Gregorian frittata

In his Liber in Gloria Martyrum, Gregory of Tours (probably 538-594 CE) provides narratives of the lives of eminent Christian leaders. Mostly, these are the hagiographies of piety and suffering you expect from the genre, but sometimes, he captures details of everyday life in the Frankish kingdom. One such occasion is found in chapter 79, were he describes a meal served to an orthodox and a heretic clergyman. It includes this description of the final course:

The fourth course, then, was served in the middle of a sizzling pan (sartago fervens) in which lay such a mixed dish (compositum … cibum) that was made of beaten (conlisis) eggs quickly (parumper) mixed with flour, which is customarily adorned with pieces of dates and the roundness (rotunditatibus – slices?) of olives.

(quoted after Margarete Weidemann: Kulturgeschichte der Merowingerzeit nach den Werken Gregors von Tours, Mainz 1982, p. 370)

We can see this is not really a recipe, but it is a starting point: The dish involved both eggs and flour, though the proportions are not clear. It was prepared in a frying pan and adorned (exornari) with dates and olives. This is intriguing. As I had the opportunity to cook with friends today, we decided to try a few foods from the so-called Dark Ages.

The interpretation we tried was as a patina, a class of egg dish popular in Roman cuisine. Beaten eggs mixed with a small amount of flour went into a hot frying pan with about a teaspoon of olive oil. After it began to firm up around the edges, I distributed sliced olives and figs (there were no dates to be had) across the surface and finished cooking it at a low heat until it was fully set.

This version was a success, though it could certainly stand some refining. A smaller amount of egg (about half as much) would have both cookeed faster and allowed a more decorative arrangement of the fruit, as Gregory’s text envisions. This would also likely have produced an even more intense flavour combination. The sweetness of dried fruit and the tart saltiness of the olives complemented each other very well.

Contact with the pan produced a semi-firm crust, resulting in a consistency much like the filling of a quiche. I thin that may have been the intended effect. However, I should also try it out with eggs beaten to a froth or scrambled in the pan for a softer, spongier consistency, and with more flour and possibly some kind of leavening to make a pancake or flatbread.

Certainly a project worth continued pursuit.

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