Monday 18 December 2017

Christmas feast in Ancient Roman ~ #Christmas #history #Food #Roman @CRipleyMiller

Christmas Feast in Ancient Rome.
By Cynthia Ripley Miller.  

The Ancient Roman Table

One of the major aspects of Christmas is the holiday table and family favorite cuisine. For many, their traditional foods reach back to past generations connected to their countries of origin, regions, and tastes. In my case, I’m a first generation Italian-American, so my family meals are connected to the foods of Tuscany where my parents were born. My husband’s roots are German-American South Dakota farmers. Our Christmas table can be quite interesting as well as delicious. My novels are set in late ancient Rome and my characters on occasion feast together. Consequently, I set out to find what were some of the most delectable Roman foods and recipes popular for celebrations.

Popular Roman Fruits were: apples, pears, plums and quinces. Later in its history came: apricots, peaches, cherries, and grapes.

Common Garden Vegetables included: artichokes, asparagus, carrots, garlic, beans, chicory, lentils, radishes, peas and cucumbers.

Romans liked nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, filberts, pistachios and walnuts. Even today, these nuts are a part of my family’s dessert course. When I was a child, my grandfather, the holiday cook, usually had two large bowls laden with these nuts placed beside platters of fruits and sweets. We used nutcrackers and silver picks to pry the nutmeats from their shells and the Romans did too. TheLeavenworth Nutcracker Museum in the United States displays a bronze Roman nutcracker dated between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. 

Fishes: In the early Roman era, fish was not a common meal, but before the Republic ended, ‘fresh or rare fish brought high prices.’ Often the rich kept fishponds to breed their catch. Mullet (mullus) and a type of turbot (rhombus) were popular. ‘Salted fish was cheap and exported from most Mediterranean harbors. Oysters were a popular delicacy.’

Meats: Romans ate very little beef because ‘it was a mark of luxury and was eaten only on special occasions.’ Cows were sacrificed to the gods and its ‘heart, liver and lungs were given to priests to be burned on the altar.’ Also, it’s size kept it from staying fresh in warmer weather. Pork was the preferred meat. ‘There were fifty different ways of cooking pork as well as six kinds of sausages based on pork.’ Other meats consumed were mutton, veal and goat. Sausage is still a popular dish in Italy today.

Domestic Fowl and Game: chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons.

Wild Fowl: cranes, grouse, partridge, snipe and woodcock—Peacocks were very expensive.

Cereals: wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Bread: ‘The best bread was made from fine wheat flour.’ The Romans also had many varieties of bread made from coarse wheat flour, flour and bran, or bran alone.

Dairy Products used: milk, cream, curds, whey and cheese.

Savory and SweetSeasonings comprised: anise, cumin, fennel, mint, mustard, and poppy seeds. Salt was first evaporated from seawater, later it was mined. Pepper came from Asia. Honey was used as a sweetener.

A wonderful book about ancient Roman food and culinary customs is Patrick Faas’s Around the Roman Table. Many of the recipes have come from the ancient Roman chef Appicus. Sauces and marinades were strong elements in ancient Roman cuisine. One of the recipes in the book is Soft-Boiled Eggs in Pine-Nut Sauce. This recipe calls for pepper, honey, garum (an ancient fish sauce) and pine-nuts. Today one can find pine-nuts in pesto and a variety of dishes.

Some other recipes are Fried Veal Escalope with Raisins, Columella Salad, which is a combination of mint, coriander, parsley, leek, thyme, cheese, vinegar and pepper. And for dessert, Nut Tart whose ingredients include almonds, pistachios, and pine-nuts, honey, wine, sheep’s milk and a teaspoon of garum or pepper. When cooked it produces a firm pudding that is chilled and then tipped onto a plate and drizzled with boiled honey.

Additional ancient Roman delights that were quite popular: Lucanian Sausages (My characters love this dish!), Libum (Sweet Cheesecake), and Mulsum (Honeyed Wine).

It’s possible to visit ancient Rome for the holidays and bask in its cuisine. Why not bring the recipes preserved by Appicus and others into your holiday kitchens? I’m off to the market for pine-nuts and sausages! Buon Appetito.

Books on ancient Roman Cooking: Around the Roman Table, Patrick Fass; A Taste of Ancient Rome, Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa; The Classical Cookbook, Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger

Sources: Around the Roman Table, Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome by Patrick Faas; Nova: Ancient Roman

Cynthia Ripley Miller
Cynthia Ripley Miller is an Italian-American writer who loves history, languages and books. As a girl, she wondered what it would be like to journey through time. Today, she writes to bring the past to life. Cynthia has two degrees, has taught history and teaches English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, at Orchard Press and The Scriptor. A Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist for her novel, On the Edge of Sunrise, she has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website. She lives with her husband, her pets—a cat, Romulus, and a German Shepherd, Jessie, in suburban Chicago. On the Edge of Sunrise and The Quest for the Crown of Thorns are the first two novels in her Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome and France and published by Knox Robinson Publishing-London & Atlanta. To connect with Cynthia or learn more about her books, visit: Website Facebook Twitter

The Long-Haired Saga

The year is AD 450. The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens. Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat
are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians. A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge. She is as well
versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own.

The Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul. Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.
When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her. Alarmed by the instant and passionate attraction she feels, Arria is torn between duty and desire. Her arranged betrothal to
the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp. Rebels in a
falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.


  1. All sounds delicious! Love the Columella salad. Might try that one myself.

  2. Give it a go! I lean towards the cheesecake 'Libum' or anything with pesto!

  3. Such a fabulous post! They certainly knew how to feast in Ancient Rome!

    1. And at times, even to excess. Although, by the end of Christmas day, I'll most likely feel the same! :-)

  4. I never realised the Roman's had such a vast choice of food. I learn something every day on this blog!

  5. It is quite amazing, isn’t it? Perhaps, this is why Italy today is known for its food.

    1. Perhaps you are right!!! Happy Christmas, Cynthia.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx