Medieval Research Papers

These papers deal with historical research in various areas of interest.

So this thing happened.  The thing where you get curious “Why” something isn’t allowed.  Like say pork for Middle Eastern cooking.  I mean pork is tasty tasty meat…who doesn’t love pork?  Right?!  So I went down a rabbit hole, then Pennsic then Steppes Artisan.  Here is the research present on Pork.


The Tale of a Piggy in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

The Tale of a Piggy in Period

Pig has a special place, whether good or bad, for the medieval cooks and gastronomics.  This edible mammal has undergone changes from a favored food for the rich to a food associated with the poor or the undesirable.    When I first started researching pigs, I did so because I find pork tasty, very tasty!  However, I do a lot of Middle Eastern cooking, which has NO pork.  I have always been curious as to why.  Pork is daaaamn tasty and seems to be readily available to both rich and poor.  The research was illuminating in many ways on both how the pig developed and why some people find pork to be unclean, therefore unedible.

Pig is defined as

1a) a young domesticated swine not yet sexually mature; broadly: a wild or domestic swine. b) an animal related to or resembling the pig.

2a) pork, b) the dressed carcass of a young swine weighing less than 130 lbs…

3) dirty, gluttonous, or repulsive person



This evolving little piggy:

Starting from the beginning, pigs evolved into one of the fastest breeding meat animals, with a digestion that can handle almost anything.  Evolution for the pig started off as a  two )toed mammal.  Most of these two toed mammals went on to become grass eaters, i.e. cows, goats, and sheep.  Grass eaters require many heavy grinding teeth to chew down grass.  They also require multi-chambered stomachs in which to break down the cellulose for the bacteria in their gut to provide enough nutrition.  Think cows chewing cud.  Pigs’ digestions is unusual in that it is very similar to humans’ digestion with one stomach and similar teeth.  They are omnivores, which means they can eat anything remotely edible.

Pigs evolved from wild to domesticated over several hundred to thousands of years.  Normally, pigs in the wild would eat nuts, roots, grains and anything that didn’t move away fast enough like grubs or dead animals.  This is called mast fed.  Pigs became attracted to human habitation because humans would throw the inedible bits away into middens (trash heaps) where dogs and pigs would forage.  The more pigs got used to feeding on human garbage the “tamer” they became, no longer having to forage for their food 100% of the time.  (Essig)

This is simplifying a more in-depth look at several genetic considerations such as flight vs. fight adaptations.  Those pigs, like dogs, with lower flight and fight genes stayed closer to humans instead of avoiding.  We’re going to let that sleeping dog lie for this paper.

Pig reproduction is comparable to that of rabbits.  Fast and furious, with lots of offspring.  They can have up to 12 piglets per litter twice a year.  That’s up to 24 piglets a year, with roughly half of those females who will be ready to breed in roughly a year’s time.  It is estimated that with 1 sow, in 6 years there will be over 2 million pigs.   ( With this type of math, soon you’re swimming in swine.

In comparison, cows can have up to one or two calves per year.  Same for sheep or goats.  Rabbits breed quickly but there isn’t a lot of meat on those tiny bones: 1-3lbs for rabbit, as compared to the 180-300 pound porker led to slaughter.  A young male swine can reach up to 200 pounds in six months kept in a pen.  If mast fed, the weight is lower at six months, taking a year plus to reach such a hefty weight.  Now that’s a lot of pork, especially if you have ways to store the meat and fat for more than a week or two.  Leave the sows to breed more piglets and you have a very quick growing, mobile and easily fed source of meat.  For people who were at the whim of the season or game, having a tame or nearly tame source of readily available meat was the difference between maybe surviving and thriving.

Looking at the other domestic animals with only one or two offspring a year, you might wonder why these mammals were held in such high regard while the pig was sidelined.  The other domesticated animals had things counting in their favor.  Cows, goats and sheep provide milk and wool besides skin and meat.  Plus, being herbivores they were easier to transport when all food to be foraged was grass.  Pigs required feed at the end of a traveling day, which was roughly ten miles.  Pigs also were not good with being in bright sun, burning easily, unlike herbivores which could be herded through hot sunny days shrugging off solar rays due to their fur.


This hungry little piggy:

Mast feeding continued as long as there were forests surrounding villages (usually small).  People would open the pens and herd the pigs to the forests then herd them back to their pens during the day.

A picture of a pig herder in an oak grove, feeding his pigs with both fallen acorns and throwing a stick into the trees to loosen another round of acorns for his charges. (Metmuseum)


November activity: Fattening Swine


Pigs, who searched out their food sources in woods, would expend 33% of their calories on just finding food.  The hope and desire was that pigs would only spend a 3:1 ratio for food-to-meat ratio instead of the original 10:1 that was common until today’s commercial farming. (Carlton)

The closer the connection to humans that pigs had the more distinctive the domesticated characteristics became.  Wild boards have long thin legs, leaner bodies with longer snouts and pointier heads.  Domesticated pigs, even those that interbreed with wild boar, retain the juvenile head form,  rounder head and shorter snout.  (Essig)

From the Luttrell Psalter, showing the 14th century spotted pig of England has many traits as that of a wild boar.


This form is so distinctive that archaeologists can determine with a glance at a pig’s head bones, dug up from any midden in any age, whether the pig was wild or domesticated.  The shape of the bones at almost any given age at the time of slaughter is telling in shape and size.  A domesticated pig’s head is smaller thinner, without the need to root for grubs under rocks or dead trees.  A wild boar’s head is wider and thicker suited to act like a plow for foraging hard to get to foods.  (

As humans stayed closer to home to farm and did less hunting, the pig became a useful domesticated food source, becoming a status symbol as found in Neolithic burials. (Carleton)  Pigs would eat the slop and forage during the day in the woods for roots and acorns.  Unfortunately, this very resourceful self-sufficiency kept the European pig from reaching a preferred body type.:Fat.  Not to say that boars weren’t heavy, they just weren’t marbled with the tasty pork fat that we’ve come to like in our modern pork chops.  Sows would go into heat while in the woods and it was male pigs’ chance to get a ride.  Domesticated or wild male, the sow did not care which. (Essig)

Pig breeding was a wishful dream for farmers who wanted a fatter more marbled meat.  Fat wasn’t an undesired trait as it is now but a necessity.  Fat could be used not just as a food source but as a food preserving source.  Pigs were an excellent source for acquiring fat.  The problem though, was that pigs who were mast fed wandered in the woods during the day where little control could be exerted on sows in heat.  Any pig would do, including wild boars.  This meant that it wasn’t until the 1800s that pigs had standardized types of breeds in Europe.  The Roman Empire and China were exceptions to this. (Carlton)


This fat little piggy:

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.


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.

China, with its very mountainous terrain, had to eke out the most farming from the worst terrain, and learned early how to keep pigs close and pick the best pigs for breeding.  They, like the Romans, liked short legged, round bellied, with lots of fat.

The European pigs started to show what we consider more desirable traits once pigs were introduced via ships from China to Europe and interbreeding could begin.  This introduction happened sometime in the 1700s, so what we consider a heritage breed is at best 300 years (roughly) old.  (Carleton)


A picture of a Chinese pig by Thomas Bewick


While pigs that we consider “heritage” are really post period, the heritage pigs fulfill several niches worth mentioning.  One of the more outstanding heritage breeds was called a Lard pig.



The Lard pig, was just what the name implied.  A pig guaranteed so round and fat while still mobile enough to walk to market that any house wife could buy enough fresh lard for her home cooking needs along with some excellently marbled cuts of meat for dinner or sausage preparation.

Worth mentioning is that much of the machinery pre-WWII was oiled with rendered pig fat (lard).  Machinery oil replaced lard in the mid-20th century.  (  Until this point, all lubrication was animal fat, pig fat being the easiest to render, ship and buy.  (Essig)


This poor little piggy:

Pigs got the short stick on favorability once villages became cities.  Pigs had to be driven, like cows or sheep, to market.  Besides needing to be fed every 10 miles, pigs had an ornery habit of running back towards their home styes at the slightest provocation.   One account at the start of a pig drive, which could reach up to 10,000 pigs, was to sew the eyes of a pig shut.  I’m not really sure I could personally do that but there is a post period account of how Abe Lincoln did just this as a lad driving his herd of pigs to market. (

I have not found further in period how pigs were driven to market.  I can make assumptions such as piglets being taken in baskets.  Small, cute, easily transportable this way.  Perhaps a full grown pig had rope tied to it’s neck and either tugged along or bribed with food to follow.  Possibly even driven to market as noted on the Appalachian trails.  The pig drive idea had to come from somewhere, yes?

Because pigs weren’t herded as easily as other meat animals, when taxes were assessed (in period) and payment was needed in the form of meat, other animals were requested.  One noted taxation of animals is when the pyramid of Giza was built the Pharaoh asked for X cows, sheep or goats along with X amount of men.  Beef, sheep and goat bones were found in the middens (trash pits) for the workers and manager types for the pyramid workers.  Archaeologists have studied the buildings for workers, very straight streets and sturdy huts where the better-off managers and workers lived.  As the men stayed and married upwards or moved upward in the chain of command these meats became preferred as what the rich people ate.

Next to this “upper” city a looser collections of less well to do section(s) was uncovered.  This village was determined to be for hangers-on, composed loosely of winding paths and not very sturdy huts. Archaeologists found mostly pig bones in the middens of the shanty village that catered to the baser desires of the workers to blow a week’s wage on beer and prostitutes.  Here it is assumed that the managers and upwardly mobile workers developed a taste for beef, mutton and goat, equating these meats with better living while the poor consumed pork.  (Essig)

The Egyptians went so far as to depict Horus judging souls.  The bad souls were turned into pigs.

From the tomb of Ramses II, depicting how Horus would judge souls in the afterlife, reincarnating the nasty ones as pigs. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I Would Rather Be Herod’s Pig: The History of a Taboo

Another example of how pork became associated with the poor relates to how easily pork could be stored in salt or fat much easier than beef or mutton.  The taste of salted pork seemed to be better than that of salted beef or mutton.

For shipping and storage, pork was layered with salt in barrels.  These barrels would be sold at a very minimal pricing. This is where the term “Scraping the bottom of the barrel” comes from as those who bought the barrel knew they were in dire need of new food when they had to scrape what was left at the bottom to feed their family.   (Essig)

Pigs were plentiful which meant there was plenty of pork to go around, keeping the price within a somewhat reasonable reach for those who weren’t wealthy.  Beef, on the other hand, required refrigeration or to be sold on a day to day basis, which raised the pricing of beef.  A butcher shop that offered beef had to know his clientele was well-off enough to pay the higher price.  The same was true for sheep and goat.  The meat from these animals could be salted but was better fresh, and fresh required ice and shops that carried ice or cold counters for specialty meat were usually located in the affluent areas, not the poor.  (Essig)

Pork was so plentiful that eating pork became associated with gluttony.  Paintings, in period, that wish to allegorically show gluttony would depict people eating pork or with a pig and/or pig parts somewhere in the painting.  These portraits were usually of peasants, passed out around the bones or partially eaten remains of a pig, reinforcing the idea that only the poor would eat so much to the ruination of their health and lifestyle.


Pieter Bruegel “The Land of Cockaigne”.  Here eating to excess is the deadly sin of gluttony. Note the pig in the upper right?  As well as pork snout and portions on the table?  The peasants passed out under the table?  Gluttony was a peasant thing, nobles should never be so crass as to eat so much and pass out.


This unclean little piggy:

Once towns became bigger, different eating habits became the norm, where pigs were the walking trash collectors.  People in towns would dump out food waste into the streets, where the pigs would root around, a mobile cleaning service keeping the pigs well fed without the necessity of a stye for those living in yardless homes or apartment hovels.

However pigs had a taste for any trash including the very undesirable such as eating human waste and dead animals; both of these things were plentiful in medieval towns.  Pigs were also notorious for eating small unattended children, or severely biting them as well as the habit of eating human corpses or just attacking when agitated.

Several lawsuits were charged against pigs.  Such as in 1379 when two French pig herders were killed by their charges. The pigs who had done the killing and those pigs that had watched were put on trial.  The watching pigs were pardoned while the killing pigs were killed. (www.wired)

Another lawsuit against pigs was in 1494 when a pig was arrested for strangling and chewing on the face of a babe in the cradle, while the parents were out.  The chewing of the face and neck causing the death of the child. The judged ruled against the pig, who was strangled by hanging. (

However not everyone raising pigs thought the eating of human feces a bad thing.  In the Far East, small outhouses were built up and over the family’s pig pen.  Human garbage and waste elimination turned into food.  


Han outhouse


The feeding habit of eating human flesh was not overlooked.  This strongly influenced both Judaism  and Muslims for refusing an easily raised meat source with horrible eating habits.  I have not found direct quotes for this reason; only pigs returning to wallow and unclean because it does not chew cud. (

It is my belief that prior to towns growing so large and farms cutting down grazing lands that were the normal feeding areas for pigs, that pigs had been in good standing in Europe and the Middle East.  However once farms took away the woodlands, and towns needed more wood for fires and grains to feed the populace did the more undesirable traits become so obvious, knocking this mobile meat conversion mammal down a few pegs for eating.

The main trait that endeared the pig to humans, cleaning up the rotting and nasty from around huts, became the trait that would eventually do the pig in.


This edible little piggy:

What I learned from researching why pigs were so much in demand and so reviled, was eye opening.  We’ve all heard the jokes about never trust a man with a pig farm or why piglets aren’t in those cutsie petting zoos for kids.  Pigs like meat as much as humans do, dead or alive.  I didn’t know they would eat feces, though I did know that the slop they were fed (from reading Little House on the Prairie) was something I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  I remember how my own father raised chickens, doing everything wrong according to the books, yet we still had eggs and chickens when I was growing up.  I think that’s sort of how pigs were raised once the forests were no longer available for free feeding.  The attitude of “Eh, survive so we can eat you later.” instead of finding a humane way of feeding and penning a potentially dangerous but edible animal.

