Roman_food


What’s in my teaching bag: Roman Carbohydrates

Food is a great vehicle for learning. In addition to the fact that students tend to enjoy creating and consuming it, food is vitally important; it has sustained us as a species and defined our societies. It stands at the crossroads of history, language, culture, biological and agricultural science, and economics. In short, as a focus of study, it has a great deal of potential. However, in terms of bringing food studies into the Latin classroom, the Roman palate offers certain impediments. Romans commonly favored dishes like baked mackerel, grain mush, and liquified, fermented fish guts (liquamen or garum). While you can titillate a few students by describing black fish juices and porridge, ultimately, as a teacher in Middle School I needed a recipe or type of food that would pull the whole class’s interest and make them all clamor for more. 

Several years ago, after learning about the ancient loaves of bread preserved in the ash of Mt. Vesuvius, I realized that this might be just the ticket: an appealing, familiar, tasty cornerstone of Roman cuisine with direct links to our modern diet. Every so often I would come across a resource–a helpful tutorial from the British museum, the website Pass the Garum, as well as plenty of other sites–and at last I came to the conclusion that Ceres was on my side. It was time to bring this idea to the classroom. Why let French class have all the fun?

I picked out helpful terms and ideas from the resources available on Roman bread-making, double checked with my school’s kitchen to ensure that baking could take place, designated a day for the project on our calendar, and we were ready to go. I also created a post-project reflection to punctuate our work and to give students a chance to delve back into their materials and consider the significance of what they had done. In addition to complementing our unit on Pompeii and daily life for this quarter, the project provided ample opportunity to cross the border into other areas of study, as we discussed the amazing properties of yeast and gluten and the processes of refining grains, in addition to Roman farmers, the horrea where grain was stored, the bakeries in Pompeii, the Roman diet, and the derivatives of panis in English and Romance languages. It was an experiential project and led to some pretty interesting lines of inquiry.

For the purposes of time and space, instead of detailing the project in its entirety, I will include a few take-aways for me from this project:

I. dē fermentō: Yeast is fascinating. When I started this project, I knew that yeast was responsible for leavening bread and I wondered where Romans got it. The only bread yeast I used came in packets or jars at the grocery store. I soon found out that this perky little fungus is so plentiful in the environment that in order to create a bread starter, the Romans had to do no more than mix flour and water and wait. They probably did it by mistake. When the bubbles appear, you know your yeast is alive and you feed it until it is highly active. For the sourdough starter, I had my class make one sample of the initial starter and I cultivated it until it was time to use. There are myriad recipes for sourdough starter online, all of which I’m sure will work. I have tried making starter with different types of flour (white unbleached, white bleached, and rye) and water (both filtered and chlorinated from the tap) and the yeast have never failed to spring to life. The yeast industrial complex apparently has us all fooled.     

II. dē gaudiō: Students do indeed love making and eating food. It was a field trip within the confines of the school. They enjoyed the messy work of mixing, kneading, and shaping their loaves, and they couldn’t get enough of the baked product, which turned out to be beyond delicious. Fluffy, warm, and nutty. The room smelled like a million denariī:

bread

III. dē cibō: If you’re not into baking, this might not be the project for you. In the process of tailoring the recipe and designing the activity, I made a half dozen different loaves of bread and babied sourdough starter for days. As a lover of food–and bread in particular–I enjoyed the process, but it may not be your cup of tea.

IV. dē labore: As an addition to our unit on Pompeii, this was a lovely project. Students were invested in the process of making bread and learning about it along the way. This said, it took hours of planning, shopping, coordination, and a day of dedicated class time. If you are already running short on time, it might not be your first choice. Nonetheless, it could be a fun activity for a Latin or History club at your school.

V. dē faciendō: Here is the recipe I used (dē faciendō panem). I adapted and simplified it somewhat from several recipes for Roman bread and sourdough bread. I hope you can try it out and let me know what happens!

 


De Arte Coquinaria

400px-Pompeii_family_feast_painting_Naples

Many teachers of classics include in their curriculum a unit on Roman dining, whether through reading Petronius’ Cena Trimalchonis at the upper levels, or a story inspired by this piece in Cambridge Latin Course’s Stage 32, or Ecce Romani chapters 32-34, or Lingua Latina’s Chapter 30.  Teachers may also incorporate some kind of actual Roman banquet into their year, perhaps combining it, as I do, with an awards ceremony.

What I’d like to propose in this article is to take this to the next level, and to present an idea to focus on food and cooking per se, where students will have the chance to explore in greater detail ancient foods, their preparation, stories and myths having to do with food, and at the same time be able to use Latin actively to explain an authentic activity (i.e. cooking).

