A well-dressed couple enters a handsomely decorated house for a bit of dinner and entertainment. The setting and clothes don't matter, what do they eat? Food is one of the necessities of life and yet thousands of years of cuisine are only theories. Paintings, sculpture, archeology can tell what the ingredients were, but really how did the ancients or even the not so ancients eat? With cooking a largely mundane task, recipes were passed orally, few getting around to actually writing such things down. Even the cookbooks that did make it onto paper, assume quite a bit of local cooking knowledge.

Roast Duck with Damson Sauce From Ingredients 1 duck

For the damson sauce Pepper Dried onion Lovage Cumin Celery seed Stoned damsons (a type of plum) Mulsum Vinegar Liquamen Defruitum Oil To give the bird a greater flavour and make it more nourishing and keep all the fat in, wrap it in pastry made of oil and flour and cook it in the oven.

Damson sauce Take pepper, dried onion, lovage, cumin, celery seed, stoned damsons, mulsum, vinegar, liquamen, defruitum and oil. Cook together until damsons are tender. Strain

A scholar might know that Liquamen is a very salty fermented fish sauce, and so would a Roman matron who heard the recipe from a friend. I recently saw a show bringing up the very topic, and through some natural breakdown of the fish it was a form of MSG basically. What were the tastes of the ancient Romans though? Mulsum is honeyed wine, and defrutum is reduced must of wine, both sweet so the research says. With no amounts given would you describe it was a salty dish or a sweet dish. Duck in plum sauce, I would imagine sweeter, but would fish sauce completely change my conception of the dish or would it just add salt and MSG?

The cook had outdone himself on the meal; grilled damsons and pomegranate seeds, truffles and mushrooms, sausages on a silver grill, piping hot wild boar, lobsters garnished with asparagus, apples whose scent was a feast in itself, Syrian pears in a soufflé. It was all the best that could be purchased, but as far as feasts went, it was quite modest. The family prided itself on its fine standing in Rome, but they weren’t the sort to have lavish feasts that people spent all night long at. Besides, there was business to take care of this night.

This is a paragraph that I wrote for A Little Roman Scandal, the feast little more than a list of dishes whose recipes are lost to time. I think if I remember right, I found an archeology magazine where they were trying to recreate them. Does it matter that the reader won’t know more than that, are the names enough of an impression to imagine the splendor of a wealthy roman senators banquet?


How about we go back even further? The Ancient Egyptians left hundreds of records of banquets and food preparation, but in the most basic terms. Few recipes exist and the ones there are come simply as a list of ingredients. The following is a recreation of what they think an Egyptian recipe might be.

Tiger Nut Sweets From An Ancient Egyptian Herbal Grind a quantity of tiger nuts in a mortar Sift the flour carefully. To the ground tiger nuts add a bowl of honey and mix to a dough Transfer the dough to a shallow vessel, Place on top of the fire and add a little fat. Boil over a gentle fire until a firm paste is obtained. It must smell toasted, not burnt. Cool and shape into tall conical loaves.

“Oh look, Tameri’s cooks make the best duck.” Kifi squealed in delight as more servants brought in tray after tray of food. Mounds of vegetables, more birds and fish than she could count and wine enough to float a ship.

Just a tiny paragraph in Egyptian Days describing a feast, but with drawings alone, even names are not known, how do you describe what is there when it’s all guessing? Whole books have been written about incantations for the dead, sexual practices, herbal medicine, gods, daily life, but not one about the food, a small chapter telling the ingredients they had access to, maybe one or two recipes, but even the vast internet can’t provide more than a snippet of how the Egyptians ate with certainty.

After looking up food history for some 100 stories I ended up making a cookbook called cooking through the ages. I mean just how do you use all those little tidbits you find? An 1850 recipe for sore nipples relief just isn’t in demand, interesting, but I’m sure the Lead would turn people off. So for good cooking and a few facts you might not have known. Enjoy!

#food #history #writing #rome #egypt #alittleromanscandal #egyptiandays

Plane ticket check or almost. Visa need the plane ticket, insurance need the plane ticket. Shots check.

Traveling to another country food is always one of the first things you wonder about past sight seeing. Since I'm not going to sight see though food seems more of a concern right now. Kenya many things weren't that unusual, at least not in the area I was. Ghana seems to be a bit more exotic. Western regions' main dishes are akyeke (cassava-based, similar to couscous) served with avocado, fufu and light soup with mushroom or snails. Popular drinks are coconut juice, palm wine and akpeteshie.

In general though Ghanaian dishes are typically a combination of starchy and/or grainy staple foods, stews and soups. The main Ghanaian dishes eaten in Ghana West Coast are fufu (large dumplings made from pounded cassava and plantain), kenkey (steamed balls of fermented corn, wrapped in banana leaves), gari (roasted cassava grits), yaka yaka (flattened gari), akyeke (also known as atuku - a moist tapioca dish, eaten like gari), and banku (boiled balls of fermented cassava and corn).

