Ancient Roman Pork with Apples

Our trip to Moonfire Orchard left us with a wonderful selection of heirloom apples that I have been experimenting with. One of the recipes that I’ve been developing that is a real keeper is one for Ancient Roman Pork and Apples. It is an ancient recipe that balances sweet, sour, salty and bitter. And yes, it uses garum or liquamen so the umami factor for this one is through the roof! The recipe is from Apicius (4.3.4) and called Minutal Matianum in the original Latin.

One of the interesting things about the recipe is that the pork is twice cooked. Yes, this is one of the way that Romans prepared pork leftovers – by cooking them with leeks and apples with herbs, spices, garum, honey, vinegar and the grape syrup known as defruitum. The way I’ve been making it, it has a sweet and sour flavor that is reminiscent of an Alsatian Sauerkraut with Apples that is an old family favorite. But like most ancient recipes, the ingredients have no amounts associated with them, so a large amount of variation in flavor is possible. if you want it sweeter than I’ve written it – make it so! The original recipe and a simple translation follows. After that are my notes and my adaptation of the recipe.

ADICIES IN CACCABUM OLEUM, LIQUAMEN, COCTURAM, CONCIDES PORRUM, CORIANDRUM, ESICIA MINUTA. SPATULAM PORCINAM COCTAM TESSELLATIM CONCIDES CUM SUA SIBI TERGILLA. FACIES UT SIMUL COQUANTUR. MEDIA COCTURA MALA MATIANA PURGATA INTRINSECS CONCISA TESSELLATIM MITTES. DUM COQUITUR, TERES PIPER, CUMINUM, CORIANDRUM VIRIDEM VEL SEMEM, MENTAM, LASERIS RADICEM, SUFFUNDES ACETUM, MEL, LIQUAMEN, DEFRITUM MODICE ET IUS DE SUO SIBI, ACETO MODICO TEMPERABIS. FACIES UT FERVEAT. CUM FERBUERIT, TRACTAM CONFRINGES ET EX EA OBLIGAS, PIPER ASPARGES ET INFERES.

Put in a sauce pan oil, broth finely chopped leeks, coriander, small tid-bits, cooked pork shoulder, cut into long strips including the skin, have everything equally half done. Add Matian apples cleaned, the core removed, slice lengthwise and cook them together: meanwhile crush pepper, cumin, green coriander, or seeds, mint, laser root, moistened with vinegar, honey and garum and a little reduced must, add to this the broth of the above morsels, vinegar to taste, boil, skim, bind strain over the morsels sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Ancient Roman Pork with Apples

Ancient Roman Pork with Apples

One thing to keep in mind is that unless you cook Ancient Roman recipes frequently and have defruitum on hand, you will have to make it in advance. This simply requires boiling down grape juice until it becomes a syrup. Making defruitum is simple to do, but time consuming. Depending how much you are making, it can take a while and has to be done on low heat to avoid burning the syrup. I recently made a batch and boiled down 64 oz of juice to about 16-20 oz of defruitum. Although most recipes for defruitum say that it is boiled down by half, this is based on crushing fresh grapes and letting them sit in skins for a day or two before straining and reducing. I think that the crushing and sitting may change the consistency a bit when compared to the bottled 100% grape juice that I used. I went by the consistency which is lightly thickened and robustly flavored NOT a true syrup like sapa. I suggest making the defruitum a few days in advance of trying the Ancient Roman Pork with Apples recipe.

Also, as it is a, ‘what to do with leftovers’ dish, the pork has to be cooked in advance. If you don’t have a pound of pork leftover from your last feast, you can boil the meat in enough water to cover in the morning, let it cool and make this recipe at night. I’ve taken to adding some crushed peppercorns to the water to flavor the meat and it is a delicious touch.

For this recipe I used very large Gold Rush apples which have a powerful, complex flavor. It also keeps its shape during cooking, so the apples do not break down into applesauce. So, flavor is important when choosing apples, but form and ability to withstand cooking is also important.

This recipe also calls for garum or liquamen the fish sauce of the ancients.  If you have a vat on hand (as I do) harvest some and use.  If not, use some Asian fish sauce as an alternative.

Lastly, asafoetida has been substituted for laser root (silphion). Silphion is thought to be a now extinct member of the Ferula genus. Asafoetida, although offering a more crude onion-garlic flavor, is a the best substitute.

