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.


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


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


  • 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.


  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).

Ancient Roman Cookoff Entry 6: A Roman Roast Lamb Chop

My husband was drawn into the spirit of the cook-off again and prepared an elegant and delicious Roman roast lamb chop for us. He based his recipe on Apicius 8.6.8: The Raw Kid or Lamb: Haedus Sive Agnus Crudus. The original directions are about as simple as simple can be and read: “Is rubbed with oil and pepper and sprinkled with plenty of clean salt and coriander seed, placed in the oven and served roast”. He made one addition to the recipe. He sprinkled some garum on the just roasted chop just after taking them out of the oven to rest before serving to add some of the garum magic to the roast lamb.

Roman Roast Lamb Chops

4 large bone-in lamb chops
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
11/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1-2 teaspoons garum (if available)

Grind the peppercorns by hand in a mortar. I usually prefer a coarse ground to a fine one. When ground to the desired degree, mix the ground pepper with the olive oil in a small bowl and let the pepper infuse the oil while you grind the coriander seed. When the coriander seed is done, mix it with the salt and set aside.

Pierce the chops several times with the tines of a fork and then thoroughly rub the oil and pepper mixture on both sides. Let sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Then rub on the mixture of salt and ground coriander seed on one side of the chops and place this side face down on the broiler rack. Rub the side facing up with the remaining mix and let sit for an additional 20-30 minutes. Preheat the broiler to high while the meat is being seasoned.

Place under broiler at least several inches from the flame and cook 4-5 minutes a side; adjust cooking times to size and thickness of the chop. When done, remove from broiler and sprinkle garum over the chops. Let rest at least 5 minutes before serving.


Steve writes: Back when Laura started her garum experiment, I got interested in some of the things that she was cooking. I’ve always liked historical cooking and so decided to try some things on my own. However finding a recipe that would not take me all day to cook AND that could feed our kids as well as ourselves was a challenge. I came across a version of this recipe for roast lamb and it seemed simple and would not require a lot of unusual ingredients, but would allow me to experiment with the garum as an addition. As we found with other recipes, the garum does not give the food a fish flavor, but instead enhances the flavors that are present in the dish. Even our kids, who are notoriously finicky, enjoyed it and didn’t notice the garum at all. (Words by Stephen and Laura Kelley. Photo of A Roman Roast Lamb Chop by Laura Kelley).

Variation in Roman Cooking: The Tale of the Cucumber and the Melon

This post recounts the results of an experiment that took place recently between me and my husband.  In the Apician cookbook there are two recipes very close together that can be used for either cucumbers or melons:


Ingredients are listed, but no amounts are offered. My husband, who is also a good cook, wanted to join me in the cookoff.  So I proposed using our different takes on the cucumber-melon Apician recipe to demonstrate the role of variation in Roman cooking.  We cooked our dishes separately, and did not compare notes until after the experiment was over. Interestingly, we came up with radically different dishes based on the same ancient recipe.  The results follow:


Apician Cucumbers by Laura Kelley
This is a slightly sour starter salad or condiment in a large meal that has the unusual flavor of red wine must and vinegar as the main flavors.  The pennyroyal sweetens the mixture just a bit and the asafetida adds a bit of depth.  The garum of course is the umami factor for this unusual combination of flavors.

1-2 large western cucumbers (or multiple smaller Asian ones)

3 teaspoons dried, shredded pennyroyal
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black peppercorns
2 tablespoons beef broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3-4 teaspoons reduced red wine *
4 teaspoons garum
1-2 pinches asafetida (optional)

Apician Cucumbers by Laura Kelley


Prepare the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together in a shallow bowl or cup.  If you are sensitive to textures, you may wish to grind the pennyroyal into a powder.  Peel, deseed and cut the cucumbers crosswise.   Pour dressing over the cucumbers and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  When about to serve, add the asafetida if desired, and mix well.  Serve cool, not cold or at room temperature.

* Reduced wine or must is very simple to make.  For reduced wine, simply heat wine to a near boil, then turn down the flame to low or medium low and cook very gently – stirring often – until light syrup is formed.  For reduced must, use procedure above on commercially available 100% grape juice – unless you live near a vineyard and can get a large amount of fresh must.  Best if prepared at least one day before cooking and allowed to fully cool before using.  Stores for months if refrigerated in a sterilized, sealed glass jar. 1.5 liters of wine makes about ¼ to 1/3 cup of must.  (Reduced wine and must carry a wallop of sweet and sour flavor and should be used cautiously, or they will easily overpower and recipe.)


