Roman Saturnalia Sweets Plate

It’s Christmas time!  The true meaning of the holiday is complicated, and always has been, thanks to its mix and match ancient origins (yes, before the birth of Jesus).

Even though that famous nativity scene is the official reason for the holiday, many of the activities and traditions we practice at Christmastime come from much older customs celebrating the winter solstice.  Decorated trees, gift giving, holly, mistletoe, caroling, and much more all have ancient, B.C. origins, and were later folded into the Christian celebration.

No ancient holiday influenced Christmas more than the Roman Saturnalia. The actual date of Jesus’s birth is unknown, but in the 4th Century A.D., Pope Julius I declared it to officially be December 25th.  Many speculate that this was to Christianize Saturnalia, a holiday that many in Medieval Europe still celebrated despite the fading out of Rome.

Saturnalia was known for gift giving, charity, and above all, feasting and merriment! So to celebrate, I dug into Apicius for some dulcia, or sweets recipes, to make a dessert plate worthy of both a festive Roman noble, and a  chef and amateur historian thousands of years later.

 

“Roman” Toast, Stuffed candied dates, and fresh cheese with honey! Continue reading “Roman Saturnalia Sweets Plate”

Sumerian Sweets Table

In an effort to please their gods, the ancient Sumerians, first people to build urban civilization, invented professional cooking and high cuisine.  Cities’ patron deities were literally fed four lavish meals with multiple courses every day.

It’s not clear if they yet had a concept of “dessert” as its own special part of a meal, but fruit, nuts, pastries, confections, and other items sweetened with “honey” (what the Sumerians called date syrup) were definitely consumed at least as part of the overall meal.

As we’ve mentioned before, cane sugar was unheard of in the old world.  That means these desserts, while still rich and satisfying for a sweet tooth’s craiving, derive all that sweetness from fruit, particularly dates.  That means this entire  plate has ZERO ADDED SUGAR, and is as healthy a dessert as you can get, short of just eating plain fruit.

So that’s what we’re doing today.  This recipe post is actually several recipes in one, as we attempt to construct an authentic Sumerian sweets table, fit for a god or goddess. We’ll be making Mersu (date and pistachio bites), Sesame date buns, Palace Cake, Date and Barley porridge, and a Yogurt Lassi to wash it all down.

To get started, let’s make some homemade raisins.

Continue reading “Sumerian Sweets Table”