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The Philosopher's Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook Hardcover – August 3, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The ancient Greeks and Romans invented everything from decision by coin toss to the political filibuster. And, as food historian Segan shows in this clever cookbook, they invented many of our favorite dishes, too—or at least their predecessors. She wisely updates the ancient recipes so they appeal to modern palates (e.g., by replacing the sheets of dry, thin bread in an intriguing Free-Form Cherry Lasagna with pasta). However, she's kept to the spirit of history, so Vegetable and Bean Barley Soup doesn't contain tomatoes, as those were imported from the Americas after Columbus visited. Her food-related tidbits are just as appealing as the food itself: Pythagoras eschewed beans because they were associated with bureaucracy (hence the expression "bean counter"), and Hippocrates suggested getting drunk and engaging in sex to heal sore muscles. While in many books a final chapter with menus is almost a throwaway, Segan makes the most of hers by discussing the philosophy of entertaining in ancient times and offering sample invitations with appropriate quotes for a New Year's Eve Bacchanal, Plato's Birthday and other occasions. This attention to detail and user-friendly attitude are typical of this excellent book as a whole. Color, b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - By combining modern ingredients and relatively simple but modern culinary techniques with snippets of ancient culinary history and passages from Greek and Roman thinkers, Segan offers both a wonderful curriculum adjunct and inspiration for extracurricular gustatory pleasure. The dishes range from appetizers to desserts, with soups, salads, fish, vegetables, meats, and breads along the way. A few dishes call for wine; none requires an ingredient difficult to find in a supermarket. The quotations from Hippocrates, Aristotle, Seneca the Younger, and the like are brief, but there are cogent passages describing the art and (health) science of the ancients' nutritional and social theories, as well as the frequent inclusion of the recipes' antecedents in the earliest (first century C.E.) cookbooks. While public library users can borrow this title from adult cookbook collections, high school libraries - especially in schools where ancient history or Latin is taught - would do well to include it. School theme clubs, theater departments, and debate teams may find useful nuggets here, too. - Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060990
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060993
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 1 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the third literary themed cookbook by self-styled food historian Francine Segan. The first, which I have not reviewed or seen, dealt with meals from movies. The second volume that I did read and favorably review dealt with recipes of dishes based on quotes from Shakespeare's plays and documents contemporary to Shakespeare. Aside from the fact that `contemporary of Shakespeare' was interpreted a bit liberally, with references to works which were published many decades after Shakespeare's death in 1616, this was an entertaining and informative book with recipes you would actually want to make, as the author modernized all of the texts to fit modern cookery praxis and cookbook readers' expectations.

This third book, `The Philosopher's Kitchen' deals with recipes from ancient Greece and Rome. In many ways, this book is superior to the Shakespeare volume. For starters, I suspect many people are actually much more interested in Mediterranean cuisine before the advent of New World fruits and vegetables than they are with the early version of a cuisine with few contemporary claims to fame. A second advantage is that there really are a lot of ancient references to recipes, many with a lot more substance to them than the hint given in a single Shakespearean line. Those Greeks and Romans liked to talk about and write about their food as much in ancient times as they do now.

I have often heard it said that the ancient Romans were basically vegetarians, with only the occasional piece of meat used more as a seasoning than as an important source of protein. You can see from these recipes why beans and greens and mushrooms and other vegetables are so important to modern Mediterranean cuisine by seeing their role in these recipes.
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Format: Hardcover
Ever since I first ate at a "Roman" restaurant in Trier Germany (the ancient Roman capital of Germany), I have been fascinated with ancient cuisine. When I first heard of this book, I was anxious to get it and did as a Christmas present. I have prepared several of the recipes so far and they are fantastic. The book makes for great reading as well and is a joy to just page through, though eating the results is even better.
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This is a pleasant little book, with some good recipes in it, but it is not for the person attempting to re-create dishes as the Romans would have eaten them. What you have here is good basic cooking without tomatoes or other New World additives. Without the pretense, there is some good food here.

For the person who wants to eat as the Romans ate, there is not a lot of choice. You have to get a copy of Apicius and start playing with quantities, hoping that your substitutions are passable (hard to find liquamen in the supermarket; asafetida is a great ingredient that should be used more, but even the Romans said it was no substitute for real sylphium, gone forever), and trying to get a feel for the tastes and textures of a different time, recognizing that even Apicius does not offer what the typical Roman ate day-to-day.

The Philosopher's Kitchen is a decent cookbook with a very proper emphasis on fresh ingredients, and there are some very pleasant dishes in it, so long as you aren't looking for much genuine antiquity.
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This was part of the recent estate sale lot. It's not a book I would pick for myself - thinking it pretentious, snooty and a bit expensive (at $35) for a cookbook. However, I was pleasantly surprised and more than a little glad it was part of my haul. Instead of ridiculous foodie nonsense and expensive ingredients, this felt more like a cookbook with hand-written notes. Each recipe was easy to follow, with no special jargon or equipment needed. Surrounding it, Segan included tidbits about ancient ingredients, food preparation techniques, rituals, traditions and of course, quotes from Philosophers about food, pleasure and the stomach. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys unique recipes with history on the side. Personally, I can't wait for my fig tree to fruit next year, not that I finally have a few fig recipe I want to try.
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So far I have found that the recipes in this book are good. They aren't really from Ancient Greece and Rome, despite the subtitle on the cover. Both the author and the publisher describe them, in the introduction, as recipes inspired by the ancient recipes. Once, in the introduction, the author slips again and claim she is recreating the ancient cuisines. This is not true, because she leaves out critical elements of many recipes, such as fish sauce, and changes the nature of others completely, such as using boiled lasagna in place of baked lagana. If only she had subtitled the book "Recipes Inspired By ..." I would have rated the book as five stars.
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I received this as a gift since I'm interested in historic foodways and am developing an interest in ancient Greek and Roman life. I was disappointed that this book includes so few of the original texts on which the author based her modern interpretations. I was even MORE disappointed to see how far her interpretations diverged from the texts that WERE given and the number of dishes that were not from antiquity, but merely inspired by something fairly random. I am also dubious about some of her ingredient selections - she omits many things from the recipes that would strongly affect the final flavor. Some of those may have been her perception of modern ingredient availability, but she has also made no substitutions of similar items (celery for lovage, for example).

What results is a collection of dishes that will not give you any sort of taste of the past, but can be used to evoke a sort of "ye olde Roman" atmosphere to your table if that's what you want. If you're a modern cook who wants to expand your tastes a bit this may be for you - but if you want a book to aid you with modern interpretations of Apicius, keep looking. Grainger's Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today is more difficult to use, but the recipes end up closer to what seems to be indicated by the originals.
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