“Two things only the people desire: bread, and the circus games.”
But this time it's all about the bread.
The ancient poet Juvenal so noted in his Satire X, that bread is one of the forces that power the world. And while his reference is related to how the Roman emperors gave out a grain ration and hosted costly chariot races and gladiatorial games to control the people, his sentiment still rings true in many ways. As people, we desire food, and we desire entertainment. And the rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease aside, for the vast majority of humans in the last 14,000+ years, we love ourselves some good bread.
In fact, I’m writing this as the scent of a fresh loaf wafts up the stairs to my office. The wait is on to cut it open and have that first slice.
I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon when a fad is hot, but during the pandemic, when there was little else to do, and yeast was nearly impossible to get, I too decided to start making sourdough bread. My starter is 2.5 years old now, but its origins may be older than that. I took a chance and bought a dried Etsy starter which claims to date from 1633 during the Black Death in Germany. Mostly, I figured that it was just clever marketing on the part of the Etsy woman, but let me tell you, the starter is WAY better than the one I bought from King Arthur. Incidentally, I mixed together my King Arthur starter with my Black Death starter (how perfect for pandemic baking), and now we call it the Frankenstarter. I modified a Food & Wine Sourdough Boule recipe to fit my Emile Henry bread baker, and now every Sunday, I make bread for the week ahead. It’s seriously the best.
Try Ancient Bread in Your Own Kitchen
When writing FEAST OF SORROW, I tried making many different ancient Roman recipes. Apicius didn’t really have that much in the way of bread in his cookbook, aside from the occasional fritter (oh, the Romans LOVED their donuts and other fried foods), so I often had to try recipes from other sources. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet food archaeologist Farrell Monaco until I was writing THE CHEF’S SECRET, or I think her work would have been a big influence in my first novel. I was lucky enough to meet her in person for the first time in a place we both adore, Rome. That friendship, borne from a love of food and history, is one I’m grateful for on a few levels. She recreated some of the recipes from my novels, including Apicius’ Pear Patina and Honey Fritters, Vatia’s Fig-Stuffed Pastry Piglets, and Scappi’s Chickpea and Chestnut Zeppolle. I can’t even begin to tell you the joy I had when I first saw the photos of the piglets. They are exactly how I imagined them!
Farrell has a bunch of sourdough starter recipes on her site, including a chickpea starter that grows faster than any you’ve ever seen!
One of the breads she recreates is this one from Pompeii, with poppy seed, fennel, and parsley.
You could try making it at home, OR, if you are in the U.S., you could just let Farrell make it for you. Seriously! She’s got a shop on Goldbelly where you can try out all sorts of amazing bread from the ancient past. We picked up the ancient Roman sampler, and it was fantastic.
What’s Bringing Me Joy This Week:
🥣Monday, February 4, was National Homemade Soup Day, and I shared this Tortellini Soup recipe. SO perfect for a cold winter night
😋The New York Public Library now has the largest digital collection of menus online, including this gem from The Women’s Press Club for a Valentine Breakfast at New York’s Hotel Astor, all the way back in 1906. The entire digital collection from the NYPL is pretty incredible, ranging from old cards, photographs, stamps, company records, and rare books. You could get lost for hours if you are a research freak like me.
🤯This video of agriculture technology at work blew my mind. I had no idea that’s how they harvested mussels, carrots, or sod (and so much more).
Congrats 🎉🎉to Rachel Nowell and Martha Bryce, the winners of last week’s book giveaway of Amy Poeppel’s THE SWEET SPOT and Weina Dai Randel’s NIGHT ANGELS! I’ll be doing more book giveaways in the future, so stay tuned.
Thanks for joining me this week! If you haven’t read THE CHEF’S SECRET or FEAST OF SORROW, click the links to learn where to buy your copy! 🍒🍗🍷
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