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Classical Rome

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 
I am having a great time reading some of the threads on food history. I have been reading a great deal about Rome. I know I am a newbie here, But I thought I would start my first thread.

Roman gastronomy, Or gluttony, impresses all who read the literature of the great Mediterranean empire of the past. Feasting was a central feature of it's society. The cuisine of Rome, much influenced by that of Classical Greece and the Near east , is the direct ancestor of the national cuisines of western Europe. It can be reconstructed through descriptions in Latin literature, through ancient scientific and technical writings-including the recipe book known as Apicius - and through archaeology. Notable here are the finds at Pompeii, the city buried in AD 79 by the disastrous eruption of mount vesuvius.

I hope you enjoy this, I am going to bring some info on staple foods and major flavourings of the Romans next.

Thank you for having such a great site
post #2 of 28
Thanks Poireau, but you are already contributing to it!

BTW, welcome! :rolleyes:

«Money talks. Chocolate sings. Beautifully.»
«Just Give Me Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt.»
«Coffee, Chocolate, Men ... Some things are just better rich.»

«Money talks. Chocolate sings. Beautifully.»
«Just Give Me Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt.»
«Coffee, Chocolate, Men ... Some things are just better rich.»
post #3 of 28
Really interetsing idea, Poireau! I really enjoy the threads on food history, though I don't often post in them.

I look forward to reading what you have to say!

post #4 of 28
Thread Starter 
Thank you Kimmie,

There is so much to learn. May I write this thread in pieces?

Romes status as an over grown city-state is signalled by one of the special privileges enjoyed by inhabitants of the city; the free bread ration. Interruptions in this led to riots, it's coninuity was eventually asured by Rome's annexation of Egypt at the suicide of Cleopatra in 30BC. Thereafther, huge grain ships left Alexandria regulary through the sailing season, bringing wheat to Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber. It was on such a ship that St Paul reached Italy after being shipwrecked on Malta. Roman bakers baked leavened bread, both white and wholemeal. Small scale baking required a dome shaped baking crock Testum clibanus . Fragements of these are often found by archaeologists. A commercial bakery, complete with fossilized loaves, has been exavated in Pompeii.

I hope this is not to much babble.
post #5 of 28

History and babble

Hello Poireau, Welcome to cheftalk,

I really hope you enjoy your time here. You will find a wealth of imformation.

As far as babbling about history, I also love culinary history and would be happy to read what you have to say.
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
post #6 of 28
Thread Starter 
The Traditional staple food of early italy had not been wheat bread but puls, emmer porridge. To early writers this was so well known that no recipes were nedded, so none survive. The staple diet of the Roman provinces varied considerably, depending on climate and local custom. althought barley had been considerd a respectable, even a desireable, food in parts of Italy and Greece, Roman soldiers came to look on barley as "Punishment rations" This served to increase the demand for wheat whereever Roman armies were stationed. In Britain and Gaul, however, malted barley was indeed required for the manufacture of beer, a local speciality for which there was a steady demand in legionary camps.

Always in use in the Roman kitchens were olive oil, fish sauce and wine. All three were produced and distributed on a large scale. Fish sauce was the major sourse of dietart salt, scarcely any Apicius recipes call for pure salt, must and wine concentrated by boiling were also used in flavouring, as were honey and dates.

Many recipes begine with the instruction "pound pepper and lovage", a reminder that both local Lovage and exotic peppers and aromatics were appreciated. Other commonly used flavourings were onions, mustard, dill, fennel,rue, savory, thyme, mint, pine nuts, caraway, cumin, ginger and asafoetida, The C. Asian substitute for Silphium ( laserpicium) that had been so much appreciated by the Greeks.
post #7 of 28
This is really fascinating, Poireau. Thank you for posting it. We'll be in Italy this summer (including the ruins of Pompeii) and I'll be interested to look for remnants of this cuisine in modern Italy.
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Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
post #8 of 28
Yes, this really is interesting poireau! I am wondering about the spices you talk about...I have some vague recollection of reading somewhere that ancient cooking used very few spices. Perhaps that was anglo cooking?

Also, I'm wondering whether food played a special role in Roman society? I guess I'm thinking about the role it plays in our society today - as a means of binding friends and family together. Has this been similar over the years? Or was the role of food in ancient Rome different?

post #9 of 28
Thread Starter 
Thank you mezzaluna, I am very happy that you enjoy history.
Pompeii will steal your heart.

