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Classical Roman Cooking
October 4, 2013 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Pass the Garum is a cooking blog focused on the recipes and cuisine of ancient Rome.

Many of the dishes and recipes discussed on the blog come from Apicius, the only surviving Roman cookbook (as opposed to books on other subjects that happen to contain some recipes). If you'd like your own copy of Apicius, the best English edition is probably Grocock & Grainger's edition. For a (considerably cheaper) book of recipes adapted from Apicius, see Sally Grainger's Cooking Apicius. For a taste (ha!) of what you can expect, here are the first 38 pages of Cooking Apicius [pdf], courtesy of the publisher.

If you want to get really authentic, you'll need to build some Roman cooking hardware, such as a testum or clibanus. For more on these, see A. L. Cubberley et al., Testa and Clibani: The Baking Covers of Classical Italy, 56 Papers of the British School at Rome 98 (1988), which is available for free on JSTOR via MyJSTOR. Sally Grainger wrote two blog articles (one, two) describing their use.
posted by jedicus (57 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
This was a very interesting read. Thanks for posting.
posted by cairnoflore at 4:43 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny that the current entry for the Roman cooking blog is for "Posca" basically vinegar and water. There is a real buzz around the idea of drinking vinegars - ie highly flavored vinegars stirred into chiled soda water - it's delicous.

When I was in NYC a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that alot of drinks played with a mix of vinegar, sugar, and salt to heighten the flavors of the drinks - and this was not limited to alcoholic drinks, but any number of refreshing concoctions - I loved them (plus it had the hidden business bonus of actually making you more thirsty with the added salt and sugar - tricky!).

So when you come accross something that seems like a blindingly new food idea - chances are someone in ancient Rome/Constantinople/Persia/etc.. has already enjoyed the same flavors. There are no new vices.
posted by helmutdog at 4:48 PM on October 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


I took Latin in high school, and upon noticing that the French club was making bank selling crepes at lunch, I suggested that the Latin club start selling ancient Roman food. To which my teacher replied "um, honestly it's mostly disgusting."
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:52 PM on October 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Looks like there are restaurants doing Ancient Roman recipes in Italy today from a quick google . Anyone been?
posted by Bwithh at 4:59 PM on October 4, 2013


Ancient Roman food is delicious. A friend is a classics scholar and would throw parties. He had the unerring skill to convince people to help in his projects, no matter how daunting or weird. I was wangled as cook and assistant to a party or two. I have made Roman style garum on the fly with a microwave and the contents of an herb cabinet.

Seriously, if a time traveling ancient Roman shows up, take him to SE Asian cuisine, it will rock their world and surprisingly, taste components will be familiar.
posted by jadepearl at 5:01 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Back in my salad days at university I was president of the Classics society. The society had a Roman feast every year. We would take traditional recipes to the university catering company and they would make just enough modifications to make these recipes delicious. Just a little less fish sauce (standing in for garum) and a little less vinegar made all the difference!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2013


One of the trickier issues in cooking ancient Roman cuisine is that one of the common ingredients is extinct, Silphium, which requires you kind of faking it and making some interesting decisions on taste profiles.

The classifications of garum are very similar to the present day classifications of SE Asian fish sauce so there was no problem there in figuring what quality that Apicius wanted to use. Other things are readily available in Middle Eastern stores.
posted by jadepearl at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great post - I am going to get a copy of Apicius right now!
posted by helmutdog at 5:09 PM on October 4, 2013


This placenta pastry thing looks pretty damn good. I kind of want to try it. (I hasten to clarify that it is not made out of human placentas. Do not want to dine in the kitchen of Hannibal Lecter.)
posted by yasaman at 5:23 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, whenever we would have a Junior Classical League meeting, we just made spaghetti.
posted by briank at 5:27 PM on October 4, 2013


Seriously, if a time traveling ancient Roman shows up, take him to SE Asian cuisine, it will rock their world and surprisingly, taste components will be familiar.

it does make me wonder, considering that the region has been well-known since antiquity, and the Malay/Indonesian word for salt is 'garam'. (not to mention, a founding myth of one of the Malay royal houses invoked Roman ancestry - Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa for anyone interested)
posted by cendawanita at 5:29 PM on October 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


showbiz_liz, I have to disagree with your teacher. Some Roman food is pretty gross to us, it's true. But not all, by far.

