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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?

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