I must apologize to everyone for the long hiatus. I meant to return in September, but sometimes life, or in this case work, takes over… Hillel and I are back now and I want to thank you collectively because I was amazed and thrilled to see how many people came back to read previous postings! For those who left me such kindly messages, I am very grateful. I can’t answer individually because it will simply take too long but if anyone has any question, please let me know on this posting.
When I was away I discovered a treasure. I wanted to describe some of the dinner parties Hillel was attending while visiting Herod. However, the information I found seemed both wrong and confusing, and I was not sure where good information should be found. I started looking and came over the perfect answer.
There is a book I have never heard about (I am ashamed to admit) but as I was surfing I came upon it by surprise. It is an ancient cookbook, written in Latin by a man named Apicius who was clearly a chef; the book is considered to be the oldest known cookbook in existence. The book, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, was written for professional cooks, working in Rome. The translation I have in front of me is by an incredible man, Joseph Vehling, who was born in the German-Dutch town of Duelken in the late 1800s. In his early youth he was considered a prodigy for his knowledge of Latin and Greek, but instead of going into the priesthood, as his teachers hoped he would, young Joseph’s family decided he should become a cook. At age fourteen he was (quite willingly) removed from school and started his highly successful career as a chef by thorough studies and internships, which included travel all over Europe. His free time, however, was still spent studying and researching in libraries and museums in every city he traveled to, and at that time he discovered Apicius. When he started working in Italy, he visited Pompeii, where many images were devoted to cooking and eating. Vehling decided to research and write about Roman cuisine, and eventually translate Apicius’ book. He knew that so much misconception existed regarding Roman cuisine, and this book was the perfect antidote.
At the age of twenty-four Vehling became assistant manager to the Hotel Bristol in Vienna, a most fashionable establishment, and his brilliant career was launched in earnest. There was no doubt that his translation of the book would be a success among scholars and chefs alike, and over the years, in the many elegant establishments he worked for in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the United States, England and Scandinavia, Vehling spent much of his free time working on the book. In his words: “The important addition to our knowledge of the ancients – for our popular notions about their table are entirely erroneous and are in need of revision. The curious novelty and the linguistic difficulty, the philological interest and the unique nature of the task, requiring unique prerequisites – all those factors prompted us to undertake this translation.”
I will be relying on this book for description of meals as I work on The Golden Rule. If anyone is interested in reading the book, it is available for free on Kindle, http://www.amazon.com/Cookery-Dining-Imperial-Rome-ebook/dp/B002RKRT7S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1350248874&sr=1-1&keywords=Apicius but the free book lacks the illustrations. If you just type the name of the book on Amazon, it exists in several other versions, none of them expensive.
Here are a couple of recipes which were probably served on a regular basis at Herod’s palace to his distinguished guests. I have not yet found a typical menu where the foods are stated in order of serving – stay tuned! I can’t wait to find out how many courses were served, but I would imagine at least five or six.
OVA SPHONGIA EX LACTE
Pour eggs in half a pint of milk and an ounce of oil well beaten, to make a fluffy mixture; in a pan put a little oil, and carefully add the egg preparation, without letting it boil however. Place it in the oven to rise and when one side is done, turn it out into a service platter and fold it. Pour over honey, sprinkle with pepper and serve.
ASSATURAS IN COLLARI
(A piece of meat from the neck of a food animal, beef, veal, pork; a muscular hard piece, requiring much care to make it palatable, a “pot roast.”)
Put in a braisière (a roasting pan especially adapted for braising tough meats, with a close fitting cover to hold the vapors) and boil pepper, spices (the exact spices are not listed, they were probably a specific mix, the way we specify fin herbs) honey, broth; and heat this with the meat in the oven. The neck piece itself, if you like, is also roasted with spices and the hot gravy is simply poured over at the moment of serving.
It was a most comlicated and sophisticated cusine, and I did not even mention salads, soups, specialized sauces, gravies, desserts...