Once we started to consume pigs, because they were easy to raise and tasty, nothing kept the pig from being used in quantity and completely.  Everything was used, nothing was wasted.  Everyone loved the prime pieces in sauce.  Intestines and fat for casing of random tidbits of meat and spices.   A soft cutable meat product, called head cheese, for the tender cooked parts on the face.  Ears, tail and feet were used to make gelatin or eaten in their own right.  Organ meats were eaten with gusto as delicacies.  There are recipes for the good cuts, the one that modern palates have grown accustomed to, and recipes for the cuts modern palates aren’t used to eating.

My three main sources for cooking are: The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi,  Take a Thousand Eggs by Renfrow, and Apicius.  (Italian, English, and Roman).  These are by no means the only cook books which have pork recipes.  I could fill an arena with all the pork dishes listed and still run out of room; however these are just a few of the books I had on hand.  The recipes vary from only excellent cuts of meat (i.e Renfrow) to what the modern palate would consider offal (i.e. Apicius) to everything from nose to tail (Scappi).


So let’s get to the good stuff, we’ve all been waiting for!  How to eat all the parts of a pig.


Ius in Aprum Elixum: Sauce for Boiled Boar

Krea Tareikhera: Pork in a Red Wine and Fennel Sauce

Minutal Ex Praecoquis: Pork and Apricots Friccasee

Cracklin’ & Pig Skin



Chawettys: Pork and Blue Cheese Pies


Pumpes: Pork Meatballs




Head Cheese

Roasted Pig Head w/Garlic Sauce

Rolled Sow Belly


Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Translation by Vehling, J., Dover Publications, Inc. New York.

Essig, M., (2015). Lesser Beasts- A Snout-to-Tail-History of the humble pig. Basic Books.

Renfrow. C., (1991). Take a Thousand Eggs. Volume II. 2nd Edition.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570).  Translation by Scully. T., (2008). The Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library.!Ancient-meals-and-eating-habits-Part-2-Romans/c16ee/555085d40cf248741723ecb3


August 23, 2016 | No comments

Chocolate in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

Coco mud


Cacoa grows in Mexico, Central and South America.  The seeds were used by the Mayans as a form of currency ( when not roasted and ground into a powdery that was whisked to form a drink.  When the Aztec conquered the Mayans, they took over the cocoa drink tradition including spices such as chili pepper and cinnamon into the powder as well as honey and musk.  (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 574)  When the Spanish came and conquered the recipe went from chili’s and spices to vanilla sugar and milk. (Toussaint-Samat/Wikipedia).  The theory is that the chili was not well liked and the spices induced diabolical sin.

The new cocoa drink was imbibed so heavily that Cortez is said to have a full chocolate pot on his desk at all times once he returned home in 1572 from conquering the Aztecs.  The Spanish ladies were so enthralled with this new drink flavored with cinnamon that they would have the drink all day long and served to them during church.  The drink was ruled by Pope Clementine the VIII, in 1594 that liquid does not break the fast. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 576)  It is to note that in 1565 and 1578, Perez Samper writes a treaty on how to prepare the chocolate beverage; however the popularity of chocolate does not hit Italy for another century at least. (Scappi, pp. 58)



Dutch cocoa


Saigon Cinnamon

Vanilla or Vanilla powder


(for spicier coco add chilies)



I gathered all the ingredients together.

half coco half sugar

Then started to combine for the ultimate hot period drink.

coco powder w sugar

You can use either sugar or honey, but don’t skimp this step.  The coco is very tasty; however you will need sweet to counter the natural bitterness.

I put in about two heaping tablespoons of the mix into a cup.  I have found that this gives a really good depth of flavor even with the mixtures tendency to settle, much like coffee grounds in boiled coffee.

 Coco powder in cup

 Add water.

Pouring water into coco

Then mix till you have the consistency, flavor and sweetness you desire.

Coco mud

Looks a little like hot mud but tastes sooo much better.

Period vs. Modern

This recipe is very sketchy.  There are no direct recipes written down, just written accounts from diaries and court scribal recounts.  Sort of a third hand account at best on how this was made.  The supplies for the drink, other then the sugar, were as period as possible.  Saigon cinnamon (the best cinnamon that is suggested in many cooking books.  Please refer to Rodinson and Take a 1,000 eggs as two examples touting good Chinese cinnamon.)


SugarSaccharum officinarum “…considered a spice even rarer and more expensive then any other…pharmaceutical use…gives its species name of officinarum.”   Considered very expensive till the late 1500.  Loaf sugar given the name due to the conical shape derivded from refining into a hard and very white refined form. Caffetin or Couffin (English equivalent of “coffer” or “coffin”) named for the form, packed in plaited leaves palm and from the city shipped from called Caffa in the Crimea.    Casson a very fragile sugar also considered the ancestor to castor sugar.  Muscarrat considered the best of all sugars, reported to be made in Egypt for the Sultan of Babylon.  The Italian name mucchera denotes that it had been refined twice. (Toussaint-Samat, pg. 553-555)


The vanilla, I used real Mexican vanilla.  Excellent quality ingredient that just goes so very well with this drink.  I went for a pottery style sipping mug instead of silver as Spanish ladies would have been want to do.  I think the pottery cup added a little more rustic originality to the look and helped to prevent burnt fingers.



Rodinson, M., Arberry, A., Perry, C., (2001). Medieval Arab Cookery.  Prospect Books. Cromwell Press.


The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). Translated by Scully., T.,  University of Toronto Press.


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


November 27, 2013 | No comments

Bananas in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

 Dinner with banana tree in back ground


A Banana is complex plant where the flowers are not flowers, and fruit appears with out fertilization and there are no seeds.  The banana reproduces from a rhizome. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 678).  The banana was and still is a very popular food item.  A Buddhist monk wrote of the banana in 600 B.C, (Staub, pp. 31) and the delight he found in this strange non seeding fruit.  From China to India to the Middle East and along the trade routes the banana set out to spread along the world as a favored food mostly in sweets but in the occasional savory dish.

The banana is thought to have been transported to Central America by a a Spanish missionary Tomas de Berlanga in 1516 and/or Portuguese sailors trying to establish a cash crop. (Staub pp. 31/   This favored Asian and Middle East fruit did very well in the tropics of South America.  So well that plantations were set up to grow this flavorful lucrative fruit.

Bananas in Art:

Bananas seem to be in the category of illusive items that every one knew about, had a few recipes but the art work is depicting them is harder then hen’s teeth to find.  I have found two pictures that deal with dinners and have either bananas in the art work or a banana tree.

Dinner with banana tree in back ground

Humayun at the celebration held at the time of Akbar’s circumcision, Mughal, c. 1603-1604 British Library.

Trying to find the banana tree in this picture was a little like trying to find Waldo.  There is so much going on in this amazingly active feast painting.

Banana tree close up

Humayun at the celebration held at the time of Akbar’s circumcision, Mughal, c. 1603-1604 British Library.

In the far top almost center, next to the throne there is a small section of plants, where one looks to be a rendering of a banana plant.

The next picture and close up are in another feast painting.


Serving bananas

Banquet being prepared for Bahur and the Mirazs; Mughal, c. 1590. British Library

Again there is a lot of activity and color going on.  I love the way the artist has rendered the serving dishes in the back ground and the large cooking vessels (but that’s for another research paper).

Close up of bananas

Banquet being prepared for Bahur and the Mirazs; Mughal, c. 1590. British Library

This is a close cropping from the middle of the picture, where the servant is carrying a tray of melons and bananas.

Banana in period recipes:

One of the most recent books to come out for Middieval Middle Eastern cooking is called The Nimatnama Manuscript fo the Sultans of Mandu, a fabulous book with several banana recipes.  However I am going to go old school and use the Medieval Arab Cookery book and Medieval Cuisine in the Islamic World for the following period recipe(s).


Apricots (or Bananas) and Chicken



First Recipe: Banana

Take bananas that are fully ripe.  Peel them and immerse them in fine samid sour dough, kneaded as for pancakes.  Then take them up and leave on some thing woven.  Boil sesame oil, fry the bananas, take them out and throw them in syrup.  Then throw them in a dish with pounded, sugar, then arrange them in a tray with fine flat breads above and below.  Hang fat chicken above.

(Rodison, pp. 411).

Second Recipe: Apricots

Take some sweet and mature apricots; detach (the fruit) from the pit.  (Mix it with sugar.) In a clean baking pan…spread out (an already baked) flat bread) and place the mixture of apricots and place the mixture of apricots and sugar) on top.  (over this with another cooked flat bread.)  If you wish to add a bit of saffron , do so and sprinkle with rose water; then hang an excellent hen over (the dish), may it please God.

(Zaouali, pp. 82)


5 Bananas        1/3 cup sugar    flat bread dough

Walnut  oil

½ C rendered chicken fat

For Apricots

or 2 cups fresh or dried apricots 1 pinch saffron            1/8 teaspoon rosewater


Banana Flat Bread Dough

4 C flour           2 TBS honey    1 TBS salt        1 C water         3 VERY ripe bananas



When I did this recipe the first time, I used sliced home made bread and apricots.  The bread burnt on the bottom..  The second time I used raw flat bread dough but not flat bread with banana, and a chicken sitting on top of the raw flat bread.  This was much much better.  I also did half apricots (mixed with saffron and rose water) and raw bananas (uncooked).  This time, I adapted the dough a bit and the stuffing. Originally I took a shallow tangine, and poured a little sesame oil down to coat the dish then laid down the raw flat bread.   This time I used a clay dish, deeper then a tangine unfortunately not deep enough as the dough raised and the rendered chicken fat could not all be used only a small portion.

First I made the dough.  Flour in a bowl.  The ingredients honey, salt, yeast and water.   Are then mixed together.  This is very well mixed together.  Next add in three very ripe bananas to the soft dough.  Mix, in the bananas, very well.  The dough should be pliable and soft but not hard.  Some where between a pancake dough and a bread dough.  Divide the dough into two.  On a well floured surface, roll the dough out.  Here bits of honey that have not been well mixed are showing through.  I used honey that had gone granular due to the cold.  To fix this, in a period manner, just put granular honey in a bowl then place that bowl in another bowl with hot water coming to just the middle of the first bowl.  This should melt the honey. Or just stick the bowl with the granular honey in a microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Take a deep clay dish and oil the bottom.  Here I used walnut oil.  Sesame oil has a very strong taste and I wanted a nuttier flavor instead.  The recipe calls for sesame but I changed this to my taste.  Place the dough in the bottom of the dish.

Take and chop 5 bananas.  These bananas need to be not overly ripe.  Green bananas to almost brown but not squishy.   Slice the bananas up as thicker or slightly thicker then a finger width (roughly ½ inch).  Take a frying pan and add walnut oil with 1/3 C of sugar.  Then add the raw bananas until slightly browned.  Maybe 2 minutes.  Do not burn.  The sugar will caramelize adding a deeper color to the bananas so pay strict attention to this part.

Cooked bananas.  These are so incredibly good, that I had to limit myself to only a couple of bites other wise I would have eaten the entire filling of cooked bananas.  Place the caramelized bananas on top of the bottom layer of dough.  Place the second layer of dough on top.  Place the dish into the oven at 350.

This is where things get a little tricky.  In period, the oven area had hooks for the a chicken to be roasted on (Rodison/Zaouali,  Most people do not have such an item in their ovens or fire pits. So there are two choices, place a raw chicken on tope while the dish cooks or take the rendered fat from roasted chicken.

I choose to take the fat from a roasted chicken.  My reasoning came from using a chicken last time.  I was not impressed with either the chicken on top of the dough or how the dough came out.  The dish was excellent but I was not as impressed as I wanted to be with the final result.  So every 15 minutes pour a few tablespoons on top of the dough pour a few tablespoons of rendered fat at a time.  Pouring a little at a time will simulate the dripping of the fat from a chicken over the pudding dish instead of drowning the dish in chicken fat.  The crust is lightly browned, even golden, where you can see the chicken fat has crisped the dough along the edges.

The final taste test was incredible.  The top is savory sweet while the filling adds an extra layer of sweetness.  The bottom is perfectly done, sweet but not as savory as the top.

Period vs. Modern

The period dish would have been done in a wood fired stove with a hanging chicken on a hook or spit.  I had to do this dish in a gas fired stove with collected rendered chicken fat.  I used as many organic items as possible.  The chicken that would have been cooked over this dish would have been either a Sultan or a Russian Orlaff (Chickens in Period Research Paper).  I had to use a modern chicken for the rendered fat.  As seen in the photos, I tried to use as period dishes as possible for mixing and cooking.  The bananas would have been fried on a flat sheet of metal. (Rodinson, p. 286)

I enjoyed this dish very much.  I would have personally seasoned the dough with spices but the recipe did not indicate this was done.  I am betting; however that the love for spices was great enough someone somewhere would have thought to spice the dough up.  If I were serving this to friends, I would; however the dough at this point is a simple dough relying on bananas and honey for flavor.



  Banquet being prepared for Bahur and the Mirazs; Mughal, c. 1590. British Library

Humayun at the celebration held at the time of Akbar’s circumcision, Mughal, c. 1603-1604 British Library.

Komaroff, L., Gifts of the Sultan: The arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts.

Rodison, M., (2001). Medieval Arab Cookery.

Rodinson, M., Arberry, A., Perry, C., (2001). Medieval Arab Cookery.  Prospect Books. Cromwell Press.

Staub, J., (2005). 75 Exciting Vegetables. Gibbs Smith, Publisher Salkt Lake City.

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

Zaouali, L., (2004)., Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. University of California Press.


