Posts Tagged ‘history’

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.

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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!

Another Sabbath

October 31, 2009
Doug Cooking

Another picture from my catering days

We have been out of town for every weekend this month. The first week I went to our diocesan convention. Then there was a statewide youth retreat followed by a rush trip to the other side of Colorado so my son could audition for All-state choir. Because of these trips, we have not been able to sit down for a Sabbath meal since my last Sabbath entry. Last night we finally were in town and able to join the Feast.

It was good to cook a nice meal. It was even nicer because my wife Sally cleans the mess I make while in the kitchen, an arrangement we have followed for twenty years. We ate meat. I have not had a lot of meat since beginning my culinary journey to first century, though probably more than the average Mediterranean family. Just several weeks ago, I went to a “Steak and Stein” gathering at our church where a friend cooked me a steak. To enjoy such delights at a banquet as a guest was certainly characteristic of the time and I took full advantage of the treat.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, for you nourish us and the whole world with goodness, grace, kindness, and mercy. Blessed are you, Lord, for you nourish the whole Universe. This is the translation of an ancient Jewish blessing for the food at the Sabbath. It certainly seemed appropriate for our feast. We had beef that was cooked with onions and my friend Joel’s regional spice mix; asparagus cooked with olive oil, thyme and kosher salt; and steamed cracked wheat.

One piece of news: a friend has let me borrow her pizza stone. Mine is in storage. I will need a pizza stone to make my own pita bread. Until now, I have been using “store-bought” pita, which is permissible. Unlike small farming communities, like Nazareth, large cities had professional bakeries. Some had neighborhood ovens where residents would bring the bread to be baked. So it is OK to buy bread, but better to make it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Honey, Dear

October 27, 2009

I don’t know about most blogs, but this one is bring me a lot of fringe benefits. I have already received wonderful gifts. First, someone in town gave me a box of fresh figs. They were wonderful. I certainly miss the fig trees that friends had in Dallas. Then there is honey. I have received honey from three sources. Tom Greenley and his Bee’s Knees bee keeping business is supplying me with my local Pgosa Springs honey. It is excellent and I had several quarts; I now have one quart left. I hope it lasts through the winter. One theory is that eating local honey can help cure hay fever. It works the same way as allergy shots. The shots inject small amounts of the offending pollen into your body and eventually your immune system becomes used to it. Locally harvested honey is loaded with the offending pollen and daily consumption produces the same results. Let’s see, weekly injection or two tablespoons of honey every day? I am leaning toward the honey cure.

But there is more, honey that is. Bob Pohly, the friend who recommended that I use WordPress and helped me set up this blog, has a brother who is a beekeeper in Berthoud, Colorado. His brother John sent me a delicious jar of his honey. So did Kay Beatty’s son-in-law. Kay belongs to a sewing group that meets in our church. Her son-in-law has a farm in East Texas, near the town of Tyler, and keeps hives. All three of the honeys are distinct, yet each is very delicious. I may not get to drink coffee or eat sugar, but I do get to eat a lot of honey.

Honey was the primary sweetener in the ancient world. It was used for desserts, sweet breads and pastries. Honey was mixed with yogurt or fresh fruit to make a simple, sweet dessert. A little honey added to bread dough helped it to rise and gave the loaf a little sweetness. Several tablespoons of honey and a handful of raisins transformed the bread into dessert. Cakes had honey poured over them after they came out of the oven. Adding a little honey to a stew or other savory dish adds balance to the finished product.

I have been given yet another wonderful gift … lamb. A member of my church bought a whole butchered lamb and has given me several packages of the meat. You will be hearing more about lamb in later blogs. Another friend, Nancy Williams gave us a bowl full of delicious lamb meat balls. She left the recipe in the “comments” section of my blog site. The recipe includes several ingredients that were not available in the first century: Bisquick that can probably be replaced with regular flour and red peppers which can be deleted. You might use lemon zest instead of the lemon pepper, but use a little extra black pepper. Better yet, if you are not strictly following a first century Mediterranean diet, then I recommend that you leave the recipe exactly as Nancy developed it.

