Many summer days I have visited the roman town of Valeria. Every time I walked through it´s ruins, trying without success to guard myself from the sun, I asked myself the same question over and over. What did they eat around here? What kind of cookery ware was found between the remaining structure, between all these stones? Covered up during centuries, some of the objects were lucky enough to see the light again during the last century and were safely placed in the deposit or at display at the Archaeological Museum of Cuenca. Many others are probably still covered up by layers of soil at the place where they were left for the last time.
Now that the museum has reopend after lock-down, I had no excuse not to visit. Finally I would be face to face with the pots and pans that were found in Valeria and the other archaeological sites of Cuenca. So I took my camera with me and asked myself this question:
What did they actually eat around here?
To find out, I propose a refreshing post fit for summer. Because who wants to memorize dates and long lists of ingredients with these high temperatures? So, without further ado, I hereby present: ‘the illustrated Roman cookery ware’. A little tour along some of the museum’s objects, which I have illustrated with some coeval tasty ideas of our friend Apicius.
To start off, I suggest to pan fry some fish of your choice, preferably in season. Have you noticed the foldable handle of the pan, by the way? Our current handy (foldable) camping gear is not so new now, is it? Except from the ultra-light materials of course.
After frying the fish, garnish them with pepper, wild celery and onion. Finish off with a splash of oil and garum and they are ready to eat.
For the next few dishes we have to step down into the nice and cool cellar. Judging from the many earthenwarepots in front of us, it´s stew time. In the pot on the left we will prepare a dish with barley, lentils and peas, but stacked with vegetables and herbs as well, such as leek, broccoli, fennel and dill. Don’t forget to season with our precious garum.
On the right I suggest another stew with chopped up pork loin, onion and dried apricots. A sweet and salty combination we still love nowadays. To this roman version we have to add pepper, cumin, dill, and … of course, a splash of garum.
La pièce de résistance
After having brought up the roman taste booster a few times, I hereby present the most spectacular piece in the cellar: an amphora to store this precious liquid. After being produced in the salting factories down at the coast of the peninsula, the garum was transported and stored in beautiful containers such as this one. An amphora filled with roman fish sauce was undoubtedly worth a fortune.
After stepping out of the cellar, there are plenty more plates, bowls, and mortars to see in the museum’s collection. I can assure you however, that with this little tour, the visits to the site of Valeria have become much more flavourful.
Marco Gavio Apicio. The art of cookery – De re coquinaria. Recetas de la Roma imperial. Barcelona 2007.
We want poffertjes, we want poffertjes! Oh, please… make us some poffertjes, they taste so good!
This was almost the first thing that I heard a few days ago, when I arrived at my family´s home, where I went to spend a few days. For those of you who are not familiar with poffertjes, they are small dutch pancakes, served with icing sugar and butter. Simply delicious… and a winner dish for the entire familiy. Last week I made more than 200 of them and they all dissapeared! Just saying…
Today is about these pancakes, with not just one, but three different recipes for you to try out. And you know, I´m not just looking for old recipes, but I also try to find historic images, the older the better.
As I was telling you, they are small round pancakes, baked in a special pan or on an iron plate, with little holes to shape them and give them a bit more volume. On this painting, the woman is making them on that type of iron plate with holes. Even though we can´t see it that well, we do see the baked pancakes next to it, on a plate on the floor. I don´t find it strange at all that the three kids are lurking around to pick one or two from the plate. This situation is actually quite familiar, when I was baking them myself last week, some of my little guests sneaked up on me and dissapeared again with a poffertje in their mouth, as if I wouldn´t notice. By the way, I hope the resemblance with the cook itself doesn´t match as well…
In this other image we can see the holes for the poffertjes better, as the drawing of this iron plate is made from a different view. These stalls in which the poffertjes were baked were very common on fairs and markets, even today, but the poffertjes are also quite often made at home, in a smaller round pan. However, if you see the grills they use nowadays in these stalls, they are enormous. And the speed at which the cooks turn those little suikers, almost at the speed of light. Well… you know what I mean.
It makes your mouth water, doesn´t it?
