Roman Peacock Pie

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So this recipe is a bit of history copulation of several research papers I’ve done in the past and a really good recipe that makes use of ALL the research done.  If you’ve read the papers, just skip to the recipe.

Roman Cooking and making of a “Peacock” Pie


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke



Intro to Roman Cooking:

Roman cooking spans several centuries with a rich collection of recipes.  Manuscripts depicting the Roman table are rare due to the age, delicacy of these scrolls and the plundering of the Roman Empire.  However there have been a few manuscripts and letters that have survived and translated that bring us a better understanding of what a Roman table is like, from dinning styles and dishes, to foods and sumptuary laws.  (Grant, Vehling)


Joan Liversidge writes in The Roman Cookery book,  that most of what is known in modern day about the Roman kitchen comes from ruins with the best preserved kitchens to have been from the excavation from Pompeii that were in use during the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

“…the hearth, which consists of a raised platform of masonry faced on top with tiles, sometimes edged with a curb, and with a coating of opus singiunum  (paint?) along the front. Arched openings in the front of the platform nearer the floor-level lead to fuel bins that were roughly constructed of rubble and tile.  Arrangements for providing water for cooking and washing-up are also sometimes found, as are the supports for the stone or wooden tables used for the preparation of food.” (Flower, pg. 29)

This description leads one to think that the more wealthy homes had better cooking accommodations i.e. raised platforms, wash areas and stone tables while the poor kitchens did without these amenities and used buckets for washing and cheap wood tables. (Flower, pp. 32, 33)


Here is a Roman kitchen with the original counters and murals.  This kitchen is in the Teton Village of Italy and still in use.  The counters are marble with the original brick walls, cobble stone floors and wood storage areas.  This looks huge!  And definitely makes me envious of the cooks who worked in such a lovely kitchen.

There were several methods for cooking in a Roman house.  The stove one part of a roman kitchen called a focus, square structure usually between 1.10 cm and 1.30 cm high and 1.20 m deep.  Some stoves were smaller or larger but this seemed to be the average sized compiled from the intact stoves of Pompeii. (Faas, pp. 131)  Faas and Flowers discuss that the stove had various ways to cook, either with high flames for searing or roasting of animals.  If the animal was small enough then whole such as rabbit, kid or piglet but if the focus was large enough goat, pig, deer might be added to the list of whole animal.

Another type of cooking structure found in the rubble of Pompeii, per, seemed to be smaller in then the focus. These were made of rubble and tiles in the form of beehives, low to the ground.   There was an opening in the front for fuel with a drought for air.  These ovens could use both wood or charcoal depending on the dish(es) brought for preparation.  In the excavation of Pompeii, small rectangular ovens were discovered standing on the hearth of a kitchen in the House of Dioscuri.  One theory is that these small nonstandard ovens were used for pastries as a pastry mould was found near.  The pastry dishes were not described, unfortunately.

The oven, not to be confused with a stove, called a furnus or a fronax.  This was a square or dome-shaped hollow made from brick stone.  The floor of the oven was laid with granite.  The exception to this rule were those oven floors that were lined with lava.  (Faas, pp. 132.)

Another method was to cook directly over a fire on spits called veru (Faas, pp. 131) or in coals on fire pits or “ovens”, this is talked about by Liversidge, and to slightly less extent Grant.  They both speak, sometimes in great detail, on how much of the Roman cooking was done on iron tripods and gridirons (referred to by Apicius as craticula) over burning charcoal on the raised hearths.

Spits were used for larger animals i.e. boar which were roasted over fire.   Some recipes are specific on how dishes are to be cooked with the comments of “Brown it’s fat on a glowing hot brazier” (cooking dish suspended over coals) while another dish is “…heated in a brass vessel over a fire of dry sticks”. (Flower, pg. 31) Even though the Romans mainly used iron tripods, some dishes were to be placed directly into the ashes or coals.

Smoke free charcoal seems to have been the preferred heating method (Faas, pp. 130) though wood was used not just for heating but also for flavoring as some dishes are referred to as being smoked.

In today’s kitchen a mortar and pestle is used more decoratively then for actual practicality.  In Roman times, according to Faas, the mortar held a spot of extreme importance.  Spices, herbs, meat and emulsifying were all accomplished in this one kitchen utensil.  The theory fis that spices were used first (as they were dry) then working through progressively wetter ingredients.  The implication being that there was only one pestle per kitchen in use.

