Is This Really What They Ate?

Darwin and some experimental Roman cooking collide in my kitchen.

Last Thursday, we had a snow day.  Scads and scads of glorious snow.  It also meant that Jared was home all day.  He played some video games, of course, but he also engaged in some experimental cooking.

He made a Roman pear souffle.  The recipe dates to approximately 35 AD.

It smelled really good and I’d like to say we adored it.  That’s what I’d like to say.  But the truth is that it was a little too interesting to love.  It combined pears, red wine and cumin.

Yep.  Interesting.  It left me wondering just how much our tastes have changed.  I doubt seriously that Roman cooks spent a great deal of time fixing things that no one wanted to eat.  Yet, none of us were thrilled with the results.  Clearly, we like very different things.

Part of the issue may be the unorthodox preparation methods.  Jared almost  decided to use my mixer.  Or the blender.  He couldn’t make up his mind.  Finally he decided to go with the level of technology that a Roman would have access too.  When I came into the kitchen, he was using the potato masher.  That wouldn’t have been my choice but then I looked at the directions.  They called it a souffle but looking at how they told you to prep it, custard probably would have been more accurate.

But I’ve also been wondering how much the ingredients may differ between then and now.  What first lead me to question this was a quote from Charles Darwin.  “The pear, though cultivated in classical times, appears, from Pliny’s description, to have been a fruit of very inferior quality . . . But the gardeners of the classical period, who cultivated the best pear they could procure, never thought what splendid fruit we should eat. . .” [Darwin, Charles (1998-03-01). On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (p. 19 and 20). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.]

If the pear of Darwin’s time has notably changed from that of the Romans,  how much more different is our pear?  Could that be part of the reason we were less than thrilled with this recipe?

What does all of this have to do with writing?  Whenever you write about a historic period, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to get a feel for their world.  Their foods?  I’m left wondering how accurate our attempts at their recipes truly are.

Just a little food for thought.


One thought on “Is This Really What They Ate?

  1. How interesting. I guess I’m going to have to whip up some recipes to better understand my historical! And I’d never thought about how foods have changed over hundreds of years, but they would, wouldn’t they? Fruits and veggies have even changed so much in the last 50 years.

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