Don´t worry, I will tell you how to make them right now. The first recipe of this cute pancake is found in De volmaakte Hollandsche keuken-meid, a recipe book from 1746. Actually, in the addendum that came with the third edition, in 1754. It´s an anonymous Dutch recipe book, however, the introduction states that the author is ´a distinguished lady, recently passed away in The Hague´. Even though we don´t have a name, we know the distinguished character of the book and its audience. Even the title is quite clear about it: The perfect Dutch kitchen maid. Luckily we´re not perfect ourselves, but we do have enough enthusiasm to get on with the two recipes of poffertjes we can find in this book.
38. Poffertjes, how they should be baked. Take half a cup of buckwheat flower, half a kilo of wheat flour, 3 eggs, a pint of milk*, a little spoon of yeast mixed with a little bit of sugar; mix everything together, let it rise and fry poffertjes.
Another way which is excellent. Take half a kilo of wheat flower, 3/8 of a kilo of raisins, a handful of ground almonds, a little bowl of butter, 4 whole eggs, a little spoon of yeast mixed with some sugar; mix everything with milk, until you obtain a thickness like a Sister**, and fry poffertjes, they are excellent good.
*Approximately 600 ml **This corresponds to a recipe of a tart/cake with almost the same ingredients. In this recipe book we can find instructions for a ´Big Sister´ and for a ´Small Sister´. I´m very curious to know what they are and taste like…
I can´t wait to try these two old recipes, but I´m afraid I will have to wait for my poffertjes pan to arrive. Don´t ask why, but at my own place, I still haven´t got one. Once I receive it, I will get cooking. In the meantime, I will share this contemporary recipe with you as well. I have made them quite a few times, and they are very good.
Makes about 30-35 poffertjes. They are prepared in a pan such as this. You can make them in a regular pan, but they will be bigger and flattened, similar to American pancakes.
For the batter: 300 g milk 15 g fresh yeast 1 egg 15 g sugar pinch of salt 100 g sour cream (reduced-fat) 200 g flour (you can use buckwheat flour instead, or a combination of the two) 50 g melted butter
To serve: icing sugar butter at room temperature
Method: Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk until smooth. Cover up with a humidified cloth or place some cling film directly onto the batter to avoid it from hardening. Leave the batter to rest for an hour.
Heat up the poffertjes pan on a medium heat, and grease it with butter using a brush. Fill the holes with the batter using a spoon or even better, with a plastic bottle that has a dispenser. Turn the poffertjes with a skewer or a small fork before the surface is cooked. Let them brown and place them onto a plate. To make it easier you can pick them up one by one with the skewer. For large quantities you can place the plate over a pan with hot water to keep them warm. Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar and a few pieces of butter. Aproximately 12 poffertjes per portion.
Let me know what you think about these poffertjes from the North, I´m sure they will be a success. Meanwhile I will keep on investigating because I believe there are recipes even older than the two I mentioned today, images as well probably. Until next time!
J. van Dam, J. Witteveen. Koks & keukenmeiden. Amsterdam: Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 2006.
A couple of weeks ago it was international cheese day, so I figured, let´s take a look at some painted cheese. I´m as Dutch as a Gouda cheese, so it´s not a surprise I love the actual product as well, not just the painted ones. A few pieces of cheese, some bread, a glass of wine… and I´m in. Any day is good to do a little cheese tasting.
But getting back to the images, there are quite some examples of cheese on murals, paintings, etc. One of the oldest is the dairy frieze from the third millennium BC, where the production of cheese is shown as if it were a comic strip. Already in this period there was a love for cheese, which is no surprise to me.
If we now get a little closer to more known examples, something struck my attention. On some Dutch still lifes, cheese has a prominent place. Sometimes they are placed on top of each other, giving the stack a considerable volume within the painting. As a cheese lover, they catch my attention instantly. But then, I look a little bit closer, and they don´t look very attractive, I have to admit, the pour things are not so good looking.
Some have stains or even cracks filled with mold, and I don´t mean the mold on cheese after ripening, like on soft matured cheeses for example, but the one that appears when everybody forgets that it still exists and the poor thing turns green.
I imagine it all has to do with the production process that wasn´t anything like it is today, nor were the options to preserve it obviously. Even the biological process of fermentation was still unknown, and made it impossible to better understand the production process like nowadays. But then again, aren´t they delicious? Especially the raw milk varieties. We love them anyway, even if they are not that good looking.
