The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

with your host
Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné
Jeff Berry
(Number 32 in the Series, May 2005)

Savillum, Melones, Faeseoli Virides et Cicer, Agnus Cru dus


I'm hitting some recipes now, because I'm all excited. The first one is for Savillum, which is actually Cato not Apicius.

Savillum hoc modo facito: Farinae selibram, casei P. II S una 
commisceto quasi libum, addito mellis P. [lines] et ovum unum. 
Catinum fictile oleo unguito. Ubi omnia bene commiscueris, in 
catinum indito, catinum testo operito. Videto ut bene percocas medio, 
ubi altissimum est. Ubi, coctum erit, catinum eximito, melle unguito, 
papaver infriato, sub testum subde paulisper, postea eximito. Ita 
pone cum catillo et lingula.
The translation from Giacosa's book is:

Make a savillum thus: Mix 1/2 libra of flour and 2 1/2 librae of cheese,
as is done for libum. Add 1/4 libra of honey and 1 egg. Grease an
earthenware bowl with oil. When you have mixed the ingredients well,
pour into the bowl and cover the bowl with an earthenware testo.  See that
you cook it well in the middle, where it is highest.  When it is cooked,
remove the bowl, spread with honey, sprinkle with poppy, put it back
beneath the testo for a moment, and then remove.  Serve  it thus with a
plate and spoon.
OK, first things first. A libra is not quite 12 oz, according to Giacosa. So that means that I'm looking at 6 oz of flour, 3/4 cup, to 29 or 30 oz of cheese, 3 3/4 cup, to 3 oz honey, 3/8 cup or 6 tablespoons. That goes with one egg. I am not going to address differences in egg size here, that is beyond the scope of this recipe.

I made a double batch, so I used 1.5 cups of flour, 3/4 cup of honey and 1 oz less than four pounds of ricotta cheese. (The sizes at the store were three pounds - 48 oz - and 15 oz.) That's a total of 63 oz of cheese, perhaps a hair more than called for, but what the heck.

They were mixed as directed, and put into a bowl greased lightly with olive oil. But how to cook it? A bowl covered with a testo means ... what? A testo is an earthenware cover for a baking dish, so cooking with a testo would be much like baking with a Dutch oven. Great! I'll just bake it in the oven, though. 350F is my usual default cooking time, and a quick scan of a few modern cheesecake recipes confirm that 350 seems reasonable. I want to cook it until it tests done, the recipe even says so. As it turns out, that was about 50 minutes.

Then I drizzled some honey on, sprinkled with poppy seeds and stuck it back in for couple of minutes.

The result was pretty darn good. I took it to the local officer's meeting and got requests for the recipe. The only thing I would like to "solve" is that the last sprinkling of honey tended to run to the sides, taking the poppy with it. I wonder if gently scoring the top before adding the honey and poppy would make a more attractive appearance. I'll test it and find out.

Faseoli virides et Cicer

This was actually the first recipe I tried since it sounded both good and easy.

Faseoli virides et cicer ex sale, cumino, oleo et mero modico
Or, in English.
Green beans and chickpeas are served with salt, cumin, oil and a
bit of pure wine.
A simple dish, that I think should be served cold. I took a 1 pound can of chickpeas and drained it while I boiled up 3/4 of a pound or so of string beans. I wanted them crisp, so I just boiled them for a few minutes then too them off the heat and drained them. Modern technique would probably call for shocking them in ice water, but I didn't do that, just left them a little underdone and poured off the water. It turned out just fine. When they were cool I mixed them with the chickpeas and tossed them with some salt, ground cumin, olive oil and a splash of whatever wine I had handy. (I think it was a homemade Gewurtraminer.)

Eh voila! It was pretty good. Quantities? Geez! Umm, maybe a tablespoon each of oil and wine, salt to taste and a teaspon of cumin?

Addendum - a wart: 9/05
It was pointed out to me that green string beans are not Roman. Whoops! The question of what is meant by green beans (Faseoli virides) is not one for which I have a good answer. It might young beans, perhaps fava beans, or something else entirely. For this feast, however, I ran out of time to research and so I decided to go with the green beans.


Pepones et melones: Piper, puleium, mel vel passum, liquamen, acetum.
Interdum set silfi accedit.
Cantaloupe and melons: Pepper, pennyroyal, honey or passum, garum,
and vinegar.  Sometimes silphium is added.
Looks pretty basic, but we now bump up against some philosophical and practical considerations. The first practical consideration is that silphium is, I'm told, extinct. Fortunately, it's optional. Pennyroyal can have all sorts of negative effects, it was apparently used as a abortifacent for instance, so I think we'll skip that. too.

Garum. What to do about the garum problem. It is nearly ubiquitous in these recipes. It's a salty fermented fish sauce. So, what to do about garum. Well, since I'm cooking a feast for a bunch of people, I don't want one flavor or ingredient in everything, since if someone doesn't like that taste, they'll dislike everything. So I'll be skipping some of the garum. Well, replacing it with some salt in most cases. (Complicating the issue is the difficulty of getting a good garum or garum substitute.)

So, take a melon and season it with pepper, honey, salt and vinegar. Pretty simple you'd think. First, I did just that. It was good, but the honey and vinegar tended to not mix, so you'd get a bite of one and then a bite of the other. So then I mixed all the stuff together in a little jar and poured it over. Now the tastes were more mixed, but I decided that I liked it better the first way.

Agnus crudus

Haedus sive agnus crudus:: Oleo, pipere fricabis et asparges foris
salem purum multo cum coriandri semine. In furnum mittis, assatum inferes.
And ...
For raw kid or lamb: Rub it with oil and pepper and sprinkle the surface with pure salt and a good quantity of coriander seeds. Place in the oven, serve when roasted.
Hardly a gloss needed here, as we say. In fact, I did look up the time and temp for roasting leg of lamb in a modern cookbook, and used that for the timing. Otherwise, just olive oil, salt, pepper and coriander. It was good, too.

Back to Index

Comments are welcome.
Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné, Jeff Berry,

Copyright Jeff Berry
Originally webbed 26 May 2005
Last modified 31 May 2005