Monday, 18 December 2017

Christmas feast in Ancient Roman ~ #Christmas #history #Food #Roman @CRipleyMiller

Christmas Feast in Ancient Rome.
By Cynthia Ripley Miller.  

The Ancient Roman Table

One of the major aspects of Christmas is the holiday table and family favorite cuisine. For many, their traditional foods reach back to past generations connected to their countries of origin, regions, and tastes. In my case, I’m a first generation Italian-American, so my family meals are connected to the foods of Tuscany where my parents were born. My husband’s roots are German-American South Dakota farmers. Our Christmas table can be quite interesting as well as delicious. My novels are set in late ancient Rome and my characters on occasion feast together. Consequently, I set out to find what were some of the most delectable Roman foods and recipes popular for celebrations.

Popular Roman Fruits were: apples, pears, plums and quinces. Later in its history came: apricots, peaches, cherries, and grapes.

Common Garden Vegetables included: artichokes, asparagus, carrots, garlic, beans, chicory, lentils, radishes, peas and cucumbers.

Romans liked nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, filberts, pistachios and walnuts. Even today, these nuts are a part of my family’s dessert course. When I was a child, my grandfather, the holiday cook, usually had two large bowls laden with these nuts placed beside platters of fruits and sweets. We used nutcrackers and silver picks to pry the nutmeats from their shells and the Romans did too. TheLeavenworth Nutcracker Museum in the United States displays a bronze Roman nutcracker dated between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. 

Fishes: In the early Roman era, fish was not a common meal, but before the Republic ended, ‘fresh or rare fish brought high prices.’ Often the rich kept fishponds to breed their catch. Mullet (mullus) and a type of turbot (rhombus) were popular. ‘Salted fish was cheap and exported from most Mediterranean harbors. Oysters were a popular delicacy.’

Meats: Romans ate very little beef because ‘it was a mark of luxury and was eaten only on special occasions.’ Cows were sacrificed to the gods and its ‘heart, liver and lungs were given to priests to be burned on the altar.’ Also, it’s size kept it from staying fresh in warmer weather. Pork was the preferred meat. ‘There were fifty different ways of cooking pork as well as six kinds of sausages based on pork.’ Other meats consumed were mutton, veal and goat. Sausage is still a popular dish in Italy today.

Domestic Fowl and Game: chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons.

Wild Fowl: cranes, grouse, partridge, snipe and woodcock—Peacocks were very expensive.

Cereals: wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Bread: ‘The best bread was made from fine wheat flour.’ The Romans also had many varieties of bread made from coarse wheat flour, flour and bran, or bran alone.

Dairy Products used: milk, cream, curds, whey and cheese.

Savory and SweetSeasonings comprised: anise, cumin, fennel, mint, mustard, and poppy seeds. Salt was first evaporated from seawater, later it was mined. Pepper came from Asia. Honey was used as a sweetener.

A wonderful book about ancient Roman food and culinary customs is Patrick Faas’s Around the Roman Table. Many of the recipes have come from the ancient Roman chef Appicus. Sauces and marinades were strong elements in ancient Roman cuisine. One of the recipes in the book is Soft-Boiled Eggs in Pine-Nut Sauce. This recipe calls for pepper, honey, garum (an ancient fish sauce) and pine-nuts. Today one can find pine-nuts in pesto and a variety of dishes.

Some other recipes are Fried Veal Escalope with Raisins, Columella Salad, which is a combination of mint, coriander, parsley, leek, thyme, cheese, vinegar and pepper. And for dessert, Nut Tart whose ingredients include almonds, pistachios, and pine-nuts, honey, wine, sheep’s milk and a teaspoon of garum or pepper. When cooked it produces a firm pudding that is chilled and then tipped onto a plate and drizzled with boiled honey.

Additional ancient Roman delights that were quite popular: Lucanian Sausages (My characters love this dish!), Libum (Sweet Cheesecake), and Mulsum (Honeyed Wine).