Depending on the year, I use this project to fulfill a number of linguistic and cultural goals:

  • accusative case review (including in + acc vs. in + abl.)
  • commands (imperatives or subjunctives, depending on level)
  • future tense
  • purpose clauses
  • improving food and dining vocabulary
  • practicing both presentational speaking and listening skills
  • examination of herbs, plants, and animals – their mythology and relationship to food
  • exploring the Cena Trimalchionis
  • myths that include food / hospitality (Baucis and Philemon, innumerable scenes in the Aeneid, Erischthon, etc.)
  • Planning a convivium for an awards night

The idea is for students to make a video that showcases a particular recipe, perhaps in the style of a Food Network cooking series.  Students must explain in Latin (appropriate to their level) how to cook their recipe and must name all the ingredients to be used.  During the video they must also share a story that relates to some ingredient included in their dish.  My own students have done, as examples, the apple of discord, Cato’s warning to the Romans about how close Carthage is by ‘accidentally’ dropping a fresh fig from his toga in the Senate, Appius Claudius and the drowning of the sacred chickens, or a medieval story about how the Queen Elizabeth of Hungary once had her paralysis cured by a hermit who suggested she soak rosemary in wine and then rub it into her limbs.

Videos tend to be about 10 minutes long and can be quite creative!  Here’s an example from one of my Latin 3’s scripts this year (written entirely by students with some suggestions):

E: quid primum faciemus?

 

G: primum, calefacite furnum ad trecentesimum septuagesimum quintum gradum. deinde, farinam in catillo ponite, et salem aeratum addite. farinam et salem aeratum cochleare miscite.

 

E: quid tum faciemus?

 

G: deinde, miscite amygdalam in frusta secata, cinnamum, et ros marinum. tum miscite succum ex uvis, succum malorum granatorum, et mel in poculo. lac addite.

 

E:pulchre fecisti Giuditta! auxilium visne?

 

G: sic! (Electrae dicit) funde primam mixturam in secundam mixturam et misce. feram atroptam rotundam novem unicarum.

 

E: bene redolet!

 

G: quidem!  (omnibus dicit) nunc fundite mixturam in ferculum et triginta minutas cibum in furno coquite.

 

E: Malum granatum esse signum Proserpinae scisne?

 

G: certe?

 

E: sic! Quando Proserpina puella erat, Hades puellam abstulit. Hades Proserpinam in Tartarum tulit, quod Proserpinam amavit. Dum in tartaro, Proserpina sex semina mali granati edit. Ergo puella ad terram revenire non potest.

After the videos are made, students vote for the best one, which we then make, using the Latin instructions, in our school kitchen.  In past years, we’ve watched the NLE’s Forum Romanum episode on Apicius while we eat.

I hope that this sparks some ideas for using food in some way in your own classes.  Please share in the comments section anything that you’ve done or resources that you find useful when teaching about food or Roman dining customs.

iubeo te bene coquere et esse!

Further Resources

  • Piper Salve, a German neo-Latin textbook which has in the back several dialogues pertaining to cooking as well as extensive useful vocabulary.
  • Anna Andresian’s Vocabula Picta, which includes a chapter on vocabulary in the kitchen.

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Links for the week of 3 February

An opinion piece from the New York Times about the difficulties of translation: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/the-treachery-of-translators/

A recipe for an ancient Greek and Roman pork dish: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolemage/8421220674/ (via @carolemadge)

A piece from the New Yorker on memorizing poetry: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/01/why-we-should-memorize.html?mobify=0 (via @bretmulligan)

Information about the excavations at Portus: http://www.portusproject.org/ (via @stephenjohnkay)

The British Library is crowdsourcing a project to match up old maps with modern Google Earth ones: http://www.culture24.org.uk/history%20&%20heritage/art417833 (via @Culture24)

The AIRC is offering academic credit for summer and semester programs of study in Rome: http://saverome.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/study-abroad-with-airc-cal-state-fresno-offers-school-of-record-to-airc-programs/ (via @etclassics)

Last Tuesday, you learned what two teachers have in their bags. This is what an archaeologist has: https://saverome.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/whats-in-an-archaeologist-bag/ (via @AIRomanCulture)

Current events in Ancient Greek: http://akropolis-world-news.weebly.com (via @DHSBClassics)

A list of things for children to do around Naples and Pompeii: http://flavias.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/12-tasks-for-kids-on-bay-of-naples.html (via @CarolineLawrenc)

Pompeii is to be restored very soon: http://www.ansa.it/web/notizie/rubriche/english/2013/01/30/Restoration-historic-Pompeii-slated-begin-next-week_8164199.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter (via @DrKillgrove)

Prize money for the best visualizations of Classical data: http://apaclassics.org/index.php/apa_blog/apa_blog_entry/competition_visualizing_the_classics/ (via @apaclassics)

Roman Army School in Durham, UK in March: http://www.hadrianicsociety.com/page5.htm (via @rogueclassicist)

All 2012 articles in the Cambridge Journals will be available online: http://blog.journals.cambridge.org/2013/01/free-access-to-all-2012-content-on-cambridge-journals-online/#.UQpoEjACfMw.twitter (via @DrKillgrove)

The APA is accepting applications for Public Fellows: http://apaclassics.org/index.php/apa_blog/apa_blog_entry/acls_public_fellows_program2/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter (via @apaclassics)