Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Introduction to biblical food Part 2 of 3

Food in the New Testament

Food of the rich and poor

Patina zomoteganon (fish fillets with leek and coriander):

You can use any fish you like. Put the fish fillets in the pan and add oil, liquamen fish sauce, young wine boiled into whole and a bunch of leek and coriander. Boil them slowly and meanwhile mince pepper and lovage. Mince a bunch of oregano and mix it into the fish soup. Break two eggs, separate the yolks, whisk them and thicken the soup into a sauce by mixing the yolks little by little into the soup. Strew the pepper on and serve.

(Apicius, De Re Coquinaria, known as The Roman Cookbook)

My husband is poor and I'm an old woman. We have a daughter and son, this boy over here, and yet this kind girl, so five altogether. If three of us gets dinner food, then two others will have to share together a small piece of barley bread. We cry and we bawl when there's nothing to eat and we're getting pale of the lack of food. We live with these: beans, lupine, vegetables, swedes, pieces, tares, beech tree's nuts, onions of iris, grasshoppers, chickpeas, wild pears, and then with those treasures of my heart, god given to our motherland, namely with dried figs.

(Taken from a lost comedy of Alexis, remained in the writing of Athenaios called Deipnosofistai.)

The extracts above tell about the extremities of Roman food culture, the upper one being an example of food of the rich and lower one being an example of food of the poor. I was fortunate to find this translation of the cookbook of Apicius from the library. The cookbook is from the late Antique and it contains recipes even of ostrich and flamingo. When I started exploring this extraordinary book I found more and more strange dishes, usually made of expensive and rare ingredients. I believe that most of those ingredients used in the book aren't even available in the modern world, so I'll publish in my blog those few recipes that we might could try in 2011 with ingredients available in the grocery stores, fish fillets with leek and coriander being one of the good examples above. The book contains various recipes for whole meat and for very expensive big, fresh fish. So anyone truly couldn't "use whatever fish they liked" as the recipes advices. Also extremely expensive import spices are used in the recipes of Apicius, like pepper in here. The extract from the comedy of Alexis is from 300 BC, but the situation it describes was as usual still in the Roman Emperor era. The poor had to struggle in the limits of hunger, especially in the lack times they picked up their bread with emergency nutrition collected from nature - here at least by beech trees nuts, onions of iris and grasshoppers - and by plants that were usually used to feed animals, like lupine and tare.

The nutrition was based in grain, olive oil and wine in the Mediterranean countries by the Roman era. In Egypt and partly in Middle East sesame oil replaced olive oil. The most important grain sorts were wheat and barley. They grew beside easily baked bread wheat also more primitive grain sorts such as spelt, durum, emmer and single corn wheat which were prepared porridge and unleavened bread. In addition they ate also a lot of millet. After grain, olive oil and wine legumes came as the good number four, especially horse bean, chickpea and other peas.

The diet of the poor was mostly based on grain products and simple, cheap side dishes. Stews were prepared of peas and beans, soups and pastes were among these very important sources of protein though they were mostly had as small amounts beside bread and porridge. Also fish was an important source of protein but in the warm climate they couldn't store fresh fish or transport it very far away. That's why elsewhere than exactly on the coast fish was eaten mostly as fermentated sauces and pastes (garum, liquamen and allex in Latin). THey were prepared by letting fish rot and ferment in big jars in the sunshine for months. They might add olive oil, salt and spices into the sauces during the process. They were used depending on the way of preparation either as food's spice or dip sauce for bread. Most of the fish in Roman empire was eaten in this form and the market was wide. One of the producers of fish sauces was the shore town of The Sea of Galilee called Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. Huge fresh fish was so expensive that only the elite could afford it. In the interior the fresh fish of the rich was raised in fish ponds. The rich used many fish species that are expensive even today such as sturgeon, flounder, moray, tuna fish and eel but also many fish of sweet water. In the coast there was better enough fish for everyone, but the poor ones could usually afford only assorted small fish.

Grain, wine and oil was used by everyone but only the rich could afford fairly more expensive qualities. White, fine-grained wheat flour was most appreciated and most expensive and it got also baked and rised the best. But the poor used fairly dark and harshly grinded grain such as barley and the original sorts of wheat. There was olive oil of many qualities like nowadays. Virgin olive oil of the first crushing time was the best and most expensive. Olives were eaten in addition huge amounts cured in salt water and marinated. Likewise there was a wide quality range of wines from expensive volume wines to the worst wine watered for field slaves made of grape skins that were crushed empty and soaked in water. White wine was mostly appreciated by the Roman era and they kept sweet and short wines as the finest ones, maybe because of that sweetness and strength improved persistence. So in the Acts those who doubt speaking with tongues in Whitsun originating from being drunk, supposed the Disciples having been drunk precisely sweet wine - so not a little and ordinary wine with food but more delicious wine and much (Acts 2:13).

