Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

How I Lost My Appetite Trying Ancient Roman Recipes

There I was, thinking about what I should do for my next blog post, when it struck me that I hadn’t seen anybody try out Ancient Roman recipes. Lots of websites listing them, but not many testing them.

Well, now I know why!

Ancient Roman Food

So what did the Romans eat? Well it turns out that they had a very basic diet – at least by modern standards. They didn’t have the array of spices or produce available to us on a daily basis unless you were rich (Ah globalism!).

However, much like Italian cuisine today, they made their food interesting by adding sauces to their meat or fish. A traditional meal was divided into three courses: gustus (appetisers), cena (main course), and secondus (dessert).

If you were unlucky enough to be born poor,  you were probably stuck with some form of porridge or bread. This would be made with your allotment of grain. Each Roman citizen was entitled to a certain amount of grain from the harvest collected from all over the empire, but mostly from Egypt.

Side note: Some historians believe that this was one of the main factors for the fall of the Western Roman Empire. When Rome was deprived of access to Egypt – its “bread basket”- it became hard to feed the people and, more importantly, the army.

Fresco found in Pompeii

Fresco found in Pompeii

After my research, I thought it would be easy to replicate some of these dishes. I was also fortunate enough to find an entire website dedicated to modern versions of ancient recipes (which you can find here).

So here are my attempts at cooking, Ancient Roman style:

Mulsum (Honeyed wine) 

IMG_2893

Recipe:

1. Warm a half cup of clear honey

2. Add it to your mug of white wine and mix

You can either choose to drink it warm or let it cool. It should look a little something like this:

Modern Mulsum

Modern Mulsum

It actually didn’t turn out too bad. I finally understood why Romans were famous for their parties! You could get drunk quite easily if there were constantly flowing pitchers of this.

They might have also added honey to their wine because it would easily disguise the awful taste of bad wine!

Side note: The Romans often added water to their wine, which puts the whole drinking thing into perspective…

Pine nut sauce 

Romans were famous for their sauces and most of the time it was made with ingredients that were close to home. In this case, it’s pine nuts! They would serve it as a dipping sauce with hard-boiled eggs, but you could do it with anything really.

Pine nut sauce

What you’ll need:

2 ounces of pine nuts

3 tablespoons of vinegar

1 teaspoon of honey

Recipe:

1. Soak the pine nuts in the vinegar for 3-4 hours

2. Mix in the honey and use a blender

3. Add more honey according to your tastes and mix again

Serve it

Garum (Fish sauce) 

This was a very popular sauce in Ancient Rome and was a staple of most meals. It is essentially a sauce made from fermented fish.

Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?

Well I didn’t really think about it before trying to make it.

I was basing my experiment on a modern recipe provided by the PBS website (link earlier in the post). This was my clever way of skipping over the fermentation process…

IMG_2902

I looked up the recipe and it only listed 2 ingredients: grape juice and anchovy paste.

This should have been my first warning.

I should also mention that I did not pay heed to the skeptical glances from my cooking consultant, Bob.

So there I was cooking down the grape juice to a concentrated amount until it was finally ready for the anchovy paste……

…..my nostrils were violently assaulted by the putrid salty-fish smell.

This was when I realized that I had made a mistake.

Stupidly, I decided to taste it anyway….

Surprise!

Surprise!

You can imagine the rest…

Happy Dining!

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