Lamb Meat Balls
 2 pounds of ground lamb
 1/2 of a small box of Bisquick
 2 garlic cloves, minced
 Herbs de Provence
 organic lemon pepper
 red pepper
 black pepper
 sea salt
 sage
 8oz of grated cheddar cheese
 1 small purple onion chopped
 3 celery stalks chopped

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands. Pinch roll into small balls and place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 until brown.

Thank You

October 7, 2009

I want to thank each and every one of you for visiting this blog. Somewhere between last night and this morning I received view number 1,000. I think that it is amazing that so many old and new friends are this interested in ancient food and my crazy intent to live on a first century diet. Please keep checking and responding and do share this blog site with your friends that love food and history.

The Olives Are Done … Almost

October 6, 2009

Olives
After twelve days of soaking my olives, ten pounds of them, and changing the water every day, they were ready to store in brine. There are several ways that olives can be processed. The ancient Romans were the first to use lye to soften and cure olives. Olives can also be salted and dried, another ancient technique. I am partial to olives that are brined and this technique is not that complicated. All these procedures for curing olives are still used today.

After soaking them in water for ten to twelve days and changing the water daily, your olives are ready for the next step. I store my olives in one-quart jars that are made for canning vegetables. To prepare for the brine: wash the jars, lids and seals in soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and then sterilize in boiling water. The jars are then ready.

The brine is simple: four cups of water, ¾ cup of red wine vinegar and five tablespoons of salt. Stir this mixture until the salt dissolves. Flavorings are then added to the brine and olives. I added one or two cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of dried thyme, a sprig of rosemary and two very thin slices of lemon to each quart of olives. Put the garlic and herbs in the bottom of the jar. Fill the jar about a third full and add one lemon slice and the other slice when the jar is two-thirds full. Finish filling the jar with olives and top off with the brine. Put the top and seal on the jar and then store in a refrigerator. Feel free to try other seasonings to your olives. One of my favorite combinations is a garlic clove, one or two Thai chilis, one teaspoon of ground cumin, one teaspoon of dry mustard or mustard seeds and a tablespoon of lemon zest. The chilies are not on this diet, but these olives are delicious. My olives will be ready to eat in four to six months.

In the first century, the vast majority of olives were pressed for their oil. Olive oil was not only the primary fat used for cooking, it was used as a fuel for lamps and as ingredient for cosmetics and medicines. By the time of Jesus, large screw presses were used to extract the oil. First the olives were crushed to a mash and the mash was then pressed. The remaining mash, called the lees, was used as fertilizer for fruit and olive trees and kept insects away from the fruit, a clever alternative to insecticides. Just as today, the mash was pressed several times to extract as much oil as possible.

You may never choose to process your own but I hope you do locate high quality Mediterranean style olives and add them your first century table. I certainly will.

Happy feasting!

Shabbat

September 30, 2009
Our friends' home in the mountains

Our friends' home in the mountains

I took two day off last week and escaped from Pagosa Springs. Some friends in the church are out of town and let us use their log house on the upper Blanco River. I arrived late Thursday and woke up Friday morning to a beautiful fall day. The surrounding peaks were all covered with fresh snow. The river is only twenty-five yards from the back door. I built a fire, gazed at the mountains and the water, and lost myself in the beauty.

The rest of the day I spent fly fishing and cooking. Yes, cooking. The Sabbath would begin at sundown. In the first century, the Sabbath feast was a time to join with friends and neighbors and eat a special meal. The law and tradition required no work on the Sabbath, but neighbors that brought food to share at the dinner were allowed to carry their empty dishes home after the feast. With a diet that was primarily vegetarian, the Sabbath was one of the occasions when fish and poultry were added to the menu. After a week of legumes, I wanted my special meal. So we celebrated the Sabbath on the banks of the Blanco River.

The Sabbath special was chicken braised in white wine. Instead of rice or potatoes — neither were part of the Mediterranean diet yet — we had bulgar and mushrooms. The side dishes were freshly picked leaf lettuce with oil, vinegar and feta cheese; pickled vegetables; and pita bread. It was a delightful feast in a wonderful place.

The Upper Blanco River

The Upper Blanco River


Shabbat Shalom!