Apician Melons by Stephen Kelley
This melon recipe is surprisingly sweet given the addition of so much white vinegar.  It provides a delicious and remarkable dessert or sweet snack of melons flavored in an unusual way – with sweet pennyroyal and lots of black pepper.  Best when served cool or room temperature – but not cold.

½ honeydew melon
½ cantaloupe

3 teaspoons dried, shredded pennyroyal
2½ teaspoons coarsely ground black peppercorns
6 teaspoons white vinegar
6 teaspoons reduced white wine
4 teaspoons garum

Apician Melons by Stephen Kelley

Prepare the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together in a shallow bowl or cup.  If you are sensitive to textures, you may wish to grind the pennyroyal into a powder.  Peel, deseed and dice the melons and mix them together.   Pour dressing over the melons and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Serve cool, not cold or at room temperature.


First off, let me say that both dishes were delicious. We were both surprised to see what different dishes we made from the same list of ingredients. As you can see, to some degree, our preconceived notions about what to do with the main ingredient greatly influenced our choices.  Working with the cucumber, I went for a more sour, salad-like dish, and my husband went the dessert route becasue he was working with melons.

We both used reduced wine instead of reduced must (which would usually be slightly sweeter) or honey because that is what we had on hand.

We were also impressed by the absence of any fish flavor on the vegetables and fruits despite a fair amount of garum added to each dressing. I am not a big fan of dishes with a strong flavor of alcohol in them and particulary dislike rum cakes and tipsy parsons. That said, however, the rich flavor of reduced wine on the cucumbers and melons was fantastic and I urge you to try it.

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I pay a lot of attention to variation in Asian “recipes” many of which are offered as rudimentary lists of ingredients, just as the Roman recipe above. To sum up some of the posts I’ve written on variation, which are available here and here, I’d note that most of the rest of the world doesn’t care about the uniformity that so many in the west desire.

For example, many recipes in Central or Western Asia are given with the ingredient, “greens”. Most of the time this could be cilantro, parsley, tarragon, dill or even one of the savories – the varying balance of which could drastically change the flavor of a dish. A modern western version of such a recipe would, on the other hand, report the exact amounts of the herbs needed and the form in which to add them. This would lead to a single taste for the recipe, instead of a range of variation. A loss, indeed.

When Asians without formal culinary training are queried about how much of an herb is needed in a recipe, most don’t even understand the question. They shrug and say something like, “however much you wish”.

I find it interesting that many Roman recipes work like many modern Asian ones. We found out in the Mesopotamian cookoff that some dishes – like mersu – could take on many different forms by mixing and matching ingredients according to the diners likes and dislikes, wishes of the cook, their skills, and what they had on hand. Both ancient and modern recipes are part of the legacy of the Silk Road which still influences our world today. (Words by Laura Kelley; Recipes by Stephen and Laura Kelley as noted, and Photographs of the Apician Cucumbers and Melons by Laura Kelley).

Ancient Roman Cookoff Entry 4: Mixed Meat Patella by Sally Grainger

For our fourth entry in the Ancient Roman Cookoff, we have none other than Sally Grainger cooking for us. Sally is author of Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today and with historian Andrew Dalby, she is co-author of the The Classical Cookbook and its recently revised edition. For her entry, she chose a patella of mixed meat. The original recipe calls for tidbits of fine meats to be used. In her case, she used, pheasant, chicken, lucanika sausage, pork belly, king prawns and monkfish.  Sally layered these meats, along with eggs and spices in between layers of dough or bread, roasted and then cut into pieces for service.

Sally found a number of surprises, including how good it tasted after it was baked together after construction.  She writes, “You make an Apician patina like this: pieces of cooked udder, flaked fish, chicken meat, figpeckers, or cooked breast of thrush, and whatever finest qualities things there may be . . .

Dice all these carefully apart from the figpeckers. Beat up raw eggs in oil. Pound pepper, lovage, pour on liquamen, wine, passum; put in pan so that it warms through and thicken with starch. Before this however put all the chopped meat in and bring it to the boil. When this is cooked, take it out with its sauce and ladle it into a dish in alternate layers with whole pepper corns and pine nuts in such a way that, with each layer, you spread out a ‘double layer’ like a lagana (clearly actually ‘a lagana like a ‘double layered (cloak). Fill as many ladles as lagana you put in and put (the mixture) on top. Then pierce one lagana with a reed and put it on top. Sprinkle with pepper. Beforehand you should have thickened the meat mixture with the broken eggs and put it in the pan with the seasonings (Apicius 4.2.14) The kind of bronze pan you aught to have is shown below.

Ancient Roman Patina

I have cooked this recipe many times before and done so with the firm belief that it was not a forerunner of the lasagne and so it didn’t go back in the oven. In remaking the patina Apician for the cook off It seemed like a good idea to be a little more adventurous and try a number of different way to cook and serve it.

