The Bread of Pompeii

 

One of the many hobbies I practice, as opposed to ones such as chess that I only wish I practiced, is baking. The smell of bread first rising and then baking is a wonderful aroma, and since there are a number of breaks in the process I can actually accomplish a number of tasks while baking bread. Well I theoretically could.

I have baked a wide range of bread types and styles and have more than a dozen types of flour and flour substitutes in my pantry ranging from almond, rice and potato to just about every variation of wheat.  When I see a new or interesting variation of an old recipe I almost always save it and then try and bake it- only about 50 loaves behind, so better than my reading list.

Tavola_Header-1140-Foodica-pompeii-4

So with that said I found this foodies journey on Atlas Obscura about baking a unique loaf of bread to be very interesting. Farrell Monaco, who has a blog that covers her research in ancient food called Tavola Mediterranae, decided to take on an interesting challenge from the ancient world, she is recreating bread as it is believed to have come from the bakeries of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

Over the years many have gone on to duplicate recipes from ancient times with Marcus Gavius Apicius, an ancient gourmand who reputedly wrote De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking) being a good place to start. To see some of his recipes converted to modern food go to PBS. If you are interested in ancient Chinese cuisine, at least from one region, you might try and find Dongjing Meng Hua Lu (Dreaming of Splendor of the Eastern Capitol) by Meng Yuanlao, from around A.D. 1187.

pompeii

A bit of background on Pompeii. It was a Roman city, on the side of Mt. Etna, near modern Naples. In AD 79 the volcano erupted covering the city of approximately 11,000, along with neighboring Herculaneum, under up to 20 feet of ash and pumice.

Back to the bread. Monaco got a job with the Pompeii Food and Drink project, which covered a great deal more than just baking such as restaurants and what animals were sacrificed to the gods. She has been developing recipes based on ancient writings for some time but admits that this seems to have a special place in her heart.

panis
Panis Quadratus

She is going to recreate bread called Panis Quadratus, which has no recorded recipe, although we know what it looks like from examples from Pompeii. If you are interested in how it turns out, and what other ancient foods might look and taste, she along with Ken Albala, a professor of history at the University of the Pacific, will be having demonstrations and lectures on this topic in Italy this summer.

All of this has inspired me to bake some this weekend, although of a slightly more modern take. I plan to create Multigrain  Dakota Bread from a Cooks Country, although I am substituting Bob’s 10-grain hot cereal mix for the 8-grain, which I could not find.

In a Jam

canning

I like making jams, jellies, preserves, butters and marmalade. I started because I could get buckets of free blackberries and a large amount of free cherries every year and was looking at what to do with them aside from freezing them. Canning is pretty easy once you have done it a few times, and I am way past that point. At one point I was making over 50 jars a year.

In the past few years I have fallen away from canning. In the past I would either harvest the fruit or go to the local farmers market and get what was fresh. Most recipes only take a few hours, much of it just waiting. I expanded to making pickles, and canning a variety of vegetables as well as gallons of apple sauce in the Fall.

Then this holiday season I discovered I was out of all of my jams, which aside from using on toast and occasionally pancakes I use for fillings in some cookies, and realized I had made so little in the past year that I could not give any away to friends that wanted some. So I was determined to restart this year, as well as experiment a bit.

Since it is tangerine season I decided to make tangerine marmalade. If you are wondering what the difference between all of the options it is basically this: jellies are fruit juice, jams are crushed fruit, butters are cooked down a bit more so that they have the consistency of butter, preserves are mostly whole fruit and marmalade have rind in them.

bergmot

I went to get tangerines, which I had seen at all of the local grocery stores over the last few weeks. I could not find any that looked good, at least good enough to can with the rinds. Well I had a recipe that I got from David Lebovitz on bergamots, and thought that might be interesting. No luck on them either. I tried one for oranges but could not find Valencia oranges. I tried substituting juicing oranges and they did not have a very good flavor.

I try not to kill one of my few New Year’s resolutions on the first day so I kept an eye out and found some very good tangerines last night. This is the first marmalade that I have made, and the slicing of the fruit into thin strips with the rind on was a good deal more difficult than I had anticipated. I managed to tip the cutting board at one point and spill juice into my utensil drawer. Oh joy. But mission accomplished, and while not as artistic as the ones in the photo they received their first boil and an overnight soak. I will be canning them this afternoon and will hand them out tomorrow to get some feedback on how it tastes.

In hind sight I should have read the intro to the recipe for bergamots a bit more closely since they are also called citron limetta, which I had seen at one store. Also I can substitute Meyers lemons, which are readily available at a number of places. I will be heading out for some lemons in a bit to make my second batch of the New Year tomorrow.

Note: I wrote this yesterday and made the marmalade. It was not a success. I did not dice the rind fine enough and it makes it seem like there are chewy blobs in the spread. Well it was my first attempt and in my defense I will say tangerines are hard to finely slice.  Now I know.