Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cato's Cakes for Religious Services

Today we go back to Cato and look at his recipe for 'libum', a sacrificial cake that was often piled up (into a pile called a 'strues') to make an offering to the gods. The recipes from Cato are often maligned, in fact, Varro (who wrote a book on agriculture around 100 years after Cato) mocked them in antiquity and the modern translator of the Loeb edition even footnotes this recipe with, "these recipes cannot be considered alluring." Well, they are all wrong! Cato, you have delicious recipes!
Cato's 'Libum' - An Ancient Roman Sacrificial Cake
15 oz Ricotta
half cup flour
1 egg
bay leaves
honey and poppy seeds (optional)
1) Gather ingredients.

2) Combine the ricotta, flour, and egg in a bowl. One could use many different cheeses for this recipe, all that is specified is that one passes the cheese through a sieve until it is homogenous. Ricotta is already homogenous and was present in antiquity and tastes really good. So, I recommend it. For the amount of flour, I follow Cato's suggestion for what to do "if you wish the cake to be more delicate." If you have no need for delicate in your life, then use one cup flour instead.
4) Mix it up!
3) Cato says to cook the cakes on a bed of leaves, so I spread some bay leaves on a baking sheet and placed each cake on a bay leaf.
4) Heat your oven up to 350 and put in your sheet pan of cakes. 
5) Remove from oven when they are starting to look golden brown and delicious.
6) Then they are ready to eat. I like to put honey and poppy seeds on them as well (kind of making them the baked version of Cato's globuli!). You can then put them on a plate:
or pile them up into a proper strues for a god:
These are really rich and good. I hope that all your sacrifices will go much better since now you will make the proper cakes. Enjoy!


Lew said...

After these were offered to the Gods, did anyone eat them? If not, it seems like it would be pretty tempting to make them out of mud.

I think, and my memory on this is more than fuzzy, that traditional Chinese offer to their ancestors pretend money, and I think pretend food too. Who knows? I'm commenting semi-anonymously, so I don't have to know anything!

Jake Morton said...

This is great question. As regards making the cakes of of mud, clay representations of food are found at religious sites in the ancient world! But, closer to your actual question, were these cakes of Cato eaten? I think so. I think that they were not necessarily made to be taste good, but to taste different than normal food to give them religious significance, I think of matza at passover as a comparative example. These cakes do taste really good, but not in an 'I'd like to eat this every day' kind of way. A bit cheesy and rich for daily eating. Greeks and Romans ate the meat they sacrificed to gods and their overall concept of sacrifice did not tend to mean that they did not get to eat the sacrificed item as well. Does this answer your question? Speaking of China, I went to a talk about feasting in Bronze age China last week, but, alas, all the lady spoke was Levi-Strauss' theories of structuralism instead of Bronze Age feasting. Point being, I know nothing about the Chinese model you bring up.

Anonymous said...

People still talk about Levi-Strauss and structuralism? The academic world hasn't passed that stuff by?

Do tell.

Lew said...

That anonymous guy was me. No one be alarmed!

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Levi-Strauss is a construct created many decades ago to torture my student relatives. Chuck still talks about him. By the way, Chuck and I saw some fake money being burned in a Chinese offering. - Sheri