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Eating Like Ancient Romans

I've been going nuts lately, reading about how people in times past fed their families. This one deals with Ancient Rome.

A bit of history, first. The great Rome started as a very small village in the 8th century BC, along the River Tiber in central Italy. (Didn't all great cities start near a constant body of water?!?) It didn't take long to become a great city with powerful leaders who wanted more and more land. 

As Rome conquered other civilizations, they began to incorporate the ways of life, and vice versa.  That included religion, dress, housing, politics and, of course, food.

This great civilization reined for over 1,000 years. It depended on very large estates to grow enough to feed those who were not farmers.

The biggest crops were barley and wheat, root vegetables, home-farmed fish (?!?!!) and livestock like sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and pigeons. In addition to figuring out sewers and plumbing (which was eventually lost to our knowledge for thousands of years), they worked out irrigation systems, to make growing crops more efficient. They also started using compost and using animal manure to make fertilizer. Fruits were grown in sophisticatedly laid-out orchards and vineyards (for their wine).

Those that could, hunted rabbits, partridges, pigeons, wild boar/pork and deer/venison. They gathered wild fruits and plants, like nettles.

They grew a type of wheat called FAR. It was usually and mainly used to make a thick porridge. Later, they grew rye, barley and wheat, and figured out bread-making, which became the staple food for all Roman classes. People dipped it in olive oil and wine, or ate it with cheese. They also made a kind of fried bread (stale bread cubes soaked in milk and fried in oil).

Veggies grown included cabbages, broccoli, lentils, broad beans, peas and lettuces. (Someone invented the salad!).  Underground veggies included turnips, radishes, and leeks.

Orchard fruits like olives and grapes were very prized, using the olives not only for eating but mainly for making oil, and even tho grapes were often eaten fresh, they more often were used to make a fermented wine.

Other popular fruits included melons, figs, plums and peaches.  Oh yum.  (By the way, have you planted your fruit trees yet?  If not, get on that as soon as the weather warms up!)

Odors lingered, from unwashed bodies to nearly-rotting food.  Sauces were created to use strong herbs to mask these strong smells and tastes. They especially liked garlic, onion, lovage, dill, and pennyroyal.

They created something called "garum" and "liquamen". They start out the same: fermented aged fish (bones, entrails and all) with water and natural wind-carried yeast. Garum was lumpy, and liquamen was garum that was strained to be all liquid.

They didn't have cane sugar, so they used honey and fruit/fruit juices to sweeten foods.  Sometimes they even used flower petals (rose-water in particular) or a thick honey/wine syrup.

They used a spit for roasting animals. Be sure to put a drip pan underneath the animal so you can catch the drippings to baste and to use later for seasoning breads and so forth. 

Ancient Romans also used many tools we do now... like sieves (colanders), chopping boards, baking sheets, ladles and bronze or iron pots and pans. They also made several different sized tripods to hang pots ... moving closer or further from the fire, depending on what was being made.

They also made special bread ovens: tight spaces with fire IN the space, then once at the desired temperature, quickly scraped out and bread inserted, then the space was sealed up.

Instead of a mortar and pestle, they used it's precedent: a mortarium. The ancient Romans loved crushed/smashed pastes, dips and sauces.

They started with a simple mush for a quick breakfast, or flat bread dipped or drizzled with olive oil or wine, and topped with cheese, olives and raisins.

Lunch was also a light fare, with cold meats, leftovers from last night's dinner, cheese from cows, goats or sheep, and sometimes fruit.

Dinner was the biggest meal. Depending on how wealthy the household was, there were be an amazing and lavish spreads of roasted meats, stews, breads (flat and otherwise), cheese, vegetables, fruits and sauces.  Wine poured freely. Cake might be served.

Burping was expected.  There was no fork yet, so people used spoons, knives and their fingers to eat. Guests brought their own napkins and often used them to transport leftovers home. Unwanted food was thrown on the floor for slaves/servants to pick up to eat.


Could you eat like this?  You would need an orchard, basic veggies, meat and a strong stomach.  I think I could get by with the porridge every morning, cheese/fruit/bread at lunch, and meat with veggies/cheese/bread/sauces at the heavy evening meal.

Yeah, quite doable. What do you think?

WWII Kitchen and Garden

Another that I watched was: (8 episodes, 3 are missing)

Now, I doubt that in the future, should any of our countries go to war, that we'll be hard-pressed to turn all aerable (growable) land into fields of grains and vegetables for the troops, but think about your own situation as you watch the vid. Do you have any property that you could turn into a field of wheat or millet right now, to feed your family? What about orchards for fruits, or long rows of veggies or brambles of berries?

Remember, it takes years and years to get fruit from trees, and a year or two to get at least a few berries from brambles.  Get started!

Core the apples and slice into kinda-thin.  She used a jar, candle and saucer to prevent them from browning, and a stick and oven to dry them.  Have to say .... I'm so very glad I have my Excalibur dehydrator, and more importantly, two SOLAR dehydrators!

