MARCH 2004

The most recent Adamastor Cooks’ Guild meeting bravely embarked on a classical endeavour, viz. them ancient Roman recipes. While this does not count as medieval cuisine, obviously, it is interesting for several reasons. As an earlier cuisine, it influenced the later medieval cooking of Western Europe; parallels can be traced in things such as use of spices (lots of pepper, cumin, coriander), the tendency to cook meat in stock without pre-browning, etc. The custard which I attempted is not very different to Platina’s custard pie filling, almost a thousand years later. In terms of scholarship, too, classical texts were well known; many of the medieval cooks, particularly Italians such as Platina, were explicitly aware of classical Roman traditions, as part of the general medieval tendency to respect classical authors and texts. Even without this historical interest to medievalists, however, Roman cooking, as we demonstrated during the guild meeting, is a particularly distinctive and enjoyable cuisine, offering amazing flavour combinations.

Some suggestions about Roman food exist in the form of food references in poetry and plays, which often give ingredients, although they tend not to mention process. (Anahita’s feast, see Bibliography below, makes extensive use of these). However, the primary text for Roman cooking is the cookbook attributed to Apicius, De Re Coquinaria ("On Cookery"), based on two Latin texts from the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. As Edwards points out, the actual identity of Apicius is unclear; there were several well-known gourmets of that name, living at various times from Julius Caesar (44 B.C.) to Trajan (around 100 A.D.). It is possible that the attribution of the cookbook is a nom de plume, invoking a generalised idea of the famous and wealthy gourmet as a stereotype as much as an actual historical figure (Edwards, 1984: ix). There are several versions of Apicius in translation, including the Edwards text which I have used; his partial translation includes modern adaptations, which I choose mostly to ignore as he’s more interested in modern taste than actual historical recreation. Full translations exist by Vehling (not a good translation) and by Flowers and Rosenbaum (considerably better), as well as a recent scholarly translation by Milham, whose Platina translation is the academic standard. See the Florilegium file for a more detailed comparison of versions.

Eager gourmets seeking Roman recipes online will find no complete translation of Apicius, and, in fact, precious little else beyond a few pages of scattered recipes. I have included such URLs below. I confidently expect the presence of this file to up the Apicius availability something ‘orrible.

Culinary perpetrators of the Adamastor Cooks’ Guild included myself (Baroness Jehanne de Huguenin), Lord Thomas Tanner of Ely, Lady Ginevra del’Acqua, Sister Mairi Jean, and Garsiyya ibn Ibrahim ibn Sulaiman al-Qurtubi. Unless specified otherwise, translations from Apicius below are from the Edwards edition. Unattributed recipes were cooked by me. Please note that quantities in my recipes are a bit impressionistic, I tend not to measure much when I cook.

Boiled wine is common in Roman recipes; it is, pretty much as it sounds, wine which has been reduced to a syrup by boiling. I used a Late Harvest, as Edwards suggests a sweet wine is probably meant. About 300 ml wine boils down to a few tablespoons in about half an hour.



(This was wonderful, and there wasn’t enough of it).

ALITER IN STRUTHIONE ELIXO. Sauce for boiled ostrich. Use pepper, lovage, thyme or savory, honey, mustard, vinegar, stock, and olive oil. (Apicius Book 6, I-2)

450g ostrich
4 tblsp honey
2 tblsp rd wine vinegar
3-4 tblsp olive oil
4 stalks thyme
2 stalks savory
handful of celery leaves (a substitute for lovage)
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 beef stock cube
Brown the ostrich in the oil; add spices and cook for a few minutes. Add liquids (stock, vinegar, honey, mustard) and finely-chopped herbs. Cook gently until ostrich is tender, adding more liquid if necessary.


Adapted from a redaction by Anahita al-Qurtibiyya bint’ abd al-Karim al-hakam al-Fassi,

CHICKPEAS IN SAFFRON SAUCE - Erebinthoi Knakosymmigeis
And then chick-peas marinated in saffron, plump in their tender youth. (Piloxenus, The Dinner, quoted in Anthenaeus (circa 170-239 CE), The Partying Professors)

a couple of generous pinches of saffron
a few tblsp warm water
3 x 400g cans chickpeas
1-1 1/2 cups olive oil
salt to taste
2 tblsp ground cumin
2 tblsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground black pepper
Crumble saffron threads in a tablespoon or two of warm water. Let stand about 15 minutes. Drain and rinse canned chickpeas. Put chickpeas in a pot with olive oil and a little water, stir well, and heat on medium fire, adjusting heat as needed so they don't burn. Add saffron, coriander, cumin, and salt to taste. Stir and simmer until warm through. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more cumin and coriander seed, as needed.


