the Old World and it’s bounty of knowledge, culture and food to our New World through the Spanish. In 1565, there is evidence the Spanish held the earliest Thanksgiving in Florida- more on that next year.

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Courtesy of Paul Donald

Thank you again David Albertson, Rocket Caleshu, and Paolo Salvagione.