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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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