It’s fitting I should be writing this post today, a year after my grandfather- lovingly named “Great-Grandpa Dentist” by the Kitchen Divas in Training- suddenly passed away. A large part of my sudden hiatus from blogging last year was because I found I couldn’t write anything food-related without being overwhelmed with emotion for his loss. My grandfather was passionate about food, and in some ways sowed the seeds for my own journey into the food world as a young woman. He was also my most ardent supporter when it came to homeschooling. Every week or so a package would show up on my doorstep with art projects for the girls, books he thought we’d find useful, or cookbooks for the girls and I to use as part of our geography lessons. In fact- I received a package from him a few days before he died, and the resulting conversation we had was one I’ll never forget.
“Around the Roman Table” by Patrick Faas is exactly the kind of book that would have shown up on my doorstep should Grandpa have discovered we were studying Ancient Rome. Truly, this book is one of the most fascinating, informative food books I’ve read in quite awhile. And, the ancient recipes which have been modernized for today’s cook are curious, creepy (yes, I find roasted Sow’s Udders a little creepy!), and at times downright delicious.
Roman Night was the culmination of our studies on Ancient Rome, and the last Feast Night of our year of ancient history. We have Feasted in the style of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Meso-Americans, Greeks and Romans. All of it adapted to gluten-free where necessary, much of it just as is. The girls have made a 12-foot long 10,000 year timeline, learned creation mythologies, read stories, watched documentaries, researched clothing, daily life, agriculture, art, and of course- Food.
Menus: Thanks to all the tavernas in Ancient Rome and the peoples’ insatiable demands for good food- tavernas started publishing what was coming from the kitchen.
Table Cloths: Romans reclined when they ate, didn’t use silverware, and so wiped their hands on the table-cloths. Some wealthy Romans had napkins attached to their togas. This was the highlight of the meal for the Kitchen Divas in Training- and many of the adults present- eating with fingers and wiping them on the tablecloth!
Gastronomy: Be it ostrich, bear, brains or sow’s udders. The Romans were the first folk who elevated cookery to an art.
The Roman diet was also the closest to ours in terms of the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables present. I was amazed as I read through Faas’s book, at how many recipes were for fruits and vegetables. Don’t expect similar uses or combinations of spices that we use today- The Romans heavily spiced many of their dishes- more akin to Indian Curry than present day Italian Food. Cilantro, Cumin and Coriander were present in nearly every dish, as was garum- a stinky fish sauce. There is speculation that the Romans preferred such heavily spiced meals because they were already showing signs of lead poisoning. Loss of taste is apparently a key sign of lead poisoning.
1. Promulsis- aperitifs: Chilled Honeyed Wine, Pickled Beets, Olives
2: Gustatio- starters: Soft Boiled Eggs w/ Pine Nut Sauce
3. Mensa Prima- first meal: Herbed Cucumbers, Columella Salad (fresh herbs mixed with salted fresh cheese)
4. Mensa Altera- 2nd main course:Fried Veal with Vin Santo reduction and white raisins, Tuna with Dates, Honey and Wine
5. Mensa Secunda- dessert with Passum (dessert wine): Pear Souffle, Fresh Fruit (we had the first peaches of the season!) Nuts and Honey.
The favorites of the evening were the soft boiled eggs with pine-nut sauce, the veal, and the pear patina (souffle). The latter was so delicious I’d like to play with the recipe and then post it.
At the end of the meal I was left wondering if anything in the Middle Ages will be as interesting or as tasty as Ancient Roman Cooking. Only time will tell!