Bringing History to Life
Most Romans ate a simple diet, based on cereals, olive oil, vegetables, and a modest amount of meat - principally beef, pork, or chicken - and seafood where it was available.
The Romans introduced to Britain many of the foods we take for granted today; even rabbits. As well as wines and fruits (apples, pears, grapes, figs, melons and plums), asparagus, olives, beans, lentils, radishes, peas, lettuce, cabbages, and even leeks were all additions to the British diet.
But did you know that fast food shops also served burgers? Known as Isicia Omentata (literally “chopped meat”), finely cut pork was mixed with wheat and diluted with wine. Roman burgers could be lightly flavoured with crushed pine nuts, pepper and liquamen, a kind of fish sauce.
The Romans did not have citrus fruits (oranges or grapefruit), peaches, potatoes, red or green peppers, sugar, coffee, tea, or even chocolate. Neither did they have pasta. And without tomatoes (waiting to be discovered in America), even that most Italian of foods, pizza, did not exist..!
The Romans, arguably, did provide us with the first recorded recipes. Many of these recipes we take from “De re coquinaria” ("On the Subject of Cooking“), a collection of menus, dishes and ingredients attributed to a Roman author (or authors) known today as “Apicius”.
The resulting “cook book” is not, however, what we today would recognise as a recipe book. Food and ingredient measurements were basic at best. Quantities, for example, were not often given in Roman recipes. Temperature control was difficult and had to be learnt through experience. Thus cooking temperatures were not specified and cooking times were equally vague. Much was left to the individual cook to determine from their own knowledge, experience and practice.
And that’s where Tastes Of History come in. “Caupona Aureliae” (or Aurelia’s Kitchen) is Tastes Of History’s reconstructed Roman “fast food” outlet. Walk through the remains of ancient Pompeii or Herculaneum and you will find a Roman Taberna on virtually every street corner. Each is easily recognisable from their distinctive counters directly available from the street with embedded pottery jars for keeping food or drink warm or cool.
As experimental archaeologists, Aurelia’s Kitchen delivers light-hearted yet practical and informative demonstrations. Everyone, from the complete beginner to the expert cook, can discover that much of what modern cooks do today - ingredients, cooking methods and even menus - were pioneered by the Romans.