Thursday, December 10, 2015

The New York Academy of Medicine Library, Cookbook Treasures and Queen Victoria's Turkey

New York Academy of Medicine, founded 1847, at 5th Avenue and 103rd since 1926

I was introduced to the New York Academy of Medicine a few weeks ago. It’s housed in an impressive Byzantine-ish building on 5th Avenue full of spacious rooms, a beautiful auditorium and a magnificent library full of some of history's greatest cookbooks.  Cookbooks in a medical library? I realized I knew absolutely nothing about this venerable institution and decided that had to change. 

The New York Academy of Medicine was formally begun in 1847. In an article by member D. Bryson Delavan written in 1926, I learned it was formed around 3 cardinal principals:

1. Cultivation and advancement of the science of medicine
2. Promotion of the character and honor of the profession
3. The elevation of the standards of medical education

The Academy didn’t find a home of its own until 1875 when they took over a house at 12 W 31st Street –– just in time too because members had begun donating their books for a library. By 1880 there were 25,000 books and periodicals and the services of a professional librarian were secured to properly handle the donations. For 50 years, the man responsible for the library was Mr. John S. Brownne. He came by it naturally, it seems –– his father Robert was the librarian of the New York Lyceum of Natural History (soon to become the Academy of Science).

Some books were given as enormous direct donations –– the collection of The New York Medical Journal, 23,000 volumes from a 100-year old collection of The New York Hospital and Dr. John Watson’s rare old books (beginning the library’s most excellent collection of incunabula) as well as other generous gifts of many member’s enviable medical libraries. Others were bought by the Academy. The market for “desirable accessions’ in medicine was sizzling at the end of the 19th century yet many prizes were won by the Academy’s deep pocketed members, wealthy friends and grateful patients.

Because of this, by 1926 the library had 239,505 books! Today it has around 550,000 as well as a formidable museum of medical objects (including a model for George Washington’s dentures and the 1600 BCE Edwin Smith papyrus – an ancient surgical document that contains the first use of the word brain). The New York Academy of Medicine moved into their beautiful building on 5th Avenue in 1926.

What about those cookbooks I teased you with? Last summer, a lovely lady named Kiri Oliver contacted me about coming for a visit and writing about a very particular collection at the library. You see, the Margaret Barclay Wilson Collection of Cookery is housed here and the collection was celebrated in a group of lectures this year, culminating in a marvelous all day celebration aptly titled Eating Through Time. Everyone from great food historian Ken Albala (talking about sex and food) to a Danish forager chef to Jacques Pepin discussing his life in food made for a great day (to get updates on events and for a fun read, subscribe to the NYAM blog -- they recently did a fine piece on the magnificently researched 19th century hospital drama, The Knick, on HBO). 

NYAM Rare Book Room 

NYAM Rare Book Room with the gorgeous restored cork floor

NYAM Rare Book Room

Robert Latou Dickenson sketch of Rare Book Room, 1933 

I snapped a few pictures of the books that were on display in the Coller Rare Book Reading Room during the event.

The Fulda Apicius

The Fulda Apicius 
On view at the exhibit in glass cases were some of the collection’s treasures including the earliest western cookbook -- 9th century Fulda copy of the centuries older recipes of Apicius (that I wrote about HERE – the other copy of the manuscript is in the Vatican library).

Scappi's Opera

I got to see Maestro Scappi’s beautiful L'Opera in person (that I wrote about HERE ). I was amazed at how SMALL it is –– it fits easily in your hand – maybe 5x8” (I always thought it was a giant book for some reason). There was Hannah Wooley’s 17th century masterpiece and Monsieur Emy’s 18th century book with recipes for ice cream (very new at the time) as well as an introductory sampling of the Library's precious collection of manuscript cookbooks.

I came back a few weeks later to peruse the collection with Librarian Arlene Shaner as my guide. She was incredibly patient with me as I worked though the 22 books I had requested (all visits are by appointment, you need to make a request of which books you wish to see a few days before the visit).

Some of my requests were chosen to see favorite books in person after being familiar with their online versions — it was great fun to leaf through both the 19th century’s giant tome, The Epicurean (that I wrote about HERE) and William May’s diminutive The Complete Cook —a 17th century gem (that I wrote about HERE and HERE –– I love his food!) .

