A Salernitan Meal

We had this meal on Easter Saturday, so it is about time I got around to posting it. Dishes mostly based on descriptions in de diaetis, the 11th-century Latin text from Salerno.

Our main dish was chicken slowly cooked with chickpeas and spinach, a loose interpretation of this:

…The first (e.g. capons, pigeons, partridges), if they are eaten cooked with vinegar and sugar, comfort the heat of the stomach. Thus says Rufus. If they are cooked with orache and chickpeas, and a little cinnamon, they loosen the belly.

I interpreted this conservatively, as a kind of stew cooked slowly, originally probably in some kind of thick-walled pot made of soapstone or pottery. We used an enamelled cast iron pot in which we started two soup chickens in chicken stock so as to ensure the meat retained flavour. If we had had dried chickpeas, we would also have added them at this point, but we were reduced to using pre-cooked ones due to the exigencies of holiday shopping in Germany. After long morning of simmering, I took out the chickens, stripped off the meat, returned it to the pot and added about 1.2 kg of fresh spinach. After the leaves had collapsed, I added the chickpeas and seasoned the mix with cinnamon and a light touch of pepper. That really was all it needed.

Our second main dish, and the vegetarian option, was based on a short passage in the chapter on eggs:

The diversity of eggs according to their preparation is multiple. There are those which are roasted, be it in the ashes or in the coals. And some are boiled in water. Others are fried in the pan in oil or in other fat. And some are cooked in water and oil with various condiments such as onion, pepper, cumin and similar. Others are cooked with meat and herbs in sauces. (…)

But those that re cooked in water and oil and condiments are most easily digested, aid coitus and multiply sperm, especially if they are cooked with roasted meat and with hot and aromatic condiments such as pepper, cinnamon, sugar, and similar.

Together with one on aubergines:

(…) but they are of less harm if they are tempered and split and filled with salt and then much later thrown into hot water and afterwards placed in different water and washed two or three times. After then are washed in water, they will lack all their blackness and they are then boiled and, the water having been discarded, are cooked again with fat meat of cattle or sheep or pork or similar. Those who wish to eat them without meat cook them with vinegar, oil of unripe olives, obsomagarum and similar things.

So, we know that eggs are cooked with meat in sauces which presumably means broken into the pot and cooked whole, not stirred in or boiled in the shell. I decided to apply this (speculative, but plausible) technique to a vegetarian preparation of eggplant and onions. This still requires an interpretation of what obsomagarum is. I believe it is a fermented sauce, possibly actually garum, but cautiously decided to go with soy sauce in this instance. The result was absolutely excellent, in my opinion the best dish in the spread. The onions were finely diced, the eggplant coarsely, and the whole cooked in a pan with the eggs broken into shallow depressions in the top towards the end. It was excellent with bread.

Third, and this is based on a number of church donation documents rather than a recipe, I cooked broad beans together with millet to produce a thick porridge. This was served to the poor as a charitable donation, enriched with either olive oil or lard, and would have made a meal in itself. Here, as a side, I held back on the oil. It also worked very well.

Finally, we had leavened light wheat bread and unleavened barley bread. Both were good, but the wheat bread (using modern cultured yeast) was more pleasant to eat. Two sauces – green herb sauce and honey mustard – were added because they were left over from the fish feast. They matched well, and both basic combinations are plausible; There is a green sauce in the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum and honey mustard in Palladius.

For dessert, we made apples baked in a crust again. This is a favourite:

(…) And thus it is good to eat the juice that is pressed from apples and the flesh discarded, or to find another way in which their hardness and sharpness is relieved. It is relieved in three ways, that is, by boiling in water because that way they acquire softness and humidity, or by suspending them above the steam of hot water, because that causes moistening and ripening, or by cutting them apart in the middle, removing the hard seeds inside them and in their place inserting sugar or honey, (…) and they must afterwards be wrapped in some kind of dough and then placed in the ashes or coals until the dough outside is cooked. Through this art, their softness and tastiness predominates, they are quickly digested, and the harm they do to the nerves is relieved. (…)

In honour of the holiday, we further wanted some kind of Easter-themed addition and settled on bunnies. The excuse was furnished by the instruction to combine almonds and honey:

(…) The oil that is extracted from them is better if their kernels are hard. But if they are first blanched (excorticentur), they should be given to eat as more digestible, more so if they are taken with honey or sugar. (…)

Obviously this in no way implies a paste. It could just be blanched almonds dipped in honey, or coated in it in a hot pan, or immersed in it to be taken out, or perhaps cooked into almond brittle. All of these are plausible. But I guess so is mashing them in a mortar, and this way we got bunnies.

We liked the bunnies.

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