Create ropes like the vid shows. However, you could also use the panty-hose method (which means you'll have to store/stock lots and lots of stockings and pantyhose).

One way they mention in the vid is preserving the eggs in "water glass" which is made with water and sodium silicate.  Yeah, I don't know.  YOU might do that, and that's fine, but I can't see me doing that.  Instead, I would hope that my quail (easily kept in a garage or even in the house) or my chickens would give me at least one egg a day so I can make a cake or an omelet every once in a while.

In the USA, we think of pudding as a dairy-based glob of sweet deliciousness.  In the vid, it's just a boiled (often savory) item. And the pastry crust is made, not from butter because that was rationed, but with self-rising flour, suet (the hard fat in many animals), grated potato (needed for the starch) and cold water.  Have you tried to make a pastry crust without butter?  Experiment NOW!  You'll be surprised how tasty substitutions can be.

It was as important then as it is now: if you don't have composted animal waste to spread over your garden or field, you will need something else.  Take green plants, add brown/dry straw, add lime and nitrogen, then wet it down. Before long, you'll have a wonderful compost for your garden or field.  It takes a while, tho, so start it now!

Just remember: rabbit waste is NOT hot (it will not burn your plants) so you can use it immediately.  Do NOT use chicken, goat, cow and other animal waste right away before you will burn and kill your plants.

And certainly don't use omnivore/human waste on your garden. How about you put human waste near trees, instead!

Interesting how they used CARROTS as their sweetening agent.  Now that I think about it, carrots really ARE a sweet veggie.  Hmmm... interesting. Thinking I need to grow more carrots, and be sure to grate before dehydrating!

This was basically a cake and it looked delicious!

Buy now the heirloom seeds of items you want to eat.  Then start learning how to grow them, and saving seed.  It might be difficult to buy heirloom seeds in the future.

They discuss the rationing of sugar, and how, even when it came to wedding cakes, eventually they were forbade to use sugar to top a cake.  Instead, there was a cardboard simulated cake that actually fit over the 8 or 10 inch plain cake, good for pictures.  Then the cardboard was taken off and the actual small cake cut in tiny slivers.

Thinking: if you have only a small bit of flour, rising agents like baking soda and powder, and sugar, what could YOU make for a wedding or birthday?

= = = =

From, they showed how to put up gooseberries, boil ham, harvest and bury some nuts, and how to salt large amounts of beans.

Victorian 1900 London Food

Another "food for thought" post.

As you  might realize, I'm watching documentaries on how people in the past ate.  I'm finding all kinds of wonderful tidbits that might help me, and thus, you, in the future.

So I was watching a documentary (  ) on a family that went to live for 3 months in 1900 London.  House completely renovated and outfitted with time period-appropriate furnishings, dishes, garden, clothing, etc.  The family must not have done much research on the time period because they struggles to comply with the rules: live a 1900 life as if they were truly in 1900.

They cheated and slipped buy-one-get-one-free shampoo into their grocery basket. They answer the door in their dressing gowns. They served tea in the kitchen (a HUGE no-no).  So many other things.

And they struggled to do it.

According to, the Victorian diet wasn't so different from what we eat today.  There were brand new inventions like cook stoves with boilers, hand-crank egg beaters and so much more.  BUT there was the matter of money, availability, time and patience. 

If you ran out of coal, and couldn't get more until your next payday, there goes your ability to cook, heat water, and heat the house. What would you eat?

Not much. Whatever was in the cupboards, in the garden, or, if you had chickens, eggs.

Typical middle-class diet, though, was:
-oysters (very plentiful and not expensive)
-plain soups or bouillon
-protein was fish, poultry, pork or beef
-plenty of veggies, in season but tinned foods were coming about
-lot of fresh and tinned fruits
-pasta had just come into popularity
-bread, of course (always)
-desserts were puddings, cakes and other yummies
-of course, alcohol flowed freely!

When you watch these documentaries, keep things other than food in your mind.  How did they clean their clothing? Did they sew, and if so, how? How did they clean their homes? Their dishes? Their bodies and hair? How did they brush their teeth? Shave? Take care of medical needs?

Even tho I was disappointed in the family, I realize trying to live a truly Victorian life would be a great challenge for nearly anyone. Yes, especially me. So take it all with a grain of salt, and take away what information you feel you could use.

Good luck!

Could the Modern Us do Rationing Again?

The modern us ... in 2015, we have SO MUCH variety in what we eat. How many of us eat the same dinner every day of the week, for weeks on end?  Many autistic people do (just ask my son) but for the most part, we don't. 

Breakfast, maybe.  I could eat oats for several days in a row, but I still like to mix it up with different add ins, like raisins, or diced apples, or powdered bananas.

