A LATE ROMAN SPICE CHEST
We are fortunate to have an actual list of what was considered needful in the way of spices and herbs in a late Roman kitchen. A fifth century cookery book, The Excerpts of Vinidarius, starts with a list of supplies the cook should have on hand:
BREUIS PIMENTORÚ· Q: IN DOMO ESSE DEBEANT UT CONDIMENTIS NIHIL DESIT:
Crocu piper zingiber lasar folio· bacamurre costu· cariofilu· spicaindica addena· cardamomu spicanardi
de seminibus hoc·
dapaber· semen rude· bacarute· baca lauri· semen aneti· semen api· semen feniculi semen licustici semen eruce· semen coriandri· cuminu anesu petro silenu· careu sisama
de siccis hoc
lasaris radices menta nepeta· saluia· cupressu origanú zyniperum cepacentima· bacas timmi coriandrum piretru· citri pastinaca cepa ascalonia· radices junci· anet puleiu· ciperum aliu· ospera· samsucu· innula· silpiú· cardamomú·
[This is transcribed from an illustration of the first page of the document, on p. 234 of Apicius, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling (New York: Dover, 1977). Vehling's translation should not be used otherwise, though, as his grasp of Latin was minimal--but he can't mess up a photo.]
If the late Latin seems just a trifle difficult, perhaps a rendering into English would help:
SUMMARY OF SPICES WHICH SHOULD BE IN THE HOUSE SO THAT NOTHING IS LACKING IN SEASONING:
saffron, pepper, ginger, laser (asafetida), folium (aromatic leaf--bay leaf or malabathrum), myrtle berries, costmary or costus, cloves, Indian spike, addena (? no one seems to know what this is), cardamom, spikenard.
poppy, rue seed, rue berries, laurel berries, dill seed, celery seed, fennel seed, lovage seed, rocket seed (Eruca sativa), coriander seed, cumin, anise seed, parsley, caraway, sesame.
laser root (asafetida), mint, catnip, sage, cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), origan, juniper, cepacentima (this would translate as "hundred onion", so is evidently one of the multiplier type), black bryony berries (Tamus communis) or thyme berries, coriander, pyrethrum (Anacyclus pyrethrum) or pellitory (Parietaria officinalis), citron [leaves] (Citrus medica), parsnip, shallots, rush roots, dillweed, pennyroyal, cyperus-root (chufa, Cyperus esculentus), garlic, pulse, samsucu (marjoram ? elderberries ?), elecampane (Inula helenium), silphium, cardamom.
[This translation makes use of Apicius, The Roman Cookery Book, translated by Barbara Flower and Elisabeth Rosenbaum (London: Harrap, 1958); John Edwards, The Roman Cookery of Apicius (Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 1984); Apicius, L'Art Culinaire: De Re Coquinaria, edited and translated (into French) by Jacques André (Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1965); U.P. Hedrick, ed., Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World (New York: Dover, 1972); and of course my trusty Latin-English Dictionary.]
This certainly gives a pretty good start for a spice chest, although there are one or two items which might be left out today, such as the black bryony and pyrethrum. And it is very odd that one very essential item is omitted: mustard, which surely had not disappeared from use after being very important in earlier Roman times. In fact, two of the recipes in Vinidarius' Excerpts, following the ingredients list, use mustard.
Examination of the thirty-one recipes in Vinidarius' Excerpts fills in the list of spices and seasonings, and we can get an idea of the popularity of each by looking at the number of times it is called for as an ingredient:
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Author: David Dendy © 1998-2002
This page was last updated on 17/02/02.