About the Blog


In history we tend to look at the big things - the battles, the baddies, the plot and the intrigue - but sometimes it's the average and the everyday which impress most, giving us the tiniest of glimpses into the lives of the long dead.

We can listen to a song written some 1900 years ago (The Song of Seikilos for all interested), read the words of a lovestruck Pompeian ("I don't want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world." Pompeian graffiti), and perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this blog, we can eat what they ate.

Why 'Pass the Garum'?

Garum was a fermented fish sauce which the Romans loved to put in EVERYTHING. So, much as we might say 'pass the salt', a Roman might ask their toga-clad chum to 'pass the garum'.

Why food history?

I love food, and enjoy cooking.  I also love history - I did my degree in Ancient History, and now teach everything else.  So, why not combine the two and make something of it?  Besides that, I like the little extra insight it gives me into the people of the past.

What food will you work with?

I am going to start with primarily Roman cuisine - it was Roman food and Roman recipes which got me interested in the topic after all.  Once I run out of Roman recipes, I'll set sail and explore the rest of the ancient Mediterranean.

But, the Romans didn't have fan ovens!

One of the major challenges of recreating historical recipes is in staying true to the original.  There are several problems:
  1. The recipes are very, very vague!  They almost never include timings, and very rarely tell us how much to put in.
  2. When they DO give measurements they are in 'quadrantals' or 'sextarii' or some other equally extinct method of measurement.
  3. The ingredients can be difficult to come by (rue, spelt flour, cow brain, dormice) or just downright dangerous (lead salt anyone?)
  4. Equipment.  As much as I'd like to cook in a brick oven, it's just not possible.
I aim to stay as true to the original recipes as possible, capturing the essence of the food if nothing else.  Rather than using a blender, I have a trusty mortar and pestle to pound my ingredients.  Where measurements aren't given, I'll use ratios or just go by what feels right.  When a recipe calls for an unusual ingredient, I'll try to get as close to that as is possible.

And with that, it's off to the kitchen!  Get in touch and tell me what you like, what you don't, and what you'd want to see me do.  If you come across any particularly quirky recipes, don't hesitate to get in touch.

8 comments:

  1. Could you use Ecuatorians or bolivians or Bolivians to provide you with a dormouse substitute, the cuy, which are a sort of edible guineapig?
    NB Uk dormice, because they're protected , are becoming something of a pest beyond the areas they're supposedly limited to, and again , to eat them, you'd have to kill them, which is illegal, and again, frankly, they're only the size of a large mouse, tho if you got hold of a breeding pair, probably illegal too, I expect you could select for larger ones quite fast.As to flavour....I couldn't tell you, tho a few cats and foxes know.

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    1. Thanks for your message! I've done a little bit of research and discovered that, here in the UK, the appropriately named Edible Dormouse is not protected. Heston Blumenthal cooked some up for one of his TV shows too. I'm yet to find a supplier mind you.

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  2. Thank you for your energy and bravery in tackling this (these) subject(s) for a blog. Food/cooking are one of my interests and history is not ancient to me but simply pre-500AD for it to be interesting.
    Bookmarked prominently for daily checking.

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  3. Are you planning to do any of the recipes of preservation from Apicius? They aren't really tenable in the modern kitchen with food safety protocols, but it'd be interesting to see some adaptation of them.

    As for books, I have to recommend "A Taste of Ancient Rome" by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, translated by Anna Herklotz., from the University of Chicago Press. It does a pretty good job of including some non-apiciun sources, like Columella, Cato, and Varro and their recipes.

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  4. I just came across your blog. Great stuff! I enjoy cooking and history as well, but I have only ventured as far back in time as Colonial America.

    I have tried various breads and sausages made according to Roman recipes at several Roman reenactment events in Germany. I found the interplay of flavors strange, but tasty.

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  5. Thankyou! This is amazing.
    I'm a primary school teacher and this has been a brilliant help in my topic on the Romans. We had a really great day cooking and trying some of these recipes in class along with some other Roman foods. These really helped to make my lesson practical and bring the history alive.

    I'm a sucker for ancient history and studied it at university and have been furiously trying some of these myself at home. What a great job!

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    1. I used a recipe myself in the classroom, and it went down a treat too. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and glad you like the website :)

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