EDIBLE HISTORY #2~ GOING BYZANTINE: THE DINNER

THE KOMNENIAN PERIOD

In 1081 the Komnenian dynasty was established on the Byzantine throne. Five emperors from this family ruled for 128 years, trying to restore the military, economic and political power of the Byzantine Empire, trying to reassess the Byzantine position in the eastern Mediterranean after the 1st Crusade and playing a balance -of- power game between east and west. Μoreover, the cultural impact of Βyzantium on the west and the lands around the E. Mediterranean Sea  was enormous. This period is usually called Κomnenian renaissance and was the last period of prosperity in Byzantium.

THE SOCIETY & THE FOOD

However, the majority of Byzantine population, the peasants, became poorer because the ambitious foreign policy was not only based on large cash reserves but also on intolerable fiscal pressure on Byzantine taxpayers.

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11th century peasants in vineyard.

On the other hand, the empire  became a family institution and the only access to the emperor was mediated by his family. The Komnenoi rulers benefited the monasteries and the military aristocratic elite that was intermarried with them with fiscal privileges and extensive lands.

By the 11th and 12th century the properties of large landowners consisted of large estates and entire villages.  The continuing population increase- with human numbers rising in cities – increased the demand for food. This means that the landowners increased the areas under cultivation and since the development of cities and big part of the trade depended on rural population’s production, they pressed the peasants in order to produce more and more.

anna radine, aristocrat of the 12th-century

Anna Radine, aristocrat of 12th century

As the capital of a powerful and rich empire, Constantinople was a bustling city of  a population from 100.000 to 500.000 people, centre of the domestic and foreign trade of the Byzantine state.* Grain, wine, salt, meat, cheese, vegetables and fruits flowed from the provinces  into its markets. From the 9th until the late 12th century the capital was also a most important entrepôt of the eastern and northern luxury trade. Spices and high -luxury foods (like black caviar) were imported.

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Merchants on a boat. Early 11th century, Cynegetica.

Of course, luxury foods were cherished so dearly by both poor and rich, though only the wealthy landowners, the officials of the state and church and the rich members of the new urban middle class, the “mesoi”, could afford them. The “mesoi” were for the most part traders, craftsmen and businessmen and bankers but some of them made a considerable fortune and enjoyed their purchasing power demanding fine quality foods.**For a wealthy merchant the entry into elite was the ideal. Where this was impossible  he emulated the tastes of the aristocrats,  food included.

IN A FEW WORDS

If the hagiographers of 11th and 12th century maintained the traditional ideal of fasting, less conservative sources give a wealth of information about both the increased interest on eating and the greater availability of foodstuffs. The variety of vegetables, fruits and condiments- black pepper, caraway, honey, olive oil, vinegar, salt, mushrooms, celery, leeks, lettuce,  chicory, spinach, turnips, eggplant, cabbage, white beets, almonds, pomegranates, nuts, apples, lentils, raisins, etc. -listed as food of the poor of Constantinople by  Prodromοs (d. c. 1166, Poèmes prodr. nο.2.38-45) mirrors both the interest on good eating and the availability of dishes. Of course above all,  the food in Constantinople of Komnenoi existed as a synthesis of what had gone before, but a synthesis enriched by new ingredients and many innovations.

THE “BYZANTINE DINNER” MENU (Edible history project)


MENU
of the rich

sfungaton (spongy omelette)

apaki

wine flavoured pork liver

rabbit cooked with red wine and spikenard

roast pork basted with a mixture of vinegar and honey

silignites, a very white wheat bread

rice and honey pudding

quince spoon sweet

konditon

thassorofon

MENU
of the poor

capers  in honey – vinegar sauce

black olives with mustard seeds

braised endives with garos and olive oil

cabbage with garos, olive oil and vinegar

fava made with black-eyed beans served with vinegar and honey

different kinds of bread made with inferior grains or legumes

THE DETAILS

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Clockwise from top left: silignites, the whitest wheat bread (The most expensive form of white bread was katharos artos and was divided into two categories, silignites and semidalites. The former was made with a very finely ground wheat flour.); semidalites; ryparos artos is whole meal bread; whole meal breads made from a mix of barley and durum wheat; rye bread.

Bread held a very important part in the Byzantine diet. Its role was so important that the guilt of  bakers of Constantinople and their animals were never used by the state  in order to prevent any interruption of the baking of the bread (Book of Eparch, 9th century).

The wealthy ate very good quality wheat bread which was contrasted sharply with the low quality bread that was consumed by the poor and peasants.

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Whole meal bread that was made with barley and wheat flour and was baked directly on  hot stone.

 

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Mashed black -eyed beans ( fava) with vinegar and honey; black olives with mustard seeds

(Ethnos newspaper, 29/01/2011 p.24.  Article on the Edible History project)

Legumes were a common source of protein for the peasants, the poor and monks. In most cases they were boiled twice with a change of  liquid. Olives, vegetables, cheese and eggs played a major part in the diet of lower classes. Vegetables were eaten both raw and cooked. Byzantines did not differentiate between them and herbs. Though vegetable gardens existed almost in all cities in great numbers,  much of what we know of Byzantine condiments and “luxury” flavorings (e.g.,  crocus etc.)  remained products of the country dwellers.

