Interview in Ancient History Encyclopedia

A very cool thing happened a couple of days ago: I was interviewed by James Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia. The focus of the interview was largely my work on ancient cuisines, but there is some discussion of the Silk Road cuisine and recipe reconstruction as well. Take a peek! Reconstructing Cuisines and Recipes from the Ancient World The reconstruction of ancient recipes challenges experimental … Read more

The Origins of Curry Powder

Where did curry powder come from? There is no real equivalent in authentic subcontinental cuisines for a ready-made powder. The closest thing to a curry powder is a masala, and that is almost always more of a paste than a powder because of the addition of wet and dry ingredients to the mix. On the subcontinent, seeds and roots, etc. are roasted, ground and mixed … Read more

Indian Curry Through Foreign Eyes #2: Mary Randolph

Next up on our exploration of curries is Mary Randolph’s Curry from her book, The Virginia Housewife, first published in the United Sates in 1824. Although she was well born, Mary and her husband’s fortunes fell in middle age and The Virginia Housewife was written to help lift her family out of poverty. The Virginia Housewife underwent multiple revisions and no less than 19 editions … Read more

A Feast for the First Christmas

At this time of year when cuisine blogs are awash with recipes for cookies and roast beast for the Christmas feast, I thought it would be a nice idea to create a notional menu for what the first Christmas feast might actually be like. In truth, that concept was brought to me by a writer from Bon Appetit magazine who wrote a great short piece … Read more

New Flavors for the World’s Oldest Recipes

I am pleased to share with you my new article on ancient Mesopotamian cuisine entitled, “New Flavors for the World’s Oldest Recipes” in the November-December issue of Saudi Aramco World. Click the link above to read the article on the publisher’s website and peruse the other articles in the issue. I really like the magazine, because its stated objective is to build understanding between peoples … Read more

Flowers that Have Changed the World of Food 3: Cloves

“And somewhere near India is the island containing the Valley of the Cloves. No merchants or sailors have ever been to the valley or have seen the kind of tree that produces cloves: its fruit, they say, is sold by genies . . . the islanders feed on them, and they never fall ill or grow old.” – Summary of Marvels (Ibrahim ibn Wasif-Shah, ca. … Read more

A New Oenogarum

Deciphering and reinventing ancient recipes is an inexact skill. To some degree, it is more like alchemy than anything else. There is a touch of science in the linguistic, historical or archaeological research; a touch of art in the choosing of ingredients and their relative quantities; and a touch of faith or intuition in what feels right from a culinary point of view. The mark … Read more

Silk Road in the News #7 – Roman Jewelry in 5th C. Japanese Tomb

New evidence of the power and reach of the Silk Road seems to be puzzling and mystifying scholars. Roman jewelry was recently found in in a Japanese tomb dating from the 5th Century ACE. Why this startles anyone is beyond me. The network of maritime and land traders that we now know as the Silk Road linked west and east as far back as 2000 … Read more

Cookoff Challenge # 2 – Ancient Rome

During the month of April, I will be holding an Ancient Roman Cookoff to use the garum that I made last year and to consider the effects it has on flavor and the perception of taste. Since this cookoff involves the use of an ingredient of limited quantity, I have invited a few colleagues and friends to join us in this effort. Exploring Ancient Roman … Read more

Salt – Part 1: Introduction and Prehistory

Salt – our oldest flavoring. Integral to plant and animal physiology, we need it to live. Vast empires have been built on its tax or on its trade. Protests have been lodged, wars have been fought over the means of its production, and men have died for the control of salt sources. In addition, we have many ritual uses for salt. Many religions use it … Read more

The Real Sinbad the Sailor

The Voyages of Sinbad tell of giant, magical creatures: whales the size of islands, snakes so large that they could swallow elephants, and rukh (roc) birds so large that they could carry a caravan of men on their backs. Tales of these creatures repeated across cultures and through the ages has made most readers assume that they were simply pigments of a colorful imagination – … Read more

The Silk Road in the News #4: Soup from 400 BCE

Imagine the world around 400 BCE. The Phoenicians in Carthage were the dominant power in North Africa; Socrates had just been condemned to death; in Mesoamerica, the Olmec civilization entered a period of terminal decline; and a Chinese nobleman was laid to rest in his tomb in Xian with soup and wine to see him through to the afterlife. After 2,400 years the cauldron or … Read more

Hail Cleopatra!

Mother, goddess, harlot, sister, stateswoman, linguist, assassin, daughter, diplomat – Cleopatra, the last Queen of Egypt. Rarely has a woman been so revered and reviled at the same time, and even more rarely have so many half-truths been handed down through the centuries about one.  Ask someone in the west what springs to mind when they think of Cleopatra and they will probably cite a … Read more

Silk Road in the News #3: Oldest Share Discovered

A share of stock issued in 1606 by the sea trading firm Dutch East India Company has recently been discovered in the Netherlands. Locked away in forgotten city archives, the share was made out to Pieter Harmensz, from the Dutch East India Company has recently been found in the northwestern city Hoorn. As the Netherlands’ largest trading company in the 17th and 18 centuries, the … Read more

Culinary History Mysteries #2 – Ice Cream!

Triple digit temperatures have hit the Central Atlantic once again, leaving locals and visitors alike to find any way they can to keep the mercury down.  Some become shut-ins moving between their air-conditioned homes to their air-conditioned cars to their air-conditioned jobs and back again; some take to the beaches, lakes and pools to swim and soak the heat away; still others turn to cold … Read more

Ibn Battuta in IMAX

“. . . If I am to die, then what better place to do so than on the road to Mecca,” declares a very young and confident Ibn Battuta to his family and friends who saw him off on his first great journey. Time and the realities of travel in the fourteenth century soon tempered his youthful bluster as Battuta made his way across the … Read more