naso's song

that naso’s song may flower for all time


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Ovid’s Garden: Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia

Planted in early spring to allow their buds to grow before bursting into bloom come the summer, the roses planted in Ovid’s Garden, Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia, will soon be filling the air with their sweet, musky scent. Both are ancient cultivars, valued since antiquity for the strong fragrance of their abundant petals.

Rose

From ancient times, Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia have been two of the most highly prized flowers because of their fragrant essential oil, used in ritual, medicines, cosmetics, perfumes and cooking. Ovid describes the famous ‘gardens of sunny Paestum where roses abound’ (Metamorphoses 15.708) where both Pliny (HN. 21.20) and Virgil (Georgics 4.119) claim the roses would bloom twice a year, accounts which identify the Paestum rose as the twice-blooming Rosa damascena.

The vocabulary used in these descriptions (rosaria, ‘fields of roses’) and the emphasis on productivity indicates rose cultivation on a grand scale and a perfumery uncovered at Paestum, which was equipped to produce perfume on a near industrial level, bears further testament to this. These gardens (or fields) of roses would have not only been a remarkable sight, but the smell in summer would have been phenomenal, when one considers that 10,000 pounds of roses were required to make 1 pound of essential oil and approximately 5,000 rose bushes could fit into one acre of land: their perfume would have been strong enough to scent the air for miles around!

In excavations from Pompeii, carbonized remains of roses were found in the garden of the House of the Chaste Lovers, and roses featuring on numerous frescoes at Pompeii, such as the one from the House of the Golden Bracelet.

Rose detail from Garden Room, House of Livia, Prima Porta 500 BC - 1st century AD

Rose detail from Garden Room, House of Livia, Prima Porta
500 BC – 1st century AD

Rose Detail, Garden Fresco House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii 1st century BC – 1st century AD

Rose Detail, Garden Fresco House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii
1st century BC – 1st century AD

They also have numerous culinary uses: distilled rose water is used to flavour and perfume dishes, petals can be dried, crystalized, caramelized or simply left fresh to produce delicate flavourings and create floral decorations; even the rosehips can be made into jelly.

In Renaissance Italy the use of roses in cooking was prolific and Scappi has over a hundred recipes which incorporate roses in their various forms (see Flavouring the Garden for some of these). As yet, I have been using a bought rose oil for these recipes, but once my roses are in bloom I intend to make my own rosewater from the petals harvested in the summer, so watch this space!

Rose

‘Madame Hardy’ Damask, planted in my own garden last year

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Classics Kitchen: Pop-Up at University of Reading’s ‘Experiencing Ancient Education’

Last week we had a fantastic day with our Classics Kitchen Pop-Up at the University of Reading as part of the Being Human Festival where the Classics Department put on a recreation of an ancient schoolroom, organised by Professor Eleanor Dickey, based on an ancient classroom recently excavated in Egypt. Children from local schools were given the opportunity to don handmade Roman clothes and experience in ancient education, writing on papyrus, copying poetry from pottery and doing equations in Roman numerals. For more details of the schoolroom, take a look at the Reading Classics blog.To Upload 3Meanwhile, our Classics Kitchen set up outside, offering students and staff the chance to taste ancient Greek and Roman food made from recipes found in ancient authors, all collated in our Classics Kitchen recipe books. We served spelt bread with Cato’s olive relish and Roman pesto, Athenaeus’ cheese & honey biscuit, itrion (sesame biscuits set in honey) and fig and wine cakes, which went down very well with the staff especially!To UploadInteractive demonstrations also gave children a hands-on experience of the crops grown in ancient Rome and enabled them to learn more about the Roman diet. To Upload 2The day was great success and we look forward to many more pop-up events like this one!
Ancient DeliasAnd we even made it into the local newspaper!Newspaper Debut!


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Classics Kitchen: Moretum, Roman Garlic Cheese Spread

Today has been a cooking frenzy/ baking marathon in preparation for our Classics Kitchen pop-up tomorrow at the Experiencing Ancient Education event run by Reading University as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, where we’ll be giving food demos, sharing ancient recipes and providing Roman food. Recipes for all the food we will be serving (and many more!) can be found in our recipe book – from savoury dishes including Roman-style pesto, olive relish and fish sauce to sweet treats including fig and wine cake and itrion (sesame biscuits).IMG_6331

Now for one final recipe before the big event…

This recipe is taken from a poem in hexameter (probably wrongly) attributed to Virgil, describing Simylus, a humble farmer, preparing a meal for himself before going out to plough his fields. First he picks the garlic, celery, rue and coriander from his garden and combines them with a hard cheese, olive oil and vinegar, which he then eats with a loaf of freshly baked bread made by his slave.