I am not sure I completely agree with this idea.  I can see a Roman house hold having a smaller mortar used for spices and emulsifying and a larger pestle used for vegetables and meat, but I cannot see that only one pestle per household could accomplish all this for one meal.  The logistics of both size and quantity of ingredients used seem to imply that more than one, not just one large or even medium sized pestle, would be needed.

I have not seen any mention of drawers being used or even available in the kitchen during this time, while shelves and hooks seem to be the most commonly mentioned methods of storing.  A well-stocked kitchen could include, the ubiquitous knife or knives and “…choppers, meat forks, soup spoons, sieves, graters, spits, tongs, cheese-slicers, nutcrackers, measuring jugs, pate moulds…” (Faas, 132).  The pots and pans were just as numerous as the slicing and dicing accoutrements.  There were stewing pots, pultarius, simmering pots, caccaubs, shallow pans, padella, oval dishes, patina, and square dishes called angulis.  (Faas, pp. 133, 134)  The pans and pots could be made from either pottery or metal (Flower, pp. 32, 33) depending on the economic status of the individual house hold as seen in excavations.  A well-stocked Roman kitchen could rival that of any gourmet kitchen in modern times.

Period Roman Cooking vs. Modern Roman Cooking:

For true Roman cooking I would need stove made from cement or clay and an oven lined with granite. Various pots, pans, and utensils made from wood, clay, or metal.  I would use either smokeless charcoal or wood.  If my house were truly well to do I would have kitchen slaves to do the chopping and grinding for a meal preparation as well as serving once all the food had been prepared.  If I were really well to do, I would have a cook to do all my cooking for me.

Unfortunately, modern times mean a slightly more modern approach.  My oven is gas lit, needing neither wood nor charcoal.  My spoons are made of wood (spoons and serving utensils) while my pots are made of clay.  These pots are lead free and not done in the period style unfortunately.  They are readily available but not on the same level as those in period.  Clay pots and utensils seem, from various archeological digs, to be as prevalent as the modern paper plate or plastic spoons.  My pans are made of metal, just not copper lined with tin.

I do own a mortar and pestle for grinding spices though I do not grind nearly as many spices as a Roman household would.  I do buy my some spices pre-ground.  I am sure that there were merchants who had these pre-ground spices on hand for pre mixed seasonings, though bulk spices would be better for a fresher stronger taste.  This is just my observation on spice tasting and the variety of cooking done at home. Not all of my vegetables come from my garden nor do I have a hive for honey.  That I can even grow even a few vegetables to cook with is a modern luxury instead of a necessity.  My wheat for bread is ground for me and is usually very pure wheat flour instead of having some traces of other flours, as a wheat mill was not cleaned between grinds in period.

I do not own chickens for eggs or meat on the table.  Cows are right out due to city ordinances.  I have hopes to own a few chickens at some point or even rabbits but for now I have to rely on knowing those who raise rabbits for meat then sell to me and are willing to raise chickens ducks purchased by me to split at slaughter time.

Modern times have made meat farms economically feasible while in period farms and animal husbandry were very dependent on weather conditions for growth and survivability.  This makes meat inexpensive and choice easily available instead of the poorest subsisting on a crust of bread, the less poor on vegetables and the tongue of a sheep or cow, possibly just cocks combs for protein. The wealthier could afford sheep forelegs or even tripe, perhaps even the taste of the fatty brisket meat.  The very wealthiest could afford the prime cuts along with delicacies of humming bird tongue and peacock.  The wealthier a Roman was, the better stocked with both utensils and ingredients their kitchen was.  Modern times have given even the poorest person, at least in first world countries, access to cheap meat, breads and vegetables not only from their country of origin but from around the world.

 Dinning Styles:

Faas (pp. 70-72) lists five different styles of dining.  These styles are suggested from both frescos and surviving letters or notations in manuscripts.

The first style is that of a buffet, brought in by servants/slaves while each guest helped themselves to a dish or dishes from artfully arranged works of edible art.  Another style of dining is in which each guest is brought a plate with portions already cut and arranged.  We see this today in a restaurant.

The following letter highlights the complaint against this style thought.

