The Bible is a wondrous document, redacting oral history going back into the dim history of time. Scholars spar over its accuracy and archaeologists dig in hope of finding proofs, but at least one thing has to be taken on faith: the many miracles described in the texts.
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Among the miracles ascribed to the Prophet Elisha are two that concern sustenance: in one instance he throws salt, of all things, into Jericho’s “bad” spring water, healing it as recorded in 2 Kings 2:18–22. (This by the way has become quite the marketing hook for a mineral water company selling "Jericho Natural Mineral Water," but that's another story.)
And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not? And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.
Elisha’s other food-related miracle has given us a fine recipe for a vegetarian stew.
This story, told in 2 Kings 4:38–41, has a kind of a Master Chef meets Survivor feel to it. It’s a time of famine, and Elisha is visiting his disciples to see how they are managing.
When the prophet comes to Gilgal – which is not only famine-struck but located in the wilderness to boot – he finds his students hungry, and decides pot luck is better than nothing. So he sends the prophet cadets out to gather what they may.
One of them comes across a fine-looking vine with lovely “wild gourds” growing on it, happily collects a bunch in his cloak and lugs it back to where Elisha’s servant has set a pot on the fire. Said student slices up the fruit and chucks it in. But his friends taste one bite and declare it inedible. In fact, they complain “there is death in the pot.”
This would be the point where our botany-challenged student prophet would be voted off the wilderness. Scholars think the offending gourd may have been a kind of wild watermelon known as Citrullus colocynthis. It’s a wicked cathartic, which explains his comrades’ farther-than-phooey response. But once again Elisha saves the day, this time throwing “meal” (flour) into the pot and turning the concoction into an apparently delectable dish.
By the way, the well-known strategy of collecting whatever’s out there in times of want also helped Jerusalemites survive during the 1948 siege on the city. They collected mallows, also in the recipe below, a kind of poor-man’s spinach known in Arabic and colloquial Hebrew as hubeizah, which grows wild in the mountains after the rain. Today you can occasionally find mallows on the menus of a few Israeli restaurants specializing in authentic dishes.
Here’s our recipe, with good old, reliable pumpkin substituted for the toxic gourd.
Elisha’s Gourd Stew
1 cup pumpkin
1–2 pressed cloves of garlic
1 leek, sliced into 2-inch pieces
Wild asparagus (the store-bought kind will also do if you’ve already gathered your wild greens for the day)
½ C chopped mallows
1 sprig of hyssop or ½ tsp dried hyssop
½ tsp cumin
Water to cover
Cook the vegetables until soft. Take 1 cup of the cooking water and mix it with 2 tablespoons of flour until the mixture is smooth. Return it to the pot and continue to cook while stirring until the mixture thickens.
Information and recipes for this article are from Food at the Time of the Bible (www.palphot.com)