In April and May 2010 there was a massive food festival about all things edible – cooking, growing, history – inCamleyStreetNaturalPark, an oasis of green calm a few minutes walk behind St Pancras. Various people fromUCL Museumsand Collections took part in this foodie festival. For example, Mark Carnall, Curator of theGrantMuseum, spoke about eating cats and I cooked some Roman food for a demonstration to dispel the perception that Roman cusine was all about stuffed dormice and vomitariums.
A year later there is a rather wonderful cookbook collating Mark’s and my efforts and much more besides. It is downloadable free online or a hard copy is only £14 from Amazon. If you are looking for Christmas presents people who care about food, I recommend it. I bought it for a friend of mine who is a chef and exponent of the slow food movement where she works up in the Scottish Highlands – she loves it!
The recipe I choose for the book was one of many that I tried for my house warming party earlier this year. My emphasis was on trying to cook the ‘bog standard’ Roman fare that was found at bars rather than fancy banquets. This meant barley based dishes, fennel and lemon salad, different breads and dips, roasted meats with a kind of pickled egg and dried fruits in fish sauce sauce that smelt disgusting but was surprisingly edible. (I told everyone to try it at their peril; amazingly it tasted great and went very quickly). As well as stuffed dates cooked in wine with pepper and honey cakes covered in sesame seeds. One of my friends even provided a ham in pastry – a whole gammon covered in in pastry. This last item was more upmarket than the food I was attempting!
In cooking this food I noticed two main things. Much of the food was cooked in a way that it meant it was somehow preserved – whether through baking, roasting, using lots of salt or salty substances – which would of course be necessary for a world without fridge-freezers or artificial preservatives. The other was how ‘strange’ combinations of flavours worked, for example dates boiled in peppered wine.