Monday, November 29, 2010

Make Your Own Cheese!

Today we will make some cheese. All you need is some whole milk and a lemon.
1) Pour the milk into a pot.
Slowly heat it until it is about to boil. Then add the juice from a lemon. The milk will begin to separate and look like this:
It separates into curds (solid stuff) and whey (liquid stuff). These are the curds:
Now pour into cheese cloth to collect the curds. What to do with the whey, you ask? Well, in Parma they feed it to the pigs and say that it makes their prosciutto taste the way it does. Isn't that awesome! There are two famous products from Parma, cheese and prosciutto, and the latter can't exist without the former. Wonderful. You, on the other hand, probably do not have a pig to feed your whey. 
Then gather up your cheese cloth into a little bundle.
and squeeze!
Voila! Cheese!
Now, if you want it to actually taste good, you can add herbs and spices to the first stage before you add the lemon juice. Stuff like salt and pepper and thyme really make this cheese taste good. You can also use zany stuff like goat milk for a taste of the ancient world! Cheese cloth is really for making cheese! Enjoy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving and the New World

I missed some days of posts due to the Thanksgiving and all. So, I want to quick look at how Thanksgiving celebrates the food of the New World. The discovery of all these new foods was such a big deal for the Old World that the entire world should celebrate Thanksgiving and eat only New World foods! In fact, you could also only eat New World foods at Thanksgiving and celebrate foods from the New World that they did not have in the ancient world (except for the ancient Americas that is).
New World Foods for which I am Thankful!
sweet potatoes
squash, pumpkins and gourds
chilies and peppers
First, a quick look at this list shows how different ancient Italian food was than modern Italian food because so many of the ingredients we think of as Italian did not hit that peninsula until the 1500s. Second, a Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cornbread stuffing, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted peppers and tomatoes, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pecan pie would be a true celebration of the foods of the New World! Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Herodotus' Egyptian Stuffed Brisket

Herodotus is definitely the most fun place to look for ancient world recipes. Today we go to book II, section 40 of his Histories and make the dish he says the Egyptians made for the most important festival of their year. The Egyptians skin a bull and then, "they cut off its legs, the very end of its rump, its shoulder and its neck. Next, they fill the remainder of the bull's body with purified loaves, honey, raisins, frankincense, myrrh, and other perfumed spices, and then they roast it all." Tr: Waterfield
Herodotus' Egyptian Stuffed Brisket
1 brisket (12-15 pounds)
loaf of challah bread
dried apricots
dried cherries
ras al hanout spice blend or cumin
olive oil
1) Ok, we are not going to use a whole cow. But to try to imitate the specified entire body, I substitute the brisket, which is essentially the breast of the cow. This is also coincidentally a great cut to stuff and slow roast.
2) Butterfly the brisket (cut it down the middle lengthwise so you can open it up like a book). Here it is pre-butterfly:
Here it is after being butterflied:
3) Now, rub it all over with olive oil. Then, cover it with a layer of the dried fruits and spices. Spices to add include salt, pepper, cumin, aleppo pepper, ras al hanout spice blend or any other moroccan spice blend. Really, whatever "perfumed spices" to you!

4) Now for the challah. I justify the substitution of challah for the "purified loaves" as follows. In response to Herodotus, an Egyptian priest named Manetho wrote a history of Egypt in Greek (from this text, among other things we get not only the Egyptian dynasties, but even the name dynasty). In this text, Manetho claims that the Jews adopted all the Egyptian dietary laws, except that the Jews made the laws less stringent. So, I am saying that the closest we can get to the holy bread of the Egyptians is the holy bread of the Jews, in this case the challah. Also, it is a great bread for stuffings. So, tear up the bread into chunks and start layering on the meat:
When finished it should look like this and be ready to rollup:
4) Alright, time for the fun step! Grab that meat by the short end and roll it like a jelly roll! Don't be squeamish, just grab the sucker and rollrollroll!
When rolled it will look like this and be ready to be tied.
For tying the beef I recommend growing two more arms as I did in the picture below. It is much easier with four arms.
I just tie it with a series of knots like this:
And it is ready to be cooked!
5) Get your roasting pan hot on the stove. Then brown the beef all over in olive oil before transferring the the oven at 350 degrees.
Brown it all over
Here is beefy close up!
So, roast it around 4 hours. It should be delicious at this point. Pull it out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Here is a really fun step, pour honey over the hot roast! If you have earlier rubbed cumin on the roast, the smell of the honey hitting the hot, cumin-y crust of the beef is amazing! Then, make sure to let this giant roast sit for about 20 minutes. Then cut it into slices that will get a cross section of the whole rolled roast. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Apicius' Pine Nut Sauce

