¡Masada project!

Carley Scott & Sylvia Coletti

In the series Masada we saw that the food that was shown  included aged cheese, many meats, a plentiful amount of wine, grapes, apples and pears.

Through our research of the food during the reign of Vespasian we discovered some of those foods to be (among the upper classes): eggs, cheese, and honey, along with milk and fruit (apples, pears, figs, grapes, quinces, and pomegranates) . They also ate wild boar, beef, sausages, pork, lamb, duck, goose, chickens, small birds, fish, and shellfish. In addition, more than 30 varieties of olive, 40 kinds of pear, figs (native and imported from Africa and the eastern provinces), and a wide variety of vegetables were also consumed.

Growing wealth led to ever larger and more sophisticated meals. Among the members of the upper classes, who did not engage in manual labor, it became customary to schedule all business obligations in the morning. After the prandium, the last responsibilities would be discharged, and a visit would be made to the baths. Around 2 p.m. the cena would begin. This meal could last until late in the night, especially if guests were invited, and would often be followed by a comissatio (a round of drinks). Nutritional value was not regarded as important: on the contrary, the gourmets preferred food with low food energy and nutrients. Easily digestible foods and diuretic stimulants were highly regarded. The dinner was consumed in a special dining room, which later was to be called triclinium. Here one would lie down on a specially designed couch, the lectus triclinaris.

For the set up of the cena, people would be seated around the round table, the mensa, three of these lecti were arranged in the shape of a horseshoe, so that slaves could easily serve, and a maximum of three diners would recline at each lectus. Growing wealth led to ever larger and more sophisticated meals.

Feet and hands were washed before the cena. After each course the fingers were washed again and napkins (mappae) were customary to wipe one's mouth. The food would be taken with the fingertips and two kinds of spoons, the larger ligula and the smaller cochlear with a needle-thin grip, which was used as a prong when eating snails and molluscs, a de facto substitute for the modern fork. At the table, larger pieces would be cut up to be served on smaller plates.

We were able to find these recipes for our roman cena:

For the gustatio of the cena we made a sort of appetizer that consisted of what the Romans would have called emmer (a flat, round loaf of cereal grain- closely related to wheat) that you could dip in olive oil. The emmer was normally eaten with olives, aged cheese and some type of fruit. We chose to pair it with aged cheese, grapes, sliced pears, and green olives.

For the primae mensae cena we are making Roman Burgers,as the Romans would have said, Isicia Omenta. To make this we started by mixing the meat with the soaked french roll(2). Then we mixed the ground spices into the meat and formed burgers, which we then put peppercorns in(3) and cooked.

For the secundae mensae we decided to make a pear soufflé ( Patina de Piris) and a traditional roman custard. For the pear soufflé we first peeled the pears and then added them together with cumin, pepper, honey, passum (sweet grape juice), liquamen (salty sauce that we replaced with salt), and a little oil (2). We then meshed it all together(3) then added eggs(4) and put them into a casserole, which we then cooked for 30 minutes(5).

For the roman custard we first mixed milk and honey(2) and then put in 5 eggs to the honey-milk mixture(3). Once we had done that we dissolved the eggs into the mixture by beating them until the mixture was smooth(4). After that we cooked it all for 30 minutes at 150 degrees(5). To finish it off we sprinkled the custard sparingly with pepper.

Through our research of roman culture and roman foods we have gained an immense respect for those who were cooks in roman times. As opposed to now with our ovens and state of the art kitchens, they had to cook things back then "in a clay vessel over a slow fire" (Apicius Book 7, XI-7). Even though their meals were very rich and extravagant, each course took a tedious supply of back-breaking labor and a countless amount of time. We discovered that those who were wealthier got a more lavish meal than those of the soldiers who fought for their daily rations. In conclusion, we came to appreciate the rich Roman culture and everything it took to survive and thrive in it.

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