BBC World Service – The Food Chain, Forbidden food: The Jews of Spain

Click here to listen

Today’s Sephardic Jewish community has its roots in Spain and Portugal. The Hispanic Jews lived for many centuries in those countries but faced increasing persecution in the 13th and 15th Centuries.

Many were forced to convert to Christianity, but some secretly continued their Jewish faith and practices.

In 1478, the Spanish Christian royalty created the Inquisition, a series of trials aimed at identifying those who had not converted. Food and methods of food preparation are frequently cited as evidence against Jewish people in Spanish Inquisition trial records.

Ultimately the Jews were expelled from Spain and they fled to other countries. This was the beginning of a diaspora which carried its Spanish food traditions with it.

Ruth Alexander meets three women who have published Sephardic cookbooks reflecting on this turbulent past. Hélène Jawhara Piñer is a French historian and chef, she studied Spanish Inquisition trial records for her book Sephardi: Cooking the History. Stella Hanan Cohen lives in Zimbabwe; in her book Stella’s Sephardic Table she records the cuisine of the Sephardic community that settled on the island of Rhodes, now part of Greece. Genie Milgrom was born in Cuba and lives in Florida in the United States, she found handwritten recipes that had been passed down by generations of women in her family, which she published as ‘The Recipes of My 15 Grandmothers’.

Presenter: Ruth Alexander
Producer: Beatrice Pickup

(Photo: A dish of swiss chard and chickpeas cooked by Ruth Alexander. Credit: BBC)


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