Today we want to put a bit of Peñiscola history and tradition back in your kitchen.
In Peñíscola, a range of features of medieval gastronomy are making a comeback, including the following delicacies:
Pope Luna’s Tisane is a medieval pharmaceutical remedy taken from the ancient Mediterranean culture, from which it borrowed age-old wisdom related to health. The authentic, magic formula is a preparation of medicinal herbs popularised by Pope Benedict XIII from his papal seat in Peñíscola, between 1411 and 1423. The Valencian pharmacopeia considered this medicinal brew a classical and traditional local remedy. It was familiar, widely used and safe, and was therefore prescribed during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as a tried-and-tested remedy against wind, headaches, stress and tension, and kidney complaints.
Ingredients: The components that go into Papa Luna’s Tisane, prepared in centesimal proportions, are: coriander, fennel, anise, caraway and cumin seeds; liquorice roots, burning bush and cinnamon. All are common herb species that largely can be found growing in the protected Serra d’Irta Nature Reserve in Peñíscola.
The unsuccessful attempt to poison Benedict XIII in 1418 involved placing arsenic (a dose the size of a hazelnut) in the dessert that he used to eat every afternoon. According to records, these were mainly “citronat” sweets (as well as gold wafers). But the murderers were unaware of the expelling chemical reaction that would take place when the arsenic-realgar was combined with the sugar and thus did not accomplish their cowardly deed, although the old, battle-weary pope did have to face eight or nine days vomiting continuously.
Citronat or acitrón (candied citron) was a highly appreciated dessert in Pope Luna’s days, the 15th century, when it was often served at court banquets, as well as in the centuries before and after. It was already extremely widespread and popular in Spain in Muslim times.
It mainly consisted in preserving the rind of the citron (whose scientific name is citrus medica), a fruit similar to lemons only slightly larger and with thick, fleshy rind. From ancient times citron fruits had been used for medicinal and ornamental purposes.
The farming of citron fruits, as a small tree or shrub, was brought to the Mediterranean Basin from Southeast Asia and quickly took on a prominent role throughout the Mediterranean coast, as it was the first citrus fruit in Spain. Over the course of time, however, lemons and oranges superseded it to such an extent that it all but disappeared. Today this fruit can be found growing fresh in various spots along the coast of Italy, such as Sicily, Sardinia and the region of Naples. In Corsica it is used to make a liqueur known as cédratine. In America, where it arrived via Spain, it was introduced in Florida, Puerto Rico and California. Nowadays it is cultivated in plantations in Brazil and Colombia and is used in the making of some baked goods.
On the basis of studying treatises and recipe books on the art of dessert making, mainly from the 15th century (such as the Libre de totes maneres de confits), we are delighted to share with you the original:
Ingredients and method:
- Equal amounts of citron rind, sugar or honey and water.
- Slice the citron rind and soak it in water, changing the water several times.
- Boil the rind until tender. Let cool and drain.
- Prepare the syrup by cooking the honey or sugar with water until it has a syrupy quality. Then add the slices of citron and simmer until the syrup thickens. Remove from heat and leave to stand (for about two “days”).
- After this time, heat on a low flame until the syrup thickens. Remove the pieces of citron from the syrup and drain.
- Meanwhile, let the syrup cook until it takes on a texture like “soft yarn”. Glaze the pieces of citron with the syrup and leave them to dry completely on a suitable surface.
Note: each part of the process took a long time, which is why the time is referred to in “days”.