Our recipe this week is straight out of the pages of Roman literature. Moretum is a delicious spread similar to our pesto—and the Roman poet Virgil was apparently a big fan!
The word “moretum” is Latin and is usually translated as “salad,” but that’s not really an accurate translation. It’s not a salad at all, at least not what we think of as salad in modern times. It’s a sort of spread or dip. Virgil is most often credited with the recipe. In his poem entitled “Moretum” he tells the story of Symilus, a peasant farmer, who is making his morning meal. He first makes the bread, but quickly realizes he has no meat to go along with the crusty creation. Concerned that man cannot survive on bread alone, he decides to make an accompaniment for his baked good. Virgil then describes the process by which Symilus makes his moretum. Both the bread and moretum-making are described in detail in the poem, but here is a little summary of the important moretum highlights, courtesy of Pass the Garum blog:
- Symilus gathers four heads of garlic (!), celery, parsley, rue, and coriander seeds.
- He grinds the garlic in his mortar and pestle, and adds salt and cheese.
- He then adds the celery, rue, parsley, and coriander seeds. The smell is so strong that it makes his eyes water!
- He adds some olive oil, finishes off the mixture, and slaps some on his freshly baked bread.
There are a couple of things about this recipe we will not be replicating in the recipe below. For one thing, there is an awful lot of garlic. We’re going to tone that down a bit, but feel free to pile it on if you’re a garlic fan. The Romans loved garlic. They believed it increased “strength and endurance” and so it was fed to “soldiers and sailors.”
It was also believed to “clean the arteries” and guard against toxins and infections. Today we know that garlic is often effective in treating and preventing many different ailments including, but not limited to, blood and heart conditions, some types of cancer, diabetes and even the common cold and flu.
More important than the potential overuse of garlic, rue is poisonous. However, rue is not altogether bad. In fact, it contains alkaloids that made it a useful treatment for indigestion during this time period (1st century BCE). But it also strongly influences the female menstrual cycle so pregnant women should definitely not consume it. We chose a recipe that leaves it out altogether.
Now that we’ve explored some history and cut out the dangerous ingredients, it’s time for a pesto party! Bake (or buy) a loaf of delicious bread to eat with your moretum and have some friends over for a night of Roman cuisine.
Roman Garlic Pesto (Moretum)
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 of a celery stick (with its leaves)
- A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
- A pinch of salt
- Some aged pecorino cheese (approx. 8 ounces), feta is also a popular option
- 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
- A splash of vinegar
Peel the garlic, add to the mortar and grind.
Add the salt, the cheese and the celery to the mortar and mash them up too. Really make sure to mix them well with the garlic from earlier.
To this paste, add the coriander seeds, parsley, oil and vinegar. I find that it is helpful to add the parsley in batches and break it down bit by bit rather than trying to do it all at once and making a mess. Test for flavor – if it is too garlicky, add more parsley.
Grab some bread and dip or spread ‘til your heart’s content!
From: Antiquity Now
A wonderful spiced and fruited cake which heralds the advent of Spring, simnel cake has a fascinating cultural heritage with roots that stretch back to the Romans and Athenians. In Britain, known as the Shrewsbury Simnel, it is simply made using white flour, fragrant spices and is generously studded with dried fruits and pungent peel.
Like a Christmas cake, it is covered with pale sweet almond paste. The decoration is plain – twelve little balls of smooth paste. A specially baked simnel cake is a wonderful gift to take to your mother for Matronalia, Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday Tea Time. Decorate it with crystalised flowers and tie some yellow ribbon around the side.
For the almond paste:
- 400 g icing sugar, sifted
- 250 g ground almonds
- 1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly
- 3-4 tablespoons orange juice
- 5 drops almond essence
For the cake :
- 250 g plain flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 280 g currants
- 250 g sultanas
- 110 g mixed peel
- 160 g butter
- 160 g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 200 ml milk, to mix
You will also need:
- a sifter,
- nest of bowls,
- food processor or electric beater,
- wooden spoon,
- 24 cm round cake tin,
- baking paper,
- brown paper and twine,
- rolling pin,
- thin metal skewer.
To make your own almond paste you will need:
- a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
- Don’t be tempted to use store-bought almond paste because it contains lots of sugar and few almonds, it will turn to liquid under the grill.
Place icing sugar and almonds in food processor bowl. Process, slowly dripping in egg yolk, orange juice and almond essence. The mixture should form a pliable paste. Set aside a small portion for balls with which to decorate the cake. Roll out the remaining paste into 2 circles which are the approximate size of the tin. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 160°C/320°F.