Good Things from the Chafing Dish, Thomas J Murrey 

Others on my list were rare oddities. I pulled a handful of 1890’s chafing dish cookbooks skewed to male amateur chefs – it was an absolute craze in late 19th c NYC gentlemen’s clubs and I have wanted to learn more since first hearing of it (late night contests developed between chafing dish masters and the assembled group of club members would declare winners based on flavor and dramatic skill). 

A collection of choise receipts 1680-1700 

Gemel Book of Recipes 1660-1700

I also requested some volumes from their collection of 38 manuscript cookbooks since I have been interested in them for a long time.( I wrote about them HERE and HERE ). Rare they are indeed, since there is only one of each book, written mostly by the lady of house. These date from the 16th to 19th century, all written by hand (and in the case of the Choise Recipe book, gorgeously written) and cover everything from medicines to cure boils, to furniture polish to favorite recipes for cakes, jams, jellies and some savory dishes (I love these books –– I’m going to share some of their great recipes with you soon). Arlene kindly suggested a few more of the handwritten manuscript books when she saw that I was mad for them. There just wasn’t enough time to explore such a vast collection. It will take a few visits to get through so much rich material (the catalogue is online HERE).

A collection of choise receipts 1680-1700 listing many cures beginning with C (NYAM photo)

You may wonder what a library devoted to medicine is doing with a world-class cookbook collection?

Well, for one, food and medicine like food and perfume were thought of as related arts until fairly recently–– from the beginning of our history forward. Secondly, and most important for the library, member Margaret Barclay Wilson’s interests led her to amass a rather substantial collection of food-related books and papers which she donated to NYAM in 1929 (she was a professor of physiology and hygiene and ‘honorary librarian’ at Hunter College and felt cookery books were not respected as they should be ––  I agree,  they do flesh out their times in a sensual language we all can understand) .

Ephemera from Wilson collection (NYAM photo)

Wilson won a small bidding war over the Apicius in the 1920’s. It’s the crown jewel of her collection of early cooking masterpieces that included Scappi and Carême. Yet her 10,000 item bequest wasn't limited to classics, it also included restaurant menus and food company brochures of the early 20th century –– documents that were not much respected at the time.  Today we appreciate how much they reveal about the food styles and attitudes of their times. Wilson was not wealthy, but she left an endowment to insure the collection would be looked after properly and to allow for funding new acquisitions that would compliment the collection as they came up for sale - our Miss Wilson was a very forward thinking lady. The collection’s handwritten books have recently undergone a major conservation effort – they were cleaned and, when necessary, rebound under the auspices of the Pine Tree Foundation.

One of the books in the collection is Charles Elmé Francatelli’s The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant. Francatelli was a student of Carême, a chef at the Reform Club (that I wrote about HERE) and the Chef to Queen Victoria

I have wanted to make Queen Victoria’s turkey, Les Dindes rôties à la Chipolata, since I wrote about her Christmas dinner HERE. It is a simple dish, but full of luxurious touches (like the truffles!). I found the recipe tucked in his book. I had images of myself at the Queens table for a daydreaming minute or two but settled into a more practical reverie –– I was going to make this beauty. 

I haven’t made chestnut stuffing for years and thought it was time to do it again. The addition of the sausage (chipolatas are a small pork sausage) both in the dressing and on the outside as a garnish is a fine idea and you can either buy sausage or make it – if you don’t stuff it in casings it is as easy as could be and you know what’s going into it. I just made a bit extra for the garnish when I made the stuffing sausage. I did a Financiére sauce -light instead of a full out recipe.  If you want to go old school, there is a link to my Financiére sauce recipe-- just leave out some of the liquids as instructed.

This year, I had a beautiful D’Artagnan Heritage Breed Turkey. It was a frozen 15-pound beauty that looked absolutely fresh after a few days gentle thaw (I hear that’s the best way to do it). It cooked beautifully. I do have a turkey technique I have been using since I saw it in Gourmet Magazine many years ago. It involves butter and molasses and gives the turkey a beautiful mahogany glow and crisp skin yet leaves the turkey juicy and tender -- it may not be the one Francatelli used but then I don't have massive coal-burning ovens with 50 sauces bubbling away in a giant bain marie in my airplane hanger-sized kitchen either.

Make the turkey and you can say you are celebrating Christmas like a great English Queen!!