adapted from a redaction by Anahita al-Qurtibiyya bint’ abd al-Karim al-hakam al-Fassi,

SAUCE FOR VARIOUS BIRDS. Pepper, grilled cumin, lovage, mint, stoned raisins or damsons, a little honey; blend with myrtle wine, vinegar, fish sauce, and oil. Heat up and stir with celery and savoury. (Apicius, Book VI, V-1)

Note by Anahita: Plums didn't grow in Italy at the time. Rather, dried plums were imported from Syria, where they grew. I mixed fresh and dried in hope that the sauce would be less cloying.
8 Chicken Thighs
12 pitted Prunes
warm Water to cover
8 fresh Plums
1 litre Red Wine
1/2 cups Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 cups Thai Fish Sauce
1/2 cups Olive Oil
1/4 cup & 3 Tb. Honey
8 leaves fresh Mint
1/2 Tb. Lovage Herb or Chinese Celery Leaves (used equivalent in leeks)
1/4 Tb. ground roasted Cumin Seeds
pinch ground Black Pepper
5 leafy stalks Celery
bunch fresh Savoury Herb
Soak prunes in lukewarm water. Plunge fresh plums in boiling water. Drain and remove and discard skins. Cut in half and discard pits. Drain and chop and pit prunes. Tie celery and savoury into bouquets. Put all ingredients in saucepan, bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes, stirring with bouquet, and mashing prunes and plums occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. When done, leave bouquet in sauce until ready to serve.
Put chicken pieces in a single layer in enough roasting pans. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Roast at 150 degrees C, for about 40 minutes. Increased temperature to 200 degrees C to crisp and brown for about 15 minutes. To serve, plate cooked chicken and pour sauce over.

Notes: There was probably more honey in the dish than above and perhaps a little too much wine vinegar. Quantities were not measured precisely, so the above was the intended approximations.


APER ITA CONDITUR. Wild Boar. Clean the meat with a sponge. Sprinkle it with salt and ground cumin and let it remain this way [overnight]. On the next day, roast it in the oven. When cooked, serve in a sauce of ground pepper, gravy from the boar, honey, stock, boiled wine and raisin wine. (Apicius, Book 8, I-I).

1,5 kg pork roast
2-3 tblsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground pepper
4-6 tblsp honey
1 chicken stock cube
3-4 tblsp boiled wine
50-100ml sweet white wine
Rub the pork roast with cumin and salt and roast, covered, at 180 degrees for 1 ½ - 2 hours. (I cut the fat off half way through and make crackling, personally). Remove roast from pan and keep warm. Add to meat juices the stock, honey and wines, and season to taste (I like this very peppery). Slice the roast thinly and pour sauce over it; warm in the oven before serving.

Other Apicius pork recipes for comparison; these tend towards plain roasts served with some kind of sauce.

I-2. ALITER IN APRO. Wild boar. Boil in sea water with sprig of laurel until the meat is soft. Remove the skin. Serve with salt, mustard and vinegar.

I-3. ALITER IN APRO. Wild boar. Grind pepper, lovage, oregano, seeded myrtle berries, coriander and onions. Pour honey, wine, stock and a little olive oil over them. Simmer and thicken with starch. Roast the wild boar in the oven and then pour the sauce over it. This recipe will serve for all sorts of wild game.

I-4. IN APRUM ASSUM IURA FERVENTIA FACIES SIC. Roast wild boar in hot sauce. Pepper and fried cumin, celery seed, mint, thyme, savory, saffron, roasted small nuts or roasted almonds, honey, wine, stock and a little olive oil.



Turnips. Squeeze the liquid out of the boiled turnips. Then grind a goodly quantity of cumin, less of rue, Parthian laser, honey, vinegar, stock, boiled wine, and a little olive oil. Heat and serve. (Apicius Book 3, XIII-1).

1 bunch turnips
3 tsp cumin
sprig of rue
3 tblsp honey
1 chicken stock cube in 150 ml water
2-3 tblsp boiled wine
2 tblsp olive oil
Boil the turnips until almost cooked (it’s usually worth changing the water half-way through, to avoid bitterness). Drain turnips. Heat other ingredients in a pan and add the drained turnips. Heat through and serve.


