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History Cookbook

Romano-British Picture Gallery Food

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Information on Roman cooking can be found from art, literature and archaeology
Information on Roman cooking can be found from several sources.
These include archaeological finds, art and literature such as cookbooks, letters and legal documents. More
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The most famous Roman cookbook is Apicius - De Re Coquinaria
The most famous cookbook is Apicius - De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking)
This was written around the 4th century AD in Rome. It is a very practical book written in basic rather than classical Latin.  More
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Exact details about Romano-British cooking are unknown
Little is known about the exact recipes used by Romano-Britons.
There is no evidence that the slave cooks in Britain used cookbooks such as Apicius. The very different climate would have prevented the recipes being closely followed by ordinary Romans in Britain. More
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The Romans introduced many new foods to Britain
The Romans introduced many new foods to Britain.
A wide range of fruits and vegetables were introduced. These include some we still use today, as well as some that can now be found growing wild in Britain. More
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The most important fruit introduced to Britain was the grape
The most important fruit introduced to Britain was the grape.
This was used for making wine, sauces and vinegars. The growing of grapes was mainly restricted to the south of Britain. Stocks were supplemented by imports from the other provinces in the empire. More
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Roman cooking used a great many herbs and spices
They used a great range of herbs and spices in their cooking.
These were especially used to flavour sauces. They would be grown in gardens close to countryside villas or purchased in the towns. More
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They used some plants less well known to us today
They also used some plants that are less well known to us today.
Examples include savory (saturela hortensis/Montana), a small woody shrub with thin dark leaves, and lovage (levisticum officinale syn. ligusticum), a hardy perennial with a strong celery taste. More
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Romans enjoyed eating shellfish, especially oysters
Seafoods were highly prized and oysters were especially important.
The Romans found that many of the coastal areas in Britain had excellent supplies of shellfish, and the oysters from Colchester were even famous in Rome. More
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Wild fowl and game were popular sources of food
The Romans liked eating wildfowl and game.
They ate plenty of wildfowl - swan, goose, wild duck, teal, widgeon, woodcock, plover, crane and even stork. The Romans hunted wild boar, red deer, roe deer and fallow deer. They introduced pheasants, peacocks and guinea fowl to Britain. More
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The edible dormouse (glis glis) was a Roman delicacy
The Romans ate some foods that we might find strange.
One delicacy was stuffed dormouse, and another was milk fattened snails. The range of creatures used for food was much wider than we generally cook today. More
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Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats were all kept
Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats were all kept for their meat, hide or milk.
Beef was a popular meat which was supplied to the Roman garrison as their meat ration. Cattle were extremely useful as they provided cheese, horn, hide and glue (from boiling the bones). Pigs were also plentiful, especially in the south and east. More
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A variety of breads were popular
Cereal grain was used for making porridge and a variety of breads.
Bread was the staple food and main ingredient of the diet for many people. There were brown breads, white breads and flat bread (Laguana), which was commonly used in everyday meals to pick up certain foods. More
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Pepper was very highly valued
They imported a number of food stuffs which they valued in their diet.
Spices and ready-made sauces were particularly important. Pepper was so prized in ancient Rome that it was kept in its own special storehouses. More
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Fermented fish sauces were the most important ingredient in Roman cooking
The most important ingredient in Roman cooking was fermented fish sauce.
It was the fundamental ingredient that brought all the others into a harmonious balance. More
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There was a variety of different fermented fish sauces
The Romans cooked with a variety of fermented fish sauces.
The main ones were liquamen and garum. They were made from fermenting fish with salt. They took a long time to prepare and the very best types were made at centres that specialised in making these sauces and were then imported to Britain. More
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Roman cooking was more elaborate than Celtic cooking
Roman cooking was very much more elaborate than that of the Britons.
All the different ingredients imported or cultivated by the Romans resulted in a very much more complicated and seasoned style of cooking than the simple meat and vegetable stews of the Iron Age. Roman cooks used far more spices and flavours. More
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Roman cooks were skilled slaves
Roman cooks were skilled slaves.
They worked hard to produce the very best dishes for their masters. More
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Roman banquets had many weird and wonderful dishes
Roman banquets used many weird and wonderful ingredients.
The cooks had to be very skilful to make such difficult dishes tasty. Courses, especially at large banquets, could include dishes as different as milk fattened snails to wild boar stuffed with live birds. More
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A wide range of utensils were needed to make these elaborate dishes
The cooks needed a wide variety of utensils to make these elaborate dishes.
Roman slaves cooked small foods and meats over a raised brick hearth, on top of which was a charcoal fire. Cooking vessels sat over the fire on a tripod or gridiron. There were simple ovens and a range of pots, pans and containers. More
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The evening meal or cena was the most important
The Romans ate three meals a day but the evening meal (known as the 'Cena') was by far the most important.
This was because the Romans rose early and most work was carried out in the morning. In the afternoon the leisured classes attended the baths, and the evening was the time for home entertaining. More
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The cena was a formal meal with three set courses
The cena or epulae was very formal with three set courses.
In each course there could be many dishes. At large feasts, there would be entertainers, and food offerings would be made to the gods. More
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The Romans ate with their fingers and used spoons for soft foods
The Romans ate most of their food with their fingers. For soft foods, they used a spoon.
Meat would be carved into small pieces by a slave, so that each guest only picked what they needed. They dipped the meat into the accompanying sauces, served in little bowls. More
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The Romans ate lying on couches
Romans ate lying on couches around a central dining table.
Slaves carried in the tables at mealtimes, which were brought in already fully laid out with food. The food was displayed in bowls or serving dishes of silver, samian or pewter. More
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The meal started with appetizers and wine
The meal always started with a drink and a first course of appetizers.
This course, known as the 'gustatio', usually consisted of small food dishes to stimulate the palate. At the start of the meal, drinks such as honeyed wine (mulsum) or a conditum (a spiced wine using pepper and occasionally dates and saffron) were served.  More
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The second course had many elaborate dishes
The second course had the main, vast array of elaborate dishes.
This course was known as the 'mensae primae' (first tables). This was the course that aimed to impress the most. More
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The third course consisted mainly of simple uncooked dishes
The third course comprised fairly simple items such as fruits and nuts.
This was known as the 'mensae secundae' or second tables, what we would know as dessert. Dishes included fruits and nuts and sometimes, honey cheesecakes. More
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Eating was slow and steady, meals lasted a long time
Eating was slow and steady. A meal could last a very long time.
Each person would only have a small amount of each item on their plate at any time.
More
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In the cities, there was street food.
In the cities, street food was common.
This provided food for poorer people who did not have anywhere to cook. Street food was common and was the equivalent to modern fast food. More
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Food shops and inns could be found in Roman towns
There is evidence for food shops as well as inns in the larger towns.
Archaeological finds suggest that there were bakeries in some large towns, although flour would have been mainly ground at home, using a hand quern. At Caerwent and Silchester, there is evidence of shellfish shops situated in the east wing of the forum. More
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At Roman baths you could buy snacks as well as bathe
Roman baths provided a place to buy snacks as well as bathe.
At the baths you could wash, exercise, socialise, get a haircut, change your tunic AND snack on small delicacies, until going home for a more lavish or humble meal. Foods available included meatballs in sauce, cuttle fish or chicken. More
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Roman cooking died out after the Romans left Britain.
Roman Cooking died out after the Romans left Britain.
It was only during medieval times that people started to use Roman methods and combinations of ingredients again. More