Roman Cookery by Mark Grant is another good book for those who want to try Roman recipes. He gives the recipes in original (translated) form followed by his adapted version, so you can choose to try things differently in your version if you think his is not authentic enough.
posted by litlnemo at 5:36 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And regarding posca -- it sounds a lot like a version of sekanjabin. Which is actually really good.
posted by litlnemo at 5:41 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the really nice things is that things like placenta or patina are so much easier to make with modern equipment. Some of the recipes were very involved unless you had staff to help or serious equipment. When making more complicated dishes was the question of whether it was for taste or visual opulence that things were done. For instance, force meats and the Roman version of the turducken concept.
posted by jadepearl at 5:42 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's the post on the extinct herb/spice siliphium
posted by Bwithh at 5:44 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very timely post as hubby and I just started re-watching the HBO Rome series, for which I have deep affection. I'm excited to try at least one of these.
posted by bleep at 6:00 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy shit. Extinct herbs. That's some poignant shit there. Makes me even sadder than thinking about pre-phylloxera grapes, and maybe only an order of magnitude less sad than the Library of Alexandria.

Yes I maintain a personal top ten list for this stuff shut up.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:05 PM on October 4, 2013 [28 favorites]


All I remember from high school was that Grumio could coquit a mean pavonem in the culina.
posted by sourwookie at 6:40 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:42 PM on October 4, 2013


Haha, the reason Silphium went extinct wasn't because it was tasty, it was because it was thought to prevent babies. It's one of the best part of Latin in high school!
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:24 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The asparagus patina is lovely. It looks like something my Mom would have taken to a church supper.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:28 PM on October 4, 2013


There is a real buzz around the idea of drinking vinegars - ie highly flavored vinegars stirred into chiled soda water - it's delicous.

I think this is hilarious/awesome, because I was possibly tricked into drinking pickling brine in Istanbul a couple years ago. The Turkish folks I was hanging out with described it as "carrot juice", but it was really a salty/vinegary carrot brine. The first few sips were revolting, but it became more palatable as I worked my way through the glass.

Some Roman food is pretty gross to us, it's true. But not all, by far.

Maybe, but it probably would sound gross to most high school students. Another thing is that pungent/vinegar-ish flavors and pickled things are currently trendy in American food culture, whereas that definitely wasn't the case when I was in high school (not sure how old showbiz_liz is). Most Ancient Roman stuff sounds pretty good to me in 2013, whereas it wouldn't have sounded good in 1994.
posted by Sara C. at 7:28 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was possibly tricked into drinking pickling brine in Istanbul a couple years ago.

Did they give you a shot of whiskey beforehand?
posted by asterix at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, sadly it was not a pickleback, though during the first few sips I wished it was.

Wikipedia just corrected me. It's called Şalgam and is actually fermented carrot juice, not the pickling brine from carrots. Though that's really what it tasted like.
posted by Sara C. at 7:36 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the difference between garum and fish sauce is that generally they filter out the bones and fins and tails in fish sauce whereas garum jars from boscoreale look like nightmare food and ahhhhhhhhh seriously, the chemical process of making fish guts liquid is not something you should read, okay, trust me.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:39 PM on October 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean I actually think a lot of Roman food doesn't sound that bad, especially not honeyed desserts, but...
Manilius...relates how fishermen processed their catch of tuna, cutting up the fish, flavoring the choicest part of the blood with salt so as to impart "a relish to the palate" (garum; here it seems that the blood alone was used) and using the viscera and the other pieces of the decaying carcass to provide "a condiment of general use" (allec). Smaller fish, which usually would be discarded, were fermented in dolia, where "their inward parts melt and issue forth as a stream of decomposition" (liquamen) (V.667-681). Here, it would seem that garum and liquamen were produced differently. Pliny, however, describes garum as "consisting of the guts of fish and the other parts that would otherwise be considered refuse; these are soaked in salt, so that garum is really liquor from the putrefaction of these matters" (Natural History, XXXI.93). As can be seen, it is not always clear whether garum was made from the blood of the fish, the blood and viscera, or the flesh, itself—or even the exact process.

On the plus side, we do have a lot of great sources and evidence for garum, which, along with other salted fish products, was a large part of local and regional economies across the Mediterranean. And it is really interesting to see just where garum (and the other fish sauce-like products) end up, but...yeah garum is maybe not the strongest selling point, especially to Latin Clubs.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:56 PM on October 4, 2013


This is giving me flashbacks to 6th grade when as part of our social studies unit on Ancient Rome we had to write and perform a series of fake TV commercials based on Roman culture. We definitely had an ad for garum and we were definitely all horrified by the idea of liquified fish bits.