To continue,

Pliny and Galen-both connoisseurs, to judge from there writings- provide full information on the wines that romans drank with their meals. Italy had many fine wines to boast of. Falernian wine, from hillsides in north Campania, was one which kept it's reputation throughout the empire. Italian vintages were known by the name of one of the consuls elected for the year. The Opimian vintage, of 121 BC, was lengendary, it's wine still valued (though not truely drinkable) 200 years later. It was the Roman times that the wine-growing regions of Spain, Gaul (France), and Germany came to real economic importance. Long distance transport of wines was less risky if they were "Cooked" and sweetened with honey: it was in this form that Greek wines were enjoyed in Rome.
post #10 of 28
Thread Starter 

I did not see your question until I finished writing some on wine. I will be more then happy to report on how foods role in Rome effected it's society.

Please allow me to come back later with this for you. I will need to check my notes.

You are very nice people to show an interest.
post #11 of 28
Thank you, Poireau for such interesting posts. I, too, have been very interested in the culture of ancient Rome for a long time. Actually, since 7 & 8th grade where I was required to learn Latin and translate the Caesar's Gallic Wars. Much more interesting to me, however, were the translations of poetry and descriptions of the lives of everyday people. True, the Romans were a very advanced and sophisticated people, as evidenced in their art, architecture and culinary advances. It's easy to think that this culture, due to it's sophistication, shared our sense of values---untrue as any depiction of the games played in the Coleseum and the custom of "exposing" unwanted children would show.
Fascinating thread.
I look forward to reading more.


Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!



Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

post #12 of 28
Thread Starter 
Foodnfoto, You are right to state of the rich history and culture of Rome, You will never grow bored of studying food history.

To Continue,

Romans tended to eat little during the first part of the day: a breakfast, ientaculum, was a snack that many did not trouble to take at all, and only the greedy wanted a big lunch,prandium . There was no better preparation for a big evening meal, cena, the one big meal of the day, than a couple of hours later at the baths. These were fashionable meeting places, ideal locations for informal buisness discussions. One could easily spend the whole evening at the baths, for food and wine were available : as jerome Carcopino said rather censoriously in Daily life in ancient Rome (1940) many congregated there to overeat and drink and indulge other disreputable tastes.
post #13 of 28
Wonderful thread you're weaving poireau - I often wonder when I'm eating Thai fish sauce how similar it must be to the garum that the Romans produced so many years ago... Have you read Pomp and Sustenance by Mary Taylor Simeti? It's twenty five centuries of Sicilian culinary history with recipes-Sicily was the granary of Rome ... also Cifford Wright's Mediterranean Feast? Facinating academic tome including not only classical Rome but the birth and development of Mediteranean cuisine.
Speaking of disreputable Roman tastes - have you seen Fellini's Satyricon?
And how about those vomitoriums? :)
Looking forward to reading more...

"Life is a banquet - and most poor suckers are starving to death" - Auntie Mame
"Life is a banquet - and most poor suckers are starving to death" - Auntie Mame
post #14 of 28
I knew it wouldn't be long before someone mentioned a vomitorium.:)
I'm enjoying this thread . After visiting Roman cities in Italy, Morocco, and England, I'm amazed at how huge their influence has been in the world, and how these other cultures also influenced what would become modern Italian cuisine..
post #15 of 28
Thread Starter 
Thank you Monkeymay and Momoreg, Yes Vomitoriums, What is ancient Rome without them?

To continue.

City dwellers in imperial Rome, many of whom lived in tenement flats, had little oppurtunity to cook anything but the simplest of foods for themselves unless they wished to risk setting fire to the whole building: these insulae did sometimes burn down because an occupant had tried to cook without safety precautions. Street food was, however, always available to the city dweller. Cakes and sweets, mulled wine, hot sausages, and porridge were on sale from street stalls and at cookshops. "In the tavern all are equally free" wrote Juvenal ( born 67 AD) with an undertone of disapproval: "All drink from a comman cup, the couch is barrel to no man, the table is no closer to one than it is to another"The philosopher Seneca ( died 65 AD) gives us the sounds of the busy street just outside his apartment window:" Pancake - sellers and sausage- venders and a confectioner and all the proprietors of cookshops, selling their wars with miscellaneous shouts, each in his distinctive accent"
post #16 of 28
Another concept that fascinates me is how the food of Rome, itself, must have changed as Rome's empire expanded into new territories. How different the diets must have been for a Roman citizen at the beginning of the empire and at the end of it.
post #17 of 28
Poireau, where were you when I was taxing the patience of my Latin teacher in high school with neverending questions about how the Romans prepared their grain? We were always translating about feasts where there was an abundance of grain to be had. I wanted to know what grains they were, how they were eaten or prepared and why it was so important that they were mentioned but vegetables were not. And why it was written up in history as grain and not a grain product (like bread or porridge, say). The teacher finally said that it was wheat and that they boiled it, I suspect, just to shut me up. It wasn't until I translated Seneca in college that I found out.

