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Cooking Apicius Paperback – October 6, 2006
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First, the history section at the beginning is interesting, detailed and marvelously informative. I enjoyed reading about what the items of food likely were, how they were likely prepared, and who likely did the cooking. The academic work may get into more footnoted details but this was wonderful. Pleasant to read and chock full of details I can USE.
Then there are the recipes. She cooks. The recipes are clear. Understandable. She gives information on period techniques and suggestions for modern methods that give a similar result. USEFUL! I am delighted that I could put a dish in front of my family from the 1st Century AD and know that it is not too different from what people would have eaten.
I love living history. My Byzantine persona for the Society for Creative Anachronism would have likely eaten like this. What bits and pieces I have read from 10th Century, they were eating very similarly to the foods in Apicius and unlike many extant writings, Apicius was written for the cook, likely by a cook, or cooks, and so is practical and not merely philosophic meanderings about food.
For the cook who loves history, or the history buff who wants to cook period appropriate foods, I highly recommend this book.
The one major failing of the book is that it lacks an index. I am talking about the ink-and-paper, hardcopy, book. Not Kindle. Printed books should have an index, in my opinion.
A minor annoyance is her use of a variety of spoon sizes with no real information. She specifies four sizes of spoons in somewhat vague terms, and only gives the metric volume of the largest. It should have been easy enough to measure and specify the other three spoons that she uses. This would not have been so annoying had she not said that you needed to stick closely to her amounts of ingredients the first time you cooked any recipe of hers, and only vary amounts after you are sure how the dish tastes when cooked her way. That's a little difficult to do if you don't know what amounts she is actually using.
I don't feel it is wise to advise people to wander the streets picking berries from people's hedges, especially when you admit that the ones you are instructing them to pick closely resemble some that are very toxic. On that topic, it might have been useful to suggest alternatives for some of the more difficult-to-obtain ingredients, on the off chance that your reader has bought the book heading into winter and doesn't happen to have some dried abortificant plant leaves in her kitchen cabinet (I am referring to rue in this case).
Those complaints aside, I was inspired by this book to try cooking some ancient Roman dishes. It happens that the first one that I tried was one that I found on another author's blog, but that is the way of things. That dish turned out wonderful, by the way. I used colatura for the garum, which I bought on Amazon.
I have to wonder why someone who so obviously dislikes the flavor of garlic chose to specialize in reproducing recipes from a part of the world where either garlic or another spice, asafetida, which tastes much like garlic, is used in so many recipes. I get the idea that she likes fish sauce because she can use it to drown out everything else. I will attest to the truth of her statement that you can use the umami quality of fish sauce to cover up the other spices in a dish. I had made a highly spiced turkey dish, in a Chinese mode, that I accidentally over-sweetened. I decided to follow some published advice that one can balance sweetness with salt. I added miso paste, which is a salty vegetable-based source of umami. By the time the sweetness was balanced, the dish tasted like beef pot roast. It was like tasty beef pot roast, cooked with onions and carrots until the vegetables dissolve into nothing but flavor, but it was nevertheless not turkey with Chinese spices.
So because she obviously knows what she is doing in the kitchen, I gave her four stars even though I don't necessarily agree with her goals or some of her instructions. I also bought the book co-authored by her husband, which has all of the Apicius recipes translated. It's what I really wanted in the first place.
Some dishes need attention and time, the mark of a great Master Chef....If one fells adventurous and bold and discover that Ancient times are no different than today,including fast food joints in Pompeii...before 79AD!!!
Top international reviews
For anybody with even the slightest interest in the Romans, food, or indeed Roman food, this is the book I would go to first.
All that is left to say now is Pass the Garum!
Sensitively converted to use modern commodities, You can eat like the Caesars