First, everyone please check out my friend Dominic Galante's Blog, Historias Apodeixis,  which you can access by clicking on the link over there on the right! It is really interesting and covers lots of cool stuff so can give you a break from reading only blogs on ancient foods.

Second, lets cook more dishes by Apicius! This is an incredible dish from Apicius' ancient Roman cookbook that is originally specified to go over hard boiled eggs. However, once I had cooked it at this restaurant I used to work at back in Montana and so the recipe had got put into the box of recipe cards and then I went out on tour with the band. When I got back weeks later, the sauce was on the special sheet being served with scallops! Turns out Dominick, my boss and great friend who will be discussed further later, had no idea the recipe was 2000 years old but just thought it looked really good and should go with seafood! I agree with Dominick that it tastes great with seafood.
Apicius' Pine Nut Sauce
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt or dash of Thai fish sauce
pinch of black pepper
1) Toast your pine nuts. I like to do this either in the oven, but it can be dangerous because you can forget. So, I recommend using a saute pan on low heat and lightly dry roast them.
2) Put them into a mortar and pestle.
Then grind them up to an oily powder
3) Now in a mixing bowl, or in the mortar itself if you have a nice big one, combine the honey, vinegar, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. Instead of salt, one can use thai fish sauce because it is basically garum, the fish sauce Romans put on everything, and that is what is actually specified in the recipe. 
4) Whip with a wire whip or fork until it is homogenous. A blender works quite well if you have one.
Now you have one good sauce. And, honey and vinegar do not go bad - so it will last quite a while in the fridge. For scallops, I like to sear the scallops in very hot olive oil and then add some of the sauce to the pan for the last bit of the cooking process. Just enough that the sauce gets hot. The sauce is strong, so a little can go a long way. 
Really this sauce can be served with anything, hot or cold. What you can notice about this sauce is that it is a sweet and sour sauce and really the ancient predecessor to the modern Italian sauce, agrodolce. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Circe's Famous Magic Potion!

Lets return to the Odyssey and remake the potion Circe used to turn Odysseus' men into pigs! We enter the story in book ten of the Odyssey, where Odysseus and his men have landed on Circe's island. Half his men go to explore and find the hut of the witch Circe and,
"She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches,
and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey
added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture
 malignant drugs to make them forget their own country.
When she had given them this and they had drunk it down ..." (Odyssey X.233-237. Tr: Lattimore)
Okay, lets make this potion which also happens to be one of my all time favorite desserts!
Circe's Magic Potion
1 pound tub Ricotta (a really good, fresh one from 
your local Farmers Market or Whole Foods like place)
Roasted Barley Grains (for instructions, see yesterday's post)
Moscato (Elmo Pio brand is cheap and available in West Philly)
Poppy Seeds
1) Empty ricotta into mixing bowl.
2) Add some roasted barley grains. Not too many. These are just to give a good texture. Add honey. How much honey will depend on how sweet you like your desserts. Also, a really good ricotta will need less honey to taste outstanding.
3) Add some poppy seeds. Really just enough for color because, see, these are the malignant drugs! Or at least, um, symbolize the malignant drugs.
4) Now, after mixing all those ingredients, it is time to add the wine. Now, there are two equally delicious ways I have done this. First, just add enough wine until it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream and serve the dessert in bowls with spoons. Second, and more accurate to the text, add wine until it is the consistency of a thin milk shake and serve in a glass to drink. 
When I served this, people said it was strangely reminiscent of tiramisu. And they loved it! Or they lied to me about it! Well, either way they are pigs now.

