6th-century Byzantine Recipes – Roast Pork with Honey and Lentils with Sumac


De Observatione Ciborum, written by the Byzantine physician Anthimus in the 6th century, collects not only dietetic advice and information about foods, but also some interesting recipes, among which the afrutum that we prepared in the past. All the methods are very simple, being the main interest of this physician to suggest the proper way to eat and drink, not just to satisfy the palate, however, this book is an important testimony about foods in a historical period scarcely represented by the sources, in particular the ones written in Latin.
This week, we present two easy recipes, pork tenderloin with a sauce made with vinegar and honey, called in Greek oxymeli, and lentils dressed with vinegar and sumac, called rhus Syriacus and well known in ancient Mediterranean culture as a spice and medicinal remedy. Pliny suggests using it instead of salt and as a seasoning for whichever kind of meat, in addition to silphium. To know more about this spice in the Antiquity and Middle Ages, check out our Patreon page.
We decided to mix two recipes, one meant for pork and the other for suckling pig, which you find below with our translation. The first, for pork loin, requires a dressing made with just water and salt; the second, instead, oxymeli. We spit-roasted the meat, following the directions in another part of this book in which the author writes to cook the meat at low heat and distant from the fire to prevent it from burning and remaining raw inside.
The lentils, instead, are cooked two times to remove their potential harm, an advice that we find in the medical sources from Galen to the medieval authors: the first time they must be cooked in hot water, then discarded. The second cooking is in a small quantity of hot water.
The method suggested by Paulus Aegineta, another Byzantine physician who lived in the 7th century, is quite similar: he recommends cooking the lentils two times, the second with the addition of vinegar and spices. Another healthy method consists in adding barley flour to the lentils, to remove the potential harms, since these legumes may be difficult to digest and cause, among the other effects, black choler and leprosy, in addition to being anaphrodisiac and damaging the brain, chest, and eyes.
Anthimus recommends avoiding garum as a seasoning for pork, but if you are uninterested in following Byzantine medical advice, you should try it, obtaining in this way a roast not only more balanced, but also incredibly tasty. The same suggestion is valid for lentils, but in any case, the two recipes, despite their simplicity, are delicious even without garum.

To know more about medieval cooking and dietetics, check out our Patreon page, where you find more articles and translations of historical sources.
Our new book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here) is available on Amazon as e-book and printed edition.
To support our work, you can buy us a beer or purchase our merchandise.

400 grams pork tenderloin
150 grams lentils

Spit-roast the meat and cook it on charcoal. In the meantime, cook the lentils in hot water for about ten minutes, then discard the water and add a bit of new hot water to finish the cooking. The cooking time depends on the kind of lentils you are using.
Mix two parts of honey and one of vinegar, brushing it on the meat while it is roasting.
Grind in the mortar the sumac. Add the sumac and a bit of vinegar to the cooked lentils, then remove them from the fire and plate with the meat, brushing it again with honey and vinegar.

Original text
De porco domestico et elixae et assatae. Quanto tamen recentiores sunt, tanto leviores sunt, et aptae ad digestionem. Praeterea de lumbis porcellinas expedit assas manducare, quia aptae sunt et bene conficiuntur, ita ut sale in aqua soluto cum pinnis quando assantur tangantur. Et si duriores quando manducantur fuerint, melius est, sic tamen ut in sale puro intingantur. Nam liquamen ex omni parte prohibemus.
Lactantes vero satis apti et congrui elixi, vel in iuscello, et assi in furno ut non grandis sit vapor et ne satis ustulentur sed magis ut deveniant quasi vaporati. Et inde intingendo in oximelle simplici ad horam facto ut duae partes de melle et una pars de aceto adhibeatur, et sic coquantur in vaso fictili, et sic intingantur carnes ipsae quando manducantur.

Simmered and roasted pork. The more the meat is fresh, the more it is light and apt to digestion. Pork loin must be mainly eaten roasted, since it is apt and good, brushed with a feather with salt diluted in water when it is cooking. If the meat is harder when it is eaten, it is better; however, dip it in pure salt. We forbid to use garum with whichever part [of the pork].
Suckling pig is apt and suitable simmered, or stewed in its juice, or roasted in the oven with no much smoke and not cooked too much, but in such a way that it seems steamed. Dip the meat in simple oxymeli made with two parts of honey and one of vinegar, then cook it in a clay vessel. Brush the meat with this mixture when you eat it.

Original text
Lenticula vero et ipsa bona lavata et bene elixa in aqua pura, ita ut illa prima calda fundatur, et alia calda missa cum ratione, non satis, et sic coquatur lente in carbonibus, ita ut cum cocta fuerit, acetum modicum mittatur pro sapore. Et addatur ibi species illa quae dicitur rus syriacus, pulvere facto quantum coclear plenum, et spargatur super lenticulam dum in foco est, et commisceatur bene. Tollatur de foco et manducetur.

The lentils must be well washed and well simmered in pure water. When the first hot water is almost all absorbed, place them in other hot water, moderately, not too much, and cook slowly on charcoal. When they are done, dress them with vinegar in moderation as a sauce. And add the spice called rhus Syriacus ground to dust, a filled spoon, and spread on the lentils when they are cooking. Mix well, remove them from the fire, and eat.

Buy me a coffee
Ancient Roman Recipes Playlist
Ancient Greek Recipes Playlist
Medieval Recipes Playlist
YouTube Channel

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)

Cheese Pasta – Vivanda Bona
Gratonata – Chicken Stew
Chickpea Soup with Poached Eggs
Apple Fritters
Hippocras and Claretum – Mulled Wine
Pastero – Pork Pie
10th-century Byzantine Goat Roast
Emperor’s Fritters
Medieval Pizza – The Origin of Pizza
Roast Chicken with Salsa Camellina
Sweet Rice
Afrutum or Spumeum – 6th-century Byzantine recipe
A Medieval Breakfast – Wine, Carbonata, and Millet Bread
Salviata – Eggs and Sage
Tria di Vermicelli
Cabbage Soup
Frittelle Ubaldine – Pancakes with Flowers and Herbs
Saffron Cheesecake
Drunken Pork – Early Medieval Pork Stew
Medieval Monk’s Stuffed-Egg Soup
Apple Pie
Onion Soup
Lentils and Mustard Greens
Chicken soup – Brodo Granato
Turnip Soup
Beans and Bacon – Black-Eyed Peas
Prawn Pie – Pastello de Gambari
Foxtail Millet Polenta and Spit-Roasted Goose
Beef Stew
Leek Soup
Quail Stew with Coconut
Chicken Pie
Almond Cream
Red Mullet Soup
Spit Roast Beef with Arugula Seeds
Walnut Bread
Fried Fish
Roast Lamb with Green Sauce
Sweet and Sour Sardines
Trouts with Green Sauce
Lamb Stew
Quails with Sumac
Chicken with Fennel Flowers
Sea Bream