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”

Sumerian Onion Bread (for gods or royalty)

No peasant fare today.  This bread is for deities or royalty only.

We know the Sumerians, original urban culture of the world, were obsessed with many types of onions, especially leeks.  We also know that temple priests took great care to prepare special food for their resident god or goddess. Most people used flour that was pretty coarse compared to modern ones, but it’s likely that the finest, and most finely ground, sieved, and combed through flour would go into bread made for Enlil or Inanna, presented by priests at four lavish meals per day, every day.

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This recipe, which is a modern invention, simulates a bread that was fit for the gods by incorporating all-purpose, wheat, and barley flours together with cooked leeks and green onions.  The technique is similar to how Chinese style scallion pancakes are made, but this bread uses a leavened dough and is cooked in pork fat, as the Sumerians loved to do.

(Makes 6 flatbreads)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup barley flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon (or 1 packet) of yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 cups warm water
1 bunch leeks, sliced
2 bunches spring onions or scallions, sliced
4 tbsp. butter
3-6 thinly sliced strips pork belly (or bacon)

Start by making the dough. Add the yeast to the warm water and let activate for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix your flours and salt, then combine into a loose dough. Turn onto a surface coated with flour and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and stretchable.

 

Continue reading “Sumerian Onion Bread (for gods or royalty)”

Ancient Honey (date) Mustard

“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.

We do know it was popular with the Sumerians and their descendents, covered in HISTORY OF FOOD EPISODE 4: How to Turn Food into Wealth.  Mustard was used for both its seeds and its leaves, and is referenced in multiple cuneiform texts.

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.

 

For dry mix:
1/2 cup mixed mustard seeds
2 teaspoons salt Continue reading “Ancient Honey (date) Mustard”

HOF Episode 4: How to Turn Food into Wealth (Sumer)

We’ve done it. We’ve finally crossed into the realm of written records and recorded history.  Join me on an odyssey going back 6,000 years ago, when the Sumerians of what is today southern Iraq, took a mega-surplus of grain and transformed it directly into wealth and power.  In the process, they managed to invent cities, urbanism, and all the trappings modern civilization. (Not to mention the first written recipes and cookbooks)

Theme music by the incredible Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. This rendition of the Hurian Hymn, the oldest known piece of sheet music, and the whole album “An Ancient Lyre” and much more is available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

AVAILABLE ON SOUNDCLOUD AND ITUNES.
Please leave a review to help spread the word!

(Fun note: this is the era and society that produced the banner art for this website, a royal banquet in Mesopotamia) Continue reading “HOF Episode 4: How to Turn Food into Wealth (Sumer)”

Fertile Crescent Multi-grain Bread

When times were tough in the ancient world, those dependent on their primitive farms might have come up short on their preferred grains for bread and would have been forced to add other flours to the mix.  For the vast swath of commoners across ancient Mesopotamia, from modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Mediterranean coast, this hearty multi-grain bread was actually healthier, though nobody knew it at the time.

This bread is made from grains that could be found all over the middle east in 5000 BC. The cultivated wheat and barley, with lentils and chickpeas from the garden, and spelt and rye foraged in the wilderness around the village.

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Like NATUFIAN BARLEY BREAD and MODERN ASH BREAD this is another experiment that allows us to really appreciate the miracle of leavened bread. We’re gonna make this two ways, a leavened sourdough loaf with the knowledge of modern cooking technique, and a cracker like version that’s probably more accurate for what an average peasant had to make do with from time to time. Continue reading “Fertile Crescent Multi-grain Bread”

Mesoamerican Blackbean Tamales with Chili Sauce

Spicy. Simple. Delicious.

To accompany the Mesoamerican section of episode 3 of the History of Food, we’re making authentic ancient tamales in the earth oven, just like would have been done in pre-urban Mexico and Guatemala.

These tamales are a little plain, and lack the fat and leavening agents that help make modern tamales so delicious. We’re making ours with only the ingredients the ancient Mesoamericans had, that is with corn, lime, and water.

But that’s okay, we’ve got some other authentic ingredients to help the flavor along.  Black beans for filling, and chili sauce for garnish, and roasted squash as a side are going to give us flavor and depth, even if the tamale itself is bare bones.

Sweetcorn or Popcorn won’t work. You need plain field corn for this, which in some areas can be hard to come by.  You can find it in many Mexican markets, almost any tortilleria, or if you’re truly lucky, a farmer.

For the tamales:
400g Plain Field corn (NOT sweet or popcorn)
6g Cal (pickling lime)
5 cups water
Dried corn husks for wrapping the tamales

For the Black bean filling:
3/4 cup dry black beans

5 cups water
1 fresh chile
1 medium onion

For the Chili sauce:
6-7 fresh chiles
Seeds from 1 squash or pumpkin
water

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20171031_100404.jpg Continue reading “Mesoamerican Blackbean Tamales with Chili Sauce”

YOGURT CHEESE (Farmers or Cottage)

Yes it’s already time for another cheese recipe. You’re going to be seeing a lot of them on this blog.  Not only because cheese was a staple of many ancient diets, but also because cheese.

1 qt high quality, non homogenized milk (Goat or cow will work)
1 cup yogurt (or buttermilk or sour cream)
Salt

Day 1
Set up a double boiler. This is just a medium pot half filled with barely simmering water, and a large bowl resting on top.
Whisk  the yogurt or cultured cream in the bowl, then slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you go to fully incorporate.  Stirring every 15-20 minutes, heat the milk until just warm, or 100 Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat and let the bowl sit unstirred a few minutes until it rises about 5-7 degrees.
Wrap in towels and put in a warm place 24 hrs.

Day 2
Put the bowl on the boiler again and repeat as day one only this time do not stir it. Tilt the bowl every 20 minutes to recenter where the heat goes but otherwise leave undisturbed until the temps around the mixture range from 90-115 degrees, or to when curdling just begins but hasn’t set in.

Day 3
Repeat process but on medium heat, tilting the bowl but not stirring until temperatures around the mixture range from 110-135 Fahrenheit.  Take off the heat and stir.
Set four layers of cheese cloth in a colander over a bowl, and add entire mixture to drain.  Scoop out now for “cottage cheese” with lots of whey, or tie off to sink for cream cheese (1-2 hours) or queso fresco (6-8 hours).

Our first recipe was as basic and fast as cheese can be. Today, we’re doing something a little more complex.  Not much more difficult, but definitely much longer.  This recipe takes 3 days total to complete, but only a couple hours of “active” time.

I like to call it Yogurt Cheese, as you’ll soon see why, but it also goes by other names like Farmers cheese or Cottage cheese, maybe because it’s a great use of very fresh milk right off the farm.  As with all our dairy recipes, the quality of your finished product will depend on how good a milk you are using.  Don’t skimp.

Done just right, it is somewhere between spreadable and crumbly, and can be adapted towards either end of the spectrum to suit your preference, depending on how long you hang it to drain at the end.

Top to bottom: 1) Something like cottage cheese from a tub at the store.   2) a spreadable almost cream cheese-esque cheese, and   3) what is essentially like queso fresco. I usually like something between 2 and 3, best of both worlds.

The ingredients and method have stayed simple, and one can easily imagine an ancient herder, whose left his or her yogurt drink in a spot just a little to warm for it, and discovered this fresh cheese. Continue reading “YOGURT CHEESE (Farmers or Cottage)”