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Roman Recipes – Roast pork w/ cumin and honey, Sauteed mushrooms, Split Pea Pulse, Elberberry Custard

So for making Roman Recipes, I first consulted the Vehling translation (because that was the one my mother let me take with me when I moved), but then later I consulted a more reliable translation, the Flower & Rosenbaum translation, which has the Latin and the English on facing pages. Oh, and then I am referencing a completely different translation after the fact – it’s not a good translation, but it is online so I can show you what I’m talking about.

So here’s what we had for dinner last night:
Roast Pork
The whole point of making this dinner was that I had bought a huge pork loin and had cut it into three, still large, roasts. And then my mother had been making pork roasts and sending me the leftovers. And my freezer has been slowly filling up with pork! If I made a roast on my own, I’d then still have 2/3 of the roast right back in my freezer. So I came up with the nifty theme and invited people from the SCA to join me for dinner.

I was intrigued by the Vehling translation’s description of a roast that was first broiled and then braised. And I was all, hmmm… that’s like browning it before you braise it, only we usually do that in a pan rather than an over – cool, it’ll be like brisket.

Only then I checked the Flower & Rosenbaum translation and found that Vehling had been smushing together two recipes that were supposed to be separate. I’m still a bit dubious and I am half inclined to check a manuscript edition because the Flower & Rosenbaum have very clear punctuation and separations of one thing from the next, and I suspect that is a modernization. I did not, however, get around to actually checking before I made the dinner.

So I made the simplest recipe – the one that is a lot like the way I make pork when I do not have a fancy recipe to go from: cover it in salt and roast it and then drizzle with honey right at the end.

Only I usually do all kinds of fancy things like embedding garlic cloves in the meat, and sliding sprig of rosemary between the fat layer and the meat, and studding it with cloves of garlic. The honey, however, was new.

So I figured that a little “roman inspired” creativity never hurt anything, so I lightly dusted the fat on top with asafoetida, and then a heavier dusting with ground cumin. Then I added a nice, thick coating of kosher salt. Oh, yeah, and I pinned bacon rind to all of the exposed surfaces so that the edges wouldn’t dry out during cooking.

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, and then I lowered it to 250 as soon as the meat went in. Since I had no idea how heavy this roast was, nor do I own a meat thermometer, I went for long, slow cooking that would end up with the meat very thoroughly done, but still tender. I think it ended up cooking for about 4 hours.

And I completely forgot about adding the honey.

It was still quite tasty.

Not satisfied with how simple the roast was going to be, I gave in and decided to make one of the sauces for roasts. Since I was unable to obtain laurel berries or myrtle berries, I went for the third one – and still ended up having to skip half of the ingredients.

I put into a mortar:

  • a lot of pepper
  • dried lovage
  • dried celery leaf instead of celery seed
  • dried dill
  • asafoetida
  • cumin

and then I added slightly damp ingredients

  • ginger, cut into slices against the grain
  • parsley, shredded

then I started working in the liquid ingredients to form a paste

  • a splash of worchestershire sauce and thai fish sauce to make the equivalent of liquamen
  • olive oil
  • a wee little bit of red wine vinegar, which wasn’t in the recipe, to keep it from getting too oily

The sauce turned out very tasty and complemented the pork perfectly.

This is just mushrooms sauteed with oil, liquamen, and pepper.

Almost every translator has you taking time to dry the mushrooms in the middle of cooking. Having cooked mushrooms, and read how modern cookbooks describe the process, I think Apicius is just talking about how mushrooms release a lot of liquid when the start cooking, and that you need to keep cooking through that point until the liquid evaporates before you start to add seasonings (esp. liquid ones) or you’ll end up boiling your mushrooms more than sauteing them.


Again, I chose to use yellow split peas because I like them so much that I had bought a brand new bag a while back only to come home and find that I still have 2/3 of a bag already.

So first I boiled and skimmed the peas.

In a mortar, I ground up black pepper, lovage, and cumin. I added cilantro and liquamen (worchestershire sauce & fish sauce) to make a paste. I then added about half a cup of wine (Manischewitz!) and let it sit and get happy together while the peas finished cooking, and I finished cleaning my apartment.

Then I put a decent amount of olive oil in a pan, poured in the spice and wine mixture to start

I also made some non-Roman accompaniments

After having tasted the peas, I decided that this was a rather spicy and pepper-heavy meal. So I got some yogurt, drained it, and made a raita. There are no yogurt sauce recipes in the cookbook even though there are references to soft cheeses. I think that’s because it’s a rather cold, wet sort of thing to be mixing with ones food and you never know what sort of digestive complications that might create.

And while there are recipes for cucumbers, I chose to serve them just drizzled in white balsamic vinegar to make them as refreshing as possible.

Both additions were good choices.

Elderberry Custard
I posted about this day before yesterday, when I made the first part of the recipe. While looking for the spices for the pork, I found dried elderberries for sale. So I stewed together the dried berries with a few raisins (as I did not have raisin wine, and I thought any sweetness added would be a good thing), a lot of wine (Manischewitz), and some pepper. I did add some honey because I was adding honey to the hard cider I have going, and I was very worried about the lack of sweetness to the dish.

So after it had boiled down and reduced, I strained the liquid out and refrigerated it.

After the roast was out of the oven, I beat together 6 eggs and poured in as much of the elberberry concentrate as looked right, beating it all together. Then I ladled it into greased ramekins and set them in a larger casserole that had an inch of water.

They were ready just as the musical episode of Xena (The Bitter Suite) was finishing.

I thought the end result was just too eggy, and everyone ended up adding some honey to it. I think I would like to try again with just egg whites (elderberry meringue?) and just egg yolks (elderberry zabaglione?) to see whether either one yielded a more favorable result.