The most expensive spices were imported from India and they were luxury products. In the recipes of the rich they are used very much but the poor certainly never used them. They knew anyway a huge amount of herbs by the Roman era and they grew in the Mediterranean area so they were generally better available. The spectrum of spices was practically the same we know. Honey was mainly used as a sweetener. THey produced in Egypt and Middle East date paste and date syrup for the same purpose but using them became general also elsewhere in the empire. Cane sugar was imported from India and it was so expensive that it was used only as medicine.

Using meat was joined to wealth and social class. Even the poor ones could buy blood pudding, meatloaf and sausage from inns and street eateries. Sausages and minced meat were prepared from slaughter waste and meat of bad quality that without grinding would have been too tough for eating. Fowl's meat, especially dove, was the most cheap of whole meat and it was better food for ordinary people. Another fairly cheap whole meat sort was rabbit that could be farmed in small stead also in towns and nearby them. The red whole meat of bigger animals was in turn so expensive that practically only the upper class could have it. Also Roman army spent as an privileged group huge amounts of meat. For ordinary people red whole meat was a very rare treat of great sacrifice ceremonies. It was strongly connected to sacrifice cult and bigger feasts. Exactly because of this Paul had to ponder can a Christian participate in pagan sacrifice feast and eating the sacrifice meat when he knows that there really are no other gods. Obviously temptation to join was huge only because of rare meat eating.

Even though food is offered to idols, we know that none of the idols in this world are alive. After all, there is only one God. -- Not everyone knows these things. In fact many people have grown up with the belief that idols have life in them. So when they eat meat offered to idols, they are bothered by a weak conscience. -- You know all this, and so it doesn't bother you to eat in the temple of an idol. But suppose a person with a weak conscience sees you and decides to eat food that has been offered to idols. (1 Cor. 8:4, 7, 10.)

The outstandingly most important dairy product was cheese. Cows were kept especially as draught animals, so cow's milk was rare and not even very appreciated product. Sheep's and goat's milk were the most usual milk sorts. But using them for drinking was limited because the animals pastured in the summer time in high mountains, where transporting fresh milk home was impossible. That's why milk had to be cured cheese already in the mountains. By winter season there was less feed in the enclosures and milk production usually ran entirely dry. There were miscellaneous cheese from smoke cheese into fresh cheese which was usually spiced with herbs. Being caused by the small amount of cows they didn't use cream and butter at all as food ingredients in the Mediterranean circle. I suppose they still don't use in Middle East until this day, because I haven't seen the Kurds using them in any of those various meals that I've participated in.

Actual famines were rare by the Roman era if famine is defined as a destructive food crisis that highly increases mortality rate and reels society's social, politic and moral structure seriously. Usually this could be prevented by aid given by single benefactors. Instead smaller, regional food shortages were very general. THere were many reasons for that. Rains are unpredictable in the Mediterranean area and they cause lack years. In addition there were wars, slowness and difficulty of transport, speculation of producers and merchants and ineffective and corrupted government.

Having to face food shortage countryside's inhabitants tried to have more food by picking nutrition from nature. If this wasn't enough and if they had to they stepped to eat first animal's feed, then their domestic animals and finally anything. We can see this situation in the story about the prodigal son when the son tries to eat pig's legumes - possibly legumes of lupine and tare - and even they weren't given to him (Luke 15:13-16). Thus in the story about the prodigal son there reflects hard situation of a stranger and day worker who doesn't belong to a network of people and suffering during shortage. The jobless of towns and the poor with unjust jobs, day workers of countryside and of course women and children where in reality those risk groups of food shortage that already suffered from deficiency conditions the most.

What was the diet of Jesus?

According to all this information and the information I gave in the Part 1, Jesus followed Mediterranean diet but also Biblical dietary laws that forbid pork. Actually it is believed that he ate (red) meat very rarely, maybe once a month. He didn't even eat rabbits or fish without scales such as crabs and shrimps. So in those special occassions of eating meat Jesus most likely had lamb. I think some of my readers was interested in beginning a biblical diet so I'll tell in brief what I found from my sources: They say diet of Jesus most likely contained fish (with scales), whole wheat bread, olives, figs, dates. He drank water and red wine, but as it's alcohol drinking it in small amounts is recommended. Sugar and refined white flour should be avoided. The whole range of fresh fruit and vegetables is recommended. Replace butter in cooking with olive oil. Also those having Jesus Diet are recommended to do lots of walking as exercise because our Saviour did as well. He ate also especially beans and lentils, possibly nuts (unsalted!). Later this spring I'll continue with Biblical recipes and Bible Diet.

Here's an example of Jesus Diet plan:

4 oz fresh-squeezed fruit juice or a small piece of fruit
Oatmeal with walnuts and berries


Tuna salad
Tomato, cucumber, romaine lettuce
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing


Lentil soup
1 slice whole grain bread with hummus
4 ounces grilled salmon
Steamed broccoli with parmesan cheese and brown rice
Salad with lettuce, carrot, tomato and cucumber
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing
4 oz red wine


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