These starchy and grainy foods are mostly eaten with bare hands (right hand only!) together with delicious spicy sauces, stews and soups, like nkontomire (a leafy vegetable stew made with palm oil), palm soup (soup made from the oil palm fruit), groundnut soup (peanut soup), and light soup (a peppery light tomato-based soup). Others are eaten with a salsa-like pepper sauce.

Other Ghanaian dishes are also available upon request, like red-red (fried ripe plantain with beans stew), ampesi (boiled yam or green plantain) with nkontomire, and Jollof rice (a spicy risotto). Naturally, fish and seafood abound in Ghana West Coast, so it is not surprising that many dishes are prepared or served with grilled, fried or smoked fish such as tuna, kingfish and barracuda. Lobsters and shrimps are often readily available.

AKOTONSHI (STUFFED CRABS) -- (makes 16, to serve 6-8)

2 lbs crab meat 1 tsp salt 1-inch piece of fresh ginger

4-6 cloves 4 tblsp cooking oil

1 small onion, minced

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

1 tblsp tomato paste

2 green bell peppers, finely chopped

pinch of paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tblsp dried shrimp

1/2 cup whole-wheat breat crumbs

1 egg, hard-boiled and finely chopped

1 sprig parsley

Put crab meat in boiling salted water along with ginger piece and cloves. Cook about 15 minutes, until meat is tender enough to flake with a fork. Drain, flake and set aside. In a heavy pot, heat oil to a moderate temperature and add other ingredients in the following sequence, stirring for a minute or so between each: onions, ground ginger, tomatoes, tomato paste, green pepper, paprika, cayenne, and dried shrimp. Reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until vegetables are cooked. Add crab meat and stir another couple of minutes to heat it through. Then spoon the mixture into clean crab shells or ramekins. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top of each crab and toast under an oven broiler, being careful not to let the crumbs scorch. Garnish with egg and parsley.


2 1/2 to 3 lb broiler-fryer chicken,

cut up 2 cans (16 oz each) stewed tomatoes

2 cups water 2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 cup uncooked regular rice

1/4 lb fully cooked smoked ham, cubed (3/4 cup)

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground red pepper [or more to taste]

3 cups coarsely shredded cabbage

8 oz green beans (1 pkg, 10 oz, frozen French-style green beans, thawed can be substituted for fresh)

2 onions, cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/2 tsp salt Heat chicken, tomatoes (with liquid), water, 2 tsp salt and the pepper to boiling in 5-quart Dutch oven; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove chicken. Stir in rice, ham, cinnamon and red pepper. Add chicken, cabbage, green beans and onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until thickest pieces of chicken are done, 20 to 30 minutes.

Groundnut / Peanut Soup

Ingredients # salt and pepper, to taste 2 large onions, finely chopped 4 large very ripe tomatoes or 13 ounces canned tomatoes 6 1/2 ounces creamy peanut butter 3 1/2 pints boiling water red chilies, to taste 4-8 mushrooms Meat - Any meat of your choice, pork, beef, fish or chicken.

Directions 1. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water, peel off the skin and blend the flesh to a smooth juice. If using canned tomatoes, blend. Cut the meat into small pieces, wash and season with salt, garlic and chopped shallots. Add a little water, put it on the fire and allow to boil for about 10 minutes. 2. Put the peanut butter into a big bowl, add 3/4 pt. of the boiling water and use a wooden spoon or a blender to blend the peanut butter and water carefully together to form a creamy, smooth sauce. 3. Mix together the tomatoes, peanut butter mixture, red chilies and mushrooms. 4. Continue to simmer, stirring only occasionally to prevent the food sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is now the basic soup. 5. Pour the rest of the boiling water into the soup and simmer slowly on medium heat for 20 mins or so.

And for a little cocktail. This became a classic mixed drink, used as a hangover cure for those traveling on the passenger boat between Liverpool and the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) from the 1890s to the 1930s. It proved so popular that local bars began to sell it and it is made even to this day.

Brandy and Ginger Ingredients:

70ml brandy

100ml green ginger wine

ice cubes Place a few ice cubes in the base of a wine glass. Pour over the brandy and then the ginger wine. Serve immediately and sip slowly.

#travel #ghana #food

This last week we headed down the coast to Oregon, my first time to the state. Coming from the Midwest I'm still trying to make it to all the west coast. Astoria, Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark camped, Seaside, Gearhart, Cannon Beach. Misty, foggy, cool, beaches as far as the eye can see and so hard packed you can drive on them. Then the skies would clear and the rocks in the water would appear. The rocks from the Goonies even.

It gave me the idea for a story though so I'm busy writing on that. An old 50's sex symbol dies and leave her house on the coast to a great niece that never knew she existed as a relation at least. House of Mist and Sea is the title right now.