Archive for November, 2009

The First Century Kitchen

November 16, 2009

A Bowl of Lentil Soup

This is not quite the age of Wolf gas ranges and Sub-zero refrigerators. You have to imagine, no electricity, no gas, no self-cleaning anything. Except during the winter rainy season, a typical first-century family used their courtyard for cooking. Households typically had a brazier, or large curved metal plate for building a fire and cooking supper. The brazier was small enough that it was moved inside during bad weather. I love the idea that someone could walk down a first century street and smell everyone’s dinner being cooked in courtyards. In addition, most families had a bread oven, too. This was a domed-shaped oven with an opening in the front. A family member built a fire every morning and by the time the dough was ready to bake, the temperature was likely well over 500 degrees.

Cities had neighborhood bakeries where people could buy bread or bring their dough to be baked. Many Mediterranean area cities and villages continued this tradition until quite recently.

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooks used a variety of tools to prepare their meals, including mixing bowls, pots, kettles, and casseroles for stewing, braising, boiling water and for deep-frying. Some of the cooking vessels had narrow opening on top to keep the water from evaporating and escaping during cooking. These pots were ideal for making soups, porridges and were used to cook beans and lentils. First century casseroles were similar to a ceramic Dutch oven. Baking dishes were common in the Italy and Greece and were beginning to appear in Middle Eastern kitchens during the lifetime of Jesus.

Most cooking vessels were pottery, though some of them, especially those used by wealthier families, were made of metals such as copper or bronze. We know that metal pans are much better conductors of heat than clay pots, but pots and pans made of materials like copper were very expensive, just as they are today, and were well beyond the means of the average family. Pans were made by professional potters and metal workers and were made to standard sizes, such as they are today.

The home cook at the time of Jesus also had griddles for frying breads and meats. Griddles were constructed of some type of metal such as iron or copper. They also used kitchen aids and utensils such as mixing bowls, mortars and pestles, funnels, cooking and serving spoons and knives that were used to assist them with food preparation. First century cooks also had standardized measuring spoons and cups!

Advertisements