We know by now that vegetables made up a huge part of the ancient diet. Across civilizations, the majority of people got most of their calories from grain and veggies alone, and even those few wealthier foils who could afford meat supplemented extensively with plant food.
Food historians know all about the ingredients the ancients ate, but as for exactly how they were prepared, we’re often left in the dark. With the Roman Apicius’s book “On Cookery”, we finally have some recipes that give a little insight. Out of them, I’ve prepared BEETS TWO WAYS, LEEKS AND BEANS, ROAST CABBAGE WITH PORK BELLY, and a GREENS AND FIELD HERBS SALAD.
To a modern cook, these recipes might seem basic. But I would argue they only appear that way. These preparations are simple, yet elegant ways to maximize and feature the flavors of individual plants and ingredients. Old world vegetables and spices, prepared at their finest.
It wasn’t known for sure until recently, but archaeological evidence has confirmed that the noodle was invented in Ancient China. The oldest ever found were made out of millet, which is hard for me to imagine. This recipe is much easier than that prehistoric version, following the later Northern Chinese tradition of cooking with wheat.
With refined wheat flour, making hand made noodles and an amazing soup to go with them (in this case a pork bone broth with greens) is really very simple. It just takes time, time to build a flavorful broth, and time for the gluten to develop in the pasta dough to make it elastic and stretchable.
Here we have a dish that is inspired by Egypt, but is not an actual Egyptian recipe. There are no Egyptian recipes. They either didn’t write any, or we haven’t found them.
But through paintings, textual references, and actual meals left behind for archeologists to discover, we can still infer a lot about Ancient Egyptian cuisine.
River fish, particularly mullet, was probably important for rich and poor alike, and Egyptian morticians/chefs worked together to discover the secrets of pickling both food and corpses. Pickled fish not only allowed for preservation of a natural resource, it was considered quite a delicacy.
This fish is what I’m calling “Quick pickled.” It’s really more of a poached fish, but by doing it in vinegar you can achieve a mild, not too intense pickle flavor that make the fish a nice topper for salads or other cold sides. Continue reading “Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped Salad”
“Mustard is a plant. Mustard is an herb. Mustard is a condiment. Mustard is a sauce. Mustard is a green leafy vegetable. Mustard is a natural medicine.” —via foodtimeline.org, Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999
Mustard is not only my favorite condiment, in all its forms. It is the original condiment. Ground wild mustard seed paste goes back far into prehistory. We can’t even say who or when it was invented.
This is my version of a sweet and spicy ancient honey mustard, using dates and their syrup as the sweetener and nothing else but mustard seeds and vinegar. But you can use any combination of seeds, greens, other spices, herbs, or milk can make your own favorite mustard.
For Pickled Mustard Seeds: 1/2 cup mixed mustard seeds 2 cups vinegar, boiled
Pour the boiling vinegar over the mustard seeds and let sit and room temperature for 24 hours.
Beef Femur bone (kept whole and split length wise, or cut in “rings” as shown here) 2-3 large garlic cloves Olive oil and salt Salad or Bread to eat with it (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F. Lay out marrow bones on foiled baking sheet, coating with olive oil and salt to taste. Peel and smash garlic cloves, rubbing them onto marrow and leaving in place for roasting. Cook in the oven for 15-20 mins, until the marrow is bubbly not so long that it liquefies and falls out of the bone. Let cool 5 minutes, then scoop out and enjoy with bread or salad.
Today we’re talking bone marrow, our last pre-Neolithic inspired recipe for a while before we dive into bread, beer, cheese, and settled life.
If you listened to the first episode of the Anthrochef podcast, you know that eating meat played a big role in growing the brains of our earliest ancestors. Remember though, that we did not start out as hunters, but rather as scavengers. DNA evidence shows that the earliest humans ate with the dogs and picked clean carcasses some other predator had already killed.
But most of the good meat was already gone by the time these upright apes could get to it. What was left besides a few meager scraps?
1/4 cup seeds (pictured sesame seeds)
2 tbsp. nuts (pictures pine and walnuts)
2 tbsp. water
1 bunch wild onions (spring onions or scallions work fine)
1 bunch herbs leafy herbs (pictured carrot tops)
5 oz. greens (pictured Arugula)
1/4 cup ripe berries (pictured raspberries)
Before fire, before homo sapiens even, there was a primitive form of cooking that required no heat or fuel but that of the human body.
The oldest known mortar and pestle goes back almost 40,000 years ago, but we know mashing food goes back to some of our earliest human ancestors, who likely smashed bones to access their delicious marrow. They turned what whole meat they could scavenge into something like steak tartare. This high calorie, high in protein meat played a big role in growing our brains closer to their modern size.
Human foragers of the past had a vast knowledge of plants, animals, and ecology that would put most of us “civilized” people to shame. Modern foraging people studied by anthropologists are like nature encyclopedias for their territory.
“Wild” greens, onions, and berries from my territory