One of the most evident differences between ancient and medieval cooking is the way in which fats are used since we see that they are added sparingly in De Re Coquinaria (sometimes with the direction to add just drops of oil to a sauce or a dish) and abundantly in the Italian medieval cookbooks.
This is true not only for the cooking fats but also for other fat ingredients, especially cheese, very common in ancient Greek cuisine (and in Cato’s recipes, mostly derived from Greek tradition) and rare in the cookbook conventionally attributed to Apicius. For instance, we find ancient Roman roasts prepared even without olive oil, whereas in the Middle Ages some kinds of meat are accurately coated with minced or melted pork fatback (or other fats) before placing them in the oven.
Another important difference is the kinds of cooking fats that we find in the cookbooks: in the Italian medieval recipes, there is a clear preference for animal fats (lard and cured pork fatback, more rarely butter), whereas olive oil, the main cooking fat in the Antiquity, is generally used in the lean days. However, we must notice that this distinction appears in high-end cooking: as we mentioned before, in Cato’s recipes we find cheese and lard, in the same way as cured pork fatback, laridum or lardum in Latin, is a typical peasant food in ancient Rome.
In the late-medieval recipes, lard, cured pork fatback, and fresh or aged cheese are among the most common ingredients for courtly cuisine. The beginning of this important cultural change is recorded in De Observatione Ciborum, a letter about dietetics written by the Byzantine physician Anthimus for the king of the Franks: essentially, this text shows the point of view of a person with a deep knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean traditions who comes in contact with a completely different culture and tries to describe it by using the categories that belong to his medical background.
At the court of the Franks, the nobles eat cooked and raw cured pork fatback and use it to dress the food, in a similar way as we analyzed in the recipe for puls fabacia. They know garum, mentioned a few times by Anthimus, but the use of laridum, laredum in Anthimus’ spelling, makes this condiment unnecessary to give sapidity to the dishes.
There are a few ways to cook laredum, one of which even reported in De Re Coquinaria: according to Anthimus, simmering it is the healthiest way to prepare it, but other common methods are roasting or frying it, both disapproved by the physician.
This week we prepared a simple salad, showing how an ancient dressing can be transformed into a medieval one by changing just two ingredients: using cured pork fat (in this case, pork jowl, but you may use the belly or the fatback to your taste) instead of garum and olive oil. We cooked the pork jowl in a pan to collect the fat.
A condiment based on garum, olive oil, and vinegar is typical for raw or simmered lettuce according to Galen, more or less the same dressing suggested in De Re Coquinaria for both lettuce and endive (or chicory), which requires olive oil, garum, and minced onions. As an alternative, we may dress it with vinegar and honey according to Apicius. Another typical dressing is a sauce based on cheese according to both authors, who do not provide a recipe. However, we may adapt the recipes for moretum and hypotrimma from Columella’s De Re Rustica and De Re Coquinaria following the simple principles we explained above, simplifying the recipes.
In both cases, we recommend making a liquid sauce, reducing the quantity of pine nuts, and substituting olive oil and garum with melted cured pork fat. We may dress the salad with moretum with a bit of fresh cheese, aromatic herbs to choice, pepper, and a generous amount of vinegar or a simplified version of hypotrimma, made with just a sweetener between concentrated grape juice, honey, raisins, and dates, one ingredient between wine and vinegar, and a bit of fresh cheese.
This is just an example of the transition from ancient to late-medieval cooking, but we may apply these principles to many Roman recipes, reducing the number of ingredients and substituting garum and olive oil with rendered pork fat.
If you want to know more about Anthimus, check out De Observatione Ciborum. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks. In the book, you find not only the translation of the text and a glossary, but also an introduction about the ingredients, methods, and cultural context that will help to recreate Anthimus’ recipes authentically.
If you are interested in late-medieval cooking, check out our books Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan Recipes Registrum and Coquine. A medieval cookbook. For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. In addition, on Patreon you find the translation of the first eight books of De Re Coquinaria and further translations of historical sources and articles about ancient and medieval recipes and dietetics.
For more historical recipes with herbs and vegetables, check out 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 history of Italian cooking in the cookbooks and their relationship with dietetic, philosophical, and religious practices.
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cured pork jowl
Clean and simmer the endive for a few minutes. Slice the cured pork jowl and cook it, without adding further fats, at low heat. Collect the cooking fat and pour it on the salad, adding a bit of vinegar. Serve with the sliced pork jowl aside.