Studying the Blanco River

Studying the Blanco River

The Olives Are Here

September 21, 2009

Olives 2
Two days ago, UPS left ten pounds of manzanilla olives on our doorstep. The olives came from Penna Gourmet Olives in California (their web site is http://www.greatolives.com). Now comes the fun part. I plan to begin curing the olives tonight and will tell you more about the details of the process in the future.

Olives are naturally extremely bitter, so bitter that I wonder why anyone tried to eat them more than once. To cure them, I will have to break the skin, either by cutting each one with a knife or by bashing them with a cast iron skillet. Then I will soak the olives for weeks, changing the water every several days. Finally I will store them for months in a flavored brine.

In the first century, the vast majority of olives were pressed for their oil. Olive groves and presses existed all over ancient Israel and the Mediterranean region. Archaeologists believe that a major area of Greece was deforested so that olive trees could be planted. Their roots are not nearly as deep as other trees and the result was massive erosion. Even though some cultures liked the slightly bitter flavor of oil pressed from green olives, most farmers waited until the olives ripened and turned black. I suspect that the first olives cured for eating were the green ones that were harvested along with the ripe ones.

Olives 3

A Gift from UPS and Penna Olives

I have been eating well and though I have been tempted by modern and ethnic foods — my wife ate popcorn and drank a Diet Coke in front of me last night — I have not strayed from first century cuisine. Last night I had a light meal of fresh figs and apricots, flat bread and provolone cheese. No I did not make the provolone. Yes, ancient Romans and others were making and eating provolone.

Wish me luck with my olives!

Date Night

September 17, 2009

Dates and Cheese

Dates and Cheese

Last night I ate leftovers: lentils mixed with bulgar, pita bread, and several delicious, locally-grown apricots. And, of course, a glass of red wine. But the night before we had a really nice meal. Our appetizers consisted of raisins and roasted almonds (first century trail mix?). I prepared a chick pea and wheat berry stew that turned out to be very good. We also ate a sliced cucumber with just a touch of salt and a splash of white wine vinegar and had slices of a rustic bread. But the highlight of the meal was dessert … dates stuffed with cheese.

First things first, how many of you have heard of wheat berries? They are the entire kernel of wheat that are usually ground to make whole wheat flour. They are also great cooked. I usually use hard winter berries. When boiled, they are chewy and have a nutty, earthy flavor. They are perfect when cooked with legumes or served with vegetables. Spring wheat berries are paler in color and have a milder flavor. You will probably have to go to a health food store or a market like Whole Foods to find these.

Soak both your dried chick peas and wheat berries over night and then cook them together. After draining the peas and wheat, saute garlic and onion and then add liquid, either chicken stock, beef stock or water. I used cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and a bay leaf as flavorings. Cook for several hours until the chick peas are tender and the berries are swollen and beginning to split. I like to serve dishes like this with a splash of extra olive oil on the top.

The dates were wonderful and simple to prepare. I used the cheese I described several blog entries back. Simply slice the dates lengthwise and remove the pit. Then fill the opening with your cheese. You can use cream cheese or chevre instead of making your own cheese. I thought about mixing honey with the cheese, but the dates were plenty sweet without it. You could add chopped almonds or walnuts and maybe a dash of cinnamon, but the dates were absolutely wonderful with just the cheese.

Enjoy!

Pantry Update

September 16, 2009

Let’s face it, some home cooks are good, a few are great, and some are just terrible. Do you think it was any different two thousand years ago? In my last blog, I listed grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables available to the first century cook. These were the staple foods that almost every cook prepared. The use of herbs, spices and condiments probably made the difference between a good cook and a great one.

Remember that meat was a very special occasion food. Goat, lamb and mutton were eaten most often. Wild game, such as deer, was served only when one of the males in the household had time to hunt. Beef was available only when the cow was unable to produce milk or was too old to pull a plow. Pork and pork sausage was loved and eaten by everyone but Jews!

Poultry and fish were eaten much more often than meat. Yet they were typically eaten only once a week. First century Jews primarily ate tilapia, a fish caught in the Sea of Galilee. But only those living close to the lake ate fresh fish. Dried and pickled fish were the norm for everyone else. A wide variety of salt water fish was available to many people living near the Mediterranean coast. Pigeons and doves were the most common poultry, though chicken was certainly known. Hens were probably too highly prized for their eggs to end up on the platter very often.

Join the Feast!