Fascinating thread. Thank you for starting it and for providing the lesson.
SmartGirl to the rescue!
SmartGirl to the rescue!
post #18 of 28

Hi guys! What about trying an ancient Roman snack?


Ingredients (serve 4)
1 tuft lettuce (better if Romana lettuce, of course!;) )
1 bunch arugula
1 celery stalk
1 onion
1 leek
1 egg yolk
1 garlic clove
1 handful fresh parsley leaves
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
11 oz white wheat flour
olive oil
salt and pepper

Make the dough with the flour, 3 tbsp oil, a pinch of salt and water enough to make it smooth. Work well, make a ball and keep it aside, covered with a linen.
Cut the celery, leek, onion and lettuce in thin slices and mix in a bowl.
Process in a blender the parsley, garlic, arugula, coriander seeds, salt, pepper and a half glass oil to a sauce.
Season the vegetables with the sauce and mix well.
Roll out 2/3 of the dough and put it into a round baking dish. Put the filling in and cover the surface with stripes made with the remaining dough. Brush some egg yolk on the dough.
Bake at 350° for 30 mins. Serve warm or cold.

This recipe is described in a small poem, just titled MORETUM, which was formerly attributed to Virgilio and then, more likely, to the less known poet Septimius Serenus. According to this poem, this was one of the favourite morning snacks of the Roman peasants before going working in the fields.

And now...let's follow this recipe through the centuries!

post #19 of 28

In 1475, Bartolomeo Sacchi, called the "Platina" from the city of Piadena (near Mantova) where was born, published the book "De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine" (About the Honest Pleasure and the Good Health) which is the first printed cookbook in the world.
This is a recipe from that book...

Ingredients (serve 6)
18 oz white wheat flour
5 oz lard
10 oz spinach, blanched and well drained
7 oz Stracchino cheese
4 oz Ricotta cheese
4 eggs
2 oz butter
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 pinch saffron
salt, pepper
butter and flour for the mould

Make the dough with the flour, lard, a pinch of salt and the necessary water. Keep aside for 1 hour.
Mix in a bowl the three cheeses with the eggs, salt, pepper, saffron and the melted butter. Mince the spinach and add them to the mixture.
Roll up 2/3 of the dough and put it into a buttered round baking dish. Pour the filling in. Roll up the remaining dough to another sheet and cover the pie. Brush some egg yolk on the surface.
Bake at 350° for 50 mins. Serve warm or cold.

Coming to our times, this recipe is almost the same of a typical vegetable pie from Emilia Romagna, the SCARPAZZONE or ERBAZZONE.

Can also remind the most famous vegetable pie of my region, the Liguria: the TORTA PASQUALINA.
The recipe is much more complex (in example, being it an Easter dish, it's supposed to be made with 33 puff pastry layers, like Jesus Christ's age...) but the ingredients are almost the same: a dough filled with spinach, eggs, cheese and herbs.

So, this is an example of how much the Latin cooking has influenced the present Italian cooking!:)

BTW: thanks for this interesting thread, Poireau...and welcome!;)

post #20 of 28
I couldn't agree more.

A detail that I find fascinating is that the literary tradition of Greece starts with an epic poem, "Odyssey".
The one of Rome starts with a " cooking " book, " De agricultura" of Cato.

In his book, Cato, gives some usefull tips on how to maintain a farm and suprisingly enough for a conservative general he was, he attaches numerous recipes.
Cato, declared that he hated everything Greek. Funny because his recipes were translations, mot a mot, of the recipes that they were attributed to the most famous Greek gastronomer, Archestratus.

The point to remember here is that Cato, introduced the idea of the good year for a wine ( I don't know the term, maybe cape chef can help).
For example a good year for the Roman wines was the year 121 BC, according to Pliny :)

So, from the book of Cato ,in the first years of Romas Imperium to the comedies of Martiallis, in the Late Roman Period you can observe this evolution of the Roman Culinary tradition.

Another interesting detail that distinguishes the Greeks from the Romans when it comes to food, is that a Greek would brag if he bought a fine product in the market in a good price, after long hours of bargaining.
A Roman would brag that he paid a fortune to purchace a fine product to honour his guests in a symposium. :)
"Muabet de Turko,kama de Grego i komer de Djidio", old sefardic proverb ( Three things worth in life: the gossip of the Turk , the bed of the Greek and the food of the Jew)
"Muabet de Turko,kama de Grego i komer de Djidio", old sefardic proverb ( Three things worth in life: the gossip of the Turk , the bed of the Greek and the food of the Jew)
post #21 of 28
What a wonderful thread poireau,

Athenaeus, I will indeed try to find this word of Cato.

How far back can the symposium be traced?

I have just read that the Homeric poems, whose composition spans various periods
Of the Greek middle ages, recount not only meetings in which people both eat and drink,
But also on occasions on which wine drinking is a distinct activity following the meal.