ALITER SPHONDYLOS. Parsnips. Grind cumin and rue. Mix with stock, some boiled wine, olive oil, fresh coriander and chives. Serve the boiled parsnips in place of saltfish. (Apicius, Book 3, XX-4)

2 bunches parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tsp cumin
sprig of rue, finely chopped
1 chicken stock cube in 150 ml water
2 tblsp olive oil
handful of fresh coriander
handful of fresh chives
Parboil and drain parsnips. Heat stock, oil and cumin and add parsnips. Add chopped fresh herbs and heat through before serving.

Other parsnip recipes for comparison (them Romans apparently went for parsnips):

XX-2. ALITER. Parsnips. Boil with salt, oil, unmixed wine, chopped fresh coriander and whole peppercorns.

XX-3. ALITER. Parsnips. Pour over the boiled parsnips a thick sauce made from these ingredients: grind celery seed, rue, honey, pepper, raisin wine, stock and a little olive oil. Thicken with starch, sprinkle with pepper and serve.

XX-5. ALITER. Take boiled parsnips, half cook and then stew in olive oil, stock and pepper. Colour them with a little raisin wine, thicken with starch and serve.

XX-7. ALITER. Take boiled parsnips and remove the fibers growing from them. Pound them and then mix the pulp with boiled spelt, eggs, pepper and stock. Make a stuffing of this mixture by adding nuts and pepper. Roast the parsnip stuffing in skin and serve with wine sauce.


CUCURBITAS MORE ALEXNDRINO. Alexandrine Gourds. Boil the gourds and squeeze them. Sprinkle them with salt and put them in a saucepan. Now grind pepper, cumin, coriander seed, fresh mint and laser root. Pour vinegar over. Then toss in some dates and nuts, and grind. Blend with honey, vinegar, stock, boiled wine, and olive oil. Pour this over the gourds. When this has been brought to the boil, sprinkle with pepper and serve. (Apicius Book 3, IV-3)

Gourds in Roman times meant Old World species, obviously. Most of our pumpkin and squashes are New World. The generally accepted assumption is that "gourds" in medieval and Roman recipes refers to the genus Lagenaria, the Chinese Bottle Gourd. We don’t get those here. (Sigh). I tend to use baby marrows, as they’re apparently the same approximate shape as a Lagenaria, and the flesh is similarly green.

1 pack baby marrows
1 tsp each of ground pepper, cumin, coriander.
Handful of fresh mint
5 tblsp red wine vinegar
4-6 pitted dates
50 g pine nuts
3 tblsp honey
3 tblsp boiled wine (see above)
3 tblsp olive oil
Chop the baby marrows coarsely and parboil in salted water (they should be not quite tender).
Finely chop the mint and then grind in a pestle and mortar with the spices and 2 tblsp vinegar. Chop dates and nuts finely, then add to spices in mortar and continue grinding until you have a sort of paste. Add ground mixture to honey, the remaining vinegar, boiled wine and oil. (It helps to use the vinegar to clean out the mortar). Add to cooked marrow in a pot, and bring to the boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the marrows are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly.

There are lots of gourd recipes in Apicius. Here, for comparison and as a public service since they aren’t on the net elsewhere, are some of the others:

IV-1 GUSTUM DE CUCURBITIS. Gourd Antepast. Squeeze out the water from the cooked gourds and put them into a shallow pan. In a mortar, add pepper, cumin, a little silphium, that is laser root, a little rue, and blend with stock and vinegar. Put in a little boiled wine for color. Pour the sauce into the pan. When it has boiled a second and third time, remove and sprinkle over it a very small quantity of pepper.

IV-2. ALITER CUCURBITAS IURE COLOCASIORUM. Gourds in broad bean broth. Cook the gourds in water as you would broad beans. Mix pepper, cumin, rue, and sprinkle with vinegar and stock. Simmer in a pan. Add to this a little olive oil. Put into the pan the chopped and drained gourds. Heat. Thicken with starch, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.

IV-4. ALITER CUCURBITAS ELIXATAS. Stewed gourds. Cook in stock, oil and unmixed wine.

IV-5. ALITER CUCURBITAS FRICTAS. Fried gourds. Prepare in a plain wine sauce with pepper.

IV-6. ALITER CUCURBITAS ELIXATAS ET FRICTAS. Gourds stewed and fried. Put [the boiled gourds] in a pan. Sprinkle cumin over them, with a little olive oil added on top. Cook and serve.