“…Hagias said: “We invite one another out for dinner, it seems to me, not so much for the sake of eating and drinking, but in order to eat and drink together.  Such rationing is unsociable…’ (Plut. 642/Faas 71)

The next style of dinning would be the roast.  The roast was brought in whole and carved with the guests helping themselves.  Though my own thoughts are that this would be more of a center piece, for any of the listed “Dinning Styles” then it’s own as each person would still either help themselves or have a slave bringing them choice tidbits.

The fourth style of dining is said to be seen on frescos In which each dinner is given their own table while reclining.  Each table would look the same as the others. Each table had a slave accompanying for refilling of plate or bowl.


The Athenian way of dining, the fifth style, is thought to be a little of all four above. Each person having their own set of delicacies, not a buffet but not quantified by one plate, while a central themed roast or spectacular dish displayed and carved for a dinner’s delight.  (Faas, pp.70)

From this research every region had their own style of eating.  Not always a happy situation but one in which the host could sometimes be swayed for a more appealing style.


The utensils excavated range the gamete of common pottery to iron or bronze with some being made of more precious metals.  This is true of all cooking utensils and most of the spoons, knives etc.  One can imagine that wooden spoons were also used but probably did not survive being preserved as did the metal and pottery items.  The handles were made of bronze, wood or bone. (Flower, pp. 32)

Apicius in one comment to a cook tells them to take a clean pan or pot which is presumed to be pottery even though the word patella (bronze pan or pot) is used.  This is assumed due to the readily available and inexpensiveness of pottery pot or pan.  At this point in history a bronze pots would be cost prohibitive to replace regularly while a pottery pan is very inexpensive.  Cleaning of the different utensils is described as sea or dessert sand for bronze while pottery would need soap.  Once the course pottery dishes were so caked with foods as to be unusable a new pan or pot could be gotten relatively quickly for very little.  Bronze pots from several excavation sites have been found with bronze patches and show hard use. (Flower, pp. 17, 27, 29, 32 ,33)

The fretale or sartago refer to a frying pan type of utensil that is identified with certainty, while all other utensils, not being labeled are not so easily identifiable per Liversidge’s commentary.  Educated guesses can be made to the names of different types of vessels with the discoveries made from the Pompeii excavations as well as the Roman legionary fortress at Newstead.  (Flower, pp. 32)

An interesting notation is that cauldrons or cook pots were passed to others.  From one excavation site of a Roman military camp one cauldron has inscriptions carved on the side.  These inscriptions are the name of the first owner “the first century of Attilius Severus” then the cauldron was passed on to the century of Aprilis. (Flower, pg. 33)  No reason is stated or guessed at the reason for the change in ownership.  In a regular household there is no mention if these pots and pans were considered part of a dowry or if the eldest son inherited.  There is an assumption that bronze pots and pans would be passed down to family members though.

There was a style of utensils and dishes thought to be in the Athenian style of eating due to their size and utilization.  Silver trays, tripods with plates, very small bowls and egg cups.  A quote from one dinner’s letter (Ath, 132) suggest that these items were for individual eating, on serving trays with their own tables, then either reclining and being served or the style of a buffed.

“…The cook puts down a try with five little plates on it.  One holds some garlic, the next two sea urchins.  Yet another contains a sweet cake, or tell little shellfish, and finally a piece of sturgeon…  (Faas, pp72)

This dinner’s commentary actually is against being served on small plates as it seemed to do no more than smear his lips not fill his belly.  Possibly even the lack of camaraderie with each their own table.


The list of foods available to the Romans is extensive, with both cultivation and the vast trading routes available.  Very little was not attainable, albeit sometimes costly, in the Roman market places.  It is noted that citrus was not available, other than lemons and citrons, as oranges were not introduced until the tenth century by the Arabs, possibly about the same time as eggplant.  (Giacosa, pp. 12)      Citrons were prized for their skins for the extreme smell of citrus but not for their very dry fruit. (

Examples of some items imported were peaches were imported from Persia, malum persicum, apricots, malum aremniacum or praecox or praecoquium, from Armenia.  Dates were imported from Ethiopia.  Home grown items included figs, grapes, watermelon, muskmelon, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pine nuts. (Giacosa, pg. 14).

Vegetables were enjoyed, with a profusion of choices available, both fresh and preserved.  (Grant, pp. 21)  Meat, though readily available, as were fish of all varieties, these were expensive items.

