Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dulciaria (Pepper and Pine-Nut Stuffed Honey Dates)

Thus far we've been dining on hearty stews and heavy breads, which, whilst all very filling and tasty, have done little to cater for those with a sweet tooth.  "Where are all the desserts?" I hear you ask.  "Didn't the Romans enjoy brownies and trifle and Victoria sponge?  What about panna cotta, pavlova, and tiramisu?"  I am afraid I must be the bearer of bad news, because Apicius is largely silent on all things dessert.  This is not entirely surprising when we consider that the Romans had no sugar, no chocolate, and flour better suited to throwing in the bin than into a cake mix.  What they did have, however, they made excellent use of.

Whilst Apicius is largely silent on tasty little treats, it is not without.  One recipe which we do have is the recipe for dulciaria, coming from the Latin dulcis, meaning sweet.  These sweets are made as follows:

To make little home-made sweets, remove the seeds from dates and stuff them with nuts and ground pepper.  Sprinkle salt on the outside, candy them in honey, and serve. - Apicius, 7.13.1

These are all ingredients we've seen before in our Roman cooking - we've used nuts, pepper, honey, and salt extensively.  Now it is time to combine them all in a most delicious way.  I am going to experiment and use dried figs too, just to see how it turns out.  I am leaving out measurements for this recipe because it all depends on how many dulciaria you want to make - use as much as of each ingredient as you think you'll need!

Dulciaria - Little Sweets


  • Dried Dates and Figs
  • Pine Nuts
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Set Honey
  • Salt


  • Remove the stones from the dates, and cut a pocket in the figs.
  • Crush some peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and mix with the pine nuts.
  • Stuff the dates and figs with this peppery pine nut mixture.
  • Sprinkle the tiniest bit of salt over the stuffed fruit, rubbing it in a little bit to ensure that it sticks.

  • Cover a plate/baking tray with some non-stick greaseproof paper.
  • Put a few spoonfuls of honey into a saucepan (I used 2 tbsp) and bring to a simmer.  The honey will start foaming up after a little while.  When it does this, take the pan off the heat.
  • Stick a cocktail stick/skewer through the first bit of fruit and dip it into the practically molten honey.  It helps to tilt the pan so that it all gathers on one side.  Roll the fruit around a bit to make sure it is covered, before setting it onto the greaseproof paper.  Use a fork to prize the fruit off the cocktail stick/skewer, and repeat.
  • When all are done, pour any leftover honey over all of the dulciaria and leave to 'set'.


  • Removing the stones from dates can be tricky - I found it best to chop a bit off one end (the end which the stone is attached to - you'll soon work it out) and squeeze the stone out.
  • The honey will be HOT.  Do not put your fingers or toes anywhere near it, and certainly do not try to taste it.
  • The honey doesn't 'set' as well as the candy on a candied apple might.  I found it helpful to put the tray in the fridge (once the honey had cooled a bit).


These were quick and easy to make, and a pleasure to eat.  It goes without saying that they are sweet, but the salt on the outside gives them a depth of flavour which means that they taste of more than just honey.  Biting into them, you get the crunch of the pine nuts, followed a second later by the spicy-sweetness of black pepper.  The warmth of the pepper lingers, leaving you with fond memories of what went before.  These sweets remind me of the taste of Christmas (rather anachronistic I know).  The figs and dates both worked equally well, with the figs being juicier and the dates crunchier.  I look forward to seeing your attempts!


  1. A few years ago I had the pleasure of tasting a treat like this, only the dates were stuffed with walnuts and coated in chocolate.

    I live in Southern Europe with historically lots of connections to Mediterranean so that recipe might be the descendant of this one.

  2. Interesting that they added salt - maybe the salt-sweet division wasn't so absolute back then?

  3. I've been pointed to your blog from Roman Army Talk (RAT). Very interesting!
    Do you have any knowledge of whether the Romans ever ate seaweed? I've been asked by an acquaintance, and I can find no reference to it in Apicius. RAT has drawn a blank too.
    Any help gratefully received!
    Best wishes
    Ben Kane

    1. Hi! I attempted an answer on the blog's facebook page a few days ago, but in case you haven't seen it:

      "I'm yet to encounter a seaweed recipe, but that doesn't mean that they never ate the stuff. There is, however, a quote by the Roman poet Horace which reads: "But birth and virtue, unless [attended] with substance, is viler than seaweed." (You can find this here: http://bit.ly/SRIhVo). Whilst he is not talking about eating seaweed, it's interesting to see that he thinks of it as being 'vile'."

      So, I've come up blank too, but would guess that it didn't form part of the Roman elite's diet at least.

  4. I cooked the honey down to the hard-ball stage and poured it over the dates,which were delicious.