October 23, 2013 | No comments

Watermelon in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke



Watermelon in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke



The modern watermelon is from the cucurbitaceous, a flowering plant from Africa, which is called a pepo by botanist.  A pepo is a berry with a fleshy center and a thick rind. ( The watermelon was not always sweet as a philosopher once noted

“Friends of the present day are like the melon.  You must try 50 before you find a good one” (Translation) (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 657)  Toussaint-Samat tells of the various type of cucurbitaceous found in America are the pumpkins, gourds, marrows and courgettes and squashes while the cucumber and watermelon are African in origin. (pp. 657).   Wiki expands on the three types of melons (but no the cucumis of the Americas) found were bland, sweet and bitter.  The original sizing of non cultivated watermelons were small, not much larger then quince. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 657)  Cultivation in the 5th century BC by the Egyptians grew larger and sweeter fruits which became widely popular in the Mediterranean area. By the 13th century invading Moors introduced the fruit to Europe.  (Wikipedia)


Watermelon in period:


Shah ;Abbas II Receiving the Mughal Ambassador, Iran. C. 1663. Aga Khan Museum Collection.

The painting is very large and the watermelon small but prominent in placement.  At the Shah’s left knee is a small oriental bowl is half a watermelon.  The distinguishing characteristics is red flesh with black seeds and an alternating rind with dark and light green stripes seen above the rim of the white bowl.

I have found a few recipes for watermelon as a drink or roasting of the seeds, I actually like the idea of a fruit being enjoyed just as a fruit in this instance.  So I present, watermelon in a bowl as presented in the hunting picture.

There is also a very tasty sherbet, that I would like to share.


…put together one cup of water with two dirams of sugar and add it to any fruit juice.  This becomes a quantity of sherbet. (The Nimatnama Manuscript. Pp. 27)


One watermelon, inner flesh scooped out

½ to 1 C sugar

1 C water


This recipe is very simple and very tasty!  Take one watermelon.

Whole watermelonSlice it in half.

half watermelons

 Next gut the red flesh from the green rind and place in a bowl.


pieces from watermelon in bowl

Then squish…reputedly, till the watermelon flesh is juiced.

 squished watermelon

A simple potato smasher will work.  Finally add sugar and stir.

 sugar to watermelon

Then pour juice over fresh snow and consume.

 watermelon on ice

If there is no snow available, then use crushed ice (not pictured here).  This is really good.  Sweet watermelon juice at just the right temperature during the middle of summer.


Period vs. Modern


I had to use a modern type of watermelon for both the sliced watermelon and the watermelon juice.    The watermelon in my garden is not fruiting so home grown wasn’t an option at this point.  The sugar is simple table sugar.


SugarSaccharum officinarum “…considered a spice even rarer and more expensive then any other…pharmaceutical use…gives its species name of officinarum.”   Considered very expensive till the late 1500.  Loaf sugar given the name due to the conical shape derivded from refining into a hard and very white refined form. Caffetin or Couffin (English equivalent of “coffer” or “coffin”) named for the form, packed in plaited leaves palm and from the city shipped from called Caffa in the Crimea.    Casson a very fragile sugar also considered the ancestor to castor sugar.  Muscarrat considered the best of all sugars, reported to be made in Egypt for the Sultan of Babylon.  The Italian name mucchera denotes that it had been refined twice. (Toussaint-Samat, pg. 553-555)

I used a potato smasher to liquefy the watermelon.  I did not use a blender; however I do not know what was used in period for making fruit juice other then presses.

File:Cider press in Jersey.jpg

This is a traditional cider press as a reference.  I can’t imagine that every house had a press so my belief is that the fruit would have been cut into small chunks, then placed in a muslin bag and squeezed till all the juice that human muscle could produce.


 Komaroff, L., (2001). Gifts of the Sultan.  The Art of Giving at the Islamic Courts. Yale University Press.

Staub, J., (2005). 75 Exciting Vegetables for Your Garden. Library of Congress.

The Sultan’s Book of Delights, The Ni’mantnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu. (2005).  Translated by Norah M. Titley.

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


October 8, 2013 | No comments

Turkey in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke


 The Well-Stocked Kitchen, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1566



The turkey is from the genus Meleagris, native to North America.  The Meleagris gallopavo or the Wild Turkey is the forebearer of all period breeds of Turkey.

However the name Turkey was not the original moniker for this North American bird.  The name Turkey stuck to the Indian Peacock when William Strickland, the man who introduced the Turkey to England was granted a coat of arms “A turkey-cock in his pride proper.”  There are two descriptions of how the Turkey got the name Turkey instead of Spain or Spanish Peacock.  The first seems to be that merchants zealously guarded the secrete to where these large but wonderful tasting fowl came from and since many boats were coming and going not only from the New World but the Indies and Turkey, the merchants called the Turkey (Turkey’s).  (Tousaint-Samat, pp. 342-343). The second theory put forth by Wikipedia, states that the American Turkey was originally mis-identified as a type of guinea fowl (known as the Turkey fowl) and imported to Europe through Turkey.   The Turkey is so called the Indian Peacock for not only the size of the bird but the proud puffing of tail feathers when displaying for the hens by male turkey.

While the Turkey was get a proper name the moniker of the American Peacock or the Indian Peacock depending on who was cooking.  Scappi calls for the use of “Indian Peacock” in several recipes.  Unlike the SCA myth that the turkey actually replaces the peacock, both peacock and the turkey are given equal time in Scappi’s recipes.

The Spaniards took back a few of the novelty “Indian Peacocks” back to Spain in the early 1500’s (1500-1519) where the Turkey became a welcome addition to any flock, not only for their voracious bug eating abilities but tasty flesh.  Naturalizing to various regions, the European varieties became as distinguished in their own right and characteristics. Varieties abounded all over Europe, such as the Norfolk Black, the Cambridgeshire Bronze, White Austrian, Buff, Blue and a variegated Blegian called the Ronquieres, Spanish Black and the Narragansett to name a few.  (

Turkey Stills in Period:


This leads to the period picture of a busy period kitchen.  Here we see several types of birds, hanging and awaiting to be plucked.  It is my belief that the plucked bird in the basket middle bottom is that of a turkey while the large dark feathered bird to the left is that of either a Black Spanish (Spanish turkey) or a Black Norfolk (English Turkey).


Another very awesome picture of a busy kitchen is again from the Flemish artist, Joachim Beuckelaer.

The Four Elemnts of Fire, Joachim Beuckelaer 1569

In this picture in the upper right hand corner we see a magnificent picture of a turkey handing and ready to be plucked.


 A close up of the same picture with the turkey next to a rooster.

This sets an established validity that the turkey is not a miss named guinea hen but a true turkey that could be one of several Europeanized birds from the North American wild turkey.  At this point in the mid 1500’s the turkey is finding a place in the kitchen of the upper middle class and not just of nobility as the still lives point to upper to middle class kitchens


With the introduction of the turkey or the American peacock, that the original peacock from India was no longer popular.  I believe that the peacock enjoyed the same dining pleasure i.e. for the very rich; however after studying peacock history for cooking of a peacock is that they are not nearly as meaty.  Peacocks in comparison to turkeys are also not as productive. Where as a a peahen will only lay 3-9 eggs a year while a single chicken could lay up to 200 eggs each year, (Damerow) A turkey can lay up to 80-100 eggs during a 4 motnh period if eggs are continually harvested from a turkey nest during the breeding season of spring to early summer. (wiki.answers).  Once a fertilized turkey egg is harvested, the egg can then be placed under a brooding chicken to be hatched.  (Columella/Damerow).  This gives the turkey almost 10x the potential of chicks per the potential 9 of peacock.  While the turkey was still a luxury item, in comparison to the peacock the turkey was more plentiful once a breeding population had been established and popular traits i.e. meat, coloration, and bug devouring properties breed for.

There are several turkey recipes; however the one I am going to be redacting is from “The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570)”.




To roast turkey cock and turkey hen, which in some places in Italy are called ‘Indian Peacocks.

A turkey cock and turkey hen are much bigger in the body then an ordinary peacock; and the cock can spread its tail like the peacock….Its breast is broad…its flesh much whiter and softer then that of the common peacock and it is hung for a shorter time then any similar fowl.

If you want to spit-spit roast it, do not let it sit for more then six days in winter before being drawn or in the summer for more then two.  Pluck it dry or in hot water…If you want to stuff it, use one of the stuffings of Recipe 115…stick it with fine lardoons of pork fat, although if it is fat, an stuffed there will not be any need for larding; you will have to stud it though with a few whole cloves.  Mount it on a spit and cook it slowly, that bird cooking much more quickly that a common peacock. (Scappi, pp. 208-209)


…for every four pounds of beaten pork fat get two pounds of parboiled veal or goat-kid sweetbreads…four ounces of sugar, four egg yolks, a handful of herbs, nine not-too-ripe plums or else muscatel pears…instead of sweetbreads you can use calf, kid or pig brain, parboiled. (Scappi, pp. 193-194)


1 small young turkey

1 lb chopped bacon ends

1 lb bacon strips

3 Tbs sugar

4 egg yolks

Herbs –sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, bruised laurel leaves, parsley – rinsed and chopped

½ lb sweetbread

Whole cloves for studding



I have cooked turkey on many occasions; however cooking a period recipes require a slight mind shift.  The stuffing is very different as the main ingredient is pork fat not bread crumbs and there is the inclusion of sugar to counter the savory, not to mention egg yolks instead of whole eggs.

The first thing to do is try to get a heritage turkey, from either a specialty shop or raising one.  Should a heritage turkey be unattainable, go for a young turkey NOT an old turkey.  The older the turkey, the tougher the meat.  Young and sweet is what you would want to serve to the pope or visiting royalty.

Turkey raw

Clean out the giblets and set to the side while gathering and mixing the stuffing ingredients.

My first task was to pick herbs from the garden.  A handful of or a few stems of each of the above listed herbs were gathered then rinsed well.

Herbs in strainer

Once they were patted dry, I de-stemmed the leaves from woody stalks.  The bay laurel I left intact but bruised the leaves for maximum flavor.  Everything else was then chopped and set to the side.

chopped herbs

The sweetbread was chopped into small chunks and set to the side as well

chopped sweetbread

I used bacon ends for the pork fat instead of raw pork fat.

chopped smoked bacon

I could have used rendered pork fat but I don’t think that is what was really used.  Rendered pork fat would drip and slide with out actually staying inside the turkey for flavoring, as it has a fairly low melting temperature.

I did not have slightly tart plums on hand.  I used dried unsugared plums with the thought that in period if plums were not in season dried plums (prunes) would have been used instead.

 chopped dried plums

I also added more then 9 as I actually like the flavor of dried plums and wanted to offset the bacon ends with a bit more sweet.  The bacon ends were placed in a bowl.  From here I added the sweetbread, herbs, sugar, egg yolks, and dried plums.

Then I mixed well.

final mix herbs


I was now ready to stuff a turkey.

            stuffed raw turkeyThe turkey was stuffed to just the right amount.

Once stuffed, I laid bacon strips across the top of the turkey breast “as fine lardoons”.  A fat turkey is subjective and I like bacon.  Bacon is never a bad thing when it comes to meat.  So bacon it was on top of the turkey in a criss-cross decorative patterning.

endview of bacon wrapped turkey


The bacon will shrink so lay the bacon half over the first strip when laying out your pattern.  You’ll understand once you’ve cooked the bacon on top of the turkey once.

I did not have a spit handy so had to use a gas stove oven and a rack.  From here it was 2.5 hours at 350.

roasted turkey on platter

The turkey is incredibly moist while the stuffing is very meaty with savory and sweet flavorings.

Modern vs. Period:

I did not have a period turkey.  I could have bought a “heritage turkey” however the packaging did not say what “heritage” and I really wanted a Black Spanish or Black Norway.  I am just going to have to raise my own I think.

The herbs came from my garden and were mostly period.  The dried plums were from California and did not designate the type which means that a period type of plum was probably not used.  The eggs were organic but the sugar was regular table sugar instead of brown or turbinado; however fine sugar was known in Italy at this point.

Sugar- Considered very expensive till the late 1500.  Loaf sugar given the name due to the conical shape derivded from refining into a hard and very white refined form. Caffetin or Couffin (English equivalent of “coffer” or “coffin”) named for the form, packed in plaited leaves palm and from the city shipped from called Caffa in the Crimea.    Casson a very fragile sugar also considered the ancestor to castor sugar.  Muscarrat considered the best of all sugars, reported to be made in Egypt for the Sultan of Babylon.  The Italian name mucchera denotes that it had been refined twice. (Toussaint-Samat, pg. 553-555)

I did not have a wood fire spit on which to roast the now stuffed turkey.  I had to rely on the modern convenience of a gas stove and a roasting pan with a rack.  This does not give the wood flavor that a smoke fire would; however the heat was maintained at a regular temperature which precludes charred spot or raw and undercooked areas.



A period turkey dish is both similar and dissimilar to the modern day Thanksgiving turkey.  The dissimilarity is that a much more favorable type of bird was used rather then the mass produced standard white turkey.  The stuffing is more complicated and very meaty.  The stuffing is not just throwing a premade mix with chicken stock and maybe a few other ingredients into a turkey.  The ingredients are wide ranging and not what a modern palate would associate for turkey stuffing.

I enjoyed the making of the Italian style turkey.  I hope to tackle the Tudor Christmas Pie next but having attempted that once and getting stuck not on the deboning of the turkey, duck, chicken or quail but rather the pie crust, that is a several day project.



Damerow, G., (2010). Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.


The Well-Stocked Kitchen, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1566


The Four Elemnts of Fire, Joachim Beuckelaer 1569


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


The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). Translated by Scully., T.,  University of Toronto Press.