In this work from the Dutch painter Floris Claesz. van Dijk we see a couple of these stacked cheeses. I wonder what type of cheese they were, when they were eaten and what they were used for, don´t you? The smallest one on top, has an ash grey colour which doesn´t ring a bell, and it looks so dry that the only purpose it seems to have is to be grated. It owes its dark green colour to herbs like parsley, which was normally added to give low-fat cheeses more flavour. Don´t we buy cheeses with nettle, chives or even pesto nowadays? This green cheese is still very common.
When we speak in terms of it´s use, this type of cheese could have indeed be used for grating. If we look up Magirus´ recipe book (which I introduced in my piece on the royal tart), published a few years before this painting was made, we can find 28 references to ´g(h)eraspten kese´, or indeed: grated cheese.
Taking a closer look into this book, we can see that the word cheese appears no less than 64 times, and with a few variations as well. An incredible number of times, uncommon for contemporary Dutch recipe books. This is where the influence of Bartolomeo Scappi´s Italian kitchen becomes evident, from whom Magirus borrowed quite some recipes for his book. What Magirus does is accommodate them to the already famous and abundant cheese in the Low Countries.
If we now go back to the painting and compare the three cheeses with the varieties in the book, each of the painted ones can be connected to one of the categories he mentiones. From top to bottom we have the ´drooghen kese´ or dry cheese, ´ouden kese´ or ´old cheese´ and finally ´nieuwen Hollandschen kese´ or new Dutch cheese. Magirus names quite defined and common varieties so it seems. In his recipes he mentiones all these types of cheeses as an ingredient in various dishes, especially for tarts and pies: fillings with meat, offal, or mushrooms and vegetables, even with fruit and nuts. Cheese also went into stuffings for roasted poultry or other meats.
And the cheese was of course served as is, at the end of a meal. According to several medical contemporary treatises, the best for this purpose were hard cheeses, as they would serve to close the stomach. Bitter and sour fruit, nuts and olives also did the trick. The combination of these ingredients, except for slight variations, can be seen on this painting by Van Dijck, just like on some other paintings from around that period, such as these from Pieter Claesz or Clara Peeters. They could all be representing the mentioned last course of a meal, finishing the banquet properly and with the right products.
But wait, there is more to these cheeses. Magirus doesn´t only tell us how to cook with them, or when to serve them, he also gives advice on what to serve depending on which dinner guest one had: Want meest alle vrouwen met soeticheyt, de mans met suer, met sout, met sterck ende met bitter te onderhouden syn. And translated: Because most woman are taken care of with sweets, and men with sour, salted, strong and bitter.
And that´s that. Equality? That was certainly not an issue yet. Well, I tell you one thing, Magirus, I prefer a plate of the ´sour, salted, strong and bitter´, please. He recommends a good Parmesan and Dutch cheese, but also anchovies, dried salmon, seasoned oysters, nuts, dried fruit and wine, just to name a few. Nothing wrong with that, don´t you think? Let´s leave these masculine and feminine last courses for another day, there´s still a lot to talk about.
So, what about a nice cheese plate, to close our stomach? Don´t forget the hard cheese, or any other type you like of course.
Bruyn, J. Dutch cheese: a problem of interpretation.
Simiolus (24), 1996.
Kwak, Z. ‘Proeft de kost en kauwtse met uw’ oogen’.
Beeldtraditie, betekenis en functie van het Noord-Nederlandse keukentafereel
(ca. 1590-1650). Tesis doctoral. Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2014.
El arte de Clara
Peeters [catálogo exposición]. Amberes: Koninklijk Museum voor Schone
Kunsten/ Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016.
Smakelijk eten: eten
en drinken in de Gouden Eeuw [catálogo exposición]. Hoorn: Westfries
To celebrate the recipes category of mycurioseaty, I believe baking a cake would be in order, don´t you think? It has to be a grand cake of course, a royal one if possible, not just any cake.
Do you remember the first piece of the blog on cake decoration, where I showed you an image with a banquet starred by Philips II, Charles V and co.? Well, it´s not a cake, but the tart on that painting looks pretty grand to me. Let´s bake that, or at least give it a try. One royal tart to go, please!
But how could we possibly know what it tasted like, what ingredients could have been used? Well, don´tt worry, to find out what type of tart this might have been, I have searched in written sources from around that time, end of the 16th, beginning of the 17th century, specifically in historic cookbooks from the Low Countries. The paintings with similar tarts I showed in that article were made there, and the title of the royal banquet is quite clear about who was in charge in Flanders at the time. It is quite possible that similar tarts became fashionable, or maybe they were already. What has become clear when searching in these cookbooks is that these types of tarts were made and eaten, not only at royal tables.