Use a sturdy non-stick cake tub or line the buttered base with baking paper. As the baking period is long (1-1 1/2 hours), prevent the cake drying out by wrapping a double thickness of brown paper around the pan and securing it with twine.
Sift flour, salt and spices together, then stir in fruit and peel. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly until light and creamy then beat in eggs one at a time, until the mixture is fluffy. (Reserve a drop of egg yolk for brushing over top layer of almond paste.). Stir flour and fruit into creamed mixture (you may need to add a little milk to give the mixture a dropping consistency).
Place half the mixture into a greased and lined cake tin. Place one pre-rolled round of almond paste over the top. Cover with remaining cake mixture. Before baking the cake, give the pan of mixture a sharp tap on to a firm surface. This settles the mixture and prevents holes from forming in the cake.
Bake in the center of the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until a thin metal skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out without a trace of stickiness. Level the cake by placing a weighted plate on top of the cooked cake while it is still hot.
Turn out cake on to a wire rack after leaving it to settle in the cake tin for between 10 and 15 minutes. Peel off paper and leave to cool completely.
Cover the top of the cake with a second round of almond paste. Roll 12 small balls of paste and place evenly around the top of the cake. Brush the top with a little beaten egg and very lightly brown under the grill until the almond paste turns light golden brown. Remove and leave to cool.
Note from someone who tried this recipe:
I did give the pan it’s tap to get rid of air bubbles but almost had a disaster when I went to take everything off so that I could set this on a cake rack to cool.. the almond paste in the middle was still liquid and was leaking down the sides of the cake at a great rate, so I quickly shoved it as neatly as I could back into the springform and let it cool completely before loosening it again. At least my baking paper helped stem the flow before I lost it all. Some of my twelve little balls slipped off while I had this in the oven the second time… so I’d advise not to put them too near to the edge of the cake.
Baking is appropriate for celebrating Imbolc, and we often make Crescent cakes for the end of our Imbolc ritual. Here is our circle’s favorite recipe:
- 1 1/4 cups Flour
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 1 cup Finely Ground Almonds
- 3 drops Almond Extract
- 1/2 cup Butter or Margarine, softened
- 1 tablespoon Honey
- 1 Egg Yolk
In a large mixing bowl, combine the first four ingredients. Add the butter, honey and egg yolk and mix together well. Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and then chill for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
When ready, pinch off pieces of the dough (about the size of plums) and shape them into crescents. Place the crescents on a well-greased cookie sheet and bake in a 325-degree preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes. This recipe yields 20 to 25 crescents.
From Rose Ariadne
This bready, donut-shaped cake is decorated with dried fruits and spiked with a non-edible representation of the baby Jesus. Rosca de reyes is traditionally eaten on January 6 to commemorate the biblical story of the arrival of the Three Kings, (Three Kings Day). Finding the baby Jesus in your slice of cake is an honor – one the recipient celebrates by throwing a party on February 2 with tamales and atole for all guests.
- 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup dried figs, cut into strips, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup candied orange peel, cut into strips, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup candied lemon peel, cut into strips, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped candied cherries, plus more whole for garnish
- 2 tablespoons light rum
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs, divided
- Small ceramic Jesus figurine or coin to represent Jesus
In a small bowl, combine the yeast and warm water; stir to blend. Let stand until the yeast comes alive and starts to foam, about 5 to 10 minutes. Put all of the candied fruit in small bowl and drizzle the rum on top. Let stand for 15 minutes to 1 hour to infuse the flavor.
In a small pot, warm the milk over medium heat. Add the sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
In a large bowl, mix 3 1/2 cups flour, 2 eggs, yeast mixture, milk mixture, and the rum soaked candied fruits, mixing very well until the dough gathers into a ball. If the dough is too wet, Add additional flour, a little at a time, if needed to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it’s smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Put the ball of dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface. Using your palms, roll the dough into a long rope. Shape the coil into a ring, sealing the ends together. Insert a little doll or coin into the bread from the bottom. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Carefully transfer the dough ring to the prepared baking pan.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash, and brush the top of the bread. Decoratively garnish the top of the bread with more candied fruit and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cake is golden. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Cook’s Note: Let your guests know there is a little doll or coin inserted inside.