September 7, 2013 | No comments

Tomatoes in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke




Tomatoes in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

Tomatoes are the red fruit from the Solanumlycopersicum plant which originated in originated in Mexico and parts of Central America. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 707) to Naples.  With the shipping to and fro of gold, chocolate and plants the tomato was shipped, probably in seed form back to Spain, Portugal.  The tomato plant was not originally called tomato but rather the Apples of Love, (Gerards, pp. 79).  Gerard comments “The pulpe or meat is very full of moisture, soft, reddish, and of the substance of a wheat plumme.” (pp. 79)  This is the perfect description of a tomato.  Toussaint-Samat describes the original tomato as looking as a small round fruit and not the large fruit we see modernly, more like the cherry tomatoes and not the beefsteak tomatoes of today. While this was discovered and shipped back to Spain then to England where Gerard is given and grows his own tomatoes, the fruit is not seen as particularly popular upon first taste.  The Italians do find some very tasty ways to eat the fruit but it is not a wide spread phenomenon, delaying tomatoes rise as a major food ingredient for a couple more centuries.  A quote that sums up the fate of the tomato in period

“Prized historically by the natives of South America and Mexico, tomatoes found their way into Spain and Portugal near the turn of the sixteenth century with the returning conquistadores, but there they languished for centuries in a kind of gastronomic purgatory.” (Staub, pp 104.)


Tomatoes in Art:

I found a couple of paintings that I thought were intriguing for the depiction of the tomato in period.  These tomatoes aren’t the beef eaters we are use to but small almost cherry tomatoes.


Market Woman with Fruit, vegetables and Poultry


The close up for the tomatoes is middle bottom in the small bowl.

Market Woman with Fruit, vegetables and Poultry

As you can see these are very small red fruits. Unlike depictions of cherries, there are no stems attached to the fruit as seen in the basket right above the tomatoes.

Another painting with tomatoes, uses fruits and vegetables to form a face of a man.

 Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit,_Reversible_Head_with_Basket_of_Fruit,_c._1590,_oil_on_panel.jpg

The lower lip is a depiction of what I believe to be period tomatoes.  The next painting by Giuseppe shows both tomatoes and cherries.  The cherries have stems, which is my belief how the artists distinguished between the two fruits.

Again the lower lip is depicted, in what I think, are period tomatoes.  The cherries, with stems are up on the head portion, behind the grapes on the upper right hand side.


Tomatoes in Period:


Likewise they doe eate the Apples with oile, vinegre and pepper mixed together for sauce to their meat, even as we in these cold countries doe Mustard. (Gerard’s Herbal, pp. 81).



3 C Cherry tomatoes

Olive oil


1 tsp Fresh ground pepper



This was a really easy recipe.  I gathered up all the ingredients.

tomatos and spices

Quarter the cherry tomatoes into a bowl.

sliced cherry tomatoes with viniger

Here I am adding the vinegar.  Next grind up the pepper corns.

 Ground pepper

Add the pepper then the olive oil.

add Olive oil

Mix together.

At the time I made this, I did not make any steak or chicken to put this on.  Instead I took one bite of this and ate the entire bowl as a wonderful tomato salad.  I have not tasted better.  Simple, elegant and so good!

Modern vs. Period:

For this dish, I tried to keep the food and ingredients either organic or as close to period as possible.  The tomatoes are cherry and organic, the olive oil Tuscan and the vinegar is balsamic red wine.  I would suggest red wine or even white wine vinegar.  I think an apple cider vinegar is a little too harsh and raw.


Market Woman with Fruit, vegetables and Poultry


A Feast for the Eyes


Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit,_Reversible_Head_with_Basket_of_Fruit,_c._1590,_oil_on_panel.jpg


Geraard, J., (1994). Gerard’s Herbal. Edited by Woodward, M., (original publication 1597)


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



September 2, 2013 | No comments

Roman table to a King’s table: How it was done and the ways to recreate the look and taste.


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke




A dish to grace the table of Kings


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

“Peacock: you admire him, often he spreads his jewel-encrusted tail.  How can you, unfeeling man, hand this creature over to the cook?” (Mart.XIII-1XX/Faas, pp. 295)


Peacocks were valued throughout history; not only for their feathers nor for their flesh.  Poems and songs were written about these gorgeous feather fowls and their likeness graced plates, vases and even thrones.  They represented different ecclesiastic values to different religions.  This one bird, with its jeweled eyed tail, was coveted for both the look and symbolism represented in the display of this majestic fowl.  From a throne in India to the table of rich Romans to the Persian Empire decorating paintings and vases; even to the table of English royalty, each used this favored bird in recipes and decoration.

“Such subtle creations could be comprised of just the edible, or as the more elaborate a set up became, a combination of paper mache and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays and less about eating, with the production being undertaken by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little with chefs.” (

This is a research paper on cooking a beautiful period dish served to royalty. It covers the trials and tribulations needed to make this display happen in today’s modern world, which lacks an availability of peacocks, as well as the “work-arounds” needed to display the dish in a mostly period manner.




           Toussaint-Samat recounts how the noble peacock was served at the Banquet of the Pheasant held in 1453.  As per tradition of the time, when the peacock was served in all of its glory, the hero of the feast was to make a vow.  The hero for this particular feast was Duke Phillip the Good.  His vow was to challenge the Sultan to single combat.  The commentary went on to say that while the vow was made solemnly it was not take seriously. (pp. 84).

Another display was “[w]hen the peacock was all arrayed in his pride, royal trumpeters blowing on silver horns or other musicians making “Sweet Musick” [sic], led the way to the banqueting hall followed by the First Lady carrying the peacock and then by a bevy of maidens clad in white…The platter on which it rested could either be of gold or silver…” (Craig, pp. 158).

As mentioned, the peacock was forced back into as natural a form as possible during cooking.  Gilding of the feathers, feet and beak were done.  Some gilding was done in actual gold while others were in a flour paste colored with saffron, depending on the host’s monetary status. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 84).   For displaying the dish I have run into a few unique issues, the first being the cost of the actual peacock.  While researching how to cook and serve peacocks, I came to the horrible realization that full grown peacocks are EXPENSIVE.  I cannot stress this reality enough.  One male peacock can be priced as low as $150 (if they are very young, i.e.8-9 months or younger and without plumage) or can run up to $600 for a full grown fowl with plumage.  Peahens can cost $150 for a young bird. These prices are for live birds.  If the meat were desired, skinned and dressed without feathers, the body runs $300 at regular price and $200 on sale.  This is without the skin and feathers.  In today’s market, purchasing an actual peacock becomes difficult.

My choice, if I decided on a live bird, would have been to pay for a young bird and raise it (barring any wildlife getting tasty thoughts of their own about my peacock), then skinning and dressing it for the table.  Assuming I did not damage the skin while skinning or ruin the meat by piercing the gall bladder (rendering the meat bitter and useless) while dressing out the bird, I would have had a viable solution.  Unfortunately, while I have helped slaughter chickens for the table quite a few years ago, skinning and dressing were left to my dad, amid comments about not wanting to let a kid ruin dinner or something similar.

This left me inadequately skilled for raising, skinning, and dressing out a very expensive peacock.  With that in mind, I have followed the Roman mindset that meat could be dressed as another meat and served forth as a “Faux Peacock”.  I wanted an uncommon bird, but something well within the affordable range that could be purchased without having to special order.  After weighing my options, I decided to use duck.  Duck is not a lean meat with the skin on.  However, the selling point, unlike a chicken, is that the duck is about the same amount of dark meat per body while commercial chickens are more breast heavy than any peacock could ever be.  Duck can be rendered less fatty by the removal of the skin and can still be considered an uncommon dinner dish by most standards today.  Duck was, for me, the logical substitute in my meat portion of the cooking.

Chicken was never an option, which left me with fewer choices than expected for modern dark meat.  Pigeon could have been an option; however, having no hunting license pigeon and quail (being much too small to start with) were not viable substitutes.  Pheasant could have been used.  There were two issues for using the actual cousin of the peacock.  Pheasants, for decent pricing, require a hunting license and a lease to hunt on.  I have neither the weapon nor the skill to shoot.  Pheasant is also not an easily attainable meat which makes pricing difficult.  Each option was weighed with pros and cons, and the most viable choice again was duck.  What I would pay for one pheasant, I could purchase four ducks.  Duck is an all dark meat.  Without its skin, the flesh can be suitably larded to imitate (not in flavor) the look of peacock dark meat.

 Dressing a Peacock:

 Dressing of a peacock usually comes after the cooking. The meat and cooking part was easily worked through, though the display was a bit of an issue, hence the dressing before the cooking.

See above for the cost of a live male peacock in full feathered display, making the idea of raising a peacock un doable at this time, meaning a skin would have to be purchased.  I was able to find a company that dealt exotic skins; however there was a catch to the peacock skin. The skin would only be available if and only if someone brought one in and then it was a three month waiting period while the skin was treated.  The price associated with obtaining a skin this way was almost unbelievable. I was able to negotiate the purchase of a skin after the seller asked what I would be using it for.  The caveat by the seller was that the skin was missing a head.  I didn’t have any other options or sellers at this point so the answer was a resounding “Yep!  I can work with a headless peacock skin.”  I did not mention my desperation at this point for any skin with feathers that could be painted to look like a peacock if I had to.

Period-wise I would have had a skin and body that would not need such subtlety in body forming or a wood carver who could shape a block of would in a simulation worthy of Henry the VIII’s table.

The skin arrived, headless as advertised and cured in such a way I would shudder dressing any bird meat in it.

just skin feathers up

 The skin was beautiful, but not useful for an edible concoction due to the preservation techniques on the underside.

 underside of skin


This abolished any idea of redressing a duck with the peacock skin and gilding the duck bill.  Nor would I be able to re-stuff the skin with small birds or savory meats.  (Toussaint-Samat). I thought of making a cloth body with a batting neck before realizing that sagging would take this proud bird skin and turn it into a saggy pillow of pretty feathers.  Nor did I trust my carving skills (I am totally deficient in this area) for making a peacock body and head out of wood.  I had to resort to artisans skilled in this area modernly.

With this new hurdle, I researched different ways in which a peacock could be displayed.  The best modern equivalent I could find was from a taxidermy form.  This took some work as not every taxidermy shop is considered equal no matter how much they talk about exotic birds in their bio line.  The form arrived in pieces minus the head.  Luckily for me the head arrived the next day.

peacock pieces

Peacocks do not like giving up their heads even in resin form!  This jigsaw of body, neck and eventually head had to be metal tabbed and glued together.  Insert neck B into resin body A and no up or down listed on the body on where pieces went.  Once the pieces were attached in the correct body part, glue was used to keep them from drooping or falling off.   I couldn’t have the peacock losing its head again!

The head was attached to the neck with metal and glue after drilling a small hole into the head.  The head was of a different and much harder material then the neck and could not have the metal bar section of the neck inserted as the neck’s lower tab was inserted into the body.  That would have made life way to easy!

The next step was to wipe the form clean of dust and apply the gilding.  Gold leaf would have been used or a flour paste colored with saffron depending on the serving nobilities’ financial means. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 84)  My first attempt with gold leaf was a disaster.  Uneven, splotchy, and just ugly are the words I would use to describe this decorating application.  After removing my gold leaf disaster, I moved on to gold paint as I was obviously not the deft period artisan needed to apply the gilding.


 form together w head painted

 Once the head was attached and liberally applied with gilding, I outlined the eyes in kohl,

  peacock kohl

 then added faux glass “rubies” were glued into the eye sockets.

  peacock eyes

 Feathers were attached to the head for a crest.


 peacock crest

 This gives the overall presentation a richer, more finished look and I believe closer to a period cooked peacock.

Finally the time had come to sew the skin onto the form.  This presented a new problem.  The skin was not the full skin of a peacock, just the neck, back with wings and the tail.  I had not noticed this detail till I put the skin over the peacock form.

skin on form not fitting

This means the form, I had ready for the skin to be stitched onto, was too large and the skin to small.  This left me with several bad options.  The first would have been to not use the form and just lay the skin out as a side note.  I did not like this idea as it lacked grace and style. The second was to form a cloth covering to which the skin might be sewn onto then having the cloth covering sewn onto the form.  I attempted this, going so far as to actually making a body covering drape pattern.  The third idea, which is the one I went with, was to ribbon the skin and tie it to the body form.  This idea presented the best idea overall as the form can be arranged then have the skin draped with minimal damage to the skin and feathers while shifting from one angle to the next on display

            Once I realized I could not fit the skin over the peacock form, my plan was to sew ribbon on to the skin to form a tied collar.  Unfortunately the way the skin was cured, it has started to flake and tear along stress lines making sewing impossible.  I attached ribbon to the neck via glue.  Not period glue but glue none the less.

glue ribbon to skin

This affixed the ribbon while stabilizing the stress areas along the neck of the skin.

tipopits finished

Once the ribbons were attached I sewed on metal tippets with faux pearls.

front peacock w cloak

This is non-standard; however as this display, if the standard recipe had been achievable would have been served on the high table, the idea is to make the overall look as rich and elegant as possible.   The peacock is now painted, dressed and ready for displaying.


 The edibility of the flesh of a peacock varied from cook to cook.  Scappi, cook for the Popes of Rome in the 1500s, is quoted on peacock taste as saying, “[t]heir flesh is black, but more tasty then all other fowl.” (pp. 206).  Augustine conducted experiments on the antiseptic quality of peacock flesh.  He found that the flesh shriveled but did not rot.  (Sparknotes/ bestiary).  Medieval bestiary states “the flesh of a peacock is so hard that it does not rot, and can hardly be cooked in fire or digested by the liver…” (bestiary)    Even with such unenthusiastic endorsements, this did not stop the consumption of this fantastic fowl.

Roman Recipes

“Some times the peacock…were roasted then had their plumage restored to them…to prepare a bird in this fashion, take off the feathers with the skin.  Cure the skin with coarse sea salt, so that it dries out a little, and wash it off just before you dress the roast bird in it…” (Faas, pp. 297).

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)

Another great recipe was…

“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).  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.