De laredo vero, unde non est, qualiter exire dilicias Francorum, tamen, qualiter melius comedatur, ad hora expono. Si assatum fuerit ad hora quomodo bradonis, pinguamen ipsum defluit in foco et laredus deveniet siccus, ut, qui manducauerit, laeditur, nam non iuvatur; etiam et malus humoris generat et indigestionem facit. Sed elixatum laredum et refrigeratum si manducatur, melius iuvat et ventrem constrictum temperat et bene digeritur. Sed bene debet elixari […].
Frixum vero laredum penitus non praesumendum, quia satis nocet. Pinguamen ipsius laredi, quod in cibo aliquo supermissum fuerit vel super olera, ubi oleum non fuerit, non nocet; nam illa frictura penitus non expedit.
Lactucae uno more sunt, praeterea si ad hora collectae manducantur; si autem fuerint biduo aut triduo, si forte, pro desiderio accipiantur. Intuba vero bona sunt et cruda et elixa et sanis et infirmis. Cruda vero una die exsucent ad sole et sic manducentur.
Now I explain the properties of laredum, how it is preeminent among the delicacies of the Franks, and how it is better to consume it. If it is roasted at the moment in the same way as a slice of meat, its fat drizzles in the fire, and the laredum turns dry causing harm and no benefit when it is eaten; moreover, it produces bad humors and causes indigestion. If the laredum is eaten simmered and cooled, it benefits better, makes more temperate the constipated belly, and is digested well. But it must be simmered well.
Fried laredum has to be avoided since it causes harm. The [melted] fat of laredum, poured on other foods or vegetables when there is no oil, does not cause harm; however, fried laredum is not digested at all.
Lettuce is habitually eaten as soon as it is harvested; if it is, by chance, two or three days old, it may be eaten if you want. Chicory is good both raw and simmered for the healthy and sick. The raw chicory must be exposed to the sun for one day and eaten in this way.
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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
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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)
Enseignemenz (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)
Tuscan Fish Cakes – Salciccie di Pescio
Tuscan Stew with Pork Belly and Rutabaga
Pork and Onion Soup
Tuscan Radish Soup
Tuscan Fried Meatballs
The Diet of the Franks – Chicken Stew
Pork Roast with Cherry Sauce
Renaissance Fried Tomatoes
The diet of the Franks – Beef Stew
Fried Chicken Soup
Beef Roast with Garlic Sauce
Salted Meat and Peas
Baghdadi Rice Cream
Chicken with White-Pepper Sauce – Piperatum Album
Indian Chickpeas and Meat
The Diet of the Franks – Pork Stew
Chestnut and Mushrooms
Lentils with Oregano and Watermint
Egyptian Bread with Pistachios and Almonds
Veal with Fennel-Flower Sauce
Pork Roast with Green Sauce
Eggs Poached in Wine
Crispellae – Pancakes with Saffron and Honey
Brodium Sarracenium – Chicken Stew
Fava Beans and Pork
Erbe Minute – Meatballs with Herbs
Lettuce and Pork Soup
Zanzarelli – Egg and Cheese Soup
Turnip and Beef Soup for Servants
Cheese Pasta – Vivanda Bona
Gratonata – Chicken Stew
Chickpea Soup with Poached Eggs
Hippocras and Claretum – Mulled Wine
Pastero – Pork Pie
10th-century Goat Roast – A Langobard at the Court of the Byzantine Emperor
Romania – A Recipe Between Arabic and Italian Tradition – Medieval Chicken with Pomegranates
Medieval Pizza – The Origin of Pizza
Roast Chicken with Salsa Camellina
Afrutum or Spumeum – 6th-century Byzantine recipe
A Medieval Breakfast – Wine, Carbonata, and Millet Bread
Salviata – Eggs and Sage
Tria di Vermicelli
Frittelle Ubaldine – Pancakes with Flowers and Herbs
Drunken Pork – Early Medieval Pork Stew
Medieval Monk’s Stuffed-Egg Soup
Lentils and Mustard Greens
Chicken soup – Brodo Granato
Beans and Bacon – Black-Eyed Peas
Prawn Pie – Pastello de Gambari
Foxtail Millet Polenta and Spit-Roasted Goose
Quail Stew with Coconut
Red Mullet Soup
Spit Roast Beef with Arugula Seeds
Roast Lamb with Green Sauce
Sweet and Sour Sardines
Trouts with Green Sauce
Quails with Sumac
Chicken with Fennel Flowers