Persian recipes: coating paper
The surface of the paper is prepared for writing or painting through the application of a variety of sizing agents either vegetable or animal based. This process is very important to strengthen the paper, reduce its water absorption and create, with the further action of burnishing, an even smooth surface suitable for artists and calligraphers.
In his treatises Favāyed al-Ḵoṭut (16th century CE) Mohammad Boḵāri advises:
'Apply sizing materials to make fragile paper strong enough, reduce the fluffiness of paper fibres and make the surface of the paper smooth enough to write on.'
Sizing paper with fleawort seed mucilage
Fleawort, Plantago psyllium, is annual self-pollinating plant. The seeds and the husks contain high levels of fibre: they expand and become highly gelatinous when soaked in water.
10g fleawort seeds
Pour 300ml of water at room temperature in a glass jar with 10g of fleawort seeds.
Cover and soak for an hour.
Filter the solution to extract the fleawort seeds’ mucilage.
Pour the mucilage in a tray.
Dip in the paper for an hour. Take out the paper and hang to dry. After it is completely dried, burnish it with a burnishing tool to obtain a smooth surface.
Passage from Ḵaṭṭ va Morakkab by Hossein Aqili Rostamdari (16th century CE):
'Pour some fleawort seeds into water [and leave them in it] until you get some mucilage. Leave the paper in the mucilage for one hour and then take it out.'
Sizing paper with myrtle seeds extract on its own or mixed with fleawort seeds mucilage
Myrtle, Myrtus communis L., is an aromatic medicinal species growing in temperate and warm climates and native to Asia and southern Europe. This small evergreen shrub produce small white flowers and then round berries containing several seeds.
10g myrtle seeds
100ml hot water
Pour 100 ml of hot water in a glass jar with 10g of myrtle seeds. Cover and soak for an hour.
Filter the solution to extract the myrtle seeds’ extract.
Pour the extract in a tray.
Dip in the paper for an hour. Take out the paper and hang to dry. After it is completely dried, burnish it with a burnishing tool to smooth the surface.
For the sizing combining the mucilage of fleawort seeds and myrtle seeds, mix the two in equal parts in a tray. Dip the paper for an hour. Take out the paper and hang to dry. After it is completely dried, burnish it with a burnishing tool to smoothen the surface.
The mucilage extract from myrtle seeds has a purplish colour that also contributes to enhance turquoise paper as mentioned in Resāle dar Bayān-e Tariqe-ye Sāḵtan-e Morakkab va Kāḡaḏ-e Alvān by anonymous author (16th century CE):
'If a [piece of] paper has a deep turquoise colour and it is difficult to write on, the advice is to apply either sweet melon juice (abi karboze) or syrup of Egyptian rock sugar (āb-e nabāt-e meṣri) or myrtle extract (āb-e mord) with mucilage of fleawort seed (espāghol) and mucilage of oil-free cooked rice (loʿāb-e berenj). All these materials make paper strong, and if it is then burnished, it becomes smooth, just like a mirror.'
Sizing paper with starch paste and Eremurus glue
Starch is polysaccharide extracted from a variety of plants including wheat. The starch is cooked with water and transformed into a viscous paste.
Eremurus spectabilis, known as seriš in Persian, belongs to the family of Liliaceae. Growing over a large area in the region of South and Central Asia it produces edible young leaves and very beautiful ornamental flowers. Seriš paste, made with the roots of this plant, is a strong adhesive which had traditionally been used in Iran for book binding and paper restoration.
150ml hot water
Pour 100ml of cold water in a glass jar with 25 g of starch.
Cover and soak the starch at room temperature for an hour.
Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and cook over moderate heat continually stirring.
Meanwhile heat 150ml of water in another saucepan and just before it starts boiling pour it slowly to the saucepan with the starch/water mixture, stirring the paste vigorously, adding pre-heated water hastens the cooking process. More hot water can be added to reach the desired thickness. Cook for 35 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden stick until obtaining a smooth paste.
Remove the paste from the heat and let it cool.
Meanwhile put 10g of seriš in a glass jar and pour in 200ml of cold water.
Cover and soak. Then filter the extract and add it to the starch paste to thin the paste. Stir and strain the paste to obtain a smooth consistency not too thick and not too thin.
Moisten the paper and apply the paste on the paper with a brush or cotton balls.
Hang the paper to dry. After it is completely dried, burnish it with a burnishing tool to smoothen the surface.
Passage from Ṣerāt al-Ṣoṭur (16th century CE) by the eminent calligrapher Solṭān Ali Mašhadi:
'About producing sizing material and paper sizing
Prepare the size (āhār) from starch learn these words from an old man.
First make a paste, then pour in water, then boil this on a hot fire for a moment,
Then add some glue (seriš) to thin starch, strain it [so that it is] neither too thin nor too thick,
Spread it on paper and make sure, that the paper does not move from its place.
When you are applying size to your paper, moisten the paper slightly with water, carefully.'
Simi Neyšapuri describes how to prepare layered paper with starch size as follows:
'Cook some starch and size paper. Pieces of sized paper can stick together in such a way that they become one sheet. This can then be burnished and written on. Calligraphy on this paper is legible and beautiful, and is as good as it is on soltāni paper.'