French Recipes

Peacock/Swan “Kill it like goose, leave the head and tail, lard or bard it, roast it golden, and it with fine salt.  It lasts at least a month after it is cooked.  If it becomes mouldy on top, remove the mould and you will find it white, good and solid underneath.” (Taillevent, pp. 23)

Reclothed Swan (substituting Peacock) “…in its skin with all the feathers.  Take it and split it between the shoulders, and cut it along the stomach; then take off the skin from the neck cut at the shoulders, holding the body by the feet; then put it on the spit, and skewer it and gild it.  And when it is cooked, it must be reclothed in its skin and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper. (Goodman, M-30)

Italian Recipes

“if you want to roast a peacock on a spit, get an old one between October and February.  After it has been killed let it hang for eight days without plucking it and without drawing it; then pluck it dry…When it is plucked draw it…..put one end of a hot iron bar into the carcass through the hole by which it was eviscerated being careful not to touch the flesh: that is done to remove its moistness and bad smell.  To stuff it use the mixture outlined in Recipe 115, or else sprinkle it with salt, fennel flour, pepper, cloves and cinnamon; into the carcass put panicles of dry fennel and pieces of pork fat that is not rancid, studded with whole cloves or whole pieces of fine saveloy.  Blanch it in water or sear it on the coals.  Stud the breast with whole cloves. (The breast can also be larded or wrapped in slice of pork fat as is done with the pheasant in Recipe 135).  Roast it over a low fire, preserving the neck with its feathers as is done with the pheasant.  Serve it hot or cold as you wish, with various sauces …(Scappi, pp. 207)

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, recipe #139 suggested for pheasant or peacock.

“If you want to roast the small ones on a spit, as soon as they are caught pluck them dry and draw them; leave their head and feet on.  Stuff them with a little beaten pork fat, fresh fennel, beaten common herbs, raw egg yolks and common spices – which is done to keep them from drying out.  Sew up the hole and arrange their wings and thighs so they are snug.  Sear them on coals.  Wrap them, sprinkled with salt and cloves, in a calf or wether caul, or else in slices of pork fat with paper around them…When they are done serve them hot. (Scappi, pp. 206)

English Recipes

“Take a peacock, break his neck, and cut his throat, and flay him.  The skin and the feathers together, and the head still to the skin of the neck, and keep the skin and the feathers whole together; draw him as a hen, and keep the bone to the neck whole, and roast him, and set the bone of the neck above the broach (spit), as he was wont to sit alive; and above the legs to the body, as he was wont to sit alive; and when he is roasted enough take him off, and let him cool; and then wind the skin with the feathers and tail about the body, and serve him forth as he were alive; or else pluck him clean and roast him, and serve him as though do a hen. (Renfrow, pp. 572).

“Take and flay off the skin with feathers and tail, leaving the neck and crest still upon the bird, and preserving the glory of his crest from injury when roasting by wrapping it in a linen bandage.  Then take the skin with all the feathers upon it and spread it out on the table and sprinkle thereon ground cinnamon.  Now roast the peacocke and endore him with the yolkes of many eggs, and when he is roasted remove him from the fire and let him cool for awhile.  Then take and sew him again into his skin and all his feathers, and remove the bandage from his crest.  Brush the feathers carefully and dust upon them and his comb gilding to enhance his beauty.  After a while, set him upon a golden platter, garnish with rosemary and other green leaves, and serve him forthwith as if he were alive and with great ceremony.” (Craig, pp. 157)

“A peacock may also have the skin and feathers removed as described above when it may be stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, and finely chopped savory meats, and roasted as described in the foregoing recipe.  Then replace the skin and feathers when it should be “served…”…with the tail of the peacock was covered with leaf of gold, and a piece of cotton dipped in spirits was put in its beak.  This was set fire to as the bird was brought in Royal procession to the table with musical honours.”  (Craig, pp. 157-158)

The Elements in Common:

Each of these recipes discusses the various ways in which the peacock could be cooked.  Peacock, other than the Roman mummification recipe, mostly dealt with removing the skin with feathers, then roasting the meat.  After removal of the skin with feathers on, it was laid to the side and sprinkled with either salt or cinnamon for drying out and, unbeknownst at the time, bacterial retardation that could cause food poisoning.

In several of the recipes the bird is larded or wrapped in bacon, to preserve the moisture of the meat due to the low fat content of the flesh, with various herbs along with bacon and eggs used for stuffing.  This would produce a more robust flavoring with lots of added fat content and juices.

Only one recipe (Roman) actually suggests grinding the meat into patties for frying and not serving whole.  Further research shows that the recipe for ground poultry meat has spices and nuts mixed in before frying into patties.  As the male peafowl was valued for their brilliant feathers, I wonder if this recipe was used on peahens that had out lived their egg laying/brooding days.

Two recipes suggest using other types of meat to stuff the skin back into the form of the original bird with either savory meats such as pork and beef or the meat/bodies of small birds and herbs.  This is a variation of “this is not the bird you think it is.” subtlety seen at grand banquets where the flesh of one animal or multiple animals or fowl were shaped or sculpted into the form of another. (Faas, pp. 68)


Peacock (or edible bird substitute)

4 egg yolks

1 fennel

1 ½ lbs of bacon (6-8 Bacon strips and ½ lb bacon pieces)

1/2 tbs salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tbs flour


1 peacock

1 cup ground bread crumbs

1 tsp ground pepper

½ red wine (pinot)

1 tsb fish sauce

½ cup pine nuts

½ lb bacon


1 peacock

2 lbs bacon

Salt to taste





Before any cooking of the duck can be done, the bacon has to be made.  My research turned up little in the actual making of bacon.  Bacon use is ubiquitous in a variety of cultures as an edible tasty larding or just wonderful tasty addition to any recipe.  The making seems to have been so common that recipes for making were deemed unnecessary. You just knew how to make bacon.  With that being said, I am using the wonderful research done by Sir Master Gunther and his bacon making class.  I chose the French style for my experimentation in this new pork medium.  However my attempt to make bacon did not yield enough quality bacon to use for this display.  The bacon was too salty and I could not get the slices thin enough to actually wrap around a duck.

  bacon pieces

 The slices were either chunks or short thin slices.  Not much in between.  I believe I will need to work on the recipe and slicing technique before I can use my own home made bacon.  Loved the research Sir Master Gunther did, will definitely have another go at making bacon another time!

Italian Peacock #1

For the fennel stuffed duck the majority of prep work is getting the stuffing made.  First I gathered all the spices together.

 Italian duck spices

 The bacon and fennel were cut into small pieces, with the egg yolk and spices added next.

italian duck spices in bowl

Everything was mixed together as evenly as possible coating the fennel and bacon with the finer spices and egg yolk.

italian duck spices mixed

The young duck, without neck or head attachment,


young duck no head

was skinned ready for stuffing.  Yes this gets very messy!

 skinned duck no head

 The mixture was then stuffed into the duck.

 raw stuffed duck


The duck after being stuffed was wrapped in bacon slices.  I had to affix the bacon with skewers.  Toothpicks would have worked; however I was out of those.


 raw bacon wrapped stuffed duck

 This duck is not being suggestive, merely showing all the yummy stuff just waiting to happen.

The duck was then placed on a rack in the oven for an hour and a half.

  Italian cooked duck


This is a very tasty way to eat duck.  The bacon and fennel contemplate each other with the egg yolks.  The skewers were determined to stay in, more then I was willing to yank the cooked duck apart.

I have done this recipe using ducks with their heads.

skinned duck

The duck can be “formed” to have an upright look using skewers down the throat and pinning the neck to the chest.

scewered duck neck
This method is messy and irritating.  I preferred cooking without the neck and head attached.  However I know realize why and how the metal skewers were used for maximum effect when cooking peacocks.  Bamboo or even wooden skewers do not curve or bend in natural ways to get the best effect

 duck and pieces

 This duck just looks very unhappy and not nearly as appealing as the non-headed duck dish.  In period, as previously described, the eyes would have been replaced with something nicer like rubies.


Roman Peacock #2

Here, after gathering the spices together in one spot,

Roman duck spices

Pour about 1/3 of the wine into the bread crumbs and grind up the pepper corns.

ground pepper w wine soaked bread crumbs

I took the lovely dark duck meat,

raw duck breast meat


stripped the meat from the bones, including some skin and fat then ground everything together.

one raw duck in blender


This is one duck’s worth of meat in a Cuisenaire.  Roughly about four maybe five cups worth of meat.

The duck meat is ground fairly fine with this method.  In period, Romans would use a mortar and pestle for pounding their meat for dishes such as this.  (Faas, pp. 135)

ground raw duck w spices

The meat was then combined with the spices, pine nuts, and garum.  Next spices and breadcrumbs with wine were mixed with the ground duck, looking to overspill the bowl.

raw mixed duck w spices


This may look like period meatloaf but this is forming into something so much tastier and will never need ketchup.

I formed small patties, roughly about the size of my palm.  These will be very rich, so do not make them full sized.

duck patti w bacon one


The next step was to wrapped the patties in bacon instead of pork caul as no pork caul was to be had at any of my usual meat shops.  This being the case bacon makes a good secondary choice.

duck patty w bacon two


Duck meat patty was placed on bacon, and then wrapped in the bacon in the start of something very tasty.

duck patty w bacon three



Next the duck patties were placed in the cooking dish that had been prepped with wine in the individual “cups”.

cooking roman dish w wine


Next came the patties for cooking.


duck patties w bacon in wine dish

These were then slow cooked in a sweet red wine.  Till the bacon was crisp and the duck well cooked.


cooked roman patties in pan

After trying one of the “extras”, I have to say I really love this recipe.  This has to be one of my favorite Roman dishes now.


A closer look at a cooked bacon wrapped duck patty.

Roman cooked patti


The fat to meat ratio was as close to 80/20 as I could using only some of the skin and only a little of the fat stripped from the body.  The meat to fat ratio, I have read on a couple of cooking websites to be the ideal for both flavor and the happy mouth feel for rich meat.

Roman meat was pounded for a ground meat instead of cut/chopped (Giacosa/Faas) as we do in modern day.  Lacking a bevy of kitchen slaves or servants, I have chosen to use the modern day equivalent called a food processor.   After the meat reached a chopped state, I incorporated spices, bread crumbs, wine and nuts. The mixture was formed into patties and fried in olive oil.

I felt that while this was not a dish which would have been redressed in its own skin, the taste is worth trying as another alternative to the manifold roast recipes.  In my opinion, this dish likely came about when a peahen was past her prime laying stage and the Roman owner did not want to let the bird go to waste.  Since the peahen is rather drab in comparison to her more colorful counterpart, she would not have been mummified and displayed, but the meat would never be wasted.


French Peacock #3


This was the simplest of the three dishes.  The duck was stripped of its skin and salted, then wrapped in bacon.


rear of bacon wrapping in duckThis is to show how the duck is laid out then wrapped.  I hadn’t actually gotten to the stripping of the skin.  One of those “Ooops!” photos.  Strip skin then lay naked duck on bacon, not lay duck on bacon then strip off skin.  Things just get messy at that point!

Once the bird had been redressed in a pork covering, it was roasted for an hour or more, until done.

Cooked duck in bacon

This style of faux “peacock” does not match the taste of the other two dishes.  A skin covering would definitely needed to dress this bird up.  The taste is excellent and easier to cook though I would say the taste is not quite up to par with the other two dishes.

Period vs. Modern Techniques:

If a peacock were to be redressed in its own skin and served there were a few steps that were done.  In period a cook would have gone down to the market, Roman, Italian or English (if not to the livestock area where the fowl were hanging out) and purchased a bird of quality with feathers.  The purchase, like today would have been a princely sum.  The bird would then have been carefully skinned, with the skin being set aside and either salted or heavily sprinkled with cinnamon.  (Renfrow, pp. 572/Faas. Pp. 297) The body would have had iron skewers inserted into the body to give the proper curvatures while roasting on a spit.  (Scappi, pp. 207).  Once the body had finished cooking, the beak, feet and neck were gilded with gold or a flour paste colored with saffron.  (Craig, pp. 157).  This is if the bird were to be served whole as a main display.

Other recipes called for roasting either in an oven or a spit, Sometimes even ground and formed into patties. (Faas/Craig/Scappie/Renfrow)  This noble fowl was not just a one trick show peacock.

Modernly, I had to improvise throughout the whole cooking process.  The first issue being I could not get my hands on a reasonably priced peacock fully grown with feathers.  This required a substituted bird of good flavor and modest pricing.  Duck to the rescue!  Using store bought duck (not even the farmer markets in Austin carried ducks with skin and feathers attached).  Next not having a spit or a wood fired oven, I had to resort to a gas powered oven.  The no neck and head negated the need for spits though I have used wooden skewers in test cooking to give the ducks with heads a more lively appearance.  They came out of the oven, not smiling…more screaming as the muscles around their mouth contracted opening their beaks and causing the tongue to extrude.  At this point I decided that was far more realistic then any one should have to see and attempt to eat and went for the headless option.  In period, I am sure the peacock’s beak would have been wound shut with wire or strong linen threads.

The body display differences came from not having a fresh peacock skin but one that had been preserved for display.  The skin I had purchased was not a full skin, just the back and wings with only partial neck.  This negated any attempted to actually dress up a duck like a peacock.  The preserved skin would have been damaged and the duck would have tasted horrible!  Instead I decided to enlist a description of how Romans found the peacock display a beautiful center piece.  So much so that they would mummify the bird and the “handlers” would take the bird from banquet to banquet as a non-edible center piece.  (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38) I purchased body parts in plastic molding.  In period a mold would have been carved from wood, possibly wax or even stone (though to be honest they might have rented the mummified bird instead of throwing a skin over a form as quicker and cheaper.  I say this after having built, glued and gilded one preformed form).  The gilding I have is in sheets of non-edible gild (a cost issue of faux gold vs. real gold).  I could have used the period flour and saffron.  Yet neither my faux gild nor the flour faux gild sheets looked good.  So I went with the faux gold paint.  There was gold gild paint seen in manuscripts, again a cost issue if I had been able to buy the real gold gild, hence faux gold gild.