A candidate recipe can be found in a cookbook from the beginning of the 17th century in Leuven, city which was then part of the Spanish Netherlands. The so-called Koocboec of Antonius Magirus, contains a total of 55 recipes for pies and tarts, which is quite a compilation.
What strikes your attention, while reading these recipes, is the clear distinction that is often made between white and dark tarts and pies. Depending on the ingredients the cooks had or the ones that could be replaced for others, the result would be a lighter or darker filling. If we look closely at the painting, we can see both types. The tart with the lighter filling can be found on the foreground and the brown one more at the back of the scene. Given the level of decoration and the prominent place, it appears the lighter one is more important. This distinction could be similar to the one that used to be made between white and wholegrain bread. Maybe something that is worthwhile exploring.
Back to the recipe, I have to admit, that adaptation to current circumstances is in place. I´m used to doing it with contemporary recipes as well. You can also call it: doing whatever you like. Besides, older recipes don´t tend to be very detailed in quantities or instructions. So, let´s give it a try then!
Today we are going to prepare a ´royal tart with pine nuts, almonds and other stuff´. Yes… stuff is part of the ´detailed´ description I´m afraid, let´s see what it is. Nevertheless, the royal part of the title suits our painted tart, as well as the fancy pine nuts and almonds.
First, I will reduce quantities, otherwise we will be eating tart for a month. Besides, the pound of pine nuts that goes into the filling would take away a big chunk of the recipes budget. Regarding the ginger, I have used just a teaspoon of the powdered version. I do wish to try this recipe with stem ginger on syrup, I´sure it would suit the tart very well.
The dough is made with the ingredients of a shortbread crust, which is almost identical to the ones listed by Magirus, except for the baking powder or self-raising flower some people use today.
Royal tart with pine nuts and almonds
Ingredients: For 2 individual round pie molds or 1 mold of 15cm
The dough: 150g self raising flour 75g butter 35g icing sugar and some more for decoration 1 egg yolk 12g rose water
The filling: 50g peeled almonds 50g pine nuts 100g sugar 75g cream cheese 1 egg yolk, beaten 40g apple 1 tsp ginger Pinch of nutmeg Splash of rose water
The dough: Sieve the flour onto a clean flat surface. Add the butter in cubes and mix well with your fingers. Add the yolk, sugar, rose water and mix without kneading the dough. Form a ball, wrap it in plastic and let it rest for a few hours in the fridge. Roll out the dough and cover the mold with it. Pick the dough with a fork to prevent it from raising and bake the crust in a preheated oven at 180ºC for aprox. 10-15 minutes. Let it cool.
Filling: Grind the almonds and pine nuts together with the apple. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake at 180ºC for 15 minutes or until slightly golden. Let the tart cool down and finally dust with icing sugar.
In honour of the tart from the painted banquet, I have decided to laureate my royal tart as well, a bit more modest of course, with just a few leaves.
And now to the taste, which is a curious one I must admit. It seems like a mix between an almond cake and a baked cheese cake with spicy and floral touches, but definitely worth the try. Not many people can say they ate a royal tart just like the one served to Philips II of Spain.
So, fancy an ancient royal tart? Here´s your chance. Enjoy!
 Interpretation of the original
text. Dutch transcription by Hilde Sels and Marleen Willebrands, http://www.kookhistorie.nl/, version 20-05-09: Pelt een pont amandelen, die men eerst te weyck heeft geset, den tyt
van acht uren in cout water, ende als sy gepelt syn, stamptse met een pont
pinghelen, die ooc geweyckt hebben ses uren lanc in cout water, ende alsse wel
cleyn gestooten syn, doetter dan by twee pont fyn suycker geraspt, oft
gestooten, ende anderhalf pont roomkes, die vers is, oft in plaetse anderhalf pont
platten kese van schapenmelck, hierby ses doyeren van eyeren cleyn geclopt,
ende vier oncen appelen gestooten heel cleyn, ende een greyntjen muskes, ende
een half once gember, een lutsken rosewater, ende vraecht gyder niet naer,
oftse wit is oft niet: in plaetse van gember, doetter nagelen in, canneel, ende
noten muskaten, legtse in deech, laetse backen als voor.