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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.

Category: Ancient History, History


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