Anytime I want to trip myself out I think about food as it once was. Pre-Columbian exchange. (Though there is enough "white" kimchi that it's not that hard to imagine kimch without chili pepper, I get tripped up on imagining Thai cuisine without chilis) Pre-refrigeration. Pre-electric/gas stoves/toaster ovens/microwaves. And of course the fact that plenty of people do make food without a lot of the modern conveniences of today, either by choice or by lack of access.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:57 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Scanning the Apicus sample I see they used an herb called Rue, which would burn the skin if handled in sunlight. Yum.
posted by sourwookie at 8:00 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or fattened, stuffed dormice, anyone? The adorable, edible glis glis-- so nice they named it twice!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:03 PM on October 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Silphium is famous not only for its use as an herb but for being a supposed contraceptive. Maybe this is apocryphal and I'm sure the classics scholars and historians will be able to deny/confirm this, but I'd heard that the shape of the silphium seed was the source of the heart symbol (♥). Basically, we've all been drawing condom wrappers on our valentines for centuries.
posted by deathpanels at 8:07 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tried the vinegar type drink. I used some Balsemic vinegar with a little ( couple tsps?) honey. Mixed them up and added seltzer water. That was seriously good and helped relieve a slight sore throat I've had.

I used to take Archeology Magazine. They had some article by an English lady who cooked Roman dishes, and I couldn't talk the kids into that adventure. Probably Mr. Roquette won't want in on it either.
He likes good foods, but he's not very adventurous. I have broadened his horizons, but it's done with patience, because if he dislikes a dish, he tends to REALLY dislike it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:52 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I totally came for the dormice. I can't find my old high school latin text right now, but I swear that puella in the pictura named Cornelia ended up eating dormice at some point. And so we started drawing dormice on everything- the board, our tests, etc. We had a potluck Roman-ish meal at some point, but I don't think we had access to any good recipes; and we didn't know what a dormouse *was* either.

I'm not sure why it was so hilarious now, but it really was funny.

As for now, well, I'm trying to find a recipe to try. Maybe those chicken "dormice" will do.
posted by nat at 10:04 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine there'd be much meat on a dormouse. I've had cuy and even on a critter of that size its hard to find a mouthful.
posted by modernserf at 10:20 PM on October 4, 2013


Like Silphium, rue was/is also known to be a potent abortificant.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:07 PM on October 4, 2013


I tried the vinegar type drink. I used some Balsemic vinegar with a little ( couple tsps?) honey.

Vinegar won me a round at an Iron Bartender party last week. The "secret ingredient" was blackberry liqueur, which might as well have been honey for how thick and sweet it was. Vinegar and a little seltzer water cut it down nicely. Never would have thought of using vinegar in a cocktail before, but if it's become A Thing, well, I can see why.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:25 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obligatory link to The Supersizers Eat... Ancient Rome: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:01 AM on October 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


There's a modern-day descendant of garum that's become quite fashionable recently.
posted by progosk at 1:50 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vinegar is pretty big here (Nice and more generally Provence). You can get vinegars made from/with just about everything: orange, strawberry, dill, thyme, red wine, white wine, rosé, honey... some are so good you hardly need to dilute them in water to drink. If I didn't have the flu, that post on Posca would have me in our local vinegar shop right this second. As it is, I'm going to have to make do with the white wine + white and black sesame + soy vinegar I've got laying around in the kitchen.

Flatbread is still big-as-in-huge here too, the local type is called socca and made from chickpea flour, water, and olive oil. Cooked on a huge flat, round sheet and then divvied into portions that you eat with your hands. Still, to this day. Seasoning is traditionally freshly-ground black pepper. It's a great, cheap meal when you're out and about. Bet it would be delicious with the lentil and root mash.
posted by fraula at 3:43 AM on October 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Actually, now that I think about it, the homemade budu my grandmother used to make didn't filter out any of the fish, it's grey salty goo that didn't look appetising to child!me. Now there's a marketing potential.

As for vinegar drinks, fruit vinegar bubble tea is big in Taiwan. And delicious!
posted by cendawanita at 3:48 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vinegar drinks have a long history in the United States as a traditional beverage for exercise. Switchel, or haymakers punch, is fucking awesome - especially for hot sweaty days when you know you need to stay hydrated but the thought of water sitting in your stomach sounds awful.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:17 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anytime I want to trip myself out I think about food as it once was. Pre-Columbian exchange. (Though there is enough "white" kimchi that it's not that hard to imagine kimch without chili pepper, I get tripped up on imagining Thai cuisine without chilis) Pre-refrigeration. Pre-electric/gas stoves/toaster ovens/microwaves. And of course the fact that plenty of people do make food without a lot of the modern conveniences of today, either by choice or by lack of access.