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Roast pork basted with a mixture of vinegar and honey

Given the location of Constantinople, its habitants  were  piscivores. However, in the 11th and 12 century  meat consumption increased. Pork and sheep or goats were the most widely consumed meats. Young and tender animals were often broiled or roasted. Feet and offal, such as tripe, were cooked by the poor.  Hares,  gazelles of Anatolia and wild asses were among the favourite game.

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Apaki

Apokti ( salted and dried meat, a forerunner of pasturma) and apaki (a vinegar- cured and smoked pork meat) are two Byzantine innovations.

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Rice cooked in goat milk and thyme honey

Spoon sweets and  various prepared Greek “puddings” trace their roots to Byzantine years. The increasing availability of rice and sugar (sakhar), thanks to Arabs, enriched Byzantine cooking and confectionary.

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Konditon was a wine flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and spikenard.   It known by its Latin name (conditum).

In 11th century, a remarkable range of aromatics known as perfumes and medicines begun to belong to the spice panoply of Byzantium: spikenard, gum, benzoine, chamomile etc.

A daily glass of konditon strong in spikenard was recommended in March.

Apart the church calendar with its numerous  fast days, dietitians too had a considerable  influence on the Byzantine diet. They wrote about the correct choice of dish and ingredients on particular season, weather and time of day. While no recipes are given, dietary texts are excellent sources of Byzantine gastronomy. However they don’t allow us to reconstruct Byzantine dishes.

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Thassorofon,

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a sweet drink made by grounding  peeled Thassian almonds with water in a mortar….

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and strained the resultant liquid.

*However, from the 13th century control of the Byzantine capital’s commercial activity progressively passed into the hands of Western merchants, particularly Italians.

** A common place of  12th century literature is the resentment of struggling of schoolteachers and scholars against wealthy but uneducated merchants.

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

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EDIBLE HISTORY #2~ GOING BYZANTINE

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On Saturday, January 15, I will give you a glimpse into the diet of the rich and poor of Constantinople in Komninoi times (11th – 12th century AD).



The menu includes, among others:

~ Condyto: a spiced wine

~ Rabbit in wine and spikenard sauce

~ Pork in vinegar and honey sauce

~ Fava made with black eyed beans

~Capers in honey-vinegar sauce

~Olives served with sinapis

~ Braised endives served with olive oil and garos (fish sauce)

~ Silignites, the whitest wheat bread

~Pita-bread baked on hot stone

~ Rice and honey pudding

~Quince sweet spoon

~Almond sherbet

Please make the reservations until 13th of January. evmarosart@gmail.com tel: 210 6207824.
Evmaros Cultural Associaton~ 26, Fokidos st., 11526 Athens
ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

ANOTHER EXPERIMENT: OLIVES CURED IN HONEY (GO SO WELL WITH SQUID)

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Geoponica” lists various methods for curing olives…  My second olive -experiment was olives preserved in honey… in two types of honey, actually. 1 kilo of almost ripe olives was cured in thyme honey and 400 grams were stored  in  “bitter” monofloral honey of strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

No aromatic seeds and leaves were added… but yes, I cut the olives around with a razor blade, sprinkled the same fine salt over them and  4 days later I poured them into the honey…  Yes, storage temperature was the same for all  olive fruits,  however, these ones were totally different from the olives cured in petimezi , which were a complete disaster.  Three months later, the honey treated olives  had a firm crunchy flesh and their nutty, salty taste was a nice complement to the strong taste of  honey.

In my opinion, the honey of strawberry tree works best on olives, though  both ancient Greeks and Byzantines preferred thyme honey …  I was amazed by the  outstanding flavor and the nice hit of bitterness.  Stunning result!

Olives cured in honey go perfect with cheese…. I could not resist the temptation to cook with them, though. Things that we think of as sweet go so well with cephalopods , so I used the olives to make  a filling and sauce for stuffed calamari (squid).

STUFFED SQUID WITH SPINACH, FENNEL AND OLIVES CURED IN HONEY (CALAMARI GEMISTO ME SPANAKI, MARATHO KAI ELIES STO MELI)

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For the filling and sauce I used 30 medium sized  olives cured in honey, pitted and roughly chopped (or 1/2 cup raisins), mixed with 1 large onion (finely chopped), 2 cups of spinach (roughly chopped), 2/3 cup of wild fennel (chopped), salt and pepper.

I  stuffed 1 kg  small fresh, cleaned calamari  with the  filling, leaving a little room for it to expand.   I combined the remaining mixture with 300 gr chopped tomatoes and  1 tbs tomato paste and sautéed it with 4 tbs olive oil. I placed the squids in a casserole  and I  added the sauce, 1/2 – 3/4 cup of virgin olive oil, 4 tbs mavrodapne and water to cover. I covered the casserole and let simmer over low heat for about 45- 60 minutes,  until squid was tender.

