It doesn’t have to have been in Spain but I expect that most of you will have been to a party at which tapas was served. One of the main components of this is a type of ham known as jamon iberico or serrano. Have you wondered why this is the principal meat in tapas?
Again, many of you will have watched Carry On Columbus, made for the quincentenary of the eponymous explorers 1492 expedition. Jim Dale played one of the Columbus brothers, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield were Ferdinand and Isabella whilst Bernard Cribbins starred as Mordecai Mendoza, a map maker and converso, or Jewish-born Christian convert. Think of Duarte Brandao (Sir Edward Brampton), the real-life example who came from Portugal to be baptised by Edward IV before serving Richard III on several missions, being knighted by him and then … but I digress.
In one early scene, the Spanish Inquisition, which dates from 1478, suspects that Mendoza is still following Jewish practices, which would make him a heretic with a rather obvious, heavily implied, fate. Two of the Inquisition’s representatives resort to their most fiendish torture – a plate of ham sandwiches. Mendoza’s arrest would be disastrous for the expedition, almost as much as for himself. He examines the sandwiches and declares that he cannot eat them. “Why not?” ask the Columbuses. “There’s no mustard on them”, declares Mendoza.
Now, thanks to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent “Blood and Gold” history of Spain (BBC4), it is apparent that the real Inquisition, in their efforts to trace fake conversos, in the wake of the 1492 expulsion of the Jewish population, resorted to similar culinary tactics as the Carry On version. Montefiore explains, in the programme(1) and in an article(2) , that an ancestor and two of her siblings fell victim to them in this way, with fatal results.