Now, besides being an incredible dessert, this dish interacts interestingly with the dish from yesterdays post, the madza. If we take the madza as a main staple of the archaic Greek diet, this magic potion can be seen as the deconstructed fantasy version of that everyday dish. The fundamental ingredients in madza are barley and water with honey, wine, and cheese as the optional ingredients. It is then eaten in a dry, hard-tack like state. This magic potion, however, is also made from barley, honey, wine, and cheese - but the ratios are so skewed that not only is it not dry, it is drinkable. The focus has shifted from the barley and water to the optional 'flavor' ingredients, but it is still the same ingredients. Homer has taken an everyday item for the listener and idealized it into a fantasy version.
Interestingly, the interaction with the madza does not stop here. After Odysseus' men drink the potion, they become pigs and then their new diet is specified, they eat only two different kinds of acorns and cornel buds - all scavenger foods that were viewed by the archaic Greek as both less tasty and less civilized than the madza. So, in this passage we see Odysseus' men first eat a meal that is a fantasy version of everyday fare for the listener and then get immediately reduced to eating food much worse than the listener's everyday fare, and this food is presented as fit only for animals - but we know was eaten also by men in times of famine, i.e. when there was no barley for madza. Perhaps this reinforces to the listener to be happy with what they have?
So, in this marvelous passage, we get Circe's deconstructed madza (I love this term because it reminds me of a few years back when 'deconstructed homey meals' were all the rage at fancy restaurants) and the acorns for the destitute - and a great dessert for us to eat today! Enjoy! 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Madza - the everyday food of the ancient Greek

For this dish we leave whimsy behind and look at what the average ancient Greek on the street ate every day - the barley cake! Attested in, amongst others, Aeschylus, Thucydides, Hesiod, Aristophanes, and Archilochus, the madza was a cheap, easy to make, bread product that involved no baking and essentially lasted forever.
olive oil
white wine
1) With normal bread, one grinds the grain, mixes it with water and other liquids and then bakes it. But, with madza one bakes the grain and then grinds it and mixes it with liquids! The madza does not need to be baked again, after kneading it into patties it is ready to be eaten. I like to roast my barley in a wok. Presumably, the Greeks used ovens.
So, roast the barley until it looks dark and roasted, but also tastes good. It tastes oddly like honey smacks cereal, just less sweet. A nice medium heat with lots of stirring is the key here. It can take longer than expected if you put alot of barley into the wok. It will look like this when done:

2) Transfer your freshly roasted barley into a mortar and pestle. Those giant stone ones you can get in Chinatown are the best. Brass and marble ones come next. 

3) Now, grind away!
4) Eventually it will be a very fine flour, or you will give up and it will be a chunky flour!
5) Now, the only other essential ingredient is water. And lots of kneading! All authors who talk of the madza talk about the kneading. If you want your madza to taste better, you can add a variety of flavor enhancers such as oil, honey, wine, milk, or even cheese (I recommend a feta or ricotta for two different yet both delicious alternatives). 

Above is the mixture before kneading.
Below is the kneading. I am clearly a very lazy barley grinder.
Once you have kneaded yourself some little patties of dough ... you are done! Yep, ready to eat. And, as long as you did not add milk or cheese, these little guys will last a very long time. 
This was what people really ate in ancient Greece, the everyday food of the everyman. Often mocked in literature, these madza supplied the calories needed to survive for many people and surprisingly taste pretty good! So, go buy some barley and get roasting!

Tomorrow: Circe and her fantasy madza!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cato's Advice for the Sick