In the first book of Iliad, after the mass sacrifice in Apollo’s honor to celebrate the restitution
Of Chryseis to her father and the subsequent banquet, the young men fill their mixing bowls, or Kraters, with wine and pass them around.

Then after singing hymns of praise, they fall asleep…

In one of my books it says in Homers world, counsils of war overlapped with comensality and entertainment, often made lively by story telling and heroic songs accompanied on the lyre.

Also <A> , what exactly is a “Hellenic” symposium?

Sorry I got off track a little Poireau, I know you were discussing ancient Rome :)
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
post #22 of 28
My dear Poireau,

Dear Abby finds this topic to be simply enthralling. Do tell her more. She is wondering about the roles of males and females in the preparation of foods in ancient Rome.

Dear Abby just knew that this would be a lovely place to learn about many interesting topics. She is so excited to be here!

What my mother believed about cooking is that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.
~Nora Ephron
What my mother believed about cooking is that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.
~Nora Ephron
post #23 of 28
Pongi, great recipes!! I can't wait to try them out. Thanks!!
post #24 of 28
Thread Starter 

Bread and circuses


You question is very critical for Roman History.
Who hasn't heard of the motto " Bread and Circuses" ?
Well, my dear friend, those grains are nothing but corn.The corn that was distributed for free to the citizens of Rome.This is known in History as the " Corn Dole"

In the year 132 AD, tribune Gaius Gracchus established by law the distribution to a very low price or free of charge, of a certain quantity of corn to all or to a section of the people of Rome.
This Law is known as the "Cracchan Law"

I suspect that in your textbooks at school you have been reading about this Law and the reactions it caused.
maybe you were reading the famous speech of Cicero : " Gaius Cracchus brought forward a corn law. It was agreeable to the masses, for it provided food in abundance without work. Every just man must be against this Law which encourages the people to idleness".( Tacitus , Historias III 79-80 )

This law was fossilized by Julius Caesar and it was in action until the last days of the Empire.

Please do not think that Romans did not appreciate good bread and were interested only in free bread. This is wrong.

Romans were strongly interested in good white bread.

But this, is another story
post #25 of 28
Thanks Poireau

it's good to have you here. Roman history is not my forte and you seem to know many things about this period :)
"Muabet de Turko,kama de Grego i komer de Djidio", old sefardic proverb ( Three things worth in life: the gossip of the Turk , the bed of the Greek and the food of the Jew)
"Muabet de Turko,kama de Grego i komer de Djidio", old sefardic proverb ( Three things worth in life: the gossip of the Turk , the bed of the Greek and the food of the Jew)
post #26 of 28
Poireau, I assume that by "corn" you do mean the most common grain of the area. That was the originally translation of corn before being connected the the maize of the America's. Corn (maize), for the most part, was not known to the rest of the world until the Columbus and those who followed. It is interesting to note though that popcorn had made it to China and India before the arrival of Europeans in the New World, but I believe not that long ago.
post #27 of 28
Thread Starter 
Dear Pete.

The word "Corn" is an historical term. It was introduced in the Science of History by the Anglo-saxonic school of History, ( established in St.Anthony's College in Oxford)
The term corn was adopted unanimously by the French School of Social History which analysed the most important institutions of Roman Empire.
As you suspected, the word is used to describe every seed that produces flour and therefore bread.
post #28 of 28

Ancient Romans and bread

During the first centuries of the Roman history, bread was made only at home; the first Pistores (bakers) opened their shops in 168 B.C.
The "panem et circenses" free food donation dates back to the Imperial period, and was made not only of bread but also oil, meat and other foods. It's reported that in 369 A.C. it was still about 3 lbs food each person. Apart from the ordinary donation, there were also extra meat donations due to the great amount of animals (elephants, gazelles and so on) killed during the circus shows.
As for the food prices, we can get some info from the Emperor Diocletian's Price Edict (302 A.C.). A Castrensis Modium (about 13-14 kg or 30 lbs) of grain costed 100 denarios; 1 kg (2 lbs 2 oz) pork meat, 36 denarios; 1 kg dried cheese, 24 denarios; 1 kg dried fish, 18; 1 kg oil, 16. Consider that a medium-low daily salary (in example of a craftsman) was about 50 denarios.

Romans made many types of bread:
-Triticum Siligeo, white wheat flour bread;
-Panis Secundarius, "grey bread", made with a poorer quality flour, but also appreciated by rich people;
-Panis Autopyres, made with whole wheat flour...and, like now, appreciated because of its laxative properties;
-Panis Plebeius, "black bread", eaten by the poor people.

As for sweet breads, Pista and Laganae, I have already said something about them...

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