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Ancient Recipes

While looking for news ideas on what to do with boring green beans, and boring turnips, I recently stumbled across several websites that discuss ancient Roman recipes that incorporate them.
For example:

I'd love to explore recipes from other ancient cultures -- Persian, Indian, Chinese, Mayan, Egyptian, Celtic, etc etc

Please share any books, articles, or, most especially, websites focusing on ancient recipes here.

Or your favorite recipes themselves, if they are in the public domain.

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  1. This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but Harold McGee's book "On Food and Cooking" includes tons of sidebars describing ancient and medieval preparation. Interesting little facts, although not really the main purpose of the book.

    3 Replies
    1. re: caseyjo

      On the contrary, sounds like an excellent suggestion.
      Would you believe there isn't even a single copy in the whole Miami-Dade County Public library system?
      Maybe I can get them to buy one. Shouldn't every library have a copy?

      1. re: racer x

        Yes, but everyone interested in food should have a copy in his or her personal library!

        1. re: roxlet

          Agreed! I refer to my copy all the time, usually for answers to questions like "why did my souffle do that" and "how is this type of cheese made." It's also a great read cover to cover, and it contains so much information that you'll probably read it more than once.

    2. "To The King's Taste: Richard II's Book of Feasts and Recipes, Adapted for Modern Cooking" by Lorna J Sass, Metropolitan Museum of Art,. 1975. Just now I checked and amazon.com has it for as little as $5.99. Sample recipe: Fysshe in Gele.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Querencia

        Sounds very interesting. I see amazon also has "To The Queen's Taste" (Elizabethan).
        And there are a even number of books on ancient Egyptian food.

        1. re: racer x

          "To the Queen's Taste" includes a fantastic recipe for a chicken stew with orange that I make on a regular basis.

          (I think it's also the source of a recipe for a spinach-and-strawberry tart I made once. Back in the day, spinach was new and exotic, and people didn't know you weren't supposed to make sweets with it...)

      2. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mjw/recipes/et...

        Kind of interesting that the ancient Romans used asafoetida and fish sauce.

        8 Replies
        1. re: sushigirlie

          I wholeheartedly agree about the fish sauce. I had some green beans and turnips and was wondering if I could find recipes that included fish sauce -- a web search turned up ancient Roman recipes! Not what I was expecting!

          1. re: racer x

            Garum and Cato's cabbage cure. Ah memories of Latin class!

          2. re: Roland Parker

            This link provides a recipe for making garum:


            It cites this book for the recipe--A Taste of Ancient Rome:


            1. re: sushigirlie

              Ever since I watched the episode of NOVA when they make their own garum, I've wanted to try it, too. Sadly, I don't have the space to ferment layers of sardines, salt, and herbs. The following link has the ancient roman recipe used for Garum Fish Sauce - plus, ancient recipes for Mulsum (honeyed wine), Lucanian Sausages, Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce, Seasoned Mussels, Pear Patina, Libum (sweet cheesecake)


            2. re: FoodDabbler

              Besides current Asian fish sauce, we might also consider Worcestershire sauce as a point of reference (which is also made from fermented anchovies, salt & herbs, & a common ingredient in cooking).

              1. re: benbenberi

                I've had the good fortune of tasting garum a few times now at Locanda in San Francisco. It's not at all as concentrated as worcestershire sauce or as fishy/fermented tasting as many fish sauces from Asia. It's definitely along the lines of the two but maybe milder or softer on the nose and palate.

              2. re: sushigirlie

                Titus Pullo would NEVER eat anything with fish sauce!

              3. the slow food "ark of taste" is really fun and fascinating--it lists very old traditional foodstuffs (endangered, sadly), but also has lots of recipes for very old foods.


                there's also a slowfoodusa web site which might have ancient new world recipes, but i actually havent' looked at it. ditto the slow food uk site.

                1. I recommend The Roman Cookery Of Apicius - Translated and Adapted for the Modern Kitchen by John Edwards. Here's the amazon link, though it seems to be out of print now. http://amzn.to/epAiD1 Looking further on amazon, there seem to be a number of people who have translated the Roman chef Apicius, some are quite reasonably priced.