The actual food ingredients were as period as possible i.e. organic where possible.  The dishes used to cook the birds in were as period as possible in ceramic/pottery roasting dishes.

To have done this in a truly period manner, I would have needed to access to a market with peacocks in season, raise my own bird(s), have a wood fired oven.  The metal spits could have been optional depending on which recipe I decided to serve.  Modern substitutes were done when period items could not be obtained.


This work represents a desire to attempt an in period impressive dinner subtlety, something that is not seen at most feasts in the modern world.  I spent more time attempting to find peacocks at a reasonable price and already slaughtered, than revising my ideas to a more modest approach of buying a skin and working from a different angle with an affordable dark meat bird.

What I have found is that unlike a stuffed Boar’s Head, peacocks are hard to find at a reasonable price and buying just a skin whole or partial is still pricy and difficult to find.  Once purchased, a live bird would need a very strong coop to keep out the opossums, raccoons and foxes that roam my back yard, which I do not own, as well as feed…  The final hurdle in purchasing a live bird was that while I could have purchased the bird to skin and dress, I lack even the most basic skills that would have been necessary to skin and dress a bird in period fashion.

While this project was not as time intensive in the area of cooking as building a period castle subtlety, the search for an acceptable meat, again within price range, took several mental gear shifts.

I have enjoyed almost every step, immersing myself in the various techniques for raising, cooking and dressing a peacock in various period ways.  This project has given me both great enjoyment and horrifying nightmares.  I am not sure if I would attempt this again.  I think I would want to wait another year to forget about some of the more harrowing minute details that were overlooked, unexpected or completely out of left field.  I would have to say this project is not for the faint of heart.  Each person has to know their limitations ability wise, in and out of the kitchen.  I feel that I have risen to the challenge for a rare cooking research project in both perspective and display.



Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook. Andre Deutsch Limited, London.


Damerow, G., (2010). Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing.


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


Giacosa, I., (1994).  A taste of Ancient Rome. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Good man of Paris.(1395). Le Managier De Paris.


Refrow, C., (1998). Take a Thousand Eggs or More.


Scappi, B., (2008). The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). University of Toronto Press Incorporated 2008.


Taillevent. (1989) le Viandier de Taillevent. 14th Century Cookery. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.


Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barns & Noble Inc.


The Viandier of Taillevent , ed. Terence Scully,(University of Ottawa Press, 1988).  As present by and by Patrick Martins, nyu


 Peacock Breed Information.

The Indian peafowl is a part of the pheasant family with the Latin name Pavo Crisatus.  They are native to Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and the Himalayas where they are considered an ornamental bird and not wild or a game type of bird. ( The Indian peafowl has iridescent green or blue-green colored plumage and an upright crest.  There is also the Green Peafowl, Pavo Muticus, that ranges from Burma to Java.  There is also the Congo Peafowl, Afropavo Congensis. (Wikipedia).   White peafowl do occur in nature but are rarely seen due to lack of survival coloration. (

This august bird traveled from India to the Middle East, from Alexandria to Greece and Rome.  From the Mediterranean the peafowl traveled upwards into Europe.  (anglefire)  Here the bird was reared and considered not a game bird, even though it was imported, rather a domesticated fowl that went straight to the lords table. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 83)

The peacock, unlike the chicken, was not a common bird.  (  Unlike the chicken a peahen will only lay 3-9 eggs a year while a single chicken could lay up to 200 eggs each year.  (Damerow).  This cuts down on the number of chicks born and raised to maturity in any given clutch or year.  Low numbers with great beauty, much like gold or rubies, raises the price of the peacock out of the common man’s reach.  This scarcity of peacocks, caused the pricing to be such that only nobility could afford such a rare beauty for their yard or table.  This holds true in modern times as well.  The peacock is, to this day, raised sparingly and only by dedicated lovers and breeders of this beautiful bird, raising the price beyond the grasp of the casual observer.


 An Historic Overview.

There are various mythologies associated with the peacock. Such myths include stories of their magnificent round tails with the many seeing “eyes” for the Greek goddess Hera.  There were myths about the peacock and the Roman Goddess Juno as well as the guardians of paradise from Islamic folklore.  (anglefire)








Several other mythic symbolisms are the psychic duality of man with peacocks standing on either side of the tree of life for the Persians.  Peacocks represented in Christianity’s mythos of the soul in Medieval Europe as immortality and incorruptibility to some sects.  (Khandro)



August 22, 2013 | No comments


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

Art print of Red Jungle Fowl Chicken Rooster and Hen by Watts

Art print of Red Jungle Fowl Chicken Rooster and Hen by Watts (

Chickens in Period:

A Fowl Historic Research Paper


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke


The modern view of the chicken, for non raisers/breeders in America, is that of a white fluffy feathered yellow skinned tasty bird that produces eggs in either a white shell or a brown shell.  In period this vestal tasty treat was not as it is today.  In period the chicken went from wild fowl to tamed provider of eggs, meat and entertainment.  Not to mention buying of elicited favors and imparting designs of gods.  The humble chicken has gone through a few transformations along the way to the table. 

First came the Chicken, Origins:

Our (humans) fowl love affair started many millennia ago.  The genealogical start of the humble chicken is thought to be between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago.  The chicken, through DNA analysis, has been back tracked to the red jungle fowl, Gallus gallus. (Adler/Damerow, pp. 9) in north-central India, Southeast Asia and west-central Thailand (Collias) as the primary DNA domestication start.

A modern day pair of Red Jungle Fowl.

Red Jungle Fowl Chicken Rooster and Hen

Luckily for us, the red jungle fowl is not the only DNA in the chicken mix.  Chickens being the randy cross breeders they were, modern breeds also have a little bit of the grey jungle fowl in their mix. (Uppsala Universitet).

Grey jungle fowl


Adler writes

“The domesticated chicken has a genealogy as complicated as the Tudors, stretching back 7,000 to 10,000 years and involving, according to recent research, at least two wild progenitors and possibly more than one event of initial domestication…The chicken’s wild progenitor is the red junglefowl, Gallus gallus, according to a theory advanced by Charles Darwin and recently confirmed by DNA analysis. The bird’s resemblance to modern chickens is manifest in the male’s red wattles and comb, the spur he uses to fight and his cock-a-doodle-doo mating call. The dun-colored females brood eggs and cluck just like barnyard chickens…which stretches from northeastern India to the Philippines, G. gallus browses on the forest floor for insects, seeds and fruit, and flies up to nest in the trees at night. That’s about as much flying as it can manage, a trait that had obvious appeal to humans seeking to capture and raise it…”
Next comes the egg, Mass production style:

This part gets a little muddled.  Both the Egyptians and the Romans claim to have cracked the secret for raising large numbers of chickens through closely guarded secret of slave powered incubators.  (Adler/Toussaint-Samat, pp. 336).  This was needed to feed the growing appetite for chickens in such quantities that farms with large flocks up to 200 could not produce enough chickens in these hungry times. (Columella)

Here is a view of an ancient Egyptian hatchery (still functioning today).

The incubators are heated by fire, sunlight or oil lamps.  Van der Sluis tells how the master incubator can tell by touching an egg to the eye lid whether the egg is at the perfect temperature, too hot or too cold and adjust accordingly.

Ventilation is controlled by using doors, curtains and a chimney at the top of each incubator cell.

“Like most of the ancient hatcheries this one has a central corridor with on each side five cells. Each cell has two levels where there is place for 10,000 eggs on each. The levels are connected by a manhole in the middle of the upper cell floor. From the central corridor one has access to both the levels. The openings are used to enter the room when placing eggs, moving the eggs and taking out the chicks, as well as for managing the temperature and ventilation.” (van der Sluis)

This particular hatchery has a max 200,000 egg capacity, with each egg being placed and rotated by hand several times a day.  There is a 40,000 egg entry/rotation every week with roughly 32,000 chicks hatched per week.  There is minimal egg loss between 10 and 13%.   Per Damerow, pp. 297, modern day incubation loss is roughly around 25%.  A 12-15% difference in loss is huge, especially depending on the type of egg being incubated as some chickens or other brooding fowl lay rarely i.e. peacocks (3-28 eggs per avian specialists/ or the very rare in chicken breeds i.e. Yokohamas, Saipan Jungle Fowl, Phoenix etc. ( These are not the only rare types to be found but their egg production is listed as “poor”.  Losing 25% of the only 10 eggs one bird will produce is a poor return.

The difference for the lack in lose of eggs seems to be from the personal touch, with generations and years of training by each person working minutely with each egg till hatching.  The man made mechanics with out human intervention, other then the first inclusion of egg, is left to the vagaries of nature interacting with the mechanical.

Feather Raising; Suggested Raising Techniques in period:

The best period raising advice seems to come from Columella (thecoolchickenreturns).  He suggests a feed on groats, chick-peas, millet and bran (if they are cheap).  Wheat should not be fed to the birds as it is harmful. Boiled rye grass with alfalfa (seeds and leaves) are good bites of fodder. While Columella does suggest vetch, Damerow (modern) states that vetch is down right harmful if ingested.  The feeding of vetch seems to be an on going discussion still between chicken raisers of safe or not safe from the various comments on chicken raisers boards.

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)  Dwarf chickens, Columella continues, have no other advantage then that of being pretty.  White chickens are too easily visible by eagles and goshawks so should be avoided.

Thirdly Columella’s advice on the size of a flock is that of 200.  This he says is the ideal number for which one person can maintain while watching for wild animals bent on sampling the tasty strays.  There should be no more then five hens to one cock but for Rhodian and Median cocks, three hens are the ideal number due to the heaviness of the cocks and their decided lack of interest in sex.  Even in Roman times it is noted that heavy chickens are less likely to tend toward broodiness so eggs should be removed from the heavier breeds and given to the more standard sized hen.  This standard hen should be able to brood over 15-23 eggs at a time and should it be needed could watch up to 30 chicks.

Damerow discuss how modern smaller breeds such as Bantams are more apt to brood eggs of other chickens, such as the heavier types of fowl whose breeding makes it either harder for them to breed or all broodiness has been breed out of them in preference for quality of growth for meat.  Damerow does not say if this technique is common chicken knowledge passed from generation to generation or a newly discovered technique (i.e. with in the last 100 years).

When a chicken is neither Fowl nor Fish:

“Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.”

(Athenian General Themistocles/Adler).

The Greeks liked to use chickens for game cocks. (Adler)  A sport that is still around in modern times.

The Romans used chickens as presents to seduce young boys. (Faas, pp. 294)


“I had another chance the following night.  I changed my voice and whispered. ‘If I am allowed to touch this boy unashamedly with my hands without it troubling him, tomorrow I will give him two of the best fighting cocks.’ (Petr, 86)


I think I can safely say that this would be unusual way to seduce a younger man to bed by most modern standards.  This may or may not be the original term for “chicken hawk”.

Romans also used the chicken for predicting the future by sacrificing them to the gods or reading divine will through every day habits.  The chickens divined the future by flying “ex avibus” and when feeding “auspicium ex tripudiis”.  It was also thought that when a chicken appeared on the left that this was a favorable omen “auspicium ratum”. ( Chicken mongers would set up their shops next to temples for ease of divination or dinner purposes.  The way a chicken ate, did not eat, or spilled grain while eating would purportedly tell the priest the petitioners’ fate.

One very famous report of chicken divination was when:

“In 249 BC, the Roman general Publius Claudius Pulcher had his chickens thrown overboard when they refused to feed before the battle of Drepana, saying “If they won’t eat, perhaps they will drink.” He promptly lost the battle against the Carthaginians and 93 Roman ships were sunk. Back in Rome, he was tried for impiety and heavily fined.” (thecoolchickentreturns).

Toussant-Samat, pp. 336, has this same account however the good general was killed by Hannibal after throwing the chickens overboard as an impious action, instead of being fined in Rome and tried for impiety.  Publius throwing the chickens into the sea cost him more than if he had disengaged when the chickens refused to validate his battle plans.

Period Poultry Pedigree:
In 1863 Charles Darwin published an inventory of the all chicken breeds existing at that time.  He counted 13 breeds. (Fairoakspark/Damerow).  Darwin may have been following the definition of breed: A group of organisms having common ancestors and certain distinguishable characteristics, especially a group with in a species developed by artificial selection and maintained by controlled propagation. (thefreedictionary).  However it is debatable if he managed to see all breeds in all countries, leaving a wide swath of poultry left un-cataloged.  Today there are over 130+ (

Period chickens for cooking would be the following.  Per wiki, the English Game Fowl is one of the oldest strains of poultry breeds.  This breed is also used for fighting not just for eating or egg production, giving this breed a duel purpose to a breeder for extra income.  (  While this bird is not fat and usually runs about 4-6 lbs depending on the sex, Old English Game chickens can be considered a period breed for cooking.  (cacklehatchery).

Note the chicken hanging in the back ground.  This is an English game fowl (rooster) in the back ground.  A modern picture of the same type of bird is such.

The modern picture is not a perfect representation of the stylized period painting cock.  This is a best estimate on a type of English game fowl out of the modern descendents.

Unless a person wants to spend $600 for a show bird, one of the easier ways to procure such a period type of bird is to raise from a chick.  This is not a common walk into a market and purchase type of bird for cooking.

Period Chinese cooking would use a type of chicken called a Silkie.  The Silkie is listed by Marco Polo on his voyage in the 13th century and again in 1599 by Ulise Aldrovandi for the University of Bologna, Italy. (  This chicken is a very fluffy small bird with black skin.

I am sure there is a period painting of a bucolic farm with period tasty fluffy chickens in the Chinese style.  My web search provided 1910 artistic renditions but nothing in period.  I found horses, mountains, and cranes, but nothing as lowly as a chicken.