Lunch?  I don't think so.  Dinner? Heck no.  Look at your refrigerator.  How many leftover take-out containers are in there? Partial tin cans of green beans or peaches? That last two slices of lunchmeat in a container, that has green mold because you just couldn't face another bologna sandwich. Baggies of that last piece of pizza.

We are soooo spoiled.  We don't HAVE to eat the same thing over and over. We can afford to eat something different each meal. Many times, we don't even have the same dinner twice in one month.

Look in your linen closet.  You have giant bottles of shampoo, extra tubes of toothpaste, bars and bars of soap, and cleaning supplies up the ying yang.


Recently I watched this video, made by the BBC in around 2000, about living in the 1939-1940's London War Time: and it got me thinking.

See, this family of 5 (mom and dad, daughter, and daughter's two young boys) were "transported" from close to the year 2000 into 1939/1940's London.  They lived in an appropriate house. They wore appropriate clothes.  They had time-period appropriate toys, furniture, appliances, and so forth. During the course of the 9-week experiment, they build an Anderson bomb shelter, struggled with rationing, dealt with overworn feet, simulated air raids, volunteering, working on planes and the struggles that day-to-day life back then brought.

It was eye-opening for me, as the viewer.  Can you imagine how it affected the participants?  The mother appeared to be completely transformed.

Thus, I urge you to watch it.  Even if it's only from the prepping standpoint.

Let's talk about the rationing.

They did get, at least, one loaf of "National" bread, regularly.  It was fortified with calcium and other nutrients.  But it got old, when that's the only thing you have to eat.  COULD YOU do it? 

They got a small amount of fat (bacon, lard, butter) per WEEK.

Flour?  A tiny bit.

Sugar? Rarely.

Jam? Yeah, right.

Vegetables?  Only if you had a garden. Or "points".

Fruit?  Same.

During the entire course of the video, I never heard about rice or potatoes. Spam was mentioned but only if you had the "points" necessary to buy it.  Chicken, beef, pork (other than bacon) were non-existent.  The children had two eggs, the adults none (unless they didn't mention it).

As rationing got tighter, parents rarely ate more than the dry bread.  The parents suffered so that the children could eat.

I would do that too.  Would you?

Right now, assuming your cupboards are bare and you had to get your food daily from a ration shop. Imagine that you only have rations... day in and day out?  And maybe one egg a week.  Maybe a few bits of lettuce from your garden.

Could you do it? 

Could you live on what 1940's London did?

Now, replace that daily "National" bread with what you stored as a prepper, like the beans everyone says is a must.  Okay, add in a little rice.  COULD you really, truly, serve that to your family, day in and day out?  Very little variety. Maybe even no spices or herbs.  Just rice and beans.

Just something to think about.

Pemmican from Native Americans

As you might know, I've been researching how to feed ourselves based on ancient history.  Pemmican has fascinated me for years, so I looked up how to make it.  It's really no different from making a granola bar or something similar.

In a fiction tale I wrote years ago about pre-history people in the Klamath area in pre-Oregon, USA, I had my characters make pemmican often. When food was scarce as they traveled, or when they were in isolation, they would pull out their pemmican.

Hope you like it!

(Rabbit would do very well here since it is extremely lean, very little fat, if any. You could also use chicken, quail, bison, deer, etc.  Trust the source of your meat!)  Freeze very lean meat until you can slice it into very thin slices.  Dehydrate/dry at a temp just barely below 118 degrees F. until quite crispy. You can smoke it if you have a fly problem, or just make sure it's in a fine mesh/weave to keep bugs off.   Grind into a very fine powder. 

At the same time, dry/dehydrate very nutritious fruit, like blueberries, apples or cranberries, and grind these into a very fine powder. 

Mix the powdered meat and powdered fruit until well combined. 

Add in clean melted/liquid (cook and strain out any solid bits) animal fat until just enough to keep it together (I prefer bacon fat since I always have it but in the future, I may have to use something else). You could also use coconut or olive oil but this might shorten the life of the pemmican as you will need to keep a "nose out" for rancidity.

You could also add dehydrated and powdered nuts (walnut, almond, chestnut) or seeds (sunflower, flax, etc) and/or grains but these also might shorten the life of the pemmican.

Form into tiny 1-bite balls. Should hold together very well.
Spread on a tray in a thin layer. Slice into small bars and store in jars or baggies. I would separate the layers with wax paper, or clean and dry edible leaves.

Feel free to add spices or herbs. Some people make dessert versions (with nuts, real cocoa powder, a tiny bit of honey for trace nutrients, and cinnamon) and others make it more of a meal (with onion or garlic powder, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, or whatnot).

These may last weeks, months or even years.  Good to make at least once a season, or whenever you have the supplies. Make enough to tide you over until the next time you can harvest an animal and/or get all of the supplies together.

You actually can live off of this.  It's very nutritious, has fat, protein and good nutrients. Travels well because it's very light.

Also good for your dogs!