Tisana Barrica – Ancient Roman Barley Soup


Tisana or ptisan in Greek is a fundamental medicinal remedy in the Antiquity and Middle Ages, recommended to both the sick and healthy. In De Re Coquinaria, we find a few methods to prepare tisana, also called sucum, quite different from the medicinal version that includes just salt, vinegar, oil, and dill or leek according to the description provided by Galen in De Facultatibus Alimentorum.
The method is very simple: the cereal (usually barley, but also rice, spelt, or wheat) is steeped in water and husked, then cooked at low heat for a long time, until it absorbs the water completely. The barley is then sifted and its juice drunk.
The recipes provided by Apicius, however, are more complex and include several ingredients: as common in his cookbook, frequently the traditional recipes keep just the original name, not the substance, as it happens with other foods, such as the puls.
This week, we present a delicious tisana with dry legumes, Mediterranean spices, and fresh vegetables, perfect for spring. There are a lot of ingredients, but the outcome is a simple plate very similar to many traditional Italian soups still used today.

To know more about tisana in the Antiquity and Middle Ages, check out our Patreon page, where you find several articles and translations of historical sources, among which the first two books of De Re Coquinaria.
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150 gr dry legumes (chickpeas, lentils, peas)
150 gr husked barley
olive oil
vegetables and herbs (leeks, cilantro, dill, fennel greens, chard, mallow, turnip greens, oregano)
spices (fennel seeds, asafoetida, lovage)

Steep the dry legumes in water overnight. Boil the barley and chickpeas in abundant water for about 50 minutes, then add the peas and lentils and cook them for another 40 minutes. The cooking time may change depending on the barley and legumes you are using.
Mince the vegetables finely, keeping a few turnip greens aside. Pour the olive oil and add the vegetables. Meanwhile, simmer the turnip greens in water for a couple of minutes. Mince them finely.
Grind in the mortar the spices adding oregano and a little grated asafoetida. Dilute with a tablespoon of garum, then add them to the soup. Serve still hot adding on the top the minced turnip greens.

Note about the method and ingredients
The verb used by the author, defrico, may refer to two actions: one is described by Galen about the proper way to prepare ptisan, namely steep the barley in water and rub it energetically to remove the husk. However, Galen complains about the fact that cooks have the habit to pound the barley in the mortar before cooking it, instead of dissolving the cereals through a long cooking. As a consequence, the second possibility is that Apicius means to gently pound in the mortar the barley.
For this recipe, the author recommends a lot of ingredients. For a good outcome, it is unnecessary to use all of them. You can choose all the legumes or just one and select among the herbs the ones you have at your disposal. If you do not have lovage, substitute it with cumin or use just fennel. To know more about lovage in the Antiquity, check out our Patreon page.
It is unclear exactly what Romans mean with cauli, caulicoli, and cymae, all words referred to kinds of cabbage. Cauliculi molles mean tender or sweet stalks. We suggest using a plant of the cabbage family with tender stalks.

For more information about garum and how to prepare it, check out this article.

Original text
Tisanam barricam: infundis cicer, lenticulam, pisam. Defricas tisanam et cum leguminibus elixas. Ubi bene bullierit, olei satis mittis et super viridia concidis porrum, coriandrum, anethum, feniculum, betam, malvam, cauliculum mollem. Haec viridia minutatim concisa in caccabum mittis. Cauliculos elixas et teres feniculi semen satis, origanum, silfi, ligusticum. Postquam triveris, liquamine temperabis, et super legumina refundis et agitas. Cauliculorum minutas super concidis.

Tisana barrica: steep in water chickpeas, lentils, and peas. Pound a bit the barley and boil it with the legumes. When they boil well, add oil enough and mince leeks, cilantro, dill, fennel, chard, mallow, tender greens. Add in the pot these vegetables finely minced. Simmer the greens and pound enough fennel seeds, oregano, silfium, and lovage. Once you have minced them, dilute with garum, pour over the legumes, and stir. Add on the top the greens, minutely minced.

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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 (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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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
Globi – Ancient Roman Sweet
The Diet of the Roman Legionaries – Buccellatum, Lardum, and Posca
How to make garum
Fig Sweet
Ancient Roman Gourd and Eggs
Ofella – Ancient Roman Steak
Fruit salads – Melon and Peaches
Isicia Marina – Shrimp Cakes and Cucumber Salad
Sala Cattabia – Snow and Posca
Copadia – Beef Stew
Puls Punica – Phoenician Dessert
Farcimina – Spelt and Meat Sausages
Ova Spongia ex Lacte – Sweet Omelettes
Flatbread and Chickpea Soup
Chicken stew
Salted Fish with Arugula Sauce
Savillum – Cheesecake
Pasta and Meatballs – Minutal Terentinum
Venison Stew with Spelt Puls
Veal with Allec Sauce – Ius in Elixam Allecatum
Isicia Omentata – Meatballs Wrapped in Caul Fat
Placenta – Honey Cheesecake
Pork Laureate – Porcellum Laureatum
Mashed Chestnuts
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum