An Iraqi specialty, these candies go by the name mann al-sama which translates into manna from heaven. Every year we’d get a box courtesy of Alaa’din, our Iraqi friend escaping Baghdad’s scorching summer heat for a few weeks of R&R in Lebanon’s cool mountain air.
As a child, I had asked : ” Why are these called manna from heaven?” and the answer was swift: “Because they come from the sky”.
Needless to say, this added to the mystique of Iraq being a magical place where candy would fall onto one’s lap from the skies above.
My father who’d lived in Iraq several years corroborated the story. He said the candy was scraped from leaves on the ground.
Here is the scoop on these heavenly candies, provided by Nawal Nasrallah in her Delights from the Garden of Eden.
Apparently, historians attribute it to the same manna mentioned in the Bible and in the Qoran as food that God sent the people of Israel during their wanderings in the desert.
But where does it come from?
There are certain varieties of trees in Northern Iraq which give out sap after being punctured by insects. This sap falls off the tree, covering leaves on the ground; it is then scraped off the leaves, cleaned, boiled, and milled; flavored with cardamom, stuffed with nuts, and shaped into large chewy balls: Mann al-sama.
The candies we would get were carefully tucked in a cardboard box, wrapped in paper and tied with a burlap string; feverish hands would open the box releasing clouds of flour and the strong scent of cardamom; in the box, soft balls of taupe-colored marshmallow-like candy nudged side-by-side.
Today, confectioners in Lebanon make it like a taffy, stuffed with almonds and flavored with cardamom. The real mann al-sama to my knowledge is no longer available (at least not in Lebanon). It is still made in Iraq but only gets exported sporadically into Lebanon. One confectioner to whom I talked, from the firm Oussama Ghrawi told me that to make these candies with the real mann is not profitable, therefore it is made without it!
Apparently making taffy-like (or nougat-like) candy was popular in the Arab world since the tenth century.
In Lebanon it is called mann wa salwa.
Nawal Nasrallah says that even in Iraq it is made as a candy nowadays and no longer from that heavenly sap.
Recipe adapted from Delights from the Garden of Eden.
INGREDIENTS: Makes 30 to 60 balls (depending on size)
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of corn syrup
- 1/4 tsp of salt
- 1/4 cup of water
- 2 egg whites
- 1 tsp of ground cardamom
- 1/4 cup of butter (2 oz or 50 g.)
- 1 1/2 cups of toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans)
- cornstarch or flour
- Dissolve sugar with corn syrup, salt and water in a pan, stirring from time to time. Let a syrup form (test it when placing a drop on the counter it should be firm and not drip.
- Whip egg whites (while syrup is cooking) until firm and still shiny. Pour 1/4 of the syrup over the egg whites and keep whipping. Cook the remainder of the syrup until thicker (hard-ball stage or 260F). Add the rest of the syrup to the egg whites and keep whipping. Fold cardamom, butter and nuts.
- Spread the taffy into a pan that is greased and floured. Leave it for 12 hours or longer. Cut into small squares and form into balls; dip in flour or cornstarch to keep them from sticking. They will keep in a cool area for days.
NOTE: I have made this recipe a couple of times and it is tricky. The taffy stays soft. What is crucial is for the sugar syrup to cook long enough to a softball stage. The way to tell is to take a small (teaspoon) amount of syrup and drop it in a glass of water; if it forms a ball, it is ready.
A native Lebanese fir tree is being decorated in a Beirut school.
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