IV-7. ALITER CUCURBITAS FRICTAS TRITAS. Gourds, fried and sliced. Season with pepper, lovage, cumin, oregano, onion, wine, stock and olive oil. Add starch to the pan to thicken, and serve.

IV-8. ALITER CUCURBITAS CUM GALLINA. Gourds with chicken. Apricots, truffles, pepper, caraway, cumin, silphium, fresh herbs, mint, celery, coriander and pennyroyal, dates, honey, wine, stock, olive oil and ginger.



DULCIA DOMESICA. Homemade sweets. Take palms or dates, with the stones removed, and stuff them with nuts or nut kernels and ground pepper. Salt the dates on top and bottom and fry in cooked honey, and serve. (Apicius, Book Seven, XI-I)

Ginevra largely followed the redaction on the Roman Orgy page at . The result caused Lord Thomas to wander through the kitchen for several minutes making incoherent ecstatic noises.

25g pine nuts
25g walnuts
20 fresh pitted dates
5 tblsp honey
Crush the pine nuts and walnuts separately. Carefully slit the dates, and fill half of them with pine nuts, and the other half with walnuts. Salt lightly. Heat honey in a pan, add the dates, and cook gently for a few minutes.


Made by Sister Mairi Jean, adapted from a redaction by Anahita al-Qurtibiyya bint’ abd al-Karim al-hakam al-Fassi,

Peach Patina: Peel some firm peaches, cut in chunks, and cook. Place in a patina pan and drizzle with oil. Serve with cumin sauce. (Apicius, Book IV, II-34)
Cuminatum: Another cumin sauce: pepper, lovage, parsley, dried mint, a large amount of cumin, honey, vinegar, fish sauce. (Apicius, Book I, XV-2)

1/2 Tb. roasted Cumin Seed
1/4 cup chopped Parsley
1/4 cup chopped leeks (as a vague substitute for celery or lovage)
1/3 Tb. crumbled dried Mint
pinch or two Black Pepper
1/3 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 cup Honey
1/2 Tb. Thai Fish Sauce
8 fresh ripe Peaches
1/2 cup Olive Oil
Roast cumin seed in a dry pan until fragrant and just darkening. Cool somewhat, then grind. Mix roasted cumin with pepper, lovage (leek), parsley, and mint. Put vinegar and honey in a saucepan on medium heat. Stir in seasonings. Simmer briefly, stirring, until liquefied [see note] and well seasoned.
Plunge peaches into boiling water briefly. Drain, then remove skins. Halve, removing pits. Cut in chunks.
Put peaches in a large baking pan. Toss peaches with olive oil. Stir fish sauce into cumin sauce. Pour cumin sauce onto peaches in baking dishes. Bake at 180 for about 10 to 15 minutes, until just barely beginning to bubble. Serve.

NOTES: To make up for the lack of liquidity to the sauce, I was very generous with the olive oil. The cumin sauce did not "pour", it was scraped onto the peaches in dabs, and then the oily peaches were well stirred to encourage the cumin to spread about. The fish sauce, despite being extremely fishy, merely added a subtle saltiness to the dish, no fishy taste at all.
I do not understand the term "liquefied". The sauce starts off liquid, and becomes stickier and less liquid the longer it cooks, until it is a sticky, almost toffee like substance. If I were to do this again, I might add more liquid, although the dish did turn out to be very tasty as it is. I would also use more cumin, as I felt the taste could do with being stronger.


Take sufficient milk for the size of the cake pan. Mix the milk with honey just as if you were making milk food. Then put in five eggs to a pint of the honey-milk mixture, or three eggs to half a pint. Dissolve the eggs into the milk so that the resulting mixture is smooth. Strain into a clay vessel and cook over a slow fire. When the custard is firm, sprinkle with pepper and serve. (Apicius Book 7, XI-7)

250 ml milk
250 ml cream
4 large eggs
3 tblsp honey
Mix milk and honey (this takes some mixing, as the honey tends to sink to the bottom). Add eggs and beat well. Cook in slow oven (150 degrees) for about an hour. Sprinkle sparingly with white pepper before serving.

A Brief Roman Culinary Bibliography Anahita's Greco-Roman feast. Cooking Apicius recipes cheaply! General background on Apicius versions. General info on Roman food, based on Pompeii A Roman feast. Some recipes based on Apicius - possibly a bit dodgy as I don't think the page gives the originals. Recipes for a Roman orgy.

John Edwards (1984) The Roman Cookery of Apicius, translated and adapted for the modern kitchen. London: Rider. (NB this text is available in Rondebosch Library).

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