April 2012

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I was once told “Cooking isn’t hard.  Period cooking isn’t that hard.”  I was…shocked.  The person who made this proclamation was missing the entire point of period cooking.  Period cooking is not about throwing a bunch of things into a pot or a bowl etc and saying  “Look!  I am a period cook!”.  A person who does period cooking doesn’t just “Cook”…this person researches a lot of things.  Ingredients for one.  Ever thought of where sugar originates from or why it was so expensive for so long?  Common table sugar is NOT from the new world.  Some books swear sugar was grown in Egypt, or India (Toussant-Samat, pp. 552 and Faas, pp. 149) while Wikipedia says New Guinea was the original site of the first domesticated sugar cane, or that apricots were from Armenia ( Giacosa, pp. 14) when doing Roman or Middle Eastern cooking in which both of these spices play varying roles.  Sugar has a prime spot while apricots do a lot of cameos.

Period cooking requires researching how foods were cooked i.e. served hot or at room temperature for easier handling by fingers and bread.  What types of foods were served in or on what types of platters.  Was silver ware ever used.  Middle Eastern dinners used their knives and fingers as well as bread.  For the Romans spoons were used to sup with and knives were only used to carve and serve meat. Many people do not know this and take for granted that forks, spoons and knives were always used since the cave man days.  /rolls eyes.

Another research tidbit was how dishes were served in what order.  Roman tables were very regulated to Gustum, Menas Pprima and Mensa Secunda.  (Giacosa) This was start, middle and end.  Light foods to the front for snacking on, while the 2nd course of prime meats  and richer dishes were served then the final portion served fruit and sweets.  Middle Eastern tables had everything at once.  Sweets, meats, olives breads and cheeses were laid out for the dinners choice.  (Rodinson)

Period cooking is not just looking at a recipe and guessing.  Period cooking encompasses the who (who the dish(s) being displayed were originally made for), when (referring not only to a time period but also to a seasonality or serving order), what (what made the dish special unusual or just caught the researcher’s eye), where (what region or regions did a dish come from then travel to or where on the table would a dish be seated for full enjoyment of those feasting), finally why (why a dish was special.  What part of the animal or animals made X dish the show stopper or THE dish to serve at a banquet).

Period cooking is NOT just cooking a dish and serving it for dinner.  Good food was not easy to come by.  We are dominated by adds on TV, Magazines or a click away on our computers for tasty easy to cook meals.  Meat was very expensive.  Vegetables grew in the garden or were bought in the market.  If there was a bad year for weather….food was scarce.  If traders came from far away lands, instead of being able to harvest cinnamon bark for flavoring from the local woods (and the noble they belong too was lenient), spices were expensive.  Food in history is a puzzle.  How was some thing made from local ingredients and far away spices or dried fruits.  There is not given “Gimme.” in period food.  Everything has to be researched, some times in the oddest places.

 

I had thought I had made a post on all my cookbooks, however I find that the several, many, few books I do have have not had a listing or commentary.  So here goes!

Roman Cookery by Mark Grant.

I like this book.  The recipes have an English name as well as the Roman original i.e. Carthaginian Porridge or Puls Punica.  The citing of who wrote the original such as Cato On Agriculture (who and in what writing) as well as the original Roman translation.  Grant breaks down the recipes as he views the translation.  His failing, in my opinion, is that he uses modern ingredients such as cheddar cheese instead of trying for a sheep cheese i.e. feta – which can be a bit dry, or a Manchego which is milder, and a bit moister, in flavor then Parmigiana.  Over all a B+ for both research and cooking content.

A Taste of Ancient Rome by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa (Translated by Anna Kerklotz)

I like this book very much.  The recipes have the original translation in Latin, then English translation. The sourcing of recipes seem to be mostly from Apicius instead of a variety of authors that Grant lists.  For example Pork Stew with Citron on page 95 is from Apicus 169.  The book does not give the Roman name for the dish; however  I can live with this as the attempt is made to use as much authentic period ingredients as possible given location, availability, seasonality and not extinct.  Overall an A- for both cooking and research content.

 

Around the Roman Table by Patrick Faas.

This book is really really good.  The author has the original translation in Latin with the English translation underneath.  The recipes seem to come from Apicus as the notations for who and where are listed as (Ap. 340) as seen in most of the recipes.  Again period ingredients are used.  The author does not try to interject their opinion as a “must do it this way” more of this, then that followed by X Y and Z.  This I feel gives the reader better wiggle room to try their own thing for redacting a recipe to their taste and not just the author’s taste.  An added bonus is the amount of work that the Faas has done with giving historic information from the different eras, table manners, wine as a drink and for cooking and the cooks with their kitchen. Overall an A+ for both cooking and research content.

 

Apicius The Roman Cookery Book translated by Barbara Flower and Elizabeth Rosenbaum.

This is a GREAT research book.  One of the few that is probably as close to the original cookbooks in Latin as we will see (with the English translation).  Notations are made by the translators on different aspects such as ingredients however the original recipe is faithfully copied with the original Latin on the opposite side of the page.  A bit difficult in this form to follow and there are no measurements listed.  This is a pure research/redaction fun for attempting Roman cooking.  This book is NOT for the faint of heart who need measurements and direction.  For straight 100% cookbook a C for historic research book on Roman cooking an A-.

Apicius Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome Edited and Translateb by Joseph Dommers Vehling.

This is another great book for a reference.  There are no recipes in Latin listed just straight up translation of recipes.  The historical information is good but there is a bit of opinion entered into the these sections.  This really is an in your face bare bones, straight from the Roman cook(s) to you.  For straight 100% cookbook a C- for historic research book on Roman Cooking an A-. You can’t get more straightforward this this book.

Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today by Sally Grainer.

I both like and loath this book.  This book has some good takes on period ingredients for sauces.  I like the recipes chosen.  There are NO historical recipes either in the original Latin or in English.  All the recipes are listed as period but there is barely a nod towards the original.  Apicius is written as areference but finding which of the many versions of Apicius used will be an interesting task.  If this book is to be used at all for historical cooking, the original recipe would need to be looked up in an Apicius then pared with this book.  Combining the two books, with the original in your face Latin translation and a cook’s opinion on how to make a dish would work.  This is a secondary resource at best.  For a straight up Cooking book this is an A+ for historical research this is a D.