I have a sinus infection so I thought I would see what Cato advises me to do to get better. Not surprisingly, it revolves around cabbage, seeing that  out of a book on how to be a farmer (De Agri Cultura from 165 BC) of only around 77 pages, 6 pages are devoted to the medicinal properties of cabbage. This might strike you as strange, and in fact I do not think anyone has ever read this book and not thought that it was strange.
So, on to Cato's advice!
1) Rest assured, cabbage is the most medicinal vegetable.
2) Eating it is good for easing digestion, purging the digestive tract, headache, eye-ache, swollen spleen, painful internal organs, sore joints, insomnia, colic, and melancholy.
3) Using it as a poultice is good for wounds, swellings, sores, boils, tumors, dislocations, bruises, ulcers, and removing a nasal polypus.
Clearly, cabbage is really awesome stuff. And it is cheap! Cato says (157.8) "Cabbage is not expensive, and even if it were, you should try it anyway for the sake of your health!" Cato, famed curmudgeon that he was, cares about you and your health!
But, what is way more amazing to Cato than the powers of cabbage is the powers of the urine from someone who eats cabbage habitually. Yes, folks, the urine. and I quote (157.10), "If you save the urine from a habitual cabbage eater, heat it, and bathe a man in it, you will quickly make him healthy with this cure. This has been tested. Also, if you wash babies with this urine they will never become sickly!" He goes on to say that bathing the eyes, head, neck, and women's privates in cabbage-eater-urine is a very healthy thing. I love his insistence that he has scientifically tested this seemingly insane idea.
So yes, bathe your babies in pee so they will never be sick! Immortal words from the pen of Cato himself. I guess a quick usable recipe for other sick people out there:
Cato's Healthy Cabbage 
Cato says that absolutely nothing is more healthy that cabbage that has been chopped, washed, dried and served with salt and pepper. If you are feeling up to it, add red wine vinegar, and/or coriander.
So, eat your cabbage and get healthy! Please do not really bathe your babies in pee.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Agrippina's Delight! (Formerly Claudius' Delight) An appetizer or a last meal?

Today we are have a vegetarian dish taken from Suetonius' 'The Deified Claudius' section 64, with a little help from Tacitus and the Apocolocyntosis! So, we enter the story when Claudius' devious, devious wife, Agrippina, has just poisoned Claudius to death. "At a family dinner party, Agrippina herself served drugged mushrooms to Claudius, who was extravagantly fond of such dishes." Oh no! That tricky lady put poison in his favorite food! So, lets cook some mushrooms ... it is up to you if you want to make them 'Claudius' Delight" - a nice appetizer, or "Agripina's Delight" - a last meal (cue spooky organ music).
Agrippina's Delight
1 pound assorted mushrooms 
Olive oil
shallot and garlic
White wine
salt and pepper
fresh basil or other herbs
1) Heat up your pan over a pretty high heat,
2) Add oil. Pretty much no matter how much oil you use, the mushrooms will absorb it like the delicious little sponges that they are. More healthy? - 2-3 Tablespoons. More Tasty? - 6 or so Tablespoons.
3) Add a tablespoon each minced shallot and garlic and cook for just a few seconds.
4) Add all the mushrooms and stir. When it seems to want to stick, add white wine. Again, how soupy you want it determines the amount. Not soupy - add it a couple tablespoons at a time. Real soupy because you are going to serve it over crusty, grilled bread - start with a half cup and go from there.
5) Add herbs, salt and pepper to taste. When mushrooms are cooked, turn out onto a serving platter and squirt lemon juice on top.

Now, we need to change the recipe to give it the 'Agrippina' feel! While Suetonius specifies porcini mushrooms (how awesome is that! It really specifies the porcini, still the favorite mushroom in Italy today!), they are expensive unless you live in the West and can go hunting for them yourself. So, I use almost all the white or crimini mushrooms, except for a few whole shiitake mushrooms. These, you see, will be the poisoned ones! You could also add some diced red bell pepper to be your 'poison'.
Tacitus also specifies that Claudius ate poisoned porcini mushrooms ... but the illustrious Professor Cynthia Damon says that it is just an interpolated passage from the aforementioned Suetonus.
But wait, there's more! After eating these mushrooms, Claudius has the absolute worst last words of any man ever! (Contrast to the best: Vespasian's "I think I am becoming a god.") According to the Apocolocyntosis, Claudius' final words are, "vae me, puto, concacavi me!" - "woe is me, I think, I crapped myself!" Wonderful! The worst last words ever!
So, cook some sauteed mushrooms, but make some of them look poisoned and you have "Agrippina's Delight"!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Odysseus' Hands