This tasty bird is common and available in Chinese markets.  I have never seen this type of poultry freshly wrapped but I have seen this type in the frozen meat sections, feathers off and black skin nude, wrapped in clear plastic for the entire world (or those in the poultry freezer section) to see.

For period Italian cooking, the Sicilian Buttercup would do.  A chicken with similar qualities is listed by Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1600.  This bird is thought to be the result of the interbreeding of a local Sicilian breed with a rose-combed Berbera from North Africa or a Tripolitana.  The actual standard for the Sicilian Buttercup would not be noted as a type until 1892 when the first actual breeder, Carroll Loring of Dedham, would list the bird as the Sicilian Buttercup. (

File:Gallus turcicus.jpg

Though the image presented in Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1550’s) does not much correlate to the drawing by Ulisee Aldrovandi in the same time period.  I am going to refer back to the comments by Columella, where he talks on different breeds, which were listed by the name of the city the poultry came from.  Each city or region had a distinctive type of bird.

The modern day Sicilian Buttercup looks like this.

Thank you Cackle Hatchery for our Buttercup chickens we got from you in 2008.  They love to hang out on our deck.  Christy, Prairie Grove, AR.

The modern day version looks more like the Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted rooster then the rooster in watercolor by Ulisee Aldrovandi.  This Sicilian Buttercup is not a common bird in the states but must be raised by back yard devotees.

A period Middle Eastern chicken breed would be the Orloff.  Per wikipidea, this bird, through modern research (DNA and bone fragments) first appeared in Persia then found its way into the wilds of Russia. (  In Russia the Orloff was such a hit and so prolific that the bird was assumed to have started there.  This is an extremely hard bird to find in west due to lack of interest.  This type of chicken though is rar(ish).  The status for the bird is listed as critical due to lack of breeding interest by commercial breeders and back yard breeders.  Nor will the chicks or chickens be found under the name Persian Orloff, rather they will be listed as the Russian Orloff. (

Russian Orloff in winter.jpg

Period painting of poultry either for the Persian variety or the Russian variety were unavailable.

Another Middle Eastern period chicken would be the Sultan. This breed’s point of origin is Turkey.  The documentation of English, Italian or translation from either the Persian empire or the Ottoman Empire commenting on period Middle Eastern types of poultry.  We have to rely on Wikipedia for the information that the name is Seari-Tavuk or Fowls of the Sultan.  These birds were kept by the Ottoman sultanate as ornaments for the palace gardens and grounds. (  The birds do reach a weight for cooking between 4-5 lbs depending on sex.  The Turkish is also listed in critical though these too can be bought as chicks for the back yard poulterist.

File:Maltipoo hen?.jpg

These are by no means the only period chickens available.  The availability to walk into a grocery store is severely limited for period chicken types though.  From the research available most period breeds need to be raised in the back yard or paid dearly for.  This leaves cooks wishing to do period dishes with only a few options.  Pay dearly for prime period meat, hope for good zoning rules to raise period types in the back yard or substitute the modern chicken, raised for mass production, while noting which period breeds would be used in their dish.


In period chickens were more than just meat.  When the chicken was a meat source, for non farmers, they were an expensive treat.  The farmer kept what he needed to eat and continue producing chickens, while he sent what was left over into town to sell.  (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 344).   They were oracles for telling outcomes of luck and battle.  They were used for bartering in sexual favors.

I was disappointed to not find a reference to the first civilization actually taking credit for taming the red jungle fowl and their progeny.  I would like to have seen a genealogical flow chart just for visuals.

I also found the discussion in ancient text about turning rooster chicks into capons (neutered chicks) rather disappointing.  Columella writes that the way to turn a rooster into a capon is to burn out a rooster chicks spur with a hot iron then treat the wounds with potters chalk.  (thecoolchickenreturns).  From what I have read and studying of anatomy of chickens, the spurs are used as fighting weapons while the actual testes are located along the spine, slightly above the legs and slightly below/between the bottom ribs. (Damerow, pp. 363-364).  Per the reading, both testicles need to be removed in tact other wise even the smallest portion will re-grow, flooding the rooster chick with testosterone rendering the supposed capon into a rooster.

The other method written by Varr. III-ix, was to take a cock and hold a red-hot iron between the legs until it bursts, with the wound smeared in clay. (Faas, pp. 294).  I believe this is an error in translation.  If a cock were to be burst by a red hot poker then the only thing left to do is eat it.  Nothing survives a bursting.  However if the Romans were trying to burn out the actual roster organ, this still leaves the testacies intact to produce testosterone.  This just leaves a rooster unable to breed and all the desire to do so.

I found little reference to types of hen houses used by the Romans, Persians, Turkish, or others.  I know that many breeds roosted in trees and were free range per the readings and that eggs were hatched in gigantic man made incubators.  However the actual chicken coop does not seem to be even a footnote in period.  This leads me to believe that any cooping of chickens was more of an after thought or perhaps guiding hens to lay and/or roost in existing animal shelters such as lofts and barns.

Overall I found the research to be both amusing and interesting.  I learned more about period chickens and their uses than I ever dreamed of.  I found myself far more curious about the types of chickens and what would be a suitable period breed or breeds for raising in Ansteorra to use in cooking.  This then led to the logical conclusion of where to find the chickens, how to acquire the type(s) needed, housing and feeding.  I believe that a good period cook knows where and how their ingredients were raised or grown.  This holds true for the meat used and not just accept that X Y or Z type of food is period.  I think the searching of why a food is period as well as what foods are period, give some one attempting period cooking, a better understanding of how foods were prepared and why perpetration were done in certain ways.  I also think striving for period foods gives a dish greater authenticity. However with that being said not all items are available due to logistics or sadly extinction for some items.


 Adler, J., Lawler, A.,. (2012):

Collias, N., Collias, E., (1967).

Damerow, G., (2010). Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.

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.

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

Van der Sluis, W., (2011). s



Roman Cooking


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke


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, some times 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 tle.  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 non standard 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, some times 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 can not 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 then 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.

reclining at dinner



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 some times 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.  (copper or silver?)   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 then 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 some times costly, in the Roman market places.  It is noted that citrus was not available, other then 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 either 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 some thing 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.



            Wine from the vine has a fragrance like nectar;

Wine from barley stinks like a goat.

Wine from the fine comes from Bacchus,

Son of the goddess Semele;

Wine from barley comes from bread. (Herkotz, pg 192)

Wine seems to be considered divine and any dinner great or small would have been a disaster with out this beverage on hand.  Wine was generally very strong, there for it was the responsibility of the wine steward of the epoch, the cellarius, to cut the wine in a 1:3 ratio.  The wine steward would heat or cool the wine, depending on the season.  This person would use an autheps, over a small stove of embers, which had a filter at the top to collect any sediment as it was decanted into drinking vessels.  The cellarius would also add fennel seeds or other seeds with fragrance to give the wine a distinctive flavor or character.  (Giacosa, pp. 193)

Wine was also distinguished between sweet and dry as well as by color, though wines by color were not as easily noted by today’s scholar.  Wines were not mentioned by color so much as by region even with Pliny’s dedication to the four color ideal.  (Faas, pp. 114-116)

While it was ok to dilute wine for drinking it was not ok to dilute wine to stretch or thin wine out beyond the 3 measures of water to one measure of wine.  It seems it was also a common practice to cut bad wine with good. Pliny does not agree with this nor with the diluting of wines with honey.  Pliney and Columella disagreed on what types of wine should be mixed with honey.  Columella preferred adding honey during the process while Pliny thought only dry wine should mixed with honey as ‘sweet wine does not mix well with honey’ (Plin. N.H. XXII-24-53) (Giacosa/Faas, pp. 117-120) Another theory offered on why wine was watered was that sensible citizens did not appear drunk in public or at a guests home.  (Grant, pp. 18)

Other drinks included Aperitif (Mulsum) a digestive aid to which honey was added to. Mead (aqua mulsa) was not deemed as noble as wine but still preferred to nothing.  Sweet wines (assume) is raison wine in which no honey is added.

“Collect the first fully ripened grapes.  Remove any mildewed or damaged fruits…once the grapes have dried out, remove the stalks and put htem in a wine vessel.  Pour the best possible must over them, so that the grapes are completely covered.  If they are saturated by the sixth day, put them in a pasket, and press them in a winepress to extract the passum. (Col. R.R. XII. 39/Faas, pp. 120-121)

Lora is the wine of slaves.  This is made from the leftover grape pulp, from the first pressing of wine, and water then pressed again. (Faas, pp. 121)

The next few items are not wines but can be alcoholic or not.  Syrups, also known as defrutum, caroenum and sapa, fall into this category.  The drink was considered cheap and not as good as wine.  Some thing only the poor or slaves would drink.  Beer was valued by Pliny for the yeast in it’s foam but not for the actual drink.  “Beer-Foam is used by women for cosmetic purposes (Plin. N.H. XXII-164/Faas, pp. 122.) Alica, is similar to Russian Kvass as that it is made from grain (ground spelt) and water.  The alcohol content is light.  Posca is similar to the Persian mint drink sakanjaba.  Vinegar, with spices and honey, were carried by travelers then diluted when water was found for both refreshment and disinfectant (if the water was unreliable). (Faas, pp. 122)

Research materials:

There are a consortium of books used for research and redaction in this project.  These books include the Roman Cookery, by Grant, which deals with a broader range of recipes and a translation from Latin. This book brings us recipes from Anthimus, Pliny, and Aristophanes, giving a wider look then just at an Apicus translation.  This work is not what I would consider a primary reference, for period Roman cooking, as there is no original recipe in Latin just a translation and his own redaction. Even though I would consider Roman Cookery a non primary source, the book does give some excellent cooking pointers for other translations as well as quotes from original transcripts.

A second book is by Giacosa called A Taste of Ancient Rome, who brings us the translated recipes from the noted Apicius and other Roman cooks.  This book provides not only the Latin version of the recipe but also translations of these recipes into modern English.  Giacosa, like Grant gives us a wonderful window into the kitchen and banquets thrown with these Roman cooks, who delighted in finding good foods for their guests as well as a wide variety in ways to prepare.  Many of the recipes in this book are written from the Roman authors own observations at the table, through dining trends to the writing of plebian characters working in their kitchen.

Another book used, is The Roman Cookery Book by B. Flower and E. Rosenbaum offering another translation of Apicius’ works.  This book has many recipes that were translated from two ninth century manuscripts with the original recipes in Latin.  This book I believe is closer to an actual working manuscript or cook book that would have been passed down from one Roman household to another as a “must have”.

Included in this research is another book, which is a treasure trove of dinning, recipes and other tidbits of information, Around the Roman Table by P. Faas.  The recipes are with the original Latin and an English translation.  Though Faas does include his own renditions to these recipes, they can be ignored for a more personalized redaction.  Nothing in Roman cooking is set in stone.

And not to be forgotten the book Apicius. Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome.  This book is the translated works of Apicius himself and the basis for many other translated books on Roman cooking.  This is very insightful of the Roman nobleman and the cooks in their employ.  This book is very bare bones and unless one is very familiar with a kitchen and spicing, I would not recommended this book for a beginner.

These works and those of Apicius’ do not describe, usually, in great detail how much of any one thing is actually used for each recipe.  It is theorized that this was because the reader should be able to use good judgment on the amounts necessary to make a dish palatable.  Apicius’ book just assumes that one has good servants or that one is familiar with the kitchen and is able to fully understand what his intent was from any recipe written.  While Faas, Grant and Giacosa have gone the extra step and have added to their book measurements for the translated recipes, the recipes from The Roman Cookery Book assume one already is an experienced cook and should be able to divine the measurement of ingredients necessary for an exceptional dish.

Dinner Menus:

Per Giacosa, Grant, Flower, and Faas, the Roman dinner menu consisted of several parts.  Giacosa describes the three main sections of a meal.  The first was called Gustum, which would have been similar to our appetizers.  These appetizers ranged from simple fruits and vegetables to the more ornate and popular dish of dormice.  The second course is Mensa Prima, or the mid courses, which is based on domestic meats, games in season and availability.  These center courses ranged any where from two to seven dishes and the host’s desire and his ability to impress his guests with his table’s rich variety of items.  The third and final course was called Mensa Secunda.  This final portion of the meal usually was of fruits, sweets and cheeses; however salty dishes such as sausages and mollusks were also noted as being served in this final course.

A normal family dinner was certainly less rich in the offered fare when guests were not present. “The usual family dinner certainly consisted of items similar to those we still consume, with perhaps hot soup in the winter, some cheese, eggs, fruit, and a bit of meat on the tables of those who could afford it.” (Giacosa, pg 204).  With our variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables that are available year round this increases choices for variety; however I have based this menu on four winter menus with dishes I thought would be interesting to serve.

Faas writes that there were more then just three sections to a menu, more like seven that could take a dinner from dusk till dawn in dinning experiences. (pp. 77)

Lustratio = washing


1) Promulsis = aperitifs (tapas): consisting of oyters, marinated octopus, vegetables, wild mushrooms, ham, bacon and the star of this portion salted fish. Vermouth, spiced wine, mead or mulsum were traditionally poured and passed around in a communal drinking bowl as an aid to digestion. (Faas, pp. 78)

Here Faas writes from Petr. 33 describing on promulsis.


“On the promulsis table stood a bronze Corinthian donkey with two baskets on it’s back, black olives on one side, green on the other.  Two plates stood against the donkey….Little bridges welded to these plates contained dormice in honey and poppy-seed.  There were also sausages on a sliver grill, and beneth that plums and pomegranate seeds…”


2) Gustatio  = starters (hors d’oeuvres) olives (green and or black) bread eggs.