 

How to clean the squid, here

 

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ.

Olives on Foodista

A FULL MOON DINNER

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What happens when 1 Archaeovotanologist, 1 Archaeosteopathologist, 1 Prehistoric Archaeologist and me, decided to prepare a dinner in the spirit of creative anachronism on the 18th of July full moon? Well, we used our knowledge of historical and traditional Greek food, dug out Athenaeus and Roman cook books, started looking through them and… voila! A wonderful dinner with recipes coming from different periods… made by us, with a little help from husbands wives and kids.

We had pork ribs in ancient Greek way, Byzantine sausages, pea pure and ‘cheesecake’ from ancient Samos island. Oh, and a Greek salad made by the kids. Kids put their personal touch to the ‘cheesecake’ too.

pork 

Instead of a roast suckling pig, that was the first thought, we had pork ribs. They were simply rubbed with Nam Pla sauce and grilled on the barbecue. The Vietnamese Nuoc Mam or the Thai Nam Pla fish sauce  can be used as an alternative to the ancient Greek garos. This sauce was one of the dominant flavours of ancient Greek and Roman cuisine and a common trade item in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It was made by mixing small fishes or the discarded parts of fish with salt and allowing them to ferment under sun. The salty, fishy liquid that was drawn off after weeks was the garos. The solid product was called alix. Garos and alix were a way to add salt in cooking and were widely used until 16th century.

 saucages

We made the sausages with the help of a sausage grinder and then grilled them on the barbecue. Even if we did not cut the pork into minced meat with a knife as should have done (the grinder was introduced in 19th century), the sausages were fabulous. The recipe will be presented step by step in a next post.

The fresh peas or broad beans puree is a traditional dish from Rethymno (Crete). It is served garnished with chopped onions and sprinkled with lemon juice, virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. We used a recipe given by the grandmother of one of our companions at dinner. She had grown up in Santorini but got married in Rethymno. The recipe asks for tsagala, as the unripe almonds are called, but we used blanched ones. This mashed pea dish is probably the grandmother’s personal combination of three culinary traditions. Mashed fresh peas or broad beans indicate Rethymno, capers indicate Santorini and raw almonds indicate the Minor Asian culinary heritage.

greek-salad 

The kids made a Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, wild arugula and olives preserved in bitter orange juice. It was topped with fresh goat cheese (myzithra) and sprinkled with virgin olive oil, sea salt and homemade verjuice.

The bread was a luxury and a staple in ancient and Byzantine Greek food. We made plain unleavened bread with wheat flour, water and a pinch of salt. (We kneaded the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth, elastic and no sticky and divided it into balls. We flattened them into discs with a rolling pin.) We have an oven next to the house, however we baked the pites on a heated stone.

And last, but not least, the ‘cheesecake’. The dessert course was known to ancient Greeks as ‘second plates’. A wealthy Greek host should demonstrate his generosity and wealth with a variety of ‘second plates’ such as cakes, sweetmeats, cheese, nuts etc. Cheese was eaten by its own or served with honey or baked into all manner of cakes and pies. In ‘The Deiphosophists’, a 15-volume anthology by the Greek scholar Athenaeus (c.200 AD) from Naucratis (Egypt), there is a large collection of sweet creations and cheesecakes. The recipe of our cheesecake is found in that anthology. The making of cheese cakes and pies is characteristic of ancient Greek and Roman pastoral societies. Of course, each society developed its own recipes, according to cultural taste and period technology. Romans spread them across Europe, so the origin of modern cheesecake is grounded in these cakes. The American cheesecakes derive from the recipes that were brought to New World by the first groups of European settlers.

 PEA PUREE

puree

1/2 kilo frozen peas of fresh peas

 1 large onion, finely chopped

 1 tb capers

 1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped

 1/2 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped

 1/2 cup cucumber, finely chopped

 1 ½ tb tahini

 lemon juice, as much as you like

 salt

 freshly ground black pepper

 1/3 cup virgin olive oil, or as much as you like

 Fill a pan with plenty of water, add the peas together with little salt and cook them until very soft. Pour off the water and drain them well. Press them with a fork until becoming mushy and leave them aside to cool. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Add the onion, cucumber, capers, almonds, mint, tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Stir well and keep in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. This puree will become a wonderful dip if you’ll try running all the ingredients through a food processor with the knife blade.

CHEESECAKE 

cheesecake

“Take some cheese and squeeze excess moisture from it, grate it, put in a bronze sieve, strain it, add honey and flour made from spring wheat and heat them together into one mass.” (Athenaeus)

 1 k. soft fresh cheese well strained. We used fresh myzithra but ricotta is a good alternative to it.

½ cup of thyme honey

 ¾ cup of wheat flour

 Put cheese, honey and flour in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Heat the mixture together into one mass. Transfer it to a plate, cool completely and serve.

The kids escaped our attention and garnished the cake with some homemade strawberry marmalade. It was not bad, however we all agree that the ancient recipe tastes better.

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