Homer! What a wonderful place to look for recipes, oh yes! This one is inspired by Book V, lines 432-435 of the Odyssey. At this point, Odysseus is swimming in the ocean trying not to drown and he grabs onto a rock. But, alas, a wave washes over him and he is pulled off the rock - cue Homeric simile -  "As when an octopus is dragged away from its shelter and thickly clustered pebbles stick in the cups of the tentacles, so in contact with the rock the skin from his bold hands was torn away. Now the sea covered him over."(tr. Lattimore) Now, you might say, "wow, is this passage talking about how Odysseus is crafty like that famous crafty animal, the octopus? I mean, didn't Paul the octopus predict the entire freaking world cup?" Or, "Wait the rocks are stuck in the octopus' tentacles just like the skin is ripped from Odysseus' hands? Isn't that kind of backwards?" Look, stop focusing on those esoteric issues! Lets instead make this a tasty dish and get cooking!
Odysseus' Hands
1 pound squid tentacles
2-4 Tablespoons Pine nuts
2 Tablespoons celery chopped to the size of pine nuts
2 Tablespoons red bell pepper chopped to size of Pine nuts
Tablespoon of mince shallot
Olive oil, salt, pepper, white wine, lemon
1) Okay, first add your olive oil (2-4 tablespoons or so) in your pan. Turn on heat, high heat.
2) Add pine nuts. As the oil heats, swirl the pine nuts so they start to get wonderful and golden colored. 3) When they look beautiful, add shallot, celery, and pepper.
4) After a minute or so, really just enough time for the pan to get back to temperature, add the squid tentacles. Over at Reading Terminal Market, one can buy just the tentacles for cheaper than the whole bodies. Why squid rather than octopus, you ask? Squid is easier to cook than octopus.
5) Oh, it should just be a sizzling now. Add some white wine. 2-4 Tablespoons say. 
6) Add black pepper (see it looks like sand ...) and taste for salt. 
7) When squid is cooked (oh for gods sake do not overcook your squid and make Odysseus' Rubber Hands!) turn out dish onto serving platter and squeeze fresh lemon wedges over all.
See, the squid tentacles groups are his hands and the vegetables are the pebbles! Holy moly is that awesome, yes! 
Eat that long-suffering, crafty man's hands! More Homer to come! 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cato the Elder's Beef Bourguignon

Today we have one of my absolute favorites - Beef Bourguignon (or Beef Burgundy as we call it here in the States) from Cato the Elder's De Agri Cultura from 165 BC. This is definitely the earliest recipe for this dish I have ever seen! And so much that is so cool is attached to this recipe. Ok, first we go to section 83 of the text. This dish is part of a religious ceremony to maintain the health of one's cattle and is dedicated to 'Mars Silvanus of the woods'. Often people are told that Roman gods are just the Greek gods, but here we have a ceremony to a native Italic god - very exciting, yes! We also see some nutritional theory on display here by Cato. Throughout this text, he modifies his recommended diet for slaves and other farmhands depending on the amount of work required by the season, punctuating major work days (i.e. harvest, planting) with accompanying major feasts, such as this one. This is just like modern athletes modifying their diet to match their calorie expenditure through the year and then eating huge amounts before big races! (see Chris Carmichael's Food for Fitness book for more on this). Okay, less talk, more recipe.
Cato's Beef Bourguignon
about a 1/3 pound bacon
2 or so pounds stew beef, lamb, or goat
olive oil
red wine
salt, pepper

