Posts Tagged ‘ancient kitchen’

A Book on First Century Fare

April 29, 2012

April 29, 2012

I know that it has been quite some time since I have posted on this blog.  Quite frankly, my writing energies have been focused somewhere else.  With my friend, Joel Pugh, I have finished my book on first century food: The Food and Feasts of Jesus; Inside the World of First Century Fare.  The book is being published by Rowman and Littlefield and will be released on July 16.  Pre-release copies are already available, at discounted prices, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  For those still checking this blog, I hope you are able to get a copy of the book.  It contains fascinating information and lots of my first century recipes.

In all you do, keep the feast.

Dolmas

February 4, 2010

Several night ago, we ate first century snacks for dinner: olives, pita bread, some of my home made cheese, and dolmas. And, no, I did not make the dolmas. One of the wonders of the twenty-first century is that even grocery stores in Pagosa Springs, Colorado sell decent dolmas. I have made them in the past and recently bought several jars of brined grape leaves so I can begin to develop new recipes.

Who in the world first decided to to eat grape leaves? A famine must have been quite serious for people to begin eating leaves from vines and trees. Cultivation for wine and table grapes started around six thousand years ago. Wild grapes were used long before that. The use of grape leaves is also quite ancient. It was common to grill fish by wrapping fillets (or whole fish) with damp grape or fig leaves and then place them on the coals. Grape leaves were also used as a wrap for meat or some grain. These are called “dolmas” or “dolmades.”

Most modern dolmas use rice as a stuffing, which raises an issue for the first century cook. Even though a few food historians write that rice was present in the Holy Land by the first century, the majority of scholars believe that rice arrived several hundred years later. Rice was first cultivated in India and worked its way east to China and Japan before it started its journey west toward the Middle East. I will try making dolmas with bulgar or barley as the stuffing and see what happens.

Before food preparation, the grape leaves should be softened. Gently boil fresh grape leaves for five minutes or use brined leaves which are available in many markets, maybe even in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I imagine that both methods were used in the first century. Brining was a common way to preserve food, even grape leaves. If using brined leaves, drain them, remove and separate leaves very carefully. They tear easily.

Please join me in my quest for the perfect first century style dolma.

Enjoy.

New Wine, Old Skins

January 25, 2010

The wine is almost finished. The second fermentation is complete and we are now clarifying the wine and waiting for all the sediment to settle. We will bottle the wine within a week or two. We will then have a “new” wine. Actually, we will allow our malbec to sit in the bottle for at least six months before drinking it, though we have already done a little tasting. It is good wine, dry with oak overtones. Yes, we aged it with oak chips. It still has a little yeasty flavor which should disappear while it ages.

I mentioned in my last blog entry that the yeast for making wine occurs naturally on the outside of the grape skins. There are actually two types of yeast. The first variety begins to consume the sugar in the juice immediately after the skins are broken. Within several days, the alcohol level is already around 3% and the alcohol, a byproduct of the yeast consuming the sugar (called “fermentation”), is strong enough to kill this yeast. Then the second variety of yeast “kicks in” and the process of fermentation continues. We used wine yeast that comes in a little packet.

Many first century people preferred flavored wines. Honey was a favorite flavoring. So were cinnamon and cloves. First century folk also watered down their wine, sometimes by as much as fifty or sixty percent. Both fermentations usually took place outside, so at least some of the water evaporated. but maybe they just preferred thinner wine. It certainly helped the wine last longer and cut down on drunkenness, especially when it was consumed for lunch, or for breakfast!

Try this: heat one cup of water and one-half cup of honey until the honey completely dissolves into the water. Then add one bottle of wine. You may also add traditional mulling spices, like a stick of cinnamon, several cloves, lemon zest. Try other spices and herbs. Continue to heat but do not let it come to a boil. Serve at room temperature or, because it is winter, drink it hot.

Enjoy.

Wine to Make Glad

December 17, 2009

I have made cheese. I have brined olives. I have baked bread. For a true first century experience, I have to make wine. To begin, I have to admit that I have made wine on three different occasions. Each batch makes approximately six gallons, or around thirty bottles. My first two efforts produced a mediocre Shiraz. I chose shiraz because it was one of the grapes that was used to make wine in the Holy Land back at the time of Christ. For my third recipe, I used Italian Amarone juice. It resulted in a real decent wine, not quite on par with the Amarones from Northern Italy that cost around $60 a bottle, but still quite drinkable.

Six gallons of Malbec

This time I am making wine with a friend, Kenny Rogers. We are making a malbec. Our initial tests and tastings show that it should be a nice hearty red wine with an alcoholic level close to 14%. The experience is not quite like that of the fist century. Wagonloads of grapes were taken from the vineyards to a winepress – literally a hollowed rock. Family members would stomp the grapes (remember I love Lucy) until all the skins were broken. The yeast producing the fermentation was naturally present on the outside of the grape skins. Within three days, the grape juice was already fermenting and had a alcohol content of 3-4%. After fermentation, the wine was stored in amphorae, ceramic heartshaped containers with handles that held around six gallons. The tops were sealed with wood stoppers and pitch, to keep the wine from being exposed to air and spoiling. We used juice concentrate and prepackaged wine yeast.

Cheers!

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!