Ancient Roman Inferiority Complex

This blog will probably be on the quiet side for the next couple of days.  I do, however, have the best possible reason for not writing much about food – I’m going to be far too busy cooking it.

One of my more crazy projects over the last few years has been an attempt to read through the complete dramatic works of Shakespeare.  The crazy part isn’t so much the reading, but the fact that I decided it would be more fun to read the plays I invited a bunch of friends around once a month, assigned characters, and had us all do a dramatic reading.  Even this would only have been moderately insane if I hadn’t also decided that it was absolutely necessary to have themed feasts.  The phrase ‘organisational nightmare’ comes to mind…

We’ve actually done pretty well so far.  After four years (of which one was more or less a hiatus from the whole thing), we only have eight plays left to read, though we are getting down to the more obscure ones.  We’ve been doing everything, you see – good plays, bad plays, famous plays, tragically neglected plays, deservedly obscure plays, really silly plays, ridiculously gory plays, the plays Shakespeare wrote in conjunction with other people, and even one play (Cardenio, or The Second Maiden’s Tragedy) which it isn’t certain he wrote at all.

And on Sunday we are doing Cymbeline, which is listed variously as a Tragedy, a History, a Romance and a Comedy, depending on who you ask.  (I’m voting comedy, because there is a girl dressed as a boy and everyone is restored to his or her proper estate at the end).  As Cymbeline is set in Roman Britain, I’m using a certain Roman Cookery Book to help me out.

The menu currently includes bread, several gorgeous herb and vegetable pâtés and dips, saffron chickpeas, pickled cheese, pickled turnips, stuffed vine leaves, cheese and honey wafers, pear and wine jelly, curd cheese, rose honey, sesame biscuits, honey biscuits and poppy seed biscuits, dried fig cakes, stuffed dates, a variety of crudités, and an assortment of dried fruit.

We’re already firmly on the path to disaster, too, because this is exactly the sort of meal where I don’t know how much food to make.  It’s all little nibbly things, and nothing is a meal in its own right and there will be twelve people around the table and what if there isn’t enough food?

I honestly can’t tell whether I am drastically overcatering or hideously undercatering.  I’m hoping it’s the former, because the other nice thing about all this food is that it keeps really well and is excellent for lunch at work. 

To make matters worse, I just watched Heston Blumenthal’s Roman Feast,  which is based on the greatest excesses of Apicius, not to mention several  descriptions of feasts written by satirists who I’m pretty sure were just making dishes up.  (To do Heston justice, I very much doubt he would care whether the dishes were real or not, provided they were entertaining enough.) Anyway, I’m now feeling completely outclassed and unadventurous because I am not making ejaculating chocolate mousse or roast pig stuffed with sausage intestines. or even my own garum.  Actually, all the dishes I’m making are really quick and easy, with the exception of the poppy seed biscuits, which have the potential for all sorts of trouble.  How can I even call myself a cook?

On the other hand, Heston stops at four insanely complicated dishes – my dishes are simple, but there will be about twenty of them on the table.  Hmm, actually,  now I’ve counted them up, twenty dishes does sound like rather a lot.  Perhaps I’m not undercatering too badly after all.

Anyway, with that, I’d better bid you farewell and get back to the kitchen – I’ve made the rose honey, the pickled feta, the fig cake and the roasted garlic and herb dip, but I still need to finish the spiced turnips and the sesame wafers before I can go to bed.  See you on the other side!

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4 comments for “Ancient Roman Inferiority Complex

  1. May 28, 2011 at 10:04 am

    We’ll, erm, ‘forgive’ you for not making garum. I’m informed that the process stinks your kitchen out, and – while it might be authentically Roman – we can probably do without that level of authenticity.

    • May 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

      It also takes three months, which is a bit longer than I have. And having seen the look on Heston’s face when he tried an authentic Roman recipe and used Thai fermented fish sauce in the recommended quantities, I think I’ll give that possibility a miss, too…

  2. Danika
    May 30, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Oh, awesome. I’ve been thinking about doing some play read-throughs myself, since I really miss the theatre but really don’t have the time to devote to it anymore.

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