1) Start warming your pot on the stove and add some olive oil, quarter cup or so, and the chopped bacon.
2) Cook until the bacon has released most of its fat.
3) Take your chopped up pieces of stew meat and toss them in a bowl with enough flour to coat. Around a half cup or so.
4) Add floured meat to pot and stir well. You want all your meat to slowly brown and the flour to form a roux (makes the sauce thicker and better later) with the fat - but you don't want it all to burn. A nice mid-low heat. 
Notice the 'in action' spatula. 
Stir so it does not burn. When you are ready to add the wine, make sure to carefully add the precisely measured amount of red wine as demonstrated below:
Add some thyme, salt, black pepper. Ye olde herbs de provence is nice. And let simmer for a few hours. Stir it periodically so nothing can find a way to stick to the bottom. And I think that the food likes it if you come say 'hi' to it and stir it periodically. It makes it remember that you care. At first the smell and color will be very wine-y and raw. But that will gradually go away and it will turn a nice pink and make your whole house smell delicious! 
Notice the color change from the first picture. 
Now, Cato says to serve this with some farro - just cook it in a pot like pasta - and I agree with him that it would be great. Also a nice big piece of crusty bread would be wonderful. No potatoes my ancient cooking friends! Nein! That is a new world crop! Cato says to use a 1:1 ratio bacon to meat, so feel free to change my recipe to be like that if you want ... it would be good ... and rich ...
Good News: Cato says that either a slave or free man can cook this.
Bad News: Cato says that no woman may eat this or even look at it! Oh no! Women turn off my blog! Do not look at the pictures! Oh no! I have violated Cato's direct order! Seriously, women, stop looking at the pictures. Seriously. Women! Stop looking!

Enjoy, men! I will try to find a recipe both sexes can eat, or even look at, next time!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Plato and the Butcher

Plato today! And butchery! Yes, lets look at Plato and the Phaedrus, specifically at 265e1-3. Here, Socrates says that a good orator should be able to address a topic like a butcher, (using Rowe's translation) "being able to cut it up again, form by form, according to its natural joints, and not try to break any part into pieces, like an inexpert butcher." Now, certain scholarly folks (like Davidson in his Courtesans and Fishcakes book) have accused Greek butchers of gross incompetence, that they merely hacked up pieces of meat indiscriminately. This bit of Plato is part of my attempt to rehabilitate the ancient Greek butcher! See, meat wants to come apart into its component parts. With even a modicum of skill it is much easier to take meat apart into individual muscles by just removing the connective tissue than it is to hack through the muscles themselves (especially without modern knives - in fact I was first taught to do butchery with my hands to get a feel for how the muscles sit with each other and where the connective tissues are). Here in Plato is a wonderful attestation to butchery being a skill at Athens. So, I tried to show in photos just what Plato is describing.
Here is a thigh of lamb. I have already removed the layer of fat from over the top. This will later be wrapped twice around the thighbone from this leg and burned (remember your Homer and his thighbones twice wrapped in fat!), but that is a separate post.
Okay, now I am going to try to show how this block of meat is made up of individual muscles which it is easy to separate. I begin, only cutting through connective tissue, not muscle.
Here I am trying to demonstrate how the meat is coming apart. Perhaps a bit too intense of a close up of raw meat, eh?
Okay, here are hopefully clear shots of the separate muscles of the leg pulled apart. One has been removed to make seeing the others easier. All can quickly be removed now.
Here it is again with knife "for dramatic effect". It makes me think of those "In Action" baseball cards Topps had when I was a kid. If you scroll back up to the first picture hopefully now you can see how what first looked like an impenetrable mass of raw meat was actually a few different pieces held together which can all be separated from each other according to their natural divisions, just like Plato said!
Ok, the point of all this was to show what Plato meant when he said that a piece of meat easily comes apart into its component parts. As a bonus, we also seemingly get Plato's attestation to butchery being a recognized skill at ancient Athens!

Now, go eat some lamb! 

On that note ... alas, it appears that my local Halal butcher from whom I got this leg is out of business. Or, at least there is a court summons taped to their door concerning their being sued for back rent. And, the store has not been opened in weeks. Alas.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Apicius' Sweet and Salty Dates

What we have here is a truly delicious dessert. This one is straight from Ye Olde Apicius' ancient, yet amazingly corrupted in transmission, cookbook. I can't remember what recipe # it is offhand, but if I come across it later I will post it.

Walnuts or other nuts

1) Pit the dates.
2) Stuff the nuts where the pits used to be and squeeze the dates closed. They will stick back together because, well, they are sticky. This step demonstrates a concept prevalent in ancient Roman cooking, the element of disguise. See, you will think there is a pit in the date, but instead it is a tasty nut which looks like a pit. What a zinger! Those Romans!
3) Roll the dates in salt so they look like this:

4) Put a pan over low heat. Add some honey to the pan. Very exciting - yes, honey can be used as a cooking medium. Use low heat because you are frying in honey and not oil. 
5) When the honey is at the right temp - first it will get very runny and then it will just be beginning to bubble - add enough dates to make a layer in your pan. 

