An Ancient Greek Military Odyssey
'Military Odyssey' is one of the largest multi-period re-enactment shows in the country. With over 4,000 re-enactors and living history enthusiasts in attendance, as well as over 250 stalls and 200 vehicles, a vast period of global history waited to be discovered. Visitors travelled through time from the ancient Greeks and Romans, through the Viking Age, the Medieval period, and on to the time of Napoleon, the American Civil War, the Wild West, World Wars I & II, Vietnam and right up to the present day. The 200 acre site had two separate arenas in addition to the main battlefield, where battle re-enactments took place all weekend. In addition, there were numerous food vendors on site, including a Beer Tent and Beer hall.
Regardless of your historical knowledge, there is bound to be something for you to discover. For our part, we joined friends in the Hoplite Association to produce some recipes from ancient Greece. Such dishes are best described as frugal reflecting the difficulties faced in producing enough food on what was relatively limited farmland across Greece's largely rocky and mountainous terrain. Indeed, the ancient Greek diet is characterised by the "Mediterranean Triad" of wheat, olive oil and wine. The latter have always been a central part of the Greek diet and the spread of grapes and olive trees in the Mediterranean and further afield is directly related to Greek emigration and colonisation.
The Greeks generally had three to four meals a day. Depending on the wealth of a household, a typical breakfast might consist of flat barley bread dipped in watered wine or olive oil, sometimes complemented by figs or olives or eaten with yesterday's leftovers. Interestingly, the name for the watered wine, akratos oinos, was used as the term for breakfast: akratisma. An alternative for richer families, were teganitai, the ancient relative of what we today call pancakes. Teganitai can be made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey and curdled milk. One version was made with a dough of spelt flour and water which, once cooked, was topped with honey, sesame, and cheese if desired:
Goat, sheep and pig meat was eaten, but rarely. Since most of Greece is close to the sea, fish and seafood were far more likely to be on the menu. Given that it was a typical British Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was not as hot and sunny as we would have liked. Without a hot Mediterranean sun, what it called for was a warming stew:
The ancient Greek-speaking world, known as 'Hellas' (see right), encompassed Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, numerous islands and spread round the Mediterranean Sea with colonies in modern Turkey and Italy. Being surrounded by or close to the sea, the ancient Greeks were naturally inclined to be sailors and fishermen. Seafood, therefore, was a major part of the diet of many Greeks, as it remains today.
With this in mind, for lunch we prepared two dishes: Fish in a Coriander Crust and Honey-glazed Prawns, served alongside a salad of olives, lettuce, cucumber and Feta cheese:
And finally, we made a red lentil soup (or stew if you prefer). Amazingly, the oldest known carbonized remains of lentil are from Greece's Franchthi Cave and have been dated to 11,000 BC. With that sort of pedigree it seemed only right and proper to create a soup based around the ingredients with which the Greeks would have been familiar;
Despite the weather, the long weekend at Military Odyssey proved a fantastic opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones. Chatting with visitors and fellow re-enactors enabled us to explore the history of food with special emphasis on the ancient Greeks and their contribution to modern cuisine. And the compliments on how our kitchen looked were a bonus.
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