Turkey a la Chipolata

1 15 lb D’Artagnan Heritage Breed Turkey
1 recipe stuffing
1 recipe chipolata ragout
1 recipe turkey gravy

Place the turkey on your platter and tent for 20 minutes. Pour any accumulated juices into the gravy and dry around the turkey platter. Place the ragout around the platter with some of its sauce and garnish with fresh herbs. Serve with the gravy on the side.


1 15 lb D’Artagnan Heritage Breed Turkey
1 T soy sauce
2 T softened butter
3 C unsalted stock
½ c Rare Wine Company Charleston madeira
3 T softened butter
salt and pepper
1 T molasses
1 t red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 425º

Rub the Turkey with the 2 T butter and soy. Put a bit of butter under breast skin if you can. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and stuff with some of the stuffing and place on a rack. Truss if needs be and cover the wing tips with foil. Cook for 15 minutes and then turn heat down to 350º. Pour 1 cup of stock and some of the madeira into the bottom of the pan. Cook the turkey for 2 hours, basting frequently with the rest of the stock (make sure there is always a bit of liquid in the pan so it doesn't burn and ruin your gravy -- you can toss in a bit of water too. Combine the 3 T softened butter, molasses and red wine vinegar. Take the turkey from the oven and brush the molasses mixture all over the turkey. Cook for 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven, put on a platter and tent for 20 minutes.

Chestnut Sausage Stuffing

1 loaf peasant bread, cubed
1 pound sausage (from recipe or good herbed breakfast sausage
2 medium onions, chopped
4 -8 stalks celery, chopped (depending on size of stalk, some are green and small)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ c cup white wine
¼ c calvados or dry sherry
1 to 1½ cups chicken stock (depending on the bread, use what is needed to moisten the cubes.
2 sprigs parsley
*2 sprigs sage
*1 sprig rosemary
*1-2 t thyme or 4 sprigs, leaves removed
3/4 pound fresh shelled, cooked chestnuts from D’Artagnan (the weight of the nuts without shells)
1 T salt or to taste
Pepper to taste

Sauté the sausage till lightly browned, remove. Pour out some of the accumulated fat. Sauté the onion and celery and garlic until softened. Add the wine and 2 T of calvados and reduce to a glaze. Add 1 c of the stock and the herbs and toss in the bread cubes and reserved sausage and chestnuts. Add more stock as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the last of the calvados.

Stuff the turkey. Take any leftover stuffing and put in a dish. Cover with foil and cook for about 20 minutes at 375º

* some stores sell  a poultry selection of fresh herbs with a bit of everything in it... these are most economical.

Turkey Gravy

Turkey drippings
1 c heavy cream
¼ c flour
1 – 2 cups additional stock
½ c red wine
2 T  Rare Wine Company Charleston madeira
2 T calvados or cognac
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour off the drippings from the pan into a fat separator. Pour the drippings back into the pan, leaving most of the fat behind. Add some of the cream to the flour, making a slurry. Add this to the pan and stir till it thickens. Add the rest of the cream, scraping up any brown bits if you wish. Then add the stock and the liquor. Taste to see if it needs any seasoning. Serve with your turkey and dressing.

Herbed Pork Sausage

1 ¼ lb ground pork
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ t fennel, crushed
1sprig sage, leaved chopped
1 t dry thyme
2 -3 sprigs fresh marjoram, leaves chopped
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t mace
1/8 t cayenne
2 t salt
1 t pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and let the flavors meld overnight or at least a few hours.
Use most of the sausage for the stuffing. Reserve around ¼ lb to make small sausages for the ragout.

Chipolata Ragout

1 slice of bacon, chopped
¼ lb pork sausages whole or sliced
¼ lb mushrooms
1 or 2 truffles sliced (I used D’Artagnan whole summer truffles in a can  but they have fresh black truffles as well  or fresh white truffles for extra luxury
2-3 carrots, cut into long rounded pieces
6 small turnips, peeled and rounded
¼ lb cooked chestnuts from D’Artagnan
1 T D'Artagnan truffle butter
*1 T mushroom ketchup or soy sauce
*1 T Rare Wine Company Charleston madeira
*½ cup D’Artagnan duck-veal demi-glace
1 T calvados

Sauté the bacon until crisp and remove. Add the sausages and mushrooms a cook until done, set aside. Steam the carrots and turnips till done.