First, lightly digging into the ground with his fingers, he pulls up four heads of garlic with their thick leaves; then he picks slim celery tops and sturdy rue and the thin stems of trembling coriander. With these collected he sits before the fire and sends the slave girl for a mortar. He seasons with grains of salt and after the salt, hard cheese is added; then he mixes in the herbs. With the pestle in his right works at the fiery garlic, then he crushes all alike in a mixture. His hand circles. Gradually the ingredients lose theior individuality; out of the many colours emerges one – neither whole green (for the white tempers it), nor shining white ( since tinted by so many herbs). The work goes on: not jerkily, as before, but more heavily the pestle makes its slow circuits. So he sprinkles in some drops of Athena’s olive oil and adds a little sharp vinegar and agains works the mixture together. Then at length he runs two fingers round the mortar, gathering the whole mixture into a ball, so as to produce the form and name of a finished moretum.

– Appendix Vergiliana 2.4

Moretum IngredientsIngredients

3 garlic cloves
1tsp celery
1 tsp coriander
1tsp salt
100g pecorino/ parmesan
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

Method

  • Chop the garlic, celery and coriander and grate the pecorino
  • Add all the ingredients to a food processor
  • Purée until you have a smooth consistency
  • Spread on fresh bread to serve (I recommend ciabatta!)

There are obvious similarities with this and the Roman Pesto I made recently, taken from Columella and De Re Rustica (book 11) contains other recipes for moretum also very similar to this one.

Moretum


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Classics Kitchen: Cato’s Olive Relish

My ancient recipes experimentation continues in preparation for our Classics Kitchen pop-up at the Experiencing Ancient Education event run by Reading University as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, where we’ll be giving food demos, sharing ancient recipes and providing Roman food. The event is on 19th November, so there’s still plenty of time to try and test out recipes that will feature on the day!

In the Odyssey when the suitors arrive to woo Penelope in the long absence of her husband Odysseus, they are treated with the customary xenia and served with a meals which included bread accompanied by an assortment of relishes:

A maid poured water from a beautiful gold jug over the visitors’ hands into a silver bowl and drew up a carved table. An aged housekeeper had put out bread, adding many relishes, and encouraged them to taste all that was in the house.

Homer, Odyssey 1.136-43

Although the text does not state what the relishes were made of, it isprobable that some would have been made from olives.  The olive tree (Olea europaea) was native to the Mediterranean and had been cultivated in Greece for at least a thousand years before the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed. Olives were also a staple part of the ancient Greek diet and served at banquets, so it is likely that one of the relishes served would have been similar to the one described centuries later by Cato:

How to make green, black or mixed olive relish. Remove stones from green, black or mixed olives, then prepare as follows: chop them and add oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue and mint. Pot them: the oil should cover them. It is ready to use.

Cato, On Agriculture 119

Olive Relish IngredientsIngredients

60g black olives
60g green olives
(or 120g of one type)
30ml white wine vinegar
30ml olive oil
1/2 tsp fennel
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp mint

Method

  • Chop the olives, fennel, coriander and mint finely and mix together in a bowl
  • Add the vinegar and olive oil and combine the ingredients
  • Eat fresh or keep in a sealed container for a few days to allow the flavours to develop
  • Serve with bread

I’ve made this a lot of the summer for barbecues and it always went down well and people were always surprised its an ancient recipe!

Olive Relish


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Classics Kitchen: Apicius’ Melon with Mint Dressing

At the moment I’m experimenting with a lot of Roman recipes in preparation for an upcoming event at University of Reading that the Classics Kitchen will be at on 19th November, where we’ll be giving food demos, sharing ancient recipes and serving Roman food. My good friend Stef (@stefanieindevon) over at Flavouring the Moment and I have been asked by Professor Eleanor Dickey (who taught us both Latin during our MA!) to participate in a project run by the Classics Department at Reading University ‘Experiencing Ancient Education‘, recreating a Roman classroom as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. An ancient schoolroom will be recreated for one day and visitors will be invited to experience first-hand what education was like in the Roman empire. The Classics Kitchen will be offering a hands-on, interactive experience of ancient ingredients, food preparation and cooking methods with food demonstrations, as well as selling Roman food and recipe booklets so people can learn and eat like Romans for the day!