                  I got this book when I was in high school (I was into both food and classics) and haven't looked at it in years! I never cooked much from it - at the time I got it, I was more interested in the obscure or outrageous things the Romans ate. (Dormice sprinkled with honey and poppy seeds, anyone?) I think I may start making some of the tastier-looking recipes. :)

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: looz

                    It's still possible to try edible dormice, though I haven't had the opportunity. It's quite popular amongst the Slovenians and in other parts of eastern Europe still; both the trapping and consumption of it are lauded as part of their cultural heritage. I have heard, from the one person I know who's tried it, that it's actually quite good. I would imagine it's a bit like South American cavy.

                    1. re: KaelusApicius

                      Last week on Cooking Channel, 'Supersizers go ... Roman' (a British program) sampled dormice, or something approximating that.


                      1. re: paulj

                        I could never eat those. They're just toooo cute.
                        (And there's no meat on the ones she used for the show! I don't even like chicken wings!)

                    2. re: looz

                      There is a version -- possibly from a different translator -- available free from Project Gutenberg. The html version can be downloaded here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/...

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I have a print copy of that - a 1977 reissue of the original 1936 work, which claims to be the first English translation of Apicius, done by Joseph Dommers Vehling. It's still available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Cookery-Dining-...

                        1. re: BobB

                          Wow! Ninety nine bucks for a new hard cover version? I like Gutenberg's prices better. Besides, if I spill sometthing on the Gutenberg pages, I only have to clean my monitor screen. Crafty! '-)

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            Mine is the paperback edition, only $11 (though I didn't buy it, it was a present some years ago.)

                    3. Try the Classical Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Cookb... ). Sally Grainger also has a new translation of Apicius and a new cookbook based on him.

                      1. racer x: A brilliant post.

                        How do we get this thread elevated to some sort of "Important" or "Best" category so it won't be buried alive with all the ones like "Who Remembers Hoagie's Corner?"

                        Permalink now, my friends.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          Please count me a fan of the topic as well. I wish I had thought more about back when I was still swaddled in the soft robes of academia. I was contemplating focusing my doctoral studies in intellectual history and was already very into food and cooking. Somehow, I never considered how interesting it might be to delve into cookbooks, recipes, food traditions, etc.

                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              Glad to hear that I'm not the only one interested in the topic.

                              (NB as far as I've been able to tell, the permalink function is only useful for citing an individual post -- for example, if I wanted to refer to FoodDabbler's post above
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7703... )

                              1. re: racer x

                                for threads i like to remember, i save to my chowhound profile, and also bookmark on my computer.

                            2. I've had fun with the "Forme of Cury", a medieval British cookbook. It predates the discovery of the new world, and a lot of the preparation techniques and dishes are very different from modern cuisine. It's also available free on-line.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                Very hard to read (or is it "reade"?) and hard to cooke from, I've found.

                              2. Not long ago, someone posted information on another thread about Project Guttenberg, a website where books in the public domain can be accessed and downloaded for free. I recently was amused by “Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine” by William Carew Hazlitt. It considers, and offers examples, of foods, preparations, manners, etc. of the ancient British Isles. This link will permit you to download in the format of your choice:

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: MGZ

                                  Thanks for sharing that, I think I'll have to put that on my iPad (and then laugh at the irony of looking up ancient cuisine on such a shiny device).

                                2. Steven's Florilegium ( http://www.florilegium.org/ ) is a great website run by a Society for Creative Anachronism member that has tons of resources and recipes for foods from the ca 600-1600 time period. A lot of the recipes have been redacted for use with contemporary measurements and ingredients. Check out the side bar on the left for all the different categories.

                                  1. This website includes excerpts from a number of books dealing with ancient food customs, from the Middle and Near East to Britain and Italy, as well as links to other websites.

                                    There are a few modernized recipes for dishes such as palace cakes from Ur, Egyptian flat bread and sesame rings, and sasqu (porridge with dates) from Mesopotamia.

                                    Might be fun if you have kids or grandkids, or for a class project.

                                      1. re: racer x

                                        Just saw this. If you are interested in Mayan, you might check out my link on Guatemalan recipes which got more into authentic as the year progressed.

                                        As far as English books, "False Tongues and Sunday Bread" by Copeland Marks actually touches on some ancient recipes that aren't covered elsewhere. Mainly he tries to produce the recipes using modern ingredients, but there is some fascinating historical stuff in there.

