Thursday 29 August 2013

Historical cookery and 'Trimalchio's Feast', by Caroline Lawrence

Recently, I was lucky enough to go on an Anglo Saxon cookery course with a friend of mine. Run by SHARP (Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project) in Norfolk. 

Aside from learning how our Anglo Saxon forebears ate, cooked and farmed - information I plan to incorporate into our trips to West Stow village in future - I realised how diverse a teaching material archaeology is. In this instance, experimental archaeology in the form of cookery. 

This is too old a book for Daughter, but I fully intend to hang onto it until she's grown-up enough to enjoy it. When I was reading the various tales, I didn't feel as though I was jumping into the middle of a series - I felt as though I was reading a collection of short stories in an established world. Always a good sign. 

In order to bring the historical setting to life though, I thought it would be fun to devise some recipes using ancient Roman ingredients. With no tomatoes available, there are very few modern 'Italian'* recipes which would have existed in the ancient world so it made sense for me to just look at what was common, and make meals up around that.

For my starter, I decided an array of olives was a good idea - my little girl loves these and I know they're not things a lot of children enjoy, but they're a very Mediterranean taste, are fairly healthy, and come stuffed with a wide variety of things. You can serve them with some rustic bread for a hearty, reasonably authentic dish.

For the main meal, I thought I would bake some fish on a bed of grated carrots, rosemary and garlic. With no potatoes available and limited grains, I decided a salad would be a very good side, dressed in olive oil and a wine vinegar.

For the pudding, I decided a fruit salad of apples, pears, figs, grapes and pomegranates, drizzled in honey and served with goats cheese would be a really lovely way to do an ancient take on fruit and ice cream.

Throw in a bed-sheet toga, some of the other Caroline Lawrence books and a long summers day, and I reckon you could give small, inquisitive minds a really good taste (pun intended) of life in the classical era. 

Aside from letting older children research the food types available in Roman times and letting them come up with their own recipes, this exercise comes with all the usual benefits of cooking - maths, communication, following instructions in the recipe etc.. The world history that you can introduce - i.e. how potatoes/tomatoes etc. reached Europe and why farmed meats weren't available to commoners - is immense and can lead to various other topics. 

*And by 'Italian', I mean the jars of tomato based sauces and pasta that you get at the supermarket. 

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