It’s possible to visit ancient Rome for the holidays and bask in its cuisine. Why not bring the recipes preserved by Appicus and others into your holiday kitchens? I’m off to the market for pine-nuts and sausages! Buon Appetito.

Books on ancient Roman Cooking: Around the Roman Table, Patrick Fass; A Taste of Ancient Rome, Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa; The Classical Cookbook, Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger

Sources: Around the Roman Table, Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome by Patrick Faas; Nova: Ancient Roman

Cynthia Ripley Miller
Cynthia Ripley Miller is an Italian-American writer who loves history, languages and books. As a girl, she wondered what it would be like to journey through time. Today, she writes to bring the past to life. Cynthia has two degrees, has taught history and teaches English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, at Orchard Press and The Scriptor. A Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist for her novel, On the Edge of Sunrise, she has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website. She lives with her husband, her pets—a cat, Romulus, and a German Shepherd, Jessie, in suburban Chicago. On the Edge of Sunrise and The Quest for the Crown of Thorns are the first two novels in her Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome and France and published by Knox Robinson Publishing-London & Atlanta. To connect with Cynthia or learn more about her books, visit: Website Facebook Twitter

The Long-Haired Saga

The year is AD 450. The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens. Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat
are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians. A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge. She is as well
versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own.

The Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul. Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.
When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her. Alarmed by the instant and passionate attraction she feels, Arria is torn between duty and desire. Her arranged betrothal to
the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp. Rebels in a
falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Christmas during the American Civil War #Christmas #history @RichardBuxton65

Christmas during the
 American Civil War

By Richard Buxton.

A Civil War Christmas

It was Christmas Day in 1860 and Lincoln, newly elected president but yet to be inaugurated, was at home in his reception room in Springfield, Illinois. The town was busy. Christmas was not a public holiday. He was trying to cope with a mountain of mail and a constant flow of visitors who were mostly there for their own interests rather than his. South Carolina had seceded five days ago. Civil War loomed, although the first shot wouldn’t be fired until the spring.

Amongst the gifts he received from complete strangers this day, was a whistle fashioned from a pig-tail. The sender claimed he’d crafted it just to show it was possible. I can imagine it appealing to Lincoln’s earthy sense of humour. It probably got more attention from him than his more expensive gifts.

The four Christmases to follow would all be in wartime and every one of them would see fighting. Lincoln would be dead before the next peaceful Christmas, along with around 650,000 other Americans, North and South.

The war to come would change many things, including Christmas. For decades, even centuries, before the war, European Yuletide traditions had poured into America along with variant nationalities and religions. American practices at Christmas largely paralleled those in Europe. In the same way they followed hat styles in Paris, they adopted Victorian/Germanic fashions in Christmas trees, decorations and cards. Being American, they added a flare for commercialism that left Christmas never quite the same again.

To understand the wartime development of Christmas, you need to consider how the Civil War more widely shaped American identity. What it means to be American has never truly been a constant. It didn’t arrive fully formed with the Declaration of Independence. At the outbreak of war, America was just eighty-five years old. In those years it had never stopped changing and reaching westward, a constant flow of immigrants stirring the pot. Now here was its greatest crisis, a civil war, where the question of what it meant to be American, what the Union represented was a matter of life and death. And here were men and, to a lesser extent, women, thrown together in great armies: English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, German speakers, the Dutch, eastern Europeans; all away from home and all lonely. Any commonality in Christmas traditions really mattered. It helped comfort them but it also gave them a seasonal rallying point in terms of what it meant to be American. The Civil War re-asserted and to some extent reconstructed America. Christmas traditions were a brick in that reconstruction.

You’ll want some proof. Here goes. The first depiction of Santa Claus, as we might recognise him today, dates from the Civil War. It’s true. During his campaign for president, Lincoln hired an illustrator to produce his posters. The artist was called Thomas Nast and, late in 1862, he was asked by one of the most popular periodicals of the time, Harper’s Weekly, to produce their Christmas cover. Knowing Nast as he did, Lincoln himself is rumoured to have proposed the idea of Santa Claus visiting Union troops.

