Cato’s recipes are usually characterized by the use of a few and simple ingredients: cheese, honey, cereals, eggs, poppy seeds, bay laurel leaves, and similar. It is a cuisine very similar to the descriptions we find in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, in particular in the books dedicated to bread and cakes, called in the same way as one of the most famous recipes by Cato: plakountai. A few recipes collected in Cato’s De Agri Cultura, a fundamental book for Roman agriculture written around the 2nd century BCE, derives from other cultures, for example puls Punica, epityrum, or placenta. The encytum is not an exception: it is mentioned a few times in the Deipnosophists, but it is Cato who provides a complete recipe.
Encytum is a funnel cake prepared with spelt and cheese, cooked in lard, and coated with honey. There are plenty of examples of similar sweets not only in historical recipes, but also in traditional, modern-day cuisine, such as strauben or jalebi.
In the Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria, written around the end of the 13th century, we find a recipe for mistembec, which comes, actually, from Arabic mushabbak. In the Tractatus, it is prepared with a wheat-flour batter mixed with starch and poured through a holed plate in hot olive oil or lard, then coated with honey or sugar syrup. The Arabic version, that we read in a 14th-century source, Kitâb Wasf al–Atima al–Mutada, requires instead a leavened batter poured through a holed coconut shell in sesame oil and then, again, coated with syrup.
According to Cato, the encytum is prepared as globi, but cooked in a different way. The recipe for globi requires the same quantity of spelt and cheese; however, to obtain a batter sufficiently soft to be poured through a funnel, we need a good amount of water. You may use a bit of the soaking water of the spelt or choose a cheese with good water content, to your choice.
Cato recommends serving the encytum with honey or mulsum, which is a wine prepared with grape must and honey. It may be substituted with mead, appreciated by Romans and called aqua mulsa, or raisin wine, called passum.
If you want to read further translations of historical sources and articles about ancient and medieval food, check out our Patreon page. For more information about ancient food, we recommend our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources, available on Amazon, where you also find our translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic.
If you are interested in late-medieval recipes, check out Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
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200 grams spelt
200 grams fresh cheese
Pound the spelt coarsely in the mortar and soak it in water overnight. Strain the spelt, keeping aside the water.
Pound in the mortar the cheese and mix it with the spelt. If the paste is not soft enough, add a bit of the soaking water.
Melt in a pan the lard. Pour the batter in the lard through a funnel, making a spiral. Cook the first side for one and a half minutes and the second side for one minute, then remove from the fire.
Coat the encytum with honey and serve.
Encytum ad eundem modum facito, uti globos, nisi calicem pertusum cavum habeat. Ita in unguen caldum fundito. Honestum quasi spiram facito idque duabus rudibus vorsato praestatoque. Item unguito coloratoque caldum ne nimium. Id cum melle aut cum mulso adponito.
The encytum is made in the same way as globi, except that you need an empty, holed glass. Pour it in hot lard, shaping a form similar to spira [a spiral form, the author is referring to another recipe] and turn it with the help of two rods. Spread and color [with honey] when it is still hot. Serve with honey or mulsum.
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 1-5
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8h-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)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
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The diet of the Franks
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Ancient Sicilian Sea Bass
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Octopus and Cucumber Salad
Copadia Agnina – Lamb Stew
Apothermum – Spelt Cakes
Pullus Parthicus – Roast Chicken
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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
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The Diet of the Roman Legionaries – Buccellatum, Lardum, and Posca
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