This is quite a perplexing recipe and made more so because the information seems to have been dictated. It is quite common in Apicius to find confusion as to the order in which you work because the cook has forgotten to add a key instruction until the end. There seem to be two ways to tackle the recipe; either treat it as an early version of lasagne and use pasta sheets where lagana are required or, as I do, consider pasta rather anachronistic at this time and use some thing other than pasta: un-leaved bread is the actual translation of lagana in classical Latin. I also note that it is whole-wheat flat breads that the famous Oliveto restaurant in Oakland used when they made this dish for their Roman inspired menu.

It is not just a simple matter of cooked pasta or cooked bread of cause as the structure and finished appearance of the dish rather depends on whether the layered sheets and sauce is returned to the oven and/or left in the dish. If the layering material is pre cooked it might suggest not. This recipe does not state either way but the following recipes in Apicius for an ‘every day patina’ indicates that the very same kind of structured dish is turned out of the vessel onto a ‘discum’ or platter for service (Apicius 4.2.15). Why it should be made in a bronze vessel and then turned out again without being further cooked is some what strange of cause. Another question that is not easy to answer is how is a portion is served to the guest? Is it cut like a cake or are the layers removed individually? I believe the answer to this is connected to the meaning of the ‘double layered cloak’ a most perplexing phrase. I have elsewhere published my thoughts on this issue in my edition of Apicius I came up with a number of scenario’s all of which I shall attempt to duplicate for this cookoff.

Bread for Patina a la Sally Grainger

I used a simple chapatti recipe for the bread and cook them on a metal bake stone over charcoal. An interesting phenomena associated with chapatti is the ability of the bread to puff up creating a steam pocket as if the bread was leavened. This may be the simple explanation for the double layered cloak. However as they cool they tend to deflate which is less convincing. The wonderful concept of using whatever good things are available also makes the dish very flexible. I have pheasant, chicken, lucanika sausage, king prawns and a firm fleshed fish such as monkfish or shark/tuna As to the sows udder: the ancient practise of consuming this organ either before or soon after the piglets are born is an unfortunate practise. However the majority of a sows belly around the in-active udder is in fact belly pork and this will suffice as an alternative.

I have made fish sauce myself in the last few years and used my own for this recipe. It has a salt level of c. 15% and a protein of 10% and was made from whole mackerel. Because it has a relatively low salt level I find I can use it quite liberally without the salt overpowering everything else. It is not overly fishy either with complex meaty cheesy overtones.

The Bread

This recipe makes roughly 12 chapatis like breads.

1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup plain flour
salt to taste
water to bind
2 tablespoons olive oil

I used a preparation and cooking method derived from chapatti production.

For the Sauce:
500ml white wine
250ml stock made using the meat juices
150ml Muscat de Beaumes de Venise or similar desert wine
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 level coffee spoon roasted and ground lovage seeds
generous fresh ground pepper
4 eggs
60ml olive oil

The Filling
2 120 gm chicken fillets
1 small pheasant
300 gm belly pork strips
2 lucanika sausages or any high meat content sausage of choice
100gm large prawns
100gm monkfish

The dough is formed with sufficient water and with oil to make a firm dough which is kneaded lightly and rested. I made some bread on the hearth with a bake stone and charcoal fire while also using a heavy non stick frying pan for others. I divide the dough into 12 balls and covered the remainder while I worked with each one. The pan needs to be heated on medium heat until a small piece of flattened dough takes on a little colour when it cooks rather than staying pale or burning. Take each piece of dough, flatten it and turn it in flour then roll/stretch to a round thin disk about 15-18cm. As each one is prepared it is immediately placed on the dry pan and turned after about 2-3 mins. After turning take a clean tea towel and press gently on one side of the bread and you will find the other side will puff up nicely  After a couple of minutes only remove the bread and wrap in a tea towel so that they don’t dry out.

I decided to pre cook all the meats in advance to generate a stock so that the meat flavours will be concentrated. I also feel that this kind of dish was actually designed to use up left over pre cooked meats from previous feast. Roast the pheasant and belly pork, strip the meat and dice. Poach/roast the chicken fillets and retain the cooking liquor. Cook the sausage. Flush out all the roasting tins with the chicken cooking liquor and make up to 250 ml with water. This along with the wine, muscat, lovage, my fish sauce and plenty of pepper was heated and the diced meat put in. After a brief re-boil I added starch – I actually had some wheat starch that a friend had made according to the instruction for making amylum in Pliny HN 18.76 and also Cato 87. This requires grinding as it is in the form of hard crystals. Corn flour is obviously a suitable alternative. I added the raw fish at this point cut into small pieces so that the remaining heat could cook the prawns and monkfish without them becoming too tough. I then added the oil and eggs. I was unsure about numbers but in the end found 4 more than enough. It was gently brought back to heat though not boiled as I didn’t think a curdled mixture was desirable. It did become quite thick but not set or solid. The instructions to ladle the mixture suggest a semi liquid.