Santa Claus appears in the stars and stripes, but he is the same white-bearded, rotund, non-chimney-shaped old fellow that we see in shopping centre grottos to this day. The genius of the image was that it mixed tradition with patriotism at a time the Union war effort was at a low ebb. The cover was so popular that Nast got repeat commissions from Harper’s Weekly for many Christmases to come.

Christmas on the frontline wasn’t quite as joyous as Mr Nast was implying. A Union army was camped to the south-east of Nashville. A Confederate army was close; just a little way down the road to Chattanooga. Battle might come soon. The weather had been clear and mild but Christmas Day it was overcast.

Santa Claus, represented by the postal service, turned up for some, usually with food parcels rather than presents, but many would get nothing at all. Peter Cozzens, in his wonderful trilogy on the Chattanooga Campaign, describes a festive season for the officers, especially the Confederates, as they were on home turf and supported by the local citizenry. Elaborate balls were held, the halls decorated with cedars, evergreens and captured battle flags. The Union army had to work harder for dance partners; the Fifteenth Wisconsin put two of its soldiers in drag for a party at the local schoolhouse.

Away from the more organised festivities the soldiers played dice, held chicken fights and the whiskey flowed freely. Food was a preoccupation every day of the year and not just at Christmas, but some made a special effort. Johnny Green of the Ninth Kentucky headed out into the country in search of a turkey. He found eggs and onions but had to settle for a goose. He baked a poundcake and, being teetotal, settled for a quiet meal. Colonel John Beatty of the Third Ohio did a little better. Back in Nashville he acquired a turkey for a dollar and seventy-five cents, but, he said, ‘it lacked the collaterals, and was a failure.’

Beatty’s disappointment with his attempt to honour the day was more in line with the general mood. Melancholy ultimately won out over Yuletide cheer. While Christmas Day offered soldiers a brief escape from the daily grind of army life, it was also a pointed reminder that they were far from loved ones. Many chose to spend the free time they had writing letters home or, seated around the campfire, recalling earlier and happier Christmases. Many would only be ghosts at Christmases yet to come. Over New Year three-thousand would die at the Battle of Stones River.

Things were little happier at home. In a novel written shortly after the war, Louisa May Alcott describes how her ‘Little Women’ woke to find no stockings hung in the fireplace, but a bible under each pillow. The absence of, and concern for, Father, is a constant through the whole day. In the South children were even harder done by. The Union Navy had blockaded all the ports, basic foodstuffs were exorbitant and most presents would be homemade. In a harsh move to manage expectations, General Howard Cobb’s children were simply told that Santa Claus had been shot.

Lincoln spent the four wartime Christmases in the White House and for the last received a present much larger but every bit as odd as his pigtail whistle. General Sherman, having devastated much of Georgia, telegraphed Lincoln. ‘I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah…’

Nast would continue his Harper’s Weekly cover pictures long after the war. Christmas traditions in America, solidified and somewhat unified by a new sense of what it meant to be American, would endure. But this wasn’t the most telling change in Christmas celebrations.

Before and during the war, enslaved African-Americans only enjoyed Christmas at the whim of their ‘benevolent’ masters. There may have been extra leisure time, better food, parties and even permission to travel to visit relatives. No doubt the slaves made the best of what was granted to them. The most profound change in the celebration of Christmas brought on by the Civil War was that in 1865, after the total Union victory, four million former slaves were free to make their own plans for Christmas.

Richard Buxton

Richard Buxton grew up in Wales but has lived in Sussex for the last thirty years. He is a 2015 graduate of the Creative Writing Masters programme at Chichester University. He studied in America during his twenties and tries to return there as often as he can for research and inspiration. His writing successes include winning the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story award. His US Civil War novel, Whirligig, released this spring, was shortlisted for the 2017 Rubery International Book Award.


Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

The first novel from multi-award winning short-story writer Richard Buxton, Whirligig is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.