                                        In Spanish "Cocina Regional Guatemalteca by Aurora Sierra Franco de Alvarez" is excellent. You can't ignore Mayan cooking when dealing with Guatemalan. Guatemala is interesting in that the Mayans pretty much maintain the same culture that they have for centuries. So you can get recipes that are little changed such as patin, basically some sort of protein, usually dried shrimp from Lake Atltlan,and tomatoes wrapped in a plantano leaf. Not quite a tamale, more like spaghetti sauce in a leaf.

                                        While I know I don't have all the links on historical Mayan cooking, I do have some in that post such as a site that has photos of the Q’eqchi’ Mayas killing a turkey and making kak'ik.

                                        When I get more time, I'll look at bookmarked stuff I didn't report, but that topic should give you lots to research Mayan-wise amoung the more mainstrem Mayan cooking. My old notebook died when I got home. I recovered the data, but haven't loaded the file of bookmarks.

                                      2. A fun sort of dessert from the Middle Ages is Blancmange--the ancestor of today's puddings, custards, and flan. It still is around but falling out of use somewhat (though, in S. America it is hanging on as "manjar blanco"). It could add a very classy, old-fashioned note to any meal. Milk caramel (known by many as dulce de leche) is another sweet from the Middle Ages probably starting in France or Spain.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Wawsanham

                                          My girlfriend in college had had to endure blancmange in boarding school.
                                          She utterly reviled the version she'd had.

                                        2. http://www.sbs.com.au/food/cuisineind...

                                          I've been reading and watching the videos from this world cruisine site for some time.

                                          Lots of historical references and detail to enhance a culinary worldview new and old.

                                          plus this edu guidepost.

                                          1. Margaret Rudkin's The Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, c 1963 (and reprinted several times) has a chapter on cooking from antique recipes. At least one is ancient; the others seem merely hundreds of years old. I think you can probably get a used copy pretty cheaply using Amazon. You might, if you look in an old library that does not delete cookbook titles, find a library copy somewhere.

                                            1. This isn't ancient in the sense of this thread but it surprised me. In an 1858 book called "Inquire Within" that includes recipes with household hints I found the suggestion to prepare carrots with butter, brown sugar, and curry powder. Would not have expected much curry powder to be around then. Anyway, I tried it and carrots fixed that way are really good, just delicious, and I have been doing them that way ever since. Try it. Any old cooked carrots will do, brown sugar, butter, and curry powder. I really wonder how somebody happened to have curry powder in the USA in 1858.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                Curry powder was quite common in the US at that time. Recall that the British had control of India, and curries and curry powder had already become a part of English cooking. The traditional southern US dish "country captain" is a curry, and it dates back to the mid-19th century.

                                              2. The people (mostly slaves) who built the Pyraminds subsisted almost entirely on strong beer, dense bread and wild green onions that grew on the banks of the Nile.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: EarlyBird

                                                  Have you been watching that 'how beer determined world history' documentary? :)

                                                  I thought ancient beer was generally on the weak side, brewed for only a few days.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    I remember first reading that in Norman Mailer's novel, "Ancient Evenings."

                                                  2. re: EarlyBird

                                                    Contrary to popular belief, the pyramids were not built with slave labor but with hired employees. The world's first labor strike came about when workers on a pyramid struck for higher pay. And got it.

                                                    As for beer and the making of it, here's an interesting website that offers information on one of the oldest (known) breweries of ancient Egypt, with an output of something like 300 gallons a day. If you want to find out more about such sites, Google is your friend. For openers, here's one of interest:

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Very interesting. That explains the plaques found on the pyramids with "Brotherhood of Pyramiders Local 0001."

                                                      1. I recently tried Essene bread, usually made with sprouted wheat. The original recipe goes back to the Essene Gospel Of Peace from the 3rd century CE. This version uses a soaked whole wheat flour, oat flour and sprouted lentils. It's a dehydrated bread, but takes only about 2 hours to make. Puffed wheat functions as a solid leavener for crunch, air and a toasted flavor, but could be omitted for a raw bread.


