Posts Tagged ‘olive oil’

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!

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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!

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!

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!