Spiced Baked Fish

Meal: The Lovers in the Garden

  • recipe
  • bible reference
  • history

Spiced Baked Fish

  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • ½ tsp. caraway seeds
  • ½ tsp. dried dill
  • ½ tsp. tarragon
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. sumac
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped very fine
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
  • 6 red or gray mullet fillets
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup Bloody Mary mix

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Although the peoples of the Bible would not have had access to Bloody Mary mix, they would have been quick to use cumin, coriander, caraway, dill, tarragon, cayenne pepper, salt, garlic, onion, and sumac to make a dish such as this spiced baked fish.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mix all the spices in a small mortar and grind with a pestle until they are reduced to a powder. Combine the garlic, onion, and tomatoes in a bowl, and spoon half of the mixture across the bottom of a large, greased baking dish. Arrange the fillets close to one another on top of the mixture.

Measure out the vinegar, and stir the powdered spices into it. Pour over the fish and let stand for 10 minutes or so. Place the remaining tomato mixture on top of the fish, then cover as much as possible with Bloody Mary mix.

Bake for 20–25 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Cooking with the Bible in action

The authors shared the meal, The Lovers in the Garden, with friends. See how it turned out in this video.

The Text

Cooking with the Bible in action

The authors shared the meal, The Lovers in the Garden, with friends. See how it turned out in this video.

4:12 A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

4:13 Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire with spikenard,

4:14 Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon,with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:

4:15 A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.

5:1 I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.


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“Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear.”

7:11 Come my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.

7:12 Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth; there I will give thee my loves.

7:13 The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

Song of Songs 4:12–15; 5:1; 7:11–13, King James Version

Biblical Passage Notes

These passages, taken from the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), reveal one more instance of the way food is used in the scriptures, and its importance to people of the biblical era. Throughout the Song of Songs, the physical features and attributes of the lovers at the center of this epic poem are described with extensive use of plant and animal imagery. Whether one interprets the verses as allegorical or takes them at face value, the reader is treated to a veritable archaeological index of the flora and fauna of the Solomonic era.

The main characters of the Song of Songs are a man and a woman, and in quotable poetic language they repeatedly extol their love for each other, perhaps as a kind of courtship dance leading up to marriage, or, as many interpreters believe, in lyrics of devotion and commitment in the midst of the seven days of the marriage ceremony itself.

The Preparation

In the first poetic proclamation above (4:12ff.), it is the man who is speaking. Some scholars claim that the speaker is King Solomon himself; others believe it is a humble lovesick shepherd who, like Romeo, attempts to seduce his Juliet through flattery and an accounting of his great deeds so that he might earn a place at her side. His true love is a veritable orchard of pomegranates (in Hebrew, rimmon)—a fruit that is fleshy, whose juice is refreshing—an ancient symbol of fertility and eternal life. She is likened to pleasant fruits (from the Hebrew, meged, i.e., “precious') and is the essence of camphire (in Hebrew, kopher, a shrub like privet) and spikenard (in Hebrew, nerd, i.e., “nard”); hence we are given to understand that she was possessed of a spicy sweet fragrance. Continuing the metaphor, the lover describes “the plants' of his spouse's “garden” (that is to say, her finest attributes) as reminiscent of saffron (in Hebrew, karkom, i.e., “crocus'), calamus (in Hebrew, qaneh, i.e., a “reed” or “cane”), and cinnamon (in Hebrew, qinnamon)—inferring that she tastes sweet in so many ways. Finally, he alludes that she is to him like frankincense (in Hebrew, lebonah), myrrh (in Hebrew, mor), and aloe (in Hebrew, ahaloth)—sensual, fragrant, and healing. His love, his spouse, the woman who inspires his poetry, is all these things, and more.

His spouse's presentation of herself is fully satisfying to him—all the spices gathered in one person—and he is joyous, like a man who has his cake and can eat it too. He is blessed with the richness that personifies Israel (milk and honey from the comb; sweet wine). In celebration, he entreats his friends to eat and drink and love as he has been fortunate to do.

In chapter 7, it is the woman who speaks. She pleads with her lover to go with her to the vineyards and fields to partake of their goodness: tender grapes (in Hebrew, semadar, i.e., “tender flower, the bulb”), pomegranates, mandrakes1 (in Hebrew, dudai, also known as “love apples'), and all manner of pleasant fruits. Perhaps because the man views her as a garden of delights, she in response styles herself as a vineyard of love. Or one can understand her invitation literally as one of eager anticipation to consummate their union. This can be seen in her comparison of their love to “fruit stored over the door”: in the ancient Near East, fruit was often stored on a transom shelf above the door, hidden high up and away so that it might become ripe and tasty. In effect, she appears to be telling him that she is storing up all her love for him, and that it is his alone to enjoy.

All told, these verses from the Song of Songs are a kind of love allegory expressed through the imagery of eating and drinking at a wedding feast: the couple, having tasted the sweets of each other's goodness, find themselves drunk—intoxicated by the sheer physical love they are now sharing. The man has found his perfect mate and is living out what the author of the Book of Proverbs meant when he wrote, “Find joy with the wife you married in your youth, fair as a hind, graceful as a fawn. Let hers be the company you keep, hers the breasts that ever fill you with delight, hers the love that ever holds you captive” (5:19, JB).

The feast in the Song of Songs, whether real or imagined, was seen in the ancient Near East as the prototype of the love feast for couples getting married. Even today, readings from the Song of Songs are used at Jewish and Christian weddings. Though the text provides no specific menu for the bride planning the day itself, we're sure that at least some of the ingredients mentioned in the above verses made their way onto the matrimonial dinner table. Here is our version, with recipes, of what a bride and groom, using the themes from the Song of Songs, might expect.

The History

The Song of Songs is one of the books attributed to King Solomon, who succeeded his father, King David, as ruler of a united Israel. Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, whom David had taken as wife under less-than-honorable circumstances. Nevertheless, Solomon, and through him all of Israel, was blessed by God. Under Solomon's forty-year reign (some scholars date it to the 10th century b.c.e.; others, to the 9th or 8th), Israel remained at peace with all of its neighbors. Consequently, concerns turned from warfare and the consolidation of power to other matters. The people of Israel constructed the Temple at Jerusalem and made it the center of religious life for all the people. Commerce flourished, and the city became a hub of international trade; visitors came from all nations to wonder at the wealth of Israel, including the Queen of Sheba, who journeyed from Ethiopia (or Yemen), according to tradition. They also came to absorb the erudition of the Hebrew court, as Solomon had become legendary for extraordinary wisdom in his own lifetime. Though there is no conclusive evidence, rabbinical tradition attributes the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Wisdom to Solomon's own hand. Unfortunately, the golden age would not last. To forge political alliances and maintain the peace, Solomon took seven hundred wives; he also had three hundred concubines, and untold numbers of children. With such a large family, it is understandable that one person, no matter how wise a leader, could not be in touch with everything each member of the household did, said, thought, or believed; and since so many of his wives had not been raised according to the Covenant, a larger portion of his family began to revert to their former religious rituals. The Israelites considered these foreign practices to be idolatrous and blamed the king for allowing them to take place under his own roof. As Solomon's reign wore on, criticism of his neglect of family affairs began to fracture the unity of the Israelites, and finally the situation became so untenable that God pronounced judgment on Solomon: the kingdom would be divided, and Solomon's heir would rule over only a tiny portion of the nation. Upon Solomon's death, severe tensions developed between the northern and southern portions, and within a few years ten of the original tribes of Israel had split off to form a northern kingdom.