In today's usage, redaction usually indicates editing by deletion. When government documents are declassified, or made available to a wider audience, some critical information may have been redacted.

In America, the Freedom of Information Act gives citizens the right to request information on just about anything known to the government. It takes a couple years sometimes, and any still-classified information will be redacted. This is usually seen as large black blocks covering any sensitive text. Some documents have page after page of blackened, redacted information, letting only a few tantalizing words peek out.

In historical cooking, to redact a recipe is to rework a recipe from an historical text so that it's usable by modern cooks. In European texts, the further back you go, the vaguer the recipes are (Arabic - in the loosest sense, including not only what is now called the Middle East, but also all of the Maghreb and al-Andalus - cookbooks are a rather different matter). These were written as working notes by professional cooks, so they assume that the reader already has a solid grounding in cookery techniques. They also leave out anything that the writer considered common knowledge: Taillevent, the 14th century chef to the kings of France, writes "Other lesser pottages, as stewed chard, cabbage, turnip greens...anyone knows how to do them: as for tripe, which I have not put in my recipe book, it is common knowledge how it is to be eaten." (The Viandier of Taillevent, Terence Scully ed., University of Ottawa Press, 1988, p. 295) This is one of the things that makes Le Menagier de Paris so valuable: he was intentionally writing an instructional book, so he goes into rather more detail.

The mediaeval cookbooks from the Islamic world are more detailed, although they still have the same bias toward upper-class cooking. For my current project, I am working from Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Cookery), translated by Nawal Nasrallah as Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens (Brill, 2010). This is a comprehensive cookbook compiled in Baghdad in the 10th century, covering all kinds of stews, roasts, finger food, sweets, bread and grain recipes, and drinks. I am in the process of putting together a lunch menu for a mediaeval reenactment event this June, documented entirely from this cookbook. One of the recipes that I have already made and tested, along with my commentary, follows.

Al-Warraq includes several recipes for sandwiches made on flatbread, rolled up, and sliced as finger food. I have previously tested one of his flatbread recipes, so for my next test I moved on to making sandwiches from it. He writes:

A recipe for bazmaward [rolled up sandwiches] with citron pulp (hummad), called al-Ma'muni:
Chop [cooked chicken] and spread it on ruqaq (thin sheet of bread). Let there be underneath the chicken some skinned walnut, citron pulp (hummad al-utruj), na'na' (cultivated mint), tarragon, batharuj (basil), and salt. Roll up the bread [with the filling inside]. (p. 150)

In this case, I'm already working from a translation into modern English, so I don't need to start by interpreting the original language.

Ruqaq is a type of very thin, very soft flatbread made with fine flour, water, salt, and yeast. I made a fresh batch for this test run.

This recipe simply refers to "cooked chicken", without any commentary on how to cook it. I expect that it was originally a way to serve up leftovers from another meal. Looking through the rest of the cookbook, I found several references to braising various kinds of meat (including chicken) with coriander, salt, and black pepper. That appealed to me as a relatively simple approach supported by the text, so I took two leg quarters, rubbed them with those spices, braised them in a casserole in the oven, and chopped the meat finely.

Al-Warraq does not say what to do with the walnuts. Leaving them in halves or coarsely chopped seemed like an unappealing texture, and mediaeval Arabic cuisine (in both this cookbook and others) tends to prefer very finely chopped or ground ingredients. Since I was working in a modern kitchen, I ran them through a food processor to chop them fine. When this recipe was written, that would probably have been done in a mortar and pestle - but I don't have kitchen servants.

Citron is the ancestor of modern oranges and lemons; it still exists, but I don't have a ready source for it. I used a mix of the pulp from two lemons and one orange as a reasonable substitute: lemon alone would be too sour, and oranges are too sweet. (As a side note, the pulp came out wetter than I liked - I didn't want it to soak through the bread - so I drained off some of the juice. Slightly sweetened and mixed with gin and mint, it made an excellent drink.)

It is not clear if the citron, herbs, and walnuts should be mixed together or layered on the bread. I don't think it makes a lot of difference: the layers would be so thin as to be indistinguishable. I mixed them.

Finally, I rolled up the sandwiches, sliced them into inch-thick pieces, and served them to my test audience. I found that using very fresh flatbread is essential: I made two batches of sandwiches that day (the one described here and another with a lamb filling), and the edges of the bread rapidly dry out enough that they don't roll well. I also discovered that I needed to pin the sandwiches with toothpicks to keep them rolled while I cut them. Making them ahead of time and keeping them tightly rolled and wrapped may help with that, but on the other hand, if I'm serving them as finger food, the toothpicks are probably a good idea anyway.

Most importantly, they were well-received by the people who tasted them, and I think they are reasonable to make in quantity with a couple of helpers as part of a larger lunch menu.

Re*dact" (r?*d?kt"), v. t. [L. redactus, p. p. of redigere; pref. red-, re-, again, back + agere to put in motion, to drive.]

To reduce to form, as literary matter; to digest and put in shape (matter for publication); to edit.


© Webster 1913.

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