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Learning how to make cooking better


What you can learn at a museum of marzipan
Claudia Roden Writer
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There was a cuisine that was created in Spain, that was a hybrid of Arab, Jewish, and Christian. And there is a museum, for instance, of marzipan. All these cakes that the nuns made, they're all Arab. And they say them themselves, the nuns say why they are Arab, because when Christianity and the churches and convents were built, it was a time when the Jews and Muslims had either converted or gone. And society at the time, women who weren't married went to a convent if they refused to marry. And they came with a little maid because they were aristocratic. Many of the nuns were aristocratic. Because the poor people working in the field weren't sent to a convent. They were asked to work in the field. So, they came with little maids who had learnt how to make Arab cakes. Pastries. And in the convents they tell you that story. And there is a museum of marzipan which says, it is this mixture of Christian, Muslims, and Jews, and it is a monument to that. So, there is that, but I did realise the sensitivity. It's the only country where there were sensitive about their history. A lot of other people invented history. There's lots of legends. Some are true, some are not true. But they were telling things. But in Spain one people... they were aristocrats, actually. In Madrid, the woman was an anthropologist. She came out with a book to show me this is Spanish haute cuisine. And I looked at it, every single recipe was French. And with a French sauce. And a French name. And I said, 'It's French'. She said, 'Oh, okay'. But it was written in Spanish. 

Claudia Roden (b. 1936) is an Egyptian-born British cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent. She is best known as the author of Middle Eastern cookbooks including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Listeners: Nelly Wolman

Claudia Roden talking to her granddaughter Nelly Wolman about her life in food.

Tags: Arab, Christianity, convent, aristocracy, pastries, marzipan, legends

Duration: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023