5) Stir them so they are coated with honey and hot and then remove from plate onto a serving dish. Add more honey to pan if needed and cook all the dates in batches until they are all cooked. Eat while hot, but careful of boilingly hot honey permanently scalding your mouth.

These are actually shockingly delicious. Shocking. Shocking!


Virgil's Prosciutto Souls

So, yesterday I got the opportunity to talk ancient food studies with Professor Jaeger from the University of Oregon and she pointed out this great food analogy from the Aeneid to me. Then, I ran and found Joe Farrell, Virgil scholar, to tell him.

Me: Joe! Joe! This is so exciting!
Joe: Uh oh. Have you been talking to Mary Jaeger?
Me: Yes! You know in the Aeneid at book 6 lines 740 to 741 ...
Joe: Oh no. No, Jake.
Me: No really, when the souls are hanging in the underworld "suspensae ad ventos", "suspended to the winds" ...
Joe: You are going to make all the souls prosciutto aren't you?
Me:Yesyesyesyesyes! Isn't that wonderful!
Joe: Um ... I'm really busy right now, or something.

Very exciting, see, because that is how one makes prosciutto. One salts the meat and then washes it and then hangs it where the wind can blow over it, while it slowly cures. So, to Virgil, then, these prosciutto-souls then later become new humans, or something. Until, you know, one finishes the cycle of ages, or something. Much more interesting than the esoteric mumbo jumbo is the salt reference here. See, in this passage there are three ways a soul gets purified of its past sins enough that it can be recycled, so to speak. These are by a big whirlpool (sub gurgite vasto), fire, and winds. Winds? But, if the winds are understood to be the second half of the curing process with the first being salt, then it makes much sense. Water, fire, and salt are all recognized ritual cleansing agents in the ancient world. So, isn't it comforting to know that when you die you might become soul prosciutto for a while before you go the Elysian fields?
Thanks for the citation, Professor Jaeger!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Okay folks, here we go! Recipe number 1!

Here we are inspired by a reference in the beginning of what we have of Petronius. He says that students in school learn nothing but, "melitos verborum globulos et omnia dicta factaque quasi papavere et sesamo sparsa" which in english is, "honey-sweetened round globs of words and all things said and done as if sprinkled with poppy seed and sesame seed." Awesomely, there is a recipe for globuli in Cato's wonderful book on farming in section 79. Now this recipe calls for cheese mixed with flour, fried in lard and stirred with two wooden sticks and then sprinkled with honey and poppy seeds!

Flour (I recommend toasting your own barley and grinding it with a mortar and pestle, but I will cover this in another post)
olive oil
2 chopsticks
poppy seed.

Mix the ricotta with flour until it is still enough to form balls. It does not take too much. Modern Italians put an egg in. Ancient Romans, well at least Cato, do not. Heat the olive oil in a pan - although Cato does specify lard ... I like my cheese fried in olive oil. Form the cheese mixture into small balls and drop into the hot oil. Periodically turn the globuli using the wooden sticks. When beautiful and brown, remove from oil onto a plate and then while still hot drizzle honey over it and sprinkle poppy seeds. Eat! Whoa, these are awesome! So, no balls of words lacking all nutrition instead of a good wholesome dinner, you! But, enjoy this wonderful dessert, or as a nice afternoon snack perhaps with a glass of moscato.

Hello Internet!

This is blog about ancient foods. I am a Ancient History Grad student at UPenn who focuses on food studies. I also cooked professionally for ten years before I went to grad school. So, I love cooking foods from the ancient world and I am going to use this blog to post pictures and recipes of dishes I recreate.

I divide these dishes into three groups:
1) Actual recipes from ancient cookbooks and such.
2) Recipes inferred from references in works such as Homer and Herodotus.
3) More fantastic recipes inspired by ancient poets, etc.

Well, read it and comment on it and here we go!