Sweets made with honey and seeds were very popular in ancient Greece, in particular sesame. We find many of them mentioned in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, a book written in the 3rd century, which is one of the most important sources for ancient Greek cuisine. The one we are preparing today was a Cretan specialty, called gastris, which can be translated as delicacy. The recipe is by Chrysippus of Tyana, author of a bread recipe we prepared a few months ago.
Gastris is made with three layers, two white and one black, obtained with a mixture of seeds, nuts, honey, and pepper. The author does not specify the ratio among the ingredients, but to obtain a well-balanced sweet, it is essential that the black part is the half of the white part, being its flavor intenser and spicy with pepper. We used unpeeled almonds and hazelnuts to enhance the color of the internal layer, but the poppy seeds, once pounded, release an intense and beautiful black color. The author suggests using a good amount of pepper. However, for the balance between honey and pepper, follow your taste, but we suggest do not exaggerate to prevent the gastris from becoming excessively sweet and spicy.
We find sesame and poppy seeds not only in ancient sweets, for example Cato’s savillum, but also as seasonings for bread, as Galen recalls. You find here a poppy-seed bread from Pliny’s Naturalis Historia.
This kind of sweet was usually served as tragemata at the end of a banquet or to accompany wine, as well as boiled legumes, cheese, cheesecakes, and fresh or dry fruit. We suggest it as a dessert for an ancient meal, as well as libum, savillum, placenta, or stuffed dates.
Below, you find the original text with our translation, the method, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian. Enjoy!
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120 gr white sesame seeds
40 gr black poppy seeds
10 gr unpeeled almonds
10 gr unpeeled hazelnuts
Roast for a short time at low heat the almonds, hazelnuts, and black poppy seeds. Boil the honey until it reduces by one-fifth. Grind in the mortar a good amount of black pepper and the poppy seeds, adding then the almonds and hazelnuts. Mix with a part of the warm honey and shape a square.
Grind the sesame seeds mixing them with honey and shape two squares. Place the black square in the middle of the white ones, adjusting well the shape.
κάρυα Θάσια καὶ Ποντικὰ καὶ ἀμύγδαλα, ἔτι δὲ μήκων, ἃ φρύξας θεράπευσον καλῶς καὶ εἰς θυίαν καθαρὰν τρῖψον ἐπιμελῶς: συμμίξας τε τὴν ὀπώραν μάλαξον μέλιτι ἡψημένῳ, προσβαλὼν πέπερι πλέον καὶ μάλαξον γίνεται δὲ μέλαν διὰ τὴν μήκωνα. διαπλατύνας ποίησον τετράγωνον. εἶτα σήσαμον λευκὸν τρίψας μάλαξον μέλιτι ἡψημένῳ καὶ ἕλκυσον λαγάνια δύο καὶ ἓν θὲς ὑποκάτω καὶ τὸ ἄλλο ἐπάνω, ἵνα τὸ μέλαν εἰς μέσον γένηται, εὖ ῥύθμισόν τε αὐτό.
Take walnuts and almonds and also poppy seeds, roasting them well, then grind them in a clean mortar. Mix then the fruits softening them with boiled honey, adding a lot of pepper, and making the paste soft, black for the poppy seeds. Shape the paste into a square. Then grind white sesame seeds, softening them with boiled honey, and shape two sheets, one above and the other below, placing the black one in the middle, and arranging them well.
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