Staitites – Ancient Greek Sweet


In the 14th book of the Deipnosophists by Athenaeus, we find several recipes for plakountai, a term that we met in the past preparing Cato’s placenta. Actually, according to the classification that we find in this book, all the recipes for sweets present in Cato’s book can be called plakountai, despite the fact that placenta, in ancient Rome, is a very specific kind of cake.
This week, we present the staitites, a very simple Greek sweet mentioned in the Deipnosophists. The recipe is not written by Athenaeus, who just analyzes the uses of this term made by other authors, in this case Epicharmus, a Greek comedy writer who lived in Sicily during the 6th century BCE, and Iatrocles, author of a treatise about the plakountai.
The word staitites comes from stais, which means spelt flour. As it frequently happens in Athenaeus’ book, the recipe is just a list of ingredients, with scarce information about how to use them. However, we have a series of clues that help us to interpret the passages: first, the flour is moistened enough to become almost liquid, since the directions are to pour (epicheo) it in the teganon, a frying pan.
The author does not mention yeast, but this dish is among the sweets, not the breads, as a consequence we can guess it is unleavened, and not a sort of pancake. In addition, spelt flour mixed with water makes a batter that cooks very well in the pan, with no need to add eggs (which, otherwise, would be probably mentioned among the ingredients) or yeast.
The last part of the recipe does not present difficulties of interpretation: the verb epiballo, in this case, means to put on; in this recipe, cheese, honey, and sesame seeds. We roasted the sesame seeds because they are frequently used in this way in the ancient recipes, but there are no directions about it, in the same way as the author writes nothing about the kind of cheese, which is probably fresh. We used a sheep primosale.

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spelt flour
sesame seeds
fresh cheese

Roast the sesame seeds and mince the cheese. Prepare a quite-liquid batter with the flour and warm water. Pour a bit of olive oil into the pan and add a ladle of the batter. Cook the staitites for a few minutes on both sides.
Plate each staitites in a plate, adding the cheese, pouring over the honey, and sprinkling on top with the sesame seeds.

Original text
σταιτίτας πλακοῦς ποιὸς ἐκ σταιτὸς καὶ μέλιτος, μνημονεύει Ἐπίχαρμος ἐν Ἥβας Γάμῳ. σταῖς δ᾽ ἐστὶν ὑγρὸν εἰς τήγανον ἐπιχεόμενον, μέλιτος ἐπιβαλλομένου καὶ σησάμης καὶ τυροῦ, ὡς Ἰατροκλῆς φησίν.

The staitites is a cake made with spelt flour and honey, as Epicharmus recalls in his Hebe’s Wedding. However, Iatrocles says that the spelt flour is moistened and poured in the pan, then spread with honey, sesame seeds, and cheese.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

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 – first part (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)

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