“While we were still enjoying our gustatio a repositorium was brought with a basket upon it.  This contained a wooden hen…pulled out peacock eggs….We piereced the ggs, which were made of pastry….and found a fat little fig-pecker in peppered egg yolk.” (Petr.33/Faas, pp. 79)


3) Mensa Prima; cena prima = first main course (prima piatto) hearty soup with vegetables and boiled meat, a plain puls or a dish of legumes, pasta. (pp. 77, 79)


4) Mensa Prima; cena altera = second main course (secondo piatto) a more refined main course,…consistent of vegetables with meat, meatballs, ham.


“…a deep, circular dish, with twelve signs of the zodiac around the rim. Over each constellation there was food related to the sign. Over Aries there were ‘ram’ peas (cicer arietinum), over Taurus a piece of beef…As we stared rather disconsolately on this substandard fare, Trimalchio said, ‘Now let’s have dinner.’…removed the top of the bowl and revealed beneath it plump game, delicious sow’s udders and a roast hare with wings fastened to it’s back, making it look like Pegasus…” (Petr. 35/Faas, pp. 80-81).


Lustratio =  washing


5) Mensa Secunda = desserts with wine. Fruit (fresh or dried), nuts, honey and curd cheese.


Some times the order of dishes were reversed.

“…An attempt was made ot render them more attractive by serving increasingly exotic recipes.  The normal sequence of dishes was reversed.  The meal started with dishes that are normally offered when people are leaving.” (Sen, Ep ad Luc, XIX-114/Faas, pp. 81)


Humor was always in fashion, especially for the dessert course.


“A tray with some cakes had been brought in…a pastry figure of Priapus, with all kinds of fruit and grapes in his lap…When we reached out our hands for the fruit, our jollity began all over again.  At the slightest touch, all the fruit and cakes began to squirt saffron….” (Petr. 60/Faas, pp. 82)


Priapus is written here as the god of garden plants, fruit trees and fertility, some times with the god of wine.  He is shown or symbolized with an overly large penis, when not in statue form. (Faas, pp. 82-83)


6) Comissatio = carousal with snacks. This seemed to be an after dinner aspect or even a party on it’s own merit.  Lots of drinks and finger foods.

7) Vesperna = supper during the middle of the night (no foods listed though one might suspect that what had been served earlier may have made a second reappearance or perhaps a slightly less grand set of main courses were set out for those who were still up and drinking during the wee hours of the morning).


Lustratio = washing

Besides being great devotees to food and parties, the Romans seemed to enjoy washing hands and face between courses.



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.

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













Coffee in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyons O’Rourke

Coffee is thought to be a new world indulgence in many areas.  This is not the case.  Coffee is recognized through various historic depictions, stories, art work and artifacts, as being a period Middle Eastern drink.  Coffee is a period beverage first used in the jungles of Ethiopia then acquired by traders and introduced into the Middle East by the 10th century and widely used by the 15th century.

Coffee the Plant:

The coffee plant is of the Genus Coffea.  The description is an evergreen bush from which the seeds (also known as berries, cherries or beans) are the prized fruit of the bush.  The main species being C. Arabica and Coffea canephora with lesser species being liberica, excelsa, stenophylla, mauritiana and racemosa. (Wikipedia).  The common thought on the origin of the coffee plant, is that Ethiopia is the main starting point.  From Ethiopia, where the plant was used as a food source as well as beverage (Boot), the coffee bean made a tradable commodity.  The plant was, and still is, grown in forests, semi-forest conditions or in gardens. There are stories that coffee beans planted over the graves of sorcerers, kept the sorcerers from rising while still producing a potent tonic when drunk. (Boot).

Coffee the Rise of:

Coffee was known through Upper Egypt, Libya and drunk through out the Persian Empire noted by Abu ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna the prince of physicians, used coffee as a tonic under the name bunc  around the 10th century at first for stimulant effect first (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 581)  then as a main stream beverage in the 13th century.  (1902 Encyclopedia).  Bunc also known as bunn was thought to referd to the seed (bean/berry) of the coffee tree while Qahwa refers to a brewed drink. (Hattox, pp. 16-7).  Coffee’s every day usage would be up for debate on the exact timing for general consumption due to the written works of physicians and folk lore.

Another source of literary work for mentioning of coffee is the book “The Arabian Nights”.  Coffee was not mentioned in the original 9th century hand written copies but first appeared in the drafts from the 15th century on when coffee became a more common drink.

“…ninth century of the Flight , or, which is nearly the same, the latter half of the fifteenth of our era: in the remaining portion, there are indications of a later date: and coffee is mentioned in a manner not to be mistaken, but had coffee long been common beverage it would doubtless have been mentioned frequently , from the general disregard of historical accuracy manifested throughout the work;…the work must have been completed before the middle of the tenth century of the Flight, whether the mention of the coffee be attributable to the copyist or not.” (Lane).

Though Edward Lane cites the work as showing coffee mentioned in the late 15th century in the Arabian Nights, the first printed edition of the Arabian Nights circa 1814 (as opposed to the hand written versions compiled before hand) coffee was mentioned and point to usage in the 13th century. (1902encycolpedia).

However there is an insert of a tale by Jaziri (owner of a coffee house in Mecca) concerning the introduction to coffee, by a noted jurist Al-Dhabhani some time in the mid 14th century as the person who did introduce coffee to the Near East..  Jaziri’s words were written down by Ibn ‘Abd al Ghaffar who reported that the vagueness of the story left him (Ibn ‘Abd al Ghaffar) with questions un answered as Al-Dhabhani died in 1470.  (Hattox, pp. 14-15, 31-32)  The transcript may have raised questions to the validity of the “first” person but the issue of coffee being noted at this time line is some what established as a potential.

The exact date of popularity is in question.  Part of the issue is that the historical writing of the time wrote about land mark events such as the chronicling the death of very notable people (Kings, nobles, generals), uprisings, plagues coups d’état and invasions.  (Hattox, p11.) This limits the every day to day notation as more of a foot note, to be hunted down by research scholars comparing dusty tombs in ill lit libraries for a potential date.  Not always accurate for the small things but good to know when the king dies and his son’s fight over the throne and a plague of locust appear. Hence the 150 year difference between mid 13th century and the early 15th century guestimation that is made when referencing when coffee became a primary drink.

Coffee the Migration:

The movement of coffee seems to have been in Ethiopia and then moved to the Arabian peninsula, via Sufi monasteries, migrating north then across the Mediterranean Sea. This movement followed trade but not the exact route of the Silk Road. (Anonymous,  Which is only a partial reason the French didn’t invent the coffee press in the late 15th century as opposed to the late 1800s to early 1900s. (

Coffee’s consumption seems to have been driven by several things.  The first being a very strong effect of vibrancy, known as caffination which increased attention, memory performance, intraocular pressure, physical performance, muscular recovery (Wikipedia).  The second is a strong northerly push from Ethiopia into the Middle East for a tradable commodity that brought in an exchange of goods and services to the region.  Another factor was that wine was being banned for those who worshipped Islam.

“Believers, wine and games of chance, idols and divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan.  Avoid them so that you may prosper.  Satan seeks to stir up enmity and hatred among you by means of wind and gambling and to keep you form the Remembrance of Allah and from your prayers.  Will you not abstain from them? Sura 5:92 (Batmanglij, p. 39).

With alcohol being forbidden to true believers, except for heavily taxed wines available for the Jews and Christians, (Batmanglij, p. 38) coffee became the next communal drink, taking over the former establishments that catered to those wishing wine for imbibing. Coffee houses became the new den of inequity.

“The patrons of the coffeehouse indulged in a variety of improper pastimes, ranging form gambling to involvement in irregular and criminally unorthodox sexual situations, and as such attracted the attention of those officials who were assigned the custodianship of public morality.” (Hattox, p. 6).

Yet for the controversy that coffee caused, debates ranged for years on the intoxicating effect of coffee and if coffee met the letter of the law for inebriation.  A simplistic but rather effective quote goes “…One drinks coffee with the name of the Lord on his lips, and stays awake, while the person who seeks wanton delight in intoxicants disregards the Lord, and gets drunk.” (Hattox, p. 59).


Coffee in the House:

Coffeehouses were considers venues of social gathering for men but also where chess, backgammon and eventually card games were played, some times for stakes.  These houses were also the places where speech was more free and some times seditious plans, so much so that the sultanate Murat IV the forth had the “meeting places of the people, and of mutinous soldiers” torn down under the guise of places of fire hazards. (Hattox, pp. 102)  This is, in many ways, much like today’s Denny’s and comic book stores (for gamers), or sports bars for non gamers and even some more upscale coffee shops where coffee, food alcohol can be had.

The gamut of coffee house types ran from the hole in the wall or even street vendor selling from rented cups to lavish buildings that “…All the cafes of Damascus are beautiful – lots of fountains, nearby rivers, tree-shaded spots, roses and other flowers; a cool, refreshing and pleasant spot.”.  (Hattox, p. 81.)

When story tellers were present the crowds could not all fit into one building so the patrons would spill out on to benches with mats for comfort.  Food was available at the entrance of the shops as it was believed coffee on an empty stomach was unhealthy. (Hattox, p. 67).  The coffee houses were scaled towards comfort and up scalability when ever possible to attract the most clientele as possible.

Coffee the Making of:

There were more then a few travelers, priests and scholars who wrote of coffee and the making of this popular drink. In Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Rise of the Coffeehouse, one of the period commenter’s is  Jaziri,  says of the descriptions and preparations of coffee  “…in the summer the Arabs use the husks, and in the winter the kernels of the bean, to benefit from the application of “cold” nature of the husks and in the summer, and the “hot” nature of the kernels in winter.”.  Another example is from Kha’ir  Beg “cooked from the husks of the seed called bunn that comes from Yemen”.  A third example would be that of the Jesuit priest who say “water boiled with the rind of the fruit which they call Bune.”  (Hattox, pp. 83-84)

The actual preparation was written by Niebhur as the bean was roasted, slightly pounded, then had boiling water poured over the grounds to produce a pleasant tea like beverage.  This type of coffee qahwa qishirya, with the flavoring of tea, is still served today in Yemen and tastes like an oddly spiced tea. (Hattox, p. 85).   Another way to serve coffee was to grind the beans finer then today’s espresso and gently simmer in water, so the grounds sink to the bottom.  The liquid is then transferred into another pot where the coffee is reheated then served. (Hattox. p. 87)

As for the actual roasting, no mention of a specific type of roasting pan was used.  Roasting was done in pans or tanjines and some times metal sheets. (Rodinson, p. 286)  I can see large metal sheets being used easier but these would have been very expensive at the time to acquire or for the less expensive route would be to use large flat bottomed shallow lipped clay pans.  The clay pans would be more susceptible for breakage but quicker and cheaper to replace.  There is at least one example of a coffee roasting pan looking very much like a wok.  I imagine that many different ways were tried for roasting coffee beans for a quick efficient and profitable turn around for roasted coffee vendors.

This image is not clear on how coffee was roasted on top of this roaster plate.


The First Coffee Roaster, About 1400



Both a mortar and a mill were used for grinding of the bean as well as the husk after being roasted.

Turkish Coffee Mill
A fine specimen in the Peter collection, United States National Museum


These methods were noted by the Flemish traveler Joannes Cotovicus. Though in later years, coffee millers took to the supplying of ground so that the individual coffee houses no longer had to worry about roasting and grinding their own coffee. (Hattox, pp. 85)

The coffee pot has been sketched as a squat round bodied pot “tinned inside and out” Hattox, pp. 86) with a narrow pouring spout and a side handle either sticking straight out or curved. Coffee was served in small cups as seen in the sketches provided by Hattox in Coffee and Coffeehouses, by both coffee houses and by street vendors.  Coffee cups “…were drunk from deep little dishes of earthenware or porcelain.” (Hattox, p. 86).  Coffee cups were never confused with wine cups as wine was served in cups made from glass and coffee was served in bowls of clay or porcelain.

Here are a few pictures from a 1660’s display from England for coffee grinding, roasting and serving.

Historical Relics in the Peter Collection, United States National Museum

1—Bagdad coffee-roasting pan and stirrer. 2—Iron mortar and pestle used for pounding coffee. 3—Coffee mill used by General and Mrs. Washington. 4—Coffee-roasting pan used at Mt. Vernon. 5—Bagdad coffee pot with crow-bill spout. (

Flavoring coffee with spices seems to differ from coffee house to coffee house or region to region. Some of the spicing listed was cardamom, mastic or ambergris.  Sugar was some times added, but not to the extent of modern day consumption. Milk was rarely if ever used, for fear of contracting leprosy. (Hattox, p. 67/83)

Coffee was poured thick, hot and with some coffee grounds (sediment) in each cup.  The coffee was sweetened to taste then consumed slowly in sips from the small cups instead of downed quickly as the modern day cup.

Coffee Redaction:

I bought 2 lbs of a green Ethiopian (un roasted) beans.  In period times, those living in the Middle East would have a slightly easier time buying coffee beans as opposed to those in France during the 1700s where knowing royalty was the only way a person could obtain coffee.  Coffee plants were grown in Louis XV’s glass house and he was generous only to a point with this rare and invigorating seed. (Toussaint-Samat, p. 585)

I started a fire with live oak hard wood in my grill.

Due to the drought conditions in Ansteorra, ground fires or stone pit ground fires were not allowed.  The types of wood available in the Middle East would have been Alder, Ash, Beech, Cherry, Hornbeam, Maple, Walnut and Oak. (

I allowed the fire to burn down to coals.

Once coal status had been achieved of the live oak wood, I placed an iron skillet over the coals.


The next step was to pour one pound of the green coffee beans into the hot skillet.

I was told to NOT oil the skillet but to allow the natural oils to roast the beans to the darkness desired.  I believe this was due to the potential flavoring of the beans in a unpleasant manner.

The beans were added and stirred so as to not burn but allowed to rest 1-2 minutes before stirring again.

First round.

Second round