Cheap-Apicius-art - 9/27/98
"Apicius for the Impoverished" by Damhnait ferch Odharnait ap Llewellyn [ekenamed Margali]
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Apicius for the Impoverished
by Damhnait ferch Odharnait ap Llewellyn [ekenamed Margali]
Dedicated to the Florilegium and the folks on the SCA Cooking List.
There is a great interest in learning about our ancient colleagues nowadays, with translations and facsimile copies coming onto the mass market of Apicius, Platina, Avicienna and other early period authors of herbals and cookbooks. Many people in the SCA have done yeoman work translating, redacting and making available their research. One of the many complaints in the individuals wanting to learn more of the matter is of the lack of materials, or the cost of the endeavor, and even of too-small kitchens. There is no need to move to a bigger place, or go broke trying out early cookery.
A good start is in one of the earliest cookbooks dealing with food rather than herbals or medical useages, the cookbook written or at least attributed to Apicius. There are good sources of information available in a number of different authorŐs volumes of the recipes, and even the cooking facilities available in Rome of this time [roughly 1 c.e.]. Rather than make you go out and buy them, here is a short summation of equipment, facilities and ingredients.
The average Joesephus in Rome lived in a room or apartment and was a working stiff. Imperial Rome was a stratified society, with the Patricians at the top of the heap. If you would like to emulate the plebe that closest comes to one of our generic, working class general population, you have to keep in mind that we would be among the lowest class of plebes. We would live in 2 or 3 rooms in an insula, or 3 to 5 story apartment building. On the ground floor, there would be small hole in the wall shops, a public latrine [if you were lucky, otherwise it was a chamber pot and the latrine down the block.] Private bathrooms were a dream. Most rooms did not even have a cooking facility we would recognize as a kitchen. They would use a brazier called a thermospodium, essentially an enclosed firebox that could be carried around and was commonly used to heat various rooms [by the way, no central heating either...] or they might be lucky enough to have a small brick hearth. The average Joe quite often tended to stop for pre-prepared food from one of the market stalls while they were out for the day. Yes folks, the romans invented take-out.
Grant yourself the luxury of a small brick hearth, with a grate called a craticula to hold roasting meats and cooking vessels. They have found a wealth of information on cooking equipment in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Both small cities buried under a fortuitous [for us, at least] ash fall from the volcano erupting in 79 c.e.. They used frying pans, sauce pans and stock pots on this hearth, and had covered casseroles that the good housewife would take to the neighborhood bakeshop for the baker to put in his oven after he had baked his bread, for a small fee. For serving, they had platters, and large bowls, much as we do today. All things considered, they were very much like we are today. The other necessities were a good mortar and pestle, and a colander for straining and draining.
In the pantry, they would have garum, a fish sauce similar to the oriental versions we can find in the grocery store called nuc mam. If you donŐt like the fermented sauce, you may substitute the oil from a can of tuna, or even a strong batch of Japanese hon-dashi. Hon-dashi is a bouillon made of seaweed and dried bonito that can be bought as a liquid concentrate, in granular form or made from scratch by buying the shaved flakes of the dried bonito and doing it yourself. There is also olive oil, wine, honey and milk. I would buy the less expensive forms of olive oil, and a decent but not too expensive red wine. When buying a cooking wine, do not fall into the trap of buying the cooking wines from the grocery store that are labeled cooking wine. Many times they have salt and preservatives added. You should always buy something you would actually drink. Spices and herbs you may need will include black pepper, ginger, bay leaves, chervil, cardamom, poppy seed, sesame seed, anise seed, celery seed, fennel seed, cumin, dill, coriander seed, mint, oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, asfoetida, and sage. Quite often the recipes call for almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts. Garlic, shallots and onions are used frequently as well. About the only things you may not be able to find locally is asfoetida, which can be found at specialty stores and Indian markets. As you can see, there is not much that they use that we donŐt use today, although bread was almost always bought at a bakery, as were desserts more elaborate than fresh or dried fruits and custards.
To make it easy, I will give you a sample menu that can be made at home easily and inexpensively.
DISJOINT A CHICKEN AND BONE IT. PLACE THE PIECES IN A STEWPAN WITH LEEKS, DILL AND SALT[water or stock] WHEN WELL DONE ADD PEPPER AND CELERY SEED, THICKEN WITH RICE [FLOUR] ADD STOCK, A DASH OF RAISIN WINE OR MUST, STIR WELL, SERVE WITH THE ENTREES.
Basically, chicken fricassee..
1 whole chicken, deboned or 2 boneless, skinless thighs, 2 boneless, skinless breasts chopped into pieces
2 bunches of leeks, usually 3-5 of them in a bunch cut into pieces and washed
1 small bunch of dill weed, or about 1 tsp. dried
3 qt. water or 1.5 qt. each chicken broth and water, keeping back 2 cups for later
black pepper to taste
celery seed to taste
2/3 cup of rice flour
fish sauce to taste
3 tbs. red wine
Take the chicken meat and place in a 1 gallon stock pot with the leeks, dill weed, and cooking liquid. Simmer until the chicken is done and the pieces of leek are tender. Add the rice flour to the 2 cups of reserved stock/water and blend well. Add the thickener and rest of the spices, turn the heat to low and simmer while stirring till thickened. If you want to substitute wheat flour for the rice, the flavor will change only slightly. You could also cut the recipe by half with no problem.
[dress it] WITH VINEGAR DRESSING AND A LITTLE BRINE STOCK; WHICH HELPS THE DIGESTION AND IS TAKEN TO COUNTERACT INFLATION.
Lettuce with a dressing made of red wine vinegar and a dash of fish sauce. I would modify it to be lettuce dressed with red wine vinegar mixed with worchestershire sauce, as another recipe calls for a dressing that includes herbs, dates spices, fish sauce and a touch of honey. As I said, I donŐt like fish sauce.
And to finish off, a dessert-
BREAK [slice] FINE WHITE BREAD, CRUST REMOVED, INTO RATHER LARGE PIECES WHICH SOAK IN MILK and beaten eggs] FRY IN OIL, COVER WITH HONEY AND SERVE.
Do you really need a recipe for French toast?
OK, here it is.
2 cups milk
4 slices of bread, with the crusts trimmed [or not, I like crusts.]
honey to taste.
Beat together the milk and eggs. Dip the pieces of bread in the milk mixture. Preheat a skillet to medium, oil lightly with olive oil. Fry the slices of bread lightly on each side till golden, remove to a plate, drizzle with honey and serve.
Well, Here is a nice dinner for 4 at a reasonable cost adapted from Roman cooking.
Copyright 1998 by Marilyn Traber. 434 Water St., Canterbury, CT 06331 USA.
Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided
the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.