So from now until November I’ll be trying and testing recipes for the event. First up, Apicius’ melon with mint dressing…

Pepones et Melones. ‘Gourds & Melons’
Pepper, pennyroyal, honey or condensed must, broth and vinegar, once in a while one adds silphium
– Apicius
3.7

IngredientsIngredients

1 melon (honeydew or Galia)
2 tbsp mint
2 tbsp spoons honey
2 tbsp spoons white wine vinegar
1 tbsp spoon nam pla (or other fish sauce)
pepper

Method

  • Cut and chop the melon into small squares, set aside
  • Combine the mint, honey, vinegar, fish sauce and pepper
  • Pour the sauce over the melon pieces and leave to absorb the flavours for 15 mins before serving
  • Serve topped with a few mint leaves

Final

I learnt my lesson from the time I made Apicius’ Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce when I used anchovy paste (big mistake – it tasted awful!) so I used used nam pla fish sauce as a substitute for garum this time. The dressing was tangy and the infusion of aromatic mint made it distinctly refreshing, but I found the white wine vinegar made the sauce a little too acidic for my taste. However, the cool freshness of mint complimented the sweetness of the melon beautifully – it’s a great combination of flavours I intend to use again. The crisp, clean flavours of this dish make it a great starter, especially as its so quick and easy to make.


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Classics Kitchen: Ancient Roman Pesto

Mark GrantThe purpose of this post is twofold – firstly, to alleviate my guilt for not having published anything for over a month (in my defence, I have been away for most of it) & secondly, as a tribute to my time at the JACT Wells Latin School where I spent 2 weeks brushing up on my Latin and having lots of geeky Classics-related fun! The highlight of this time was meeting the marvelous Dr. Mark Grant, Classicist and food historian, whose writing has inspired my interest in food in the ancient world.

As well as giving a lecture, Dr. Grant also gave a Roman cookery class where each group was given a recipe from his book (right) for a dish that would feature in our Roman banquet. My group opted for Roman pesto, a ‘Herb Puree with Pine Kernels’ from Columella. Interestingly, the Romans did grow basil and it often features in ancient medicine, but it was believed to attract scorpions and considered difficult to digest because of its juices and was therefore not used in cooking.

The recipe is taken from page 98 of Roman Cookery, which I thoroughly recommend and encourage you to try out some Roman recipes from!

Mixtura cum Necleis Pineis
Chop into small pieces Gallic cheese, or any other well-known cheese you like. Pound it. Take pine kernels, if you have a lot of them, but if not, hazelnuts toasted after their shells have been removed, or almonds, and mix them in equal quantity with the seasonings detailed. Add a small amount of peppered vinegar and blend. Pour some olive oil over the mixture. If there are no green seasonings, pound dry pennyroyal or thyme or oregano or dry savoury with the cheese, and add peppered vinegar and olive oil. But, if the other herbs have no pungency, each of these herbs can be mixed when dry with cheese.

– Columella, On Agriculture

Ingredients

100g pine kernels or hazelnuts
80ml olive oil
80ml red wine vinegar
125g feta
handful fresh parsley
handful fresh coriander
2/3 mint leaves
sprig of savory, rue & thyme
salt & pepper

Method

  • Put all the ingredients in a food-processor
  • Purée until you have a smooth consistency and serve with bread *
  • If you are using hazelnuts, roast them first under a hot grill for 5 mins to release their nuttiness, turning them frequently to avoid burning

* Mark Grant’s recipe describes this as a patê and recommends the mix is puréed, however, I preferred to blend it a little less so it more closely resembled pesto and I also reduced the quantity of olive oil and red wine vinegar by half for a thicker, more pesto-like consistency…because recipes are made to be tinkered with!Pesto
I am a big fan of pesto and therein, a big fan of garlic, so I did have my doubts about the taste of this and expected it to be much blander than a typical basil pesto. I was completely mistaken, however, as this had such a rich, nutty flavour and a real tanginess from the different herbs. It was served at our Roman banquet with thin strips of fried pasta (lagana, page 60 of Roman Cookery) which made for a delightful combination.

