Saturday, August 11, 2012

Host a Roman Feast for Cena Tonight.

In order to kick off our History Unit on Ancient Rome, we did our best to have a relatively accurate Roman Feast for our "cena".  I did the research before hand and cooked most of the meal with some assistance from Alice.  The objective for us, was for Alice to get excited about learning more about Ancient Romans rather than for her to actually host the feast.  The objective was definitely met.

With slightly older kids, you might make your Roman Feast the culminating end-point and put them in charge of doing the research in regard to what to serve and how to serve it.  They might have a lot of fun making togas and wreaths to wear, eating while in a lounging position and showing off their cooking skills to a few honored guests that will listen to your kids talk about all the things they learned over the course of the unit.

Dishes for our feast included:

Roasted spiced apples.
Roasted "Wild Boar" in Quince marmalade. (Really just a roast)
Fried Asparagus with Feta Cheese Crumbles.
Honeyed Dates.
Roman Cheesecake.
Mint and Cumin spiced "Door mice" (really just sliced up bits of chicken).
Olives and Grapes.

Alice's Honeyed Grapes Required use of a Mortar and Pestle

For your feast you could also have:

pears, hardboiled eggs, raw apples, lentils, celery sticks and rolls or ofella (see below) and a number of fish dishes (see links).  The especially wealthy might also have had ostrich.

Along the Way Alice (and I) Learned:

Romans did not have: sugar, potato, corn, coffee, tomato, chocolate or many of Alice's other favorites.  When you don't have sugar, it limits your dessert options significantly.  "Roast 'wild boar' is actually pretty yummy" as are asparagus.  Honeyed dates are pretty good too even though they look "yucky" but there IS also the existence of things being a bit "too sweet".  Romans fried almost everything that wasn't roasted.  Romans often ate lying down for feasts, but not as often if there were to be women around.  Romans drank wine boiled with honey at feasts and banquets.  Romans ate everything from Door mice to Ostrich - if it was available, they made use of it.  For breakfast and lunch most Romans mostly ate a grain based mush similar to oatmeal.  Wealthier Romans would often compliment this mush with a fruit or veggie.

The average Roman diet included a lot of grains, onions, peas, celery and lentils and meats were used for special occasions (and feasts).  Stew made of water and grains was a common staple amongst the poorest citizens.  Like most of those of us in the US today, breakfast and lunch were the smaller meals with the main substance of the day's calories coming at dinner time.  Knives and spoons were used for serving, but once you had your individual serving of food you would have used your fingers or (in the cases of stews with a lot of broth) simply slurped from your bowl.  Garum was a favorite flavoring but since it was made with fermented fish guts, we decided not to include garum in our feast. 

Online Information about Ancient Roman Feasts:

Most of the recipes (and information about the Roman Cena) we used can be found on these sites.
Squidoo: In terms of referencing for recipes this may have been the resource we used most.
Around the Roman Table: This was a fabulous resource for recipes as well - it almost made me want to go out and purchase the book.  I do wish the library had had it for sure.
History Learning: The History Learning Site is a good all-around resource.

We also used the Book:

Step Into. . . The Roman Empire by Philip Steele.  Alice made the Honeyed Dates on page 24 with minimal help (slices with knife and actual frying done by me with her watching on).

Ancient Roman Pizza (Ofellae) and Roman Bread:

 Romans did not have tomatoes or cheese, so their pizza was topped with onions, fish and olives.  Mix one cup of flour with 1 pkg dry yeast adn 3/4 tsp salt.  Stir in 1 cup of warm water adn mix well.  let sit for 10 minutes or so and then add 2 more cups of flour fold in well. 
Knead your dough until it is stiff but springy (elastic).  Just like with any other bread, clean the bowl, greese the bowl and ball the dough and place inside the bowl.  Let it rise for about an hour.
Punch down the dough and then greese the sheet you will bake the dough on.  Let the dough rest for about ten minutes and then shape it as you would like (for Ofella, shape it like a pizza dough) for simple bread, roll it into a loaf like shape.  In either case, let the dough rise again for another hour or so.  For ofella, press down slightly in the middle.  For Bread, slice top of "loaf" 3 or 4 times about a quarter inch deep.  Bake for about 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven. 
To eat as "pizza" place your toppings on the bread (more like we would do with crackers) and eat.  For eating as bread, they wouldn't have had butter the way we know it, so you would tear pieces off of the loaf and then dip them in either honey or olive oil.

Roasted, Spiced Apples:

Oil (with olive oil for authenticity) a shallow baking dish such as a pie pan and Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Take two to three large apples (hardy for baking variety such as Rome apples) and slice thinly.
           As an aside, Rome apples are a variety from the city of Rome in the modern city of Rome, New York.

Place Sliced apples in a thin layer across bottom of pan.  Continue to build layers higher but offset so apples overlap the gaps of the lower layer.  Occasionally sprinkle with cinnamon (no sugar) as you build layers higher. 

Drizzle a thin bead of honey over top of entire dish (does not need to cover, but honey should touch each of the top slices). 

Drizzle a thin line of olive oil over top of entire dish similarly to the honey. 

Sprinkle with final dusting of cinnamon - be sparing a little Cinnamon goes a long way.

Bake until apples are soft enough to cut with butter knife.

Serve and Enjoy.

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