An Obelixian Birthday

Today, there is no recipe and no experiment designed to replicate long-lost cuisines. I’m instead going to tell you about my son’s seventh birthday and how to make historic cooking accessible.

Wild boar, green peas and barley-lentil porridge (stuffed toy sharing the meal in top right corner)

First off, a bit of background: My son turned seven. He is really into Asterix at the moment (he wants to collect all the comincs, I read him one yesterday and he watched the animated cartoon today), and he is very proud of how big and strong he is and how much he can eat. So naturally, Obelix is fascinating to him. The weekend before Christmas, a local supermarket had frozen wild boar on special, so I grabbed a piece. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, but when I asked him if he would like to try it, he was quite enthusiastic.

Fresh barley bread and the cloyingly sweetest ketchup imaginable…

The result was a small birthday spread: I rubbed the boar with salt, cumin, mustardseed flour, and savory and slowly roasted it on a bed of onions and garlic, barded with a protective layer of bacon and drizzled with honey. This is not a historically documented or even plausible technique, but it is ‘close enough’, a way of combining the flavours available to the ancient Gauls with the way we are accustomed to eating game. The result, after three hours starting at 150°C in a closed container and finally going to 200°C open, was tender, juicy, and very nice, though not nearly as spicy as I expected.

The marriage of modern and ancient

To go with the boar (which my son loved and ate three slices of), I prepared a porridge of barley and lentils cooked in broth, some green peas (the only vegetable my son actually enjoys instead of tolerates), and some fresh barley bread. These loaves are, obviously, not pure barley, they are a mix of barley and wheat flour, leavened with yeast. But they came fresh from the oven and again introduced a flavour that, taken pure and crunchy, would likely have been rejected. For a sauce, we had the cooking juices of the boar (excellent in a concentrated honey-umami-caramel way) as well as hela ketchup.

This is not “eating like the ancient Gauls”, though it probably is closer than what many self-styled historical restaurants offer. But I think it is a good way to interest people who aren’t usually adventurous eaters in historical foods. My son certainly is interested in boar now, much as he is in duck after trying it in the company of friends and in chestnuts after collecting some last summer. Once he is older, I hope he will also take an interest in cooking things himself.

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