Warm the truffle butter. Add the mushroom ketchup, madeira and demi-glace. Cook until well combined. Add the sausages, mushrooms, carrots, turnips and toss to coat.

Add the calvados and place on the platter around the turkey.

*if you want to make Financiére, don't add the asterisked items and use about a cup of sauce. The recipe for the sauce is HERE and it can be made ahead and frozen in ½ c portions


Follow Me on Pinterest

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Personal History, Norman Roots and Pork with Calvados Apple Cream

Mont St. Michel, Normandy

This has been a rather tumultuous time for me. After finishing up the show I was working on, I drove back to Illinois to dispose of a house and its contents – vowing to take nothing home that wouldn’t fit in my little SUV.

It wasn’t just any house, but one I had known since I was 8 when my grandparents moved there from a larger house in another town to be closer to my mother. When my grandfather could no longer manage on his own, my parents sold their house and moved there where they remained until they died a few years ago. My brother was there after that.

I wasn’t always fond of the place. The house was a disappointment after my grandparent’s quirky Victorian with a turret, many parlors, a 2-story hall and a rose garden. My grandparent’s new house was built in the Craftsman style that was so popular in the teens and 1920’s in the Chicago area (it was built in ’22). Sears even sold kits to build Craftsman houses but this one was architect designed by a man named Eugene Malmer with lots of fun details. The Craftsman was a more manageable size for older people (even if it wasn’t as fun for kids with active imaginations). I never lived there, but the house grew on me during my visits -- it had an Arts and Crafts warmth to it.

Still, it wasn’t leaving the house that got to me –– it was leaving the history that was stored in the house. I just didn’t have room to take all the history. There were boxes and boxes of photos, dishes, hundreds of crocheted items, wool and silk ‘elephant ear’ and braided rugs that had all been made by hand as well as my grandfather’s Marshall Field roll-top desk and an empire dresser that had been made for my great grandfather among hundreds of other treasures. With no one to leave it to it all went to auction houses and a hastily arranged yard sale. All that family history was gone in a few days. I brought a few rugs, a few boxes of linens and photos with me and 4 boxes I sent back UPS, but the rest is gone. It made me think of how many houses’ collections I’ve rummaged through, trying to get the good bits for work or for myself. How many generations of things fly away, lost to the family forever?

Did the descendants feel as badly about letting it all go as I did? I felt like hundreds of years ended with me – that I sort of dropped the ball. When you think about it, it’s remarkable that any family collections stay together these days. We come and go, divorces, job changes – we just don’t stay put the way we used to or value these things the way we used to. We begin and end in just 2 generations. When was the last time you looked at your grandmother’s photo album?

We are all the sum of so many parts – yet our history is disappearing. We are losing our personal backstories.

One of the things that I found as I sifted through boxes was a small envelope with my grandfather’s family history scrawled on time-browned pages. There was mention of a Revolutionary War general and various family names that I’d remembered hearing about before. They had cities and towns named after them in upstate NY. Completely unplanned I had followed an ancient instinct and bought a country house right in the midst of their stomping ground (it wasn’t until I lived there a few years that I put together all the names with the places and my lost family history -- I had always heard a rather vague 'back East' when those ancestors were mentioned). The families were mostly English with a bit of German. One of the names, Gilbert, was my grandfather’s mother’s family name. It was also my grandfather and brother’s first name. It is a Norman-English name.

There was a line on the Gilbert area of the paper that said ‘Bryan de Bois Gilbert, 14th century’. The name seemed so familiar.

I looked it up and there it was, a character in Ivanhoe! Bryan de Bois Gilbert was the Templar knight who tormented poor Ivanhoe in Walter Scott’s famous novel! 

How funny memory is. I am sure my mother, and it was in my mother’s hand, had tried to put down all she remembered of the family history and inserted a literary character instead of the true name of her ancestor. I’ll never know who the real person was. It’s fair to say the Gilbert line began in Norman France and made its way to England 1000 years ago (as far as I know, they came to America in the 18th century).

This got me thinking, do we have a place memory in our genome? Do we long for flavors and scents and sights of our ancestors without knowing it?