“The emperor Diocletian published his Decree on Maximum Prices in an attempt to stop the rampant inflation that was ruining the economy…have the merit of showing the comparative prices of various foodstuffs.  Twelve denarii would buy a pound of pork, venison or best quality freshwater fish.” (Grant, pg. 20).

The common Romans seemed to have a very bread heavy diet with fruit and vegetables on the side with cheese and eggs for protein.  These breads included white and black bread (based on the type of flour used).  There was also leavened bread and flat breads (noted used by sailors but not common fare to any other population stratus of Roman households).  Flavored breads incorporated different seeds such as poppy, anise, fennel, celery and caraway seeds. (Giacosa, pg. 16) Those with expansive purses could indulge in the wider variety of culinary experiences.

There was a book written on vegetarianism by Plutarch, called On the Eating of Meat.  Plutarch referenced many other references that did not include meat in the recipes.  It is unknown if these books were for just the common man or for aristocrats as well. (Grant, pg 20)

Pasta, tomatoes, butter and corn were not used or available till much later.  Butter, while known, was not used extensively though cheese was very popular and common with goat and sheep milk cheeses being the main types found in the market place.  (Giacosa, pg. 13).  Some cow cheese probably found their way into the market place but would have been seen as a novelty item not a staple.

An interesting note on garum, a fish sauce used by the Romans, which is mentioned in every translation of Roman cookbook (Grant, Flower, Apicus, Giacosa, Faas); the recipes and theories about the different ways to make this liquid seasoning are varied while the use was much like ketchup is today.  Used sparingly garum does not over power merely adding a hint of something exotic and a slightly salty note to a dish.  The best bet, unless one wanted to spend 2-3 months in the hot summer sun turning urns with fish bones and fish guts with other spices, is to use a store bought fish sauce found in oriental markets.          

Food Exceptions and substitutions:

Grant gives the quote:

“Roman cooks were used to substituting ingredients, as Apicius’ illustrations show: ‘To which you should add the reduced juice of quinces, further reduced to the consistency of honey by exposure to a blazing sun.  If you do not have reduced quince juice, you should use the reduced juice of dried figs, which the Roman’s call “colour”.’ Anthimus was also familiar with the problem of availability: ‘Although cucumbers at present cannot be procured here, when they are available the seeds that are inside them may be eaten.’” (pg. 27)

In cooking Roman recipes’ substitution is not only expected but in some cases encouraged to use different ingredients, after noting down the original translations, for the most part in SCA redactions.  Cooks may need to use variations, due to either the lack of availability or because a better period substitute could be used i.e. goat cheese as opposed to cheddar cheese.

The Romans were exceptional cooks in the art of preparing dishes that disguise the original ingredients i.e. faux anchovy pie where no anchovies are present.  One comment by Platus’ Pseudolus (I, 810 ff.) was:

“I don’t season a dinner the way other cooks do, who serve you up whole pickled meadows in their patinae – men who make cows their messmates, who thrust herbs at you, then proceed to season these herbs with other herbs…when they season their dinners they don’t use condiments for seasoning, but screech-owls, which eat out the intestines of the guests alive.”  (Flower, pg. 29)

While Platus was not so into disguising what his food was about, it seems that the main cooking in Roman for the more elegant tables was bent on disguising flavors with more flavor of unusual herbs.




Peacock Pie:

“Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

The ground meat patties of peacock have first place, if they are fried so that they remain tender… (Apicius, 54/Giacosa, pp. 90).

On a side note, the peacock was so expensive (roughly 50 denarii a bird) that some peacocks were stripped of their skin then cooked (roasted) in aromatic resinous substances until the meat was effectively mummified. Afterwards it was redressed and reserved at another banquet later that week or month without fear of rotting. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38)

This recipe, for ground patties, was probably used for peahens past their reproductive cycle, and at 50 denarii per bird, this would still be a very expensive and luxuriant dish to serve to nobility and emperors.

Romans were also very fond of pork.  Going so far as to breed a special type of pig just for the best dining experience possible. The Roman Empire had two types of pigs; the normal mast fed opportunistic type of pig that was considered tasty with long legs and a narrow body

and a second heavier meatier fatter pig that was white with short legs and round body with heavily marbled meat.

In the second relief, note the rounded shoulders and heavy jowls of the pig in the lower right portion.  This pig was the product of selective breeding and happy feeding.  No opportunistic boars need apply for the stud job on this farm!

There were a few in Rome who commented on the desirable qualities for pig and how to feed them.

