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Showing 1-10 of 15 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 19 reviews
on December 10, 2008
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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on December 22, 2013
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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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.

The olive and the grape were as important in ancient times to the Mediterranean cuisine as they are today. In fact, there is a Latin quote that says that a meal without wine is a meal for the dogs. It seems odd, therefore, that the author did not include any wine recommendations with these recipes, although wine and wine vinegars are used liberally in these recipes. Similarly, olive oil was as much a final dressing to dishes as it is today in Italian cuisine. Mario Batali would have been right at home in an ancient Roman kitchen.

The attention to sauces also reminds one of French cooking of Careme and Escoffier that has often been described as being done to accommodate poor teeth. I suspect the dental equipment of the ancients was no better than that of 19th century Frenchmen.

The nine (9) chapters of recipes follow a very traditional organization, with the twist of titles borrowed from ancient texts. The eight chapters of recipes are:

Ad Gustum: Appetizers where lots of olive based goodies look a whole lot like Italian, Provencal, and Spanish starter dishes. The author takes more than a little poetic license by using pasta that, strictly speaking, was a medieval invention. All is explained, so all is forgiven.

Fire: Soups and Stews where the absence of the tomato is more dramatic than in most sections. Figs are an important ingredient in recipes throughout the book and it is surprising to see them appear in meat stews in this chapter.

Earth: Salads and Vegetables have lots of fennel, kale, beans, squash, celery, leeks, and Brussels sprouts. These recipes seem especially fresh and inviting.

Water: Seafood has many dishes that look remarkably modern such as the red snapper in parchment. The ancients didn't use their good vellum to cook. They used salted fig leaves to take the place of the modern silicone product.

Air: Poultry also has many modern looking recipes, as the New World vegetables play less of a role in cooking birds.

Macellum: Meats has meatballs, pork chops, steak, stuffed squash, pork loin, lamb, veal chops and tenderloin. Gingersnap cookie crumbs stand in for ancient spiced breadcrumbs here.

Panis: Bread where I suspect the variation from the ancients is pretty dramatic. They had yeast, but certainly not `instant dry' yeast. And, baking powder was not invented until the late 19th century.

Ambrosia: Desserts has simple recipes which are probably closer to the ancient original in substance than many other dishes, especially the breads.

The original ancient text on which the modern interpretation is included with every recipe, so you can easily see how much interpretation was done to create transpose the ancient quote into a modern recipe. Not surprisingly, a large number of recipes are from the famous Roman cookbook `On Cookery' attributed to Apicius.

While the author is credited with being a `food historian', these works are much more like popular interpretations of food history than they are scholarly works. The author very wisely includes an extensive bibliography of her references, but this does not make this an academic book. Aside from the enjoyment of reading the recipes, stories, and rationales in recipe translations, the very best use of the book would be as a source for entertaining to a theme of ancient recipes. The recipes are just complicated enough to impress guests, and just simple enough to allow them to be done by cooks with modest talents. The added cachet of serving dishes from the ancient world is more than worth the price of the book. Use if for your next ides of March party.

The rationale for using philosophers in the title of this book is a bit thin, especially as most of the dishes are based on Roman sources and Imperial Rome was not known for its philosophers. A similar case could probably be made for poets or playwrights. They probably wrote about food as much or more than Plato and Aristotle.

Excellent source for themed entertaining and a darn good foodie read.
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on November 25, 2013
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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on January 9, 2014
I found this cookbook several years ago and have purchased several for my foodie friends. The recipes are unusual and delicious and the text is fascinating. As a Greek myself, I loved finding ancient recipes updated with ingredients we can find today but the flavors from the past. The Free Form Cherry Lasagna on page 27 is mouth watering. My friends and I organized a complete dinner from this cookbook and loved every recipe. Check out the Brussels Sprouts with Olives, Raisins, and Pine Nuts on page 79, delectable.
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VINE VOICEon August 21, 2005
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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on December 9, 2014
I was so happy just to find out a book like this existed and it did not disappoint. I can't wait to try all of these recipes! Also, the shipping was timely and the book is in great condition!!
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on June 7, 2016
This is pretty much the best cookbook I have ever owned.
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on August 19, 2015
great cookbook, still looking for a few of the herbs they used.
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on July 20, 2015
Cheaper then in stores. Some of the food in this book are delicious.
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