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Historical Autumnal Recipes

The leaves are turning and the nights are drawing in – embrace autumn with two cosy comfort food recipes from the British Museum Press. Have fun!

82035_Classical_jkt.inddSalt Meat Stew

This is a simple yet appetizing stew, a peasant meal with the addition of more spices than would be available to most peasants. It is recorded in a Greek papyrus from Egypt but it could equally have been a Roman dish: the ingredients are reminiscent of sauces found in Apicius.

Traditionally pork was salted not because of a flavour preference, but as the most economic way to preserve it for the winter: excess saltiness was then removed by the initial boiling specified in this recipe. Salted pork would hang in the fireplace in many ancient households.

Most of the flavourings listed are seeds, and we are not unfamiliar with roasting these, but why roast the herb thyme? The answer is simply that when thyme is dry-roasted the green leaves are easily removed from the stalk, making the herb easier to use.

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) gammon joint or smoked ham

1 pint (2 ½ cups/570 ml) white wine

10 fl oz (1 ¼ cups/280 ml) white grape juice

5 fl oz (⅔ cup/150 ml) white wine vinegar

2 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp aniseed

1 tsp fennel seeds

6 small sprigs of thyme

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp (30 g) honey

½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper

2 thick slices coarse whole-wheat bread

Cut the meat into small chunks, cover with water in a pan and bring to the boil. Discard the water, pour the wine, grape juice and vinegar over the meat and return to the heat. Combine the whole spice seeds and the thyme, spread on a baking tray and dry-roast them for 5 minutes in the oven at 400 0F (200 0F/gas mark 6). Shred the leaves from the stems of the thyme and place them in a mortar along with the seeds. Pound them until they are like breadcrumbs. Add this mixture to the stew and continue to simmer. Cook the stew for a total of 45 minutes. Towards the end add the cumin, honey and pepper. Cut the bread into chunks and place them in the oven for 5 minutes to dry them out a little. Add the bread to the stew: it will eventually soak up and thicken the juices.

Recipe extract from The Classical Cookbook, by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger, British Museum Press £10.99. ©Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger


Fig and raisin ‘cream’

This mixture can be served hot or cold over a sweet cereal dish, firm stewed fruit or – best of all – ice cream. Some other versions in other manuscripts are stiffer and make a good filling for tartlets or fried puffs. One encloses the filling in pastry to make dumplings.

Serves 6

125 g/4 oz well-soaked dried figs

125 g/4 oz stoned raisins

275 ml/10 fl oz/ ¼ cups red wine (not too dry)

Good pinch of ground black pepper

1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Soft dark brown sugar to taste

3 teaspoons rice flour or cornflour

A drop or two of red food colouring

Salt to taste
Drain the figs, reserving the soaking liquid. Discard the stalk ends of the fruit and put them in a saucepan with the raisins and wine. Add the spices and a teasoon of sugar and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and cool slightly, then turn the mixture into an electric blender and process until smooth. Add a little of the soaking water if the mixture is stubbornly solid.

Cream the rice flour or cornflour with a  little more soaking water or wine and brighten the tint with a drop of food colouring. Blend the ‘cream’ into the dried-fruit purée. Then return the whole mixture to the saucepan and simmer until it thickens slightly. Season with salt and a little extra sugar if you wish.

Recipe extract from The Medieval Cookbook, by Maggie Black, British Museum Press £10.99. ©Maggie Black

The Medieval Cookbook and The Classical Cookbook are available online from the British Museum shop.

Off the Shelf Festival of Words

31BC_low-resThe British Museum Press is delighted to host an event for 31BC: Antony, Cleopatra and the Fall of Egypt at the 2012 Off the Shelf Festival of Words. Off the Shelf is a dynamic, distinctive and diverse festival of words which features 200 events including readings, debates, workshops,  poetry, storytelling, readers’ events, walks talks, community events, a programme for children and young people and more.

On 21st October, celebrated classicist David Stuttard will be speaking about his exciting new book, 31BC, co-authored by Sam Moorhead. 31BC explores the dramatic events of the Battle of Actium, when two superpowers, Egypt and Rome, met head-on for the first and last time in history. The outcome would change the course of history and lead directly to the foundation of the Roman Empire.

Illustrated with evocative locations and iconic objects from the British Museum and elsewhere, 31 BC: Antony, Cleopatra and the Fall of Egypt is a dramatic story of a defining moment in history, retold with excitement and vigour from the Egyptian standpoint.

Sunday, 21st October


Education Room, Weston Park Museum, Sheffield

Tickets £6

For more information and to book tickets, visit the Off the Shelf website.

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2012

Cheltenham Logo

Whether it’s the biggest names in publishing, politics, television, radio, art, theatre, or sport, The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2012 has it all.

There are hard-hitting debates on controversial subjects, comedy from the country’s top stand ups, interactive media sessions, unique food and drink evenings, writing workshops and masses of family fun talks and activities.

This year, the British Museum Press is delighted to host an event for Shakespeare: staging the world at the Festival. British Museum curator of Renaissance Europe Dora Thornton will join the acclaimed Shakespeare historian Jonathan Bate to discuss the late Elizabethan and Jacobean world through the lens of Shakespeare’s plays.