Columella advised “Not to rely on acorn foraging alone but to make use of legumes for fattening as well.  He also advised breeding for a new type of pig more suitable for rapid weight gain than for ranging in the woods. “Pigs should be sought whose bodies are exceedingly wide, but squarish rather than long or round, with protruding belly and large rump rather than tall legs or hooves, a broad glandulous neck, and a short upturned snout.” (Carlton)

However when the Roman Empire fell, this pig type was lost as farms were thrown into chaos.  The mast fed pigs from feral stock could outrun the hungry wolf or human while the shorter fatter pig, not so much.  Remember it’s not that a pig has to be the fastest just faster than the slowest…and the slowest were always eaten.

Then there is the issue of the Roman chicken.  Lots to discuss but we’re only going to cover a couple of basic feathered facts.  Columella next discusses the breeding habits of chickens as well as cross breeding types for the best in both eating and temperament. The breeds Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median (Melian) should only be used for cockfighting while the native Roman chickens either by themselves or hens crossed with Greek cocks.   These breeds do not show up in modern times; however the breed names for these period chickens seem to be based on the origin city or region and not upon any specific type or defining characteristic.  And example would be Tanagrian, which was a Greek district between Thebes and Chalcis. (UChicago)



1 peacock      1lb ground pork  1 cup ground bread crumbs        1 tsp ground pepper

½ red wine (pinot)     1 tsb fish sauce        ½ cup pine nuts          ½ lb bacon strips



Originally when I started making this dish, my thought was to make a subtlety using the main meat filling (using ground pork instead of duck or peacock) and a peacock as the main meat covering under a butter crust.

I can hear you now…that’s not the period recipe!!  You’re right.  To a point.  Remember this quote earlier…

“Roman cooks were used to substituting ingredients, as Apicius’ illustrations show: ‘To which you should add the reduced juice of quinces, further reduced to the consistency of honey by exposure to a blazing sun.  If you do not have reduced quince juice, you should use the reduced juice of dried figs, which the Roman’s call “colour”.’ Anthimus was also familiar with the problem of availability: ‘Although cucumbers at present cannot be procured here, when they are available the seeds that are inside them may be eaten.’” (pg. 27)

Yes…I made sure to include this about Roman’s and their love for changing things up.  I’m changing things up.

First you start with a peacock.

This is a peahen.  A female pea.  I was out of cock.

The next step is to start de-feathering the bird.

Now here is where things get interesting.  In my first inception of this dish, the peahen was deboned.

The peahen meat and skin is put over the pork mixture.

Pork mixture?  Oh, right, forgot to add a step.  Take all the other ingredients other than the peahen…

Make a tasty mess.

Cover this with bacon.

Drape the ground pork mixture with peahen and wrap with in bacon.


So as you can see…I don’t really have a subtlety, I have a football.  This form really wasn’t acceptable.  In fact this is driving me up the wall.  Think Redneck Girlfriend saying “Oh HELL no!” when she finds out the boyfriend is buying the cheap beer and spending the night with his boys.  That is the level of unacceptable this is.  Just…no!

So that leaves me with peahen wrapped around tasty pork goodness.  So I made a pie.  A tasty tasty butter crust wrapped pie.

However that is not the pie being served today.  Why not?! You ask.  That is a very good question!  And the answer is…I ran out of peahen and no cocks were available.  So I had to switch to the other white meat. Chicken.

So all the steps are the same, except using a debone chicken instead.  Chicken is easier to acquire unless you have a peahen supplier.  And remember, Romans used other food to mimic the dish they were claiming to serve!  Its period to substitute and that is what we are doing today.

Here you’ll note the use of dates along the rim of the pie.  My pork wrapped chicken over pork pie tastiness pulled away from the butter crust forming this unseemly empty space.  To hide that slight cooking issue, I used dates to stuff the crust keeping the viewing pleasure.



Apicius, (1977). Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome; Edited and Translated by Joseph Dommers Veling. Dover publication.

Apicus.  (1958). The Roman Cookery Book. Translated by B. Flower and E. Rosenbaum. Harrap London

Faas, P., (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press.

Giacosa, I., (1992). A Taste of Ancient Rome; by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herklotz. University of Chicago Press.

Grant., M. (1999). Roman Cookery, Bristish Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570).  Translation by Scully. T., (2008). The Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library.

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles



March 27, 2017 | No comments