I do know that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the food of Normandy (and Mt St Michel). Something about cream (à la Normande is synonymous with a creamy sauce) and apples or cherries – well it always makes me feel like home.

In fact, this year I’ve been drawn to Calvados – specifically the need to MAKE Calvados-like apple brandy. I read up on the making of it, got a few gallons of cider and started fermenting. I used French Limousin charred oak soaked in old Madeira and cider – they way they do the casks at the great Calvados houses and distilled it after a month or so of fermentation. My first bottles were pretty darn good but need time to mature (even if the old Madeira adds years to a new spirit –– Calvados just gets drinkable at 3 years, 6 is better, old is best!). I guess Calvados making is in the few remaining Norman molecules of my blood.

Normandy is also famous for their Bresse chickens and their pré salé lamb and Rouan ducks as well as their famous cream producing cattle but the heady combination of cider, calvados, apples and cream is one I have used on everything from Cornish hens to omelettes to pork and loved it (the folks in Normandy even use the combination with mussels with great success).

My newly awakened Norman roots proved most helpful when my friends at D’Artagnan told me about a new cut of pork they were offering. The Norman part of me rose to the challenge of doing justice to great meat. Their New York Strip Chop  of beautifully flavored heritage Berkshire Pork is tender and incredibly moist. Berobed in a rich, appled sauce, well, you will die from pleasure with each mouthful. I have been making a version of this for many years and it has always gotten ovations at the table (and threats to drink the sauce from the plate).

Pork Steaks with Calvados Apple Cream

2 D’Artagnan Berkshire Pork NY Strip steaks or 2 large pork chops
salt and pepper to taste
4 T Calvados
1 c apple cider
3 T D’Artagnan demi-glace  (or reduce 1 cup of stock to 3 T)
1 slice D’Artagnan applewood  bacon diced
2 T butter
1 large gala apple, cored, peeled and sliced
1 sliced shallot
1 T Madeira (I use Rare Wine Company Madeira – Charleston would a good choice)
¼ c heavy cream
pinch of nutmeg
fresh sage

Rub the chops with 1 T calvados and season with salt and pepper. Put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Cook the apple cider on a slow heat till reduced to 2 T. and reserve. Sauté the bacon till crisp and reserve the bacon. Pour out most of the fat but leave a light coating in the pan.

Lightly brown the pork chops on both sides and remove from the pan. Tent and keep warm.

Add 1 T of the butter to the pan and quickly sauté the apples till lightly browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and add the other 1 T of butter. Sauté the shallots till softened.

Add 2 T of the Calvados and flame. When the fire subsides, add the reduced cider, the demi glace and the cream and nutmeg. Stir the pan, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Return the apples and pork to the pan and cover. Cook for 5-6 minutes at a medium low heat until the pork is pink – about 135º. Plate the pork and apples, toss the remaining Calvados and Madeira into the pan and stir to blend. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with fresh sage and bacon. Pour the sauce over the chops and apples and serve.

****As a special present for you USA readers, a chance to win a fabulous $500 shopping spree from D’Artagnan just in time for the holidays. Good luck!!

Click HERE for a ticket to win!

Follow Me on Pinterest

Monday, September 7, 2015

Herculaneum Found and Apicius’ Partridge in Berry Wine Sauce

John Martin’s Destruction of Pompeii, 1822 

It was August 79AD in a resort town called Herculaneum sitting on the left side of the Italian boot’s ankle (about 143 miles south of Rome –– that’s about a week’s journey by horse).

Bacchus with Agathodaemon and Vesuvius from the House of the Centenary, 2nd century BC

The town had been created in the shadow of the ancient volcano Vesuvius; a volcano that had been dormant for 800 years –– so long that the inhabitants of surrounding towns no longer considered it dangerous. Rather, it was thought of as generously benign since it was covered in lush and fertile soil –– a handsome detail in the landscape until the summer of 79. 
The Last Day of Pompeii, Karl Brullov, (1830-33)

The myth has always been that the city was taken unawares by the cataclysm. New evidence suggests this is not the case at least in Herculaneum – there were warnings. Pliny the Younger  (61-113 AD) who witnessed the disaster from across the Bay of Naples, reported that earthquakes had shaken the area with considerable force before the volcano erupted, causing many to flee. Many in Pompeii didn’t heed the warning earthquakes and doubled down on sacrifices to angry gods. The gods did not listen – they never do.