Feasting

While this dish may represent the ancient origin of pesto, that should not rule out its use today, because it is quite simply too tasty not to make again and I fully intend to reintroduce Roman pesto!


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The Hungry Historians: Apicius’ Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce

Today, we’re going savoury, with boiled eggs as you have never had them before – you may think that a boiled egg is quite sufficient on its own and have never felt the need to consume said egg with anything other than the obligatory toasted soldiers, let alone a fish sauce. Well let me tell you, Apicius would be turning in his grave if he knew the mighty boiled egg had been reduced to such humble fare and would deplore our lack of imagination/ garum-based sauce in its modern consumption! Clearly, it’s time to reunite egg and sauce after over two millennia of undeserved separation…

What on earth is garum you say? Why of course it’s the intestines of small fish gradually fermented in brine, and here is a place where you can discover how to make this tasty condiment.  Folically challenged wizard-chef Heston Blumenthal also tested out a recipe for garum on his series Roman Feasts a few years ago, and makes the process look and sound sufficiently unpleasant. As garum appears to be no longer a favourite flavouring, and the thought of fermenting fish in brine made us shudder (note, Carmen’s already had a go) we’re using the Thai sauce nam pla (Carmen) and anchovy paste (Mim) as alternatives.

Carmen is doing this recipe with chicken eggs and Mim is trying it with quail eggs, as her Mum keeps them and they are happy little layers, if a bit daft and rather flighty (hence my Mum holding on tightly to Isadora in the picture here!).

Quails

Mim’s Mum’s quails – kind provider’s of the eggs for this recipe

In obis hapalis. ‘For soft-boiled eggs’
Pepper, soaked pine nuts. Add honey and vinegar and mix with 
garum.
Apicius 329

Ingredients

Above: Carmen’s ingredients and soaking pine nuts
Below: Mim’s ingredients and pre-soaked pine nuts

Ingredients

2 small chicken eggs/ 4 quail eggs
100g pine nuts
1 teaspoons ground pepper
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons garum (or anchovy paste/ nam pla)

Method

  • Soak the pine nuts for one hour
  • Drain and grind finely in the blender or in a large mortar
  • Add pepper, honey and fish paste
  • Gently heat the sauce in a pan
  • Whilst the sauce is heating, boil the chicken eggs for 3½ minutes or quail eggs for 1 minute, then place in a bowl of cold water
Cooking

Left: Carmen’s sauce and hen eggs cooking
Right: Mim’s sauce and quail eggs cooking

  • Once cool, gently peel the shell from the eggs
  • Place the eggs in a bowl and serve with sauce poured over

Carmen

Carmen eggs

One for the Welsh language speakers

I fully cannot understand why it was easier for me to find nam pla in a sleepy town in north Attica than it was to source goat’s milk for the previous Hungry Historians recipe. The mind boggles.

Perhaps it was the nam pla, perhaps it was the draw of soft-boiled eggs, or perhaps it was the fact that I made these at breakfast-time that meant I ate them all. The whole lot in one sitting. The sauce (seemingly in complete contrast to Mim’s, see below) was lovely and light, and the salty-fishiness of the nam pla nicely complimented the sweetness of the honey. As a little added extra I toasted the pine nuts that its served with, and I definitely think that was an added bonus.

I’m genuinely considering trying to knock this up into a more substantial recipe so that I can have it again. Perhaps a kedgeree style breakfast dish, with rice (or more ancient-world authentically) pearl barley. To be continued, Apicius!

Mim

EggsI am sorry to say that I just couldn’t stomach this, it was really grim, and I managed little more than a cowardly teaspoon-full of the sauce before deciding I would never again let this revolting taste taint my tastebuds!

It was a truly bizarre flavour – initially you get the sweetness of the honey bringing out the mild flavour of the slightly bitter pinenuts, but lurking in the background is the more sinister, salty taste of the fish sauce which suddenly becomes an overwhelming briny, fishy flavour which develops steadily until you feel like you’re eating something rotten. The slimy, grainy texture of the sauce only emphasised this and amidst it all the gentle flavour of the egg is completely lost. 

I’m fairly open-minded about food, willing to experiment and a big fan of fish, (in fact I eat fish far more often than meat) and having heard Carmen’s positive reaction to this dish, I’m going to put my thoroughly negative experience down to the anchovy paste and in future will definitely source nam pla as a substitute for garum in the hope that I will never again have to relive the taste of this sauce!