Saturday, 13th October 2012

10.00AM – 11.00AM

Town Hall Main Hall, Cheltenham

Tickets £6

To find out more about the event and to book tickets, visit the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival website.

Happy National Poetry Day!

In celebration of National Poetry Day, we’ve featured here six poems from our poetry series, from cultures around the world. Enjoy!

Classical Love Poetry

Asclepias loves to love. With looks that please

she charms all comers to sail on her love’s tranquil seas.

–Meleager, Anthologia Palatina v 256

An extract from The British Museum Classical Love Poetry, edited and translated by Jonathan Williams and Clive Cheesman.

Indian Love Poetry

His pointed arrows are the young flowers of the mango; the string of his bow is a line of bees.

Oh my beloved, the warrior of spring comes to conquer pleasure-loving hearts.


An extract from The British Museum Indian Love Poetry, edited by A. L. Dallapiccola

Chinese Love Poetry

Flowers bloom:

no one

to enjoy them with.

Flowers fall:

no one

with whom to grieve.

I wonder when love’s


stir us most –

When flowers bloom,

or when flowers fall?

Gazing at Spring, I

By Xue Tao (768 – c. 832)

An extract from The British Museum Chinese Love Poetry, edited by Jane Portal.

Persian Love Poetry

Why do you ask me the colour of his eyes?

When did the colour of his eyes ever capture me?

The fire that sparked from his eyes

was what ensnared this mad heart.

–Forugh Farrokhzad

An extract from The British Museum Persian Love Poetry, edited by Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Sheila R. Canby.


even to the saucepan

where potatoes are boiling –

a moonlit night.


on the water

the reflection

of a wanderer


Extracted from The British Museum Haiku, edited by David Cobb.

Medieval Love Poetry cover


She welcomed him out of love

but if she had strong love for him,

he felt a hundred times for her.

For love in other hearts was as nothing

compared to the love he felt in his.

Love took root in his heart,

and was so entirely there

that little was left for other hearts.

An extract from The British Museum Medieval Love Poetry, edited by John Cherry.

©Trustees of the British Museum

African Textiles Today

All works of art hold within them stories which range far beyond the time of their creation, and African textiles are no different. In Africa, cloth may be used to commemorate something – an event, a person, a political cause – which in other parts of the world might be written down or recorded by plaque or monument. The history of Africa can be read in cloth.

Today, we are delighted to announce the publication of African Textiles Today, written by the curator of African collections at the British Museum, Chris Spring. To celebrate, we have featured here some highlight excerpts from the book – enjoy!

The global phenomenon of African Textiles

Walk around any market in Marrakesh, Dar Es Salaam, Johannesburg or in any town or village in northern, eastern or southern Africa, and the same fact will rapidly become apparent. Textiles – whether hand-woven, factory-printed, resist-dyed, stamped or embroidered – are arguably the most obvious visible signifier of culture throughout the African continent, or for that matter wherever in the world people of African descent have settled. The history, beliefs, fashions, status and aspirations of people may be read through the colours and patterns of textiles, the means and materials by which and from which they are made, and the occasions on which they are worn or otherwise utilized. Drawing on recent research by staff at the British Museum, and the Museum’s fine collection of African textiles, this book attempts to give a selective overview of the innumerable textile traditions of Africa, as well as an insight into how they have inspired and informed the work of contemporary artists and photographers.


Printed cloth (kanga)


Tanzania, 2002

117 x 166 cm

British Museum

The inscription on this kanga from Tanzania reads, ‘The new millennium belongs to us’. The central space, known as mji, meaning ‘town’ or ‘womb’, is left deliberately empty except for the deep blue of the unknown future.


Fancy-printed dress with images of President Obama and President Mills


China / Ghana, 2009

133 x 131 cm

British Museum

Ghana was delighted (and Kenya slightly annoyed) that Barack Obama chose the former country for his first state visit to sub-Sarahan Africa following his election as US President in 2009. ‘Africa doesn’t need strong men, it needs strong institutions,’ said President Obama, addressing the Ghanaian parliament. This dress, showing images of President and Mrs Mills of Ghana as well as of Barack and Michelle Obama, was tailored from ‘fancy’ print fabric manufactured in China.


Woman’s waist cloth


Dida people, Ivory Coast, mid 20th century

40 x 99 cm

British Museum

This resist-dyed, tubular raffia waist cloth would be worn by women from noble families among the Dida people of Ivory Coast, West Africa. These cloths are created using weaving techniques similar to those used to create bags of a similar shape in neighbouring Liberia. In 1990, an elderly woman named Blah, considered by the community to be the most skilful in creating these cloths, described them as the most prestigious garment which could be displayed at local ceremonies: ‘It is by this cloth that one recognizes that you descend from an old, rich family rather than being a newly rich person’.

African Textiles Today by Chris Spring is published by the British Museum Press (hardback, £30) and can be purchased online at the British Museum shop.

All text and images ©Trustees of the British Museum.