I grew up in New England, and that cuisine has always been pretty much "use what's to hand and keep it simple," so I kind of slip easily into "food as it once was." I also kind of dig old cookbooks - I have one that has a selection of "Christmas dinner menus" from six or seven periods in history, beginning with the Roman Empire (although in that case they call it a Saturnalia feast) - I've actually been meaning to try this recipe in that menu which involves frying almond-stuffed dates in honey. But I also have this cookbook which is an adaptation of/conjecture about "food from prehistoric Britain" - and a lot of it sounds like the really bog-simple fish stews or vegetable stews I'm kind of used to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on October 5, 2013


swear that puella in the pictura named Cornelia ended up eating dormice at some point.

After Marcus and Sextus got chased by the lupus
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:13 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anytime I want to trip myself out I think about food as it once was. Pre-Columbian exchange.

Seriously. Irish food without potatoes! Italian food without tomatoes! For that matter, without pasta -- that's not a New World dish, of course, but it's not of Roman date either. Still hard to imagine.

There was a Colonial-style tavern in Philadelphia where I had a glass of shrub, a lovely vinegar drink that was popular in the 18th century. I don't remember whether I had it with alcohol or not, but it was not necessary.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:20 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]



After Marcus and Sextus got chased by the lupus


Eheu!
posted by Catch at 7:42 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


For that matter, without pasta -- that's not a New World dish, of course, but it's not of Roman date either. Still hard to imagine.

The ancient Romans had a couple of early pastas, most notably lagane or laganum, related to the modern lasagna pasta. Horace wrote of eating a simple soup of leeks, chickpeas, and lagane.

Another early Roman pasta, tracta, was made in a manner similar to dry pasta, but as best I can tell it was mostly used (broken into pieces) as a source of starch to thicken dishes or as a thin pastry.
posted by jedicus at 9:10 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right here, right now, I am going to out myself as a pickle-juice drinker. I have done this even with the juice of store-bought pickles.

Lark inside a crow inside a duck inside a goose inside an ostrich, not so much.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2013


Lesser Shrew, I too am a pickle juice drinker!!!! Vinegar fiends of the world unite!!!!! This of course requires a link to Hannibal Buress' pickle joke.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:18 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just a little less fish sauce (standing in for garum) and a little less vinegar made all the difference!

I remember doing medieval feast (pre-Columbian) in college and realizing that while the spice levels were too high, once you wrangled them down, the food was pretty tasty. I've always wanted to eat a Roman feast since I was in junior high--I remember the dormouse in Ecci Romani too!

Anytime I want to trip myself out I think about food as it once was. Pre-Columbian exchange.

I'm embarrassed to admit that my biggest "omg" moment about that, even as a medievalist by training, was realizing that Harry Potter's ancestors didn't have chocolate in the middle ages to restore themselves after they'd been exposed to Dark magic.
posted by immlass at 11:59 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm embarrassed to admit that my biggest "omg" moment about that, even as a medievalist by training, was realizing that Harry Potter's ancestors didn't have chocolate in the middle ages to restore themselves after they'd been exposed to Dark magic.

I immediately took against the movie Ever After when one of the cod-Renaissance characters is treated to a piece of chocolate. Chocolate was introduced to Europe as a drink, not as a candy; eating chocolate wasn't invented until . . . well, this just goes to show how much fun I am with historical romances.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:45 PM on October 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I once refused to ironically visit Medieval Times when I found out they serve tomato soup.
posted by Sara C. at 3:07 PM on October 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


when you know you need to stay hydrated but the thought of water sitting in your stomach sounds awful.

I don't know what this means. Is too thirsty to drink a thing?
posted by sourwookie at 5:01 PM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not too thirsty per se, but yeah, if you've been working in the hot sun all day and you chug a bunch of ice water it will totally make you want to puke. No idea why that is.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:28 PM on October 5, 2013


I'm used to thinking about vinegar and water as the punchline to the "I wanna buy that douchebag a drink" joke. That having been said, I used to drink pickle juice all the time when I was a teenager.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:49 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pickle juice in 7-Up used to be served at the ice-skating rink in my town.
To thirsty to drink *is* a thing for some people.
In the Army they make you run as part of the training.
After you run you are supposed to chug a canteen of water. A substantial number of people immediately puke it right back up.
Of course they are probably not people bred and born in deserts. The ones who can hold their water down are going to last longer.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:16 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bet there's a trick to it.
posted by sneebler at 7:13 AM on October 6, 2013


Mentioned the posca (vinegar + water) thing to my wife the classicist, and she said it's mentioned in the Bible: when Jesus was on the cross and they gave him a sponge soaked in water and vinegar.

I always assumed that was supposed to be a sadistic trick, but no, apparently it was just a refreshing beverage, the first century equivalent of a Coke.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:42 AM on October 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


Things Go Better With Cokesponge.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:04 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


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