I.C. Dahl, Vesuvius (1826)

Contemporary accounts of the event described a pillar of ash that flew straight up into the sky, rising to 20 miles high. When it hit the tropopausePliny the Younger told the historian Tacitus  that the pillar’s top then spread out creating a stone pine tree shape at which point it lost cohesion and it began to rain debris and dust.

Some people escaped leaving their valuables behind, probably imagining they could return after the storm had passed. Tragically, others stayed too long with their valuables or thought they could pinch a few juicy items on their way out of town – big mistake.

The Moregine Silver Treasure – some of the cups would have been antique in 79AD

A hoard of silver, later known as the Morefine Treasure, was found in Herculaneum in a basket stashed in a public bath, perhaps stolen from vacant mansions by a foolish lingerer. The rich hoard did him no good, his roasted bones were found beside his treasure.

Some trusting inhabitants remained in Herculaneum only to be incinerated in the middle of baking bread or plastering a wall but many did get away with their treasures. There weren’t as many bodies as there were in Pompeii. Aside from the warning earthquake, the other reason for this is what fell on the two cities and when.

Vesuvius from Portici, Joseph Wright of Derby (1774-6)

Pompeii was destroyed by rocks and superheated blasts –– Herculaneum got a warning shot in the form of a dusting of harmless ash before the destructive pyroclastic surges.

Herculaneum, although closer to the volcano, was fortunate in that way –– the super-heated pyroclastic flow actually gently covered the city so that the wood is preserved –– charred of course but still recognizable as tables, doors and screens –– all buried under 60 feet of hardened ash (also why most of the city has yet to be uncovered).

Wooden screen (behind protective glass)

Even delicate screens have survived in the airless world for nearly 2000 years. Unfortunately opening it up has started the disintegration clock ticking again.

Let's not forget color.  Rome loved color, especially those heavenly reds.  Sometimes spare and elegant, other times lush and richly figured.  Art was everywhere even in middle-class houses.

Even marble statues were gently colored making them far more human and less cold than we imagined.

The streets were not drab either.

Artist’s rendering of ancient Roman city, Pompeii De Agostini Picture Library/Scala, Florence

Herculaneum was a prosperous Roman resort town with businesses and private houses on pleasant main streets that had covered sidewalks (without carts or wagons allowed—perhaps to keep animal waste to a minimum?). 

Herculaneum bath, Deposit photo

There was a public water system with aqueducts from the mountains for fountains, drinking and baths that were taken daily at public bathhouses. 

Public fountain encouraging hair washing!

There was even a sewer system so that streets did not flow with human waste as they did in Pompeii (although the Romans did wash their clothes with fermented urine/ammonia that was collected and taxed!).

Water was important in Herculaneum, it was a feature of upper-class dining rooms, often flowing into pools or into dancing fountains that would have been an elegant touch at a Roman dinner party –– baths were often located in rooms adjoining the dining room so you could warm up or cool off after a large meal perhaps?

Closeup of the Neptune and Amphitrite mosaic

The most famous dining room of Herculaneum, the dining room of Neptune and Amphitrite is missing many pieces of sculpture and reliefs that had originally been there because it was one of the first areas to be excavated in the 18th century and was plundered under orders of the King of Naples. You can only imagine how splendid it must have been when it was new.

Dining was done pretty much lying down. Romans did not sit at a table to eat, some people sort of half-sit on one arm, or are prone leaning on one arm or lie on their stomachs, propped up on both arms on giant pillows.  I would imagine it would get terribly uncomfortable in a short time.

The dining room was known as a trinclinium, usually with 3 couches around a table. Larger houses had multiple dining rooms for large or intimate dinners that usually had a bath nearby.  The smaller dining room was called triclinium minus.  What they ate is will surprise you.  Because Herculaneum was protected for nearly 2000 years, some of their food was preserved, most famously their bread.

Still Life of bread and figs from Pompeii
Carbonized loaf from Herculaneum 

Herculanum had many bakeries (there were 30 bakeries in Pompeii). Dozens of carbonized loaves still exist (80 loaves still in a single baker’s oven). The bread was cut into 8 slices (the ring around the loaf may have been a string baked with the bread to make it easier to carry the loaf). The bread was made from mostly Enmer wheat but could have been spelt or millet or a combination (all of these grains have been found at the bakeries). Wheat bread seems to have been the likely choice for bread as the area was famous for its wheat.