                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: icecone

                                                          That's an interesting recipe, and oh my, what a LOT of work! Congratulations on such an undertaking! But is it an Essene recipe? I don't think so. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make puffed wheat and what is required? I have genuine doubts that the ancients made it, let alone put it in bread. My point is that it's healthy to be skeptical.

                                                          I did look up the Essene Gospel of Peace. You can find it here:

                                                          The closest thing I could find to a "recipe" is the following, purportedly the words of Jesus:

                                                          "Let the angels of God prepare your bread. Moisten your wheat, that the angel of water may enter it. Then set it in the air, that the angel of air also may embrace it. And leave it from morning to evening beneath the sun, that the angel of sunshine may descend upon it. And the blessing of the three angels will soon make the germ of life to sprout in your wheat. Then crush your grain, and make thin wafers, as did your forefathers when they departed out of Egypt, the house of bondage. Put them back again beneath the sun from its appearing, and when it is risen to its highest in the heavens, turn them over on the other side that they be embraced there also by the angel of sunshine, and leave them there until the sun be set. For the angels of water, of air, and of sunshine fed and ripened the wheat in the field, and they, likewise, must prepare also your bread. And the same sun which, with the fire of life, made the wheat to grow and ripen, must cook your bread with the same fire. For the fire of the sun gives life to the wheat, to the bread, and to the body. But the fire of death kills the wheat, the bread, and the body. And the living angels of the living God serve only living men. For God is the God of the living, and not the God of the dead."

                                                          As you see, NO mention of puffed wheat. Or lentils. Or powdered garlic. But the cooking method isn't too far off. Long and slow. I seriously doubt that the recipe you provide a link to is more than a decade or so old, if that. But someone has been very creative about raising interest in their recipe. Enjoy the bread! Doubt the recipe's origin. Big time! '-)

                                                          1. re: Caroline1


                                                            A FRIENDLY reply:

                                                            1. it's not a lot of work, not compared to making baked bread. The soaked flour just sits there for a day. The sprouted lentils pretty much sprout themselves. The batter is simple puree and mix..

                                                            2. the puffed wheat is OPTIONAL. However, I do like it and use it. I don't like dense breads. Some grains can be puffed in a standard fire in a manner like popcorn.

                                                            3. I've been studying Essene bread recipes online. Many are CREATIVE updates of the original and call themselves Essene.

                                                            4. Unlike some Essene bread recipes, this one is dehydrated and relatively fast.

                                                            1. re: icecone

                                                              I hope my post didn't come across as unfriendly! I just have this thing about speaking up about things that strike me as "less than authentic." Sort of like refusing to place a bid for Jesus' cell phone. '-)

                                                              If you're interested in ancient breads, here's one that's pretty authentic. I'm paraphrasing it for you from Theresa Kara Yianilos' "The Complete Greek Cookbook." She says the recipe is described by Athenaeus in the book he wrote on cookery in the third century. I take her word for it. My koine Geek sucks! She says this method of bread making is still common throughout the Middle East.

                                                              2 cups warm water or scalded milk cooled to lukewarm
                                                              2 tsps salt
                                                              1 Tbp honey
                                                              2 Tbsp olive oil
                                                              2 Tbsp barley meal
                                                              6 cups flour, barley or whole wheat

                                                              Mix all of the ingredients except the flour in a 2 quart jar. Place the jar in a tub of warm/hot water for twelve or so hours until fermentation begins. Change the water regularly to keep it "incubation warm." Once fermentation has clearly begun, mix in 2 cups of the flour. Once again place the jar in a pan of warm water in a warm draft-free place. Keep the water warm, changing as necessary. It should form a sponge in 4 to 6 hours.

                                                              Put 4 cups of flour in a large bowl, make a well in the center and add the sponge. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough until smooth. Shape into a loaf and place in an oiled loaf pan. Cover with a damp towel and set in a warm draft free place to rise. It will not rise as high as modern yeast based breads, but it should reach its best height in about 4 to 6 hours. Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 minutes, reduce oven temp to 450° and bake another 50 minutes or so. Cool Eat!

                                                              If you make it let me now how you like it. I've only had the recipe for about 40 years and still haven't gotten around to making it. A friend did make it about twenty years ago, but it was so good she couldn't manage to save a taste for me. If I want some, I'd better get busy! '-)