Ancient Roman Beef Roast with Quinces


In the Antiquity, quinces were a popular fruit, used to make wine, compotes, various dishes, but also medicinal remedies. Wine made with quinces was called kydonites or melites. In addition, this fruit was preserved in honey to make melomeli, a preparation with medicinal properties suggested for the feverish that was also used to make a kind of mead called hydromelon, a Greek term that means water and quinces, as we read in Dioscorides’ Materia Medica and Columella’s De Re Rustica.
Another kind of preparation described in the ancient sources is a compote, reported in Palladius’ Opus Agriculturae and Galen’s De Facultatibus Alimentorum, made with quince juice mixed with honey, vinegar, pepper, and ginger. A further medicinal compote is described in Johannes Damascenus’ Appendicula de Condituris Variis, dating back to the 8th or 9th century, in which the quinces are preserved with honey, saffron, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and musk as a remedy for the stomach.
A traditional method to cook quinces, reported by Galen and Gargilius Martialis but still used in the Middle Ages according to Michele Savonarola, consisted in wrapping them in dough and cooking them under the ashes. In De Re Coquinaria, we find quinces in a recipe for patina, a frittata with leek, honey, garum, and oil, and to accompany beef or veal, the recipe we are preparing today.
For this recipe, we chose quinces, but the author recommends also leeks, onions, or taro to accompany either veal or beef.
We added the sauce to the cooked meat before serving it, but there are no directions about it in the short recipe, as well as about the cooking method. We roasted the meat with the quinces and served them with the sauce, but there are other possible interpretations, for instance, cut the meat into pieces with the quinces or the vegetables you prefer and cook all the ingredients together, add the vegetables pre-cooked when the meat is almost done, or simmer the meat and the vegetables on their own and dress them with the sauce after discarding the water.
For a good outcome, we recommend mixing two or three tablespoons of garum and one or two of olive oil, grating a bit of asafoetida.
Remember that it is always possible to substitute garum with a South-East Asian fish sauce, colatura di alici or ancient muria, or just salt. If you want an intenser flavor, try long pepper instead of black pepper.
To prepare our dish, we used the testum, an ancient portable oven used to cook roasts, bread, and pies, perfect to place in a brazier or fireplace. You may use your regular oven.

For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the first nine books of De Re Coquinaria are available on Patreon, with other translations of ancient and medieval sources, among which the Appendicula de Condituris Variis, in addition to several articles on historical food.
To know more about fruit in historical cuisine, read Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era, accompanied by an introduction about vegetables in the historical Italian cookbooks and their relationship with dietetic, philosophical, and religious practices.
If you are interested in the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out De Observatione Ciborum, written in the 6th century by the physician Anthimus for the king of the Franks Theuderic. This book contains some of the earliest medieval recipes, in addition to information about the diet of the Franks and the differences between their food habits and the alimentation of the Mediterranean populations, showing the passage between ancient and late-medieval cooking.
If you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook and Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan recipes, also known as Anonimo Toscano.
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1 kg beef
4 quinces
spices (black pepper, asafoetida)
olive oil

Peel and cut the quinces into pieces. Arrange them on the oiled cooking pan with the meat and cook in the oven or under the testum for an hour and a half. The cooking time may change depending on the cut of meat you are using.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Grind in the mortar the pepper and add garum and oil, grating a bit of asafoetida. Serve the roasted meat and quinces with their sauce.

Original text
Vitulinam sive bubulam cum porris vel Cydoneis vel cepis vel colocasiis: liquamen, piper, laser et olei modicum.

Veal or beef with leeks, quinces, onions, or taro: garum, pepper, laser, and a bit of oil.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-9
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first and second part (15th century)

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