Ancient Roman Pork With Apples

Ingredients

1 pound pork shoulder or tenderloin, roasted or boiled and sliced lengthwise into strips
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
1/8 pound ground pork or beef
1½ tablespoons garum or fish sauce
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced in long thin strips, separated into white and green parts
3 teaspoons cumin seed, partially crushed
3 teaspoons coriander seed, partially crushed
4-5 long-pepper catkins, crushed
Handful of fresh mint leaves
1 small bunch, cilantro minced
½ cup beef or chicken broth or liquid from par-boiling the pork
1/3 – ½ cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 large pinches of asafoetida
2 large firm apples, peeled and sliced lengthwise
¼ cup defruitum (reduced grape juice)
1 teaspoon cracked pepper for garnish

Preparation

  • Make defruitum. For this recipe use a white grape juice variety.
  • Harvest garum or buy fish sauce
  • If necessary cook and cool pork. If you do not have sufficient leftovers from a large pork roast, boil the meat in enough water to cover for 5-7 minutes and then cool in its juice. If boiling the meat, throw some additional crushed peppercorns into the water to season.

Method

  1. Place butter or oil in a large sauce pan and warm over medium or medium-low heat. Add ground meat and sauté – breaking up the meat into tiny tidbits as you stir. Add about 1 tablespoon of the garum, stir and warm. Add the white parts of the leeks and cover and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables start to wilt.
  2. Add cumin, coriander seed and long pepper all lightly crushed and stir. Add the mint, cilantro and stir again. Add broth or water from parboiling the pork to moisten the contents of the pan. Then add the vinegar and stir well while the liquid warms. Add the honey, remaining garum, and asafoetida and stir again.
  3. Add the pork and green part of the leeks, stir and cover to warm. When the pork has warmed, add the apples, stir and cover. After about five minutes add the defruitum and stir again. Cook another five minutes – or until the apples are just done – and remove from the heat. With this amount of liquid, I felt no need to bind the sauce with a roux or corn starch as suggested in th original recipe. If you wish to make a thick sauce, remove the solids from the pot and make a sauce. Otherwise, garnish with cracked pepper and serve. Excellent with barley or millet, or all by itself.

One of the things I like most about this dish is how it changes as you eat it. The combination of vinegar and the sugars from the honey and defruitum fill the room during proparation. When you first eat it (as written) the bitter turns to sweet, then there is that incredible savory of the garum followed by the sharp crack of all tthat pepper to form a perfect symphony of a dish.

Its a bit of work if you don’t have the defruitum on hand, but I hope you give this one a try – its a path back to an ancient Roman meal along the Silk Road. (Words and adaptation of Apician recipe by Laura Kelley. Photo of Ancient Roman Pork with Apples by Laura Kelley).

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8 thoughts on “Ancient Roman Pork with Apples

  1. deana sidney

    Beautiful recipe. I love pork and apples and never thought of it as a Roman dish. They really did know how to eat. One question though, what kind of dishes did they use when they ate such beautifully spiced food.

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Ahh – that’s an interesting question. The most common tableware was redware pottery, which was sometimes embossed or glazed and quite beautiful. Blackware was less common, but used. The elites had glass cups and bowls of many kinds. Glass was a major industry by the 1st C ACE. Amazing, ornate cage cups, molded and embossed glass could be found on the tables of the wealthy. For a drop-dead gorgeous example of a glass “plate” see”: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/a-roman-glass-plate-circa-3rd-4th-century-5321765-details.aspx

      Reply
  2. Kitty Morse

    Great post! I also used Apicius as a reference in my book A Biblical Feast.
    Ancient Hebrews (as did the Romans) also boiled down grape juice (also the juice od dates and figs), as a sweetening ingredient.

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Kitty:

      Yes – I knew that the Greeks and Hebrews also used reduced musts for cooking. I wondering who used it first and how it spread? I’m wondering if there is another Phoenician connection that here – or not? If you have any educated guesses or hypotheses – please chime in. . .

      Reply
  3. Thomas H

    Very cool. Does anyone know, for garum could you substitute Worcestershire sauce? A few years ago, I saw the remains of the ancient Roman garum-making facilities in the Barcelona city history museum and thought it sounded like they could be substitutes.

    Reply
    1. lauramk Post author

      Hi Thomas: No, I wouldn’t substitute one for the other. They taste nothing alike. There is some speculation that the anchovies in the original Worcestershire sauce recipe could have contributed an umami factor like garum because of how the sauce was produced and aged, but Worcestershire sauce has a much more complex flavor than straight-up garum. I would use a clear Asian Fish sauce (nuoc mam). They are different – weaker in flavor than my mackerel garum – but the best substitute. For more info about making garum, check out my website. Its easy and fun and not smelly at all. . .

      Reply
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