During the hundreds of years of Jewish persecution under the Inquisition, the forcibly coerced, or anusim, either truly converted or pretended to while secretly continuing to observe their religion. The same, of course, was true for Muslims.
At a recent meeting of the Historical Novel Society in Phoenix I was astounded to learn that eating chickpeas during the Inquisition was one of the things that could reveal a practicing Jew or Muslim.
I could understand if it was a person’s refusal to mix meat and dairy that gave them away, or a refusal to consume pork or shellfish. But chickpeas? Actually there were three vegetables of the time that were recognized as dead giveaways: eggplant, chard, and the aforementioned garbanzos.
Eggplant and chard were products of the Mediterranean. In fact, Arabs introduced eggplant into the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, so that one has some logic behind it.
But the remains of cooked chickpeas have been found in Mesolithic cave sites of southern France dating back almost 9,000 years. The site of a Roman legion fort in Germany contained chickpeas carbon dated to the 1st century CE, and a preserved text from the reign of Charlemagne talks about farming them on his royal estates.
I find it bizarre, but it was undeniably a thing. These days, all three vegetables have moved into the mainstream. There has been such an internationalization of diverse foods that it’s hard to imagine what vegetable would stand out as a betrayal of one’s religious persuasion or anything else.