Recipe courtesy of Ingrid Hoffmann
Traditionally, a cake was baked for this day, (Jan 17) and a bean hidden somewhere in the mixture and baked along with it. Whoever received the piece of cake with the bean was appointed King or Queen of the Bean for the night, and lead the company in songs and games. Here’s a recipe:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups currants
- 1 1/2 cups raisins
- 1 1/2 cups sultanas
- 3 tbsp brandy
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup candied cherries
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1 dried bean
Grease a 12 inch cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together and stir in the well-beaten eggs and the brandy. Sift the flour with a little cinnamon and fold into the mixture, then stir in the dried fruit.
Add the bean.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for three hours at 300′ F. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before turning out. Melt the honey and glaze the top of the cake, and decorate with the cherries.
Magical Attributes: Generosity, goodwill, empathy, service, and depending on which goodies you put into the dough other blessings will abound.
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron
- 3 tablespoons hot water
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
- 1/4 sup sugar, plus 1/4 teaspoon
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 4 cups sifted flour
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 1/2 cups of any combination of currents, candied fruits, nuts, raisins, chocolate chips,
Soak the saffron in the hot water for 1 1/2 hours. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in the warm water. Mix the milk, remaining sugar, butter and salt; cool. Add the egg, milk mixture and saffron to the yeast, beat until smooth.
Sprinkle your combination of goodies with two teaspoons of the flour. Mix until evenly coated. Mix the rest of the flour with the yeast mixture…fold in your combination of goodies and put on a well floured surface and kneed until smooth.
Place in greased bowl, turn once, let rise in warm place until doubled, about an hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Knead dough twice.
Next it’s your choice…divide into 24 pieces and roll into small buns…or…devide in half and bake as loaves or roll into log shape and bake…cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake for about 10 minutes, reduce to 350 degrees and bake another 10 minutes..brush the tops with butter and bake 5 more minutes…always check to be sure it’s cooking properly as depending on which way you decide to make it it may take a little longer to cook.
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
Beat the eggs until lemon color. Add the sugar. Beat. Grind up the anise seed with a mortar and pestle. Sift in the flour and add the ground anise seed. Drop by spoonful or use a (cookie press) onto a cookie sheet. Refrigerate overnight. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes (until cookies are firm, but not brown.) Store in a tin for several days before serving.
A festive, sweet, and light-colored bread, celebrating the return of the Sun, and the promise of next season’s harvest.
- 4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 tbs. butter
- 1 6 oz. packet Sun Maid Sun Ripened Dried Fruit Bits
- Equal amount chopped pecans
- 1 1/2 cup egg nog
- 1 pkg. dry yeast, in 1/2 cup warm water
Warm everything to room temperature. Pitch yeast in warm water, with a pinch of sugar. Mix flour, sugar, and salt; cut in softened butter. Mix in fruit and nuts. When yeast is good and frothy, mix in egg nog and yeast mixture and knead, adding flour as necessary. Let rise about an hour, punch down dough, form into a ball, and let rise again; preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake approximately 30-45 minutes until done.
The Ides of March is the name of the 15th day of March in the Roman calendar.
The word Ides comes from the Latin word “idus“, a word that was used widely in the Roman calendar indicating the approximate day that was the middle of the month. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held.
In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus.
Another point which arises is Shakespeare’s use of the Ides of March and (the lack of doubt in) Marcus Brutus’ decision to assassinate Caesar to portray an atmosphere of madness, pleasure, and pandemonium. It is said that on ides of March the sea succumbs to chaos and the full moon brings high tides. All these points give the Ides of March a very mysterious quality.
The ides were originally meant to mark the full Moon (the “halfway point” of a lunar month), but because the Roman calendar months and actual lunar months were of different lengths, they quickly got out of step. The ancient Romans considered the day after the calends (first of the month), nones (ninth day before the ides, inclusive), or ides of any month as unfavorable. These were called dies atri.
According to Plutarch, a seer had foreseen that Caesar would be harmed not later than the Ides of March; and on his way to the Theatre of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar met the seer and joked, “The ides of March have come”, meaning to say that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” This meeting is famously dramatized in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” Furthermore, Suetonius writes that the haruspex Spurinna warns Caesar of his death which will come “not beyond the Ides of March” as he is crossing the river Rubicon.
In Canada, the Ides of March is celebrated with the drinking of Bloody Caesars.
Here’s a recipe:
- 6 oz. Clamato Juice
- 1–1½ oz. Vodka
- 2 Dashes hot sauce
- 4 Dashes Worcestershire sauce
- Celery salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Lime wedge
- 1 Crisp celery stalk
Rim the glass (usually a high ball glass) with celery salt, and a lime wedge.
Found at Wikipedia