There were classes of bread. The rich ate ’white’ bread without much bran that was ground twice and well sifted, the poorer classes ate pane puero and pane cibarium that was full of bran but hard on the teeth. Inhabitants had bad teeth not just from crunching the bran but also from bits of the millstone that had broken off into the flour. It was not sifted as well as the rich folks bread flour would have been. The same was true in England up through the 19th century. Only now is whole wheat really better for you and not dangerous to eat!

Bread stall in Pompeii

Bakeries didn't just bake the bread, they also ground the grain in some of the bakeries.

A wooden beam would go through the holes in the mill and animals or slaves would walk it around to grind the grain that was poured in the top

Clues to the composition of the local diet have been discovered though seeds and bones that remained inside or beside human remains but the discovery and subsequent investigation of the cities' sewage tunnels have led to a flood of new findings thanks to groundbreaking new techniques and old fashioned painstaking sifting and cataloguing. The diet of Herculaneum was varied and sophisticated with foods from all over the Empire passing through the citizen's digestive tracts.

Still Life of peaches from Pompeii

110 items have been discovered so far by sifting through the sewer's treasures at Herculanum. Egg shells, chicken and mutton bones, fish scales and bones from 46 different species of fish (like sea bream, anchovies, sardines, eels, sea bass, shark, sea urchin, scallops and ray), grapes, apples, pears, peaches, figs, cherries, pomegranates, walnuts, almonds and olives but no citrus. They also found coriander and fennel seeds even in poorer homes as well as black peppercorns that would have been for rich people. Since only 70 of more than 700 bags of sewer treasure have been sifted through, doubtless much more will be learned as more of the bags are opened.

Using a new technique of collagen testing on bones of the citizens, it has been discovered that the people, rich and poor, were nearly complete vegetarians or vegetarian/fish eaters – it seems very little meat was eaten (at least by the people who got stuck in Herculaneum – perhaps the meat eaters escaped?

Painting from Pompeii, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, (Naples), showing a banquet

So, what might a sophisticated Roman in a resort town filled with a lavish array of produce, fish and avian delights want to share at their dinners? I went to Apicius (I’ve written about it HERE) to get a dish that would invoke the spirit of Herculaneum even though the recipes were written long after its destruction (it is believed Apicius was written over generations beginning around the 4th century AD). Something about partridge and berries sounded awfully good (especially when the partridge is D'Artagnan's Wild Scottish Red Partridge). I wish I could get myrtle berries but read that they taste of juniper and rosemary with a bit of pine so I thought I would add a bit of that to the mix. The sauce is just beautiful -- seriously beautiful. The gentle hint of Aftelier's pine essence gives a lyrical quality to the berries that I found magical.

[218] (in perdice is Latin for partridge)


Partridge with Berry Sauce from Apicius, serves 2

1 D'Artagnan Wild Scottish Partridge, cut into 3 pieces, bones removed from breast (reserve the back for stock)
1 T olive oil
1 T hazelnut oil
1/4 c stock (best if you can make game bird stock but chicken will do well)
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T White Wine
1 T heather honey
2 T raisins
1/4 t pepper
1/8 t celery seed
1 drop Aftelier juniper essence, or 3 crushed juniper berries
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 pint blueberries
Mint (a small sprig chopped with the top reserved for garnish)
Lovage or celery leaves (lovage tastes like celery on steroids- chop a tiny bit and use some for garnish)

Brine the partridge for an hour or so.  Remove from the brine and dry and then sauté in the oils, gently cook till medium (about the time the bird is softly browned).  Remove and tent, reserving the cooking juices.

Heat the stock, wine, vinegar, heather and honey with raisins and spices and the pine for a few minutes. Add the blueberries and cook gently for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Pour the reserved juices into the mix.  If you are lucky enough to have myrtle berries, skip the rosemary, pine and juniper since the berries have those flavors naturally.  I have never worked with them so if they are not juicy enough, add additional liquids.


1 c water
1 bay leaf
2 smashed juniper berries
1 T salt
1 T sugar

Heat the ingredients for a few minutes in the water and then allow to cool.  

I will be off for the next month on making vintage murders.  Back in October!