Mixed Meat Patella by Sally GraingerGrainger

There was no possibility of a bronze patella sadly but a large straight sided casserole suited. I also decided to cut the bread to fit the dish. I feel that the bread makes the dish sturdy enough to be turned out and to be free standing. Any attractive layering would not be lost if the bread was left unevenly circular. To my shame I wasn’t able to achieve perfect circles!

The first method was the simplest and involved laying bread and mixture down in alternate layers with the pine nuts and pepper until full. It then of cause becomes necessary to consider why the bronze patella was used at all if it is not to be returned to the oven, if only to keep warm or more likely to further set the egg. As it turns out I did place the dish, covered, in the oven for 20 mins at 160 °C to see what would be the result. The result was quite remarkable. The patina turned out easily and looked quite spectacular Firm to the touch and distinctly wobbly like a mouse. While still hot it could be cut into wedges but they were just too soft to be picked up.  However after half an hour to rest, the cake for that is what its looks like, could be cut and the resulting wedge were warm and the bread at the top and bottom remained dry and the fingers stayed clean. It even looked like a very elaborate many layered sandwich and the reed in the top made it almost like a club sandwich! This above all else leads me to the inevitable conclusion that the dish could have been put back in the oven and served in wedges like cake.

Mixed Meat Patella – sliced

The alternative method which has been my preferred method in the past involved dispensing with the bronze patella and layering the sauce and bread as before or in separate individual sandwiches. So you had bread, sauce,bread,bread, sauce, bread, bread, sauce, bread, bread etc. It didn’t look bad and could be cut like the other one but was also readily removed and rolled up like a wrap and eaten while staying clean. My premise has always been that, as lagana was bread, the dish had to be associated with eating with the fingers and keeping them clean. If the finished item was too soft and wet at the time of service the breads main role would have been lost.

I had 10-15 portions to dispense with so shared the finished dish with a group of friends from our village who had not eaten any Roman food before and were nervous but declared it wonderfully. I have always loved that sweet lovage/umami combination in what is a very simple and apparently untypical Roman sauce. In comparison to some Roman sauces this has quite modern and European in flavour. The additional flavour from the meat stock made all the difference and I guess if the sauce was made precisely as instructed without the concentrated caramel meat flavouring it would have been a little less flavoursome. The white fish tended to disappear into the rest of the ingredients but the prawns were distinct as was the belly pork. It’s a hearty meal and one I shall reprise again for my next Roman dinner party. I have a hankering to open my own underground Roman restaurant in my home. When and if I do I shall make sure to use the social media to announce it so watch the web.”


Sally’s interpretations of this patella is intriguing and delicious, but, the recipe lacks so much detail (by today’s standards) that a great deal of interpretation and creativity is allowed.  For example, another way to prepare the patina would be to explore a variation on the lagane or “double cloak” idea and to lay down two layers of cut noodles or thin-pancakes cooked by different methods: for example and oven-roasted layer and a fried-layer.

We don’t know what the shape of ancient lagane were, whether they were pancake or chapati like or whether they were sheets of dough that were then cut like noodles. We do know that the Etruscans were eating them and didn’t boil them. Rather they were cooked over coals or fried. Boiled “pasta” may be a Muslim invention – the first written reference to it is at least in Arabic. Modern lagane from central and southern are broad flat noodles like wide tagliatella that are sometimes ruffled and sometimes not. They are made from durum wheat or the finer 0 wheat flour, water and salt. Ancient lagane were probably made from spelt, possibly with farina or semolina added.

Today these are enjoyed in soups with chickpeas and other legumes in Campagnia (as referenced in Horace) or in a mixed-meat ragu in Puglia which could be a descendant of the Apician recipe above (minus the layered construction and with tomatoes and a modern retinue of spices added). In some areas, lagane are cooked in goat’s milk instead of water or broth on Catholic saint’s days. Another way lagane are enjoyed today are fried and layered as a sweet preparation with nuts and sugar, reminiscent of the Central Asian “chuk-chuk”. Noodle dishes of the Silk Road indeed! (Words by Sally Grainger with introduction and commentary by Laura Kelley; photo of Roman Patina borrowed from the internet; Photographs of the Mixed-meat Patella by Sally Grainger.)