Ancient Roman Apothermum – Sweet Spelt Cakes


In the second book of De Re Coquinaria, dedicated to meatballs, fish cakes, and sausages, we find an interesting recipe called apothermum, which means “without heat” in Greek. Despite the fact that the list of the ingredients is unbalanced toward the sweetness, it does not seem a dessert, first of all, because otherwise it would be probably included among the dulcia domestica, collected in the seventh book.
A clue about the shape of this dish is given, again, by its position in the cookbook conventionally attributed to Apicius: it is not a cream, but something more similar to spelt cakes, mildly sweet and completely white. The ingredients used, except for the raisins, are indeed white: alica, which is spelt husked, crushed, and whitened, but also almonds and pine nuts, in the original recipe whitened with clay. In addition, the ingredients are probably minced or pounded in the mortar, likewise all the other recipes written in this part of De Re Coquinaria. We chose not to mince the raisins to keep the white color of the dish.
The fact that it is not a sweet is confirmed by its flavor, too bland for a dessert, which would require intenser sweeteners, such as honey, instead of caroenum (grape juice boiled down by one-third) and raisins, whereas it pairs perfectly with meat, meatballs or sausages. We tried it with pullus Parthicus, but it would be perfect also with isicia omentata or Lucanica.

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200 grams of spelt
25 grams of pine nuts
50 grams of almonds
50 grams of raisins
caroenum or raisin wine
black pepper

Soak the pine nuts and almonds in warm water. Coarsely crush the spelt in the mortar, then boil it for about forty minutes or more in salted water. Strain the nuts and pound them in the mortar, then add the whole raisins, spelt, and a bit of caroenum or raisin wine. Shape balls or cakes and serve them dusted with pepper.

Note about the recipe and ingredients
The author writes to clean the pine nuts and almonds with creta argentaria, a kind of clay that would make them completely white, in the same way as spelt is white. In Italy, now, we do not have a preparation similar to ancient alica, and our spelt has its natural color. As a consequence, this dish results less white than it is supposed to be, according to the intentions of the author.
We used black pepper, but you can choose white or long pepper, all at disposal of ancient Roman cooks.
To prepare the caroenum, pound table or wine grapes in the mortar, paying attention not to crush too many seeds to prevent the juice from turning bitter. Strain the juice and boil it down until it reduces by one-third of the original volume. If you prefer, use raisin wine or even mead, which appears in this cookbook as a mild sweetener.

Original recipe
Apothermum sic facies: alicam elixa cum nucleis et amygdalis depellatis et in aqua infusis et lotis ex creta argentaria, ut ad candorem pariter perducantur. Cui ammiscebis uvam passam, caroenum vel passum, desuper piper confractum asparges et in boletari inferes.

Make in this way the apothermum: boiled spelt with pine nuts and peeled almonds, steeped and cleaned in water with clay, in such a way they turn completely white. Mix with raisins and caroenum or raisin wine. Sprinkle ground pepper on top and plate it.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-2
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

Staitites – Ancient Greek Sweet
Chicken Meatballs and Mashed Peas
Sweet Fritters – Dulcia Domestica
Columella’s Moretum and Hapalos Artos
Ancient Roman Frittata
A Saturnalia Recipe – Roast with Saffron Sauce
Muria – Ancestor of Colatura di Alici
Globi – Ancient Roman Sweet
The Diet of the Roman Legionaries – Buccellatum, Lardum, and Posca
How to make garum
Fig Sweet
Ancient Roman Gourd and Eggs
Ofella – Ancient Roman Steak
Fruit salads – Melon and Peaches
Isicia Marina – Shrimp Cakes and Cucumber Salad
Sala Cattabia – Snow and Posca
Copadia – Beef Stew
Puls Punica – Phoenician Dessert
Farcimina – Spelt and Meat Sausages
Ova Spongia ex Lacte – Sweet Omelettes
Flatbread and Chickpea Soup
Chicken stew
Salted Fish with Arugula Sauce
Savillum – Cheesecake
Pasta and Meatballs – Minutal Terentinum
Venison Stew with Spelt Puls
Veal with Allec Sauce – Ius in Elixam Allecatum
Isicia Omentata – Meatballs Wrapped in Caul Fat
Placenta – Honey Cheesecake
Pork Laureate – Porcellum Laureatum
Mashed Chestnuts
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum