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MIDDLE AGES, EUROPEAN

MIDDLE AGES, EUROPEAN. To understand

medieval cuisine, we have to start with Roman culinary practice, which probably kept its influence long after the decline of the Roman Empire. Two ingredients were of particular importance here: the liquid salt called garum or liquamen and the granular gum asa foetida or laser Parthicum. Liquamen or garum was the liquid salt of Ro- man high cuisine; it was usually made not by the cooks themselves but in factories, notably in Pompeii. For this purpose a vessel holding about thirty liters was filled with layers of fish, salt, and dried herbs, and then covered. This mixture stayed in the sun for a week and was then stirred well daily for twenty days until the fish and herbs were fully pulverized by fermentation and blended into a liquid. This was strained and sold in amphorae. Often it was combined with olive oil and wine, sometimes with honey or sweet wine and with pepper, lovage, and sweet marjoram as well. Some of the herbs for the garum were dill, coriander, fennel, celery, savory, sage, rue, mint, lo- vage, thyme, and sweet marjoram. These herbs are avail- able today in dried or fresh form, and we can more or less imitate the garum ourselves. We also can make use of a Vietnamese product, called nuoc mam, which is pre- pared in the same way and has the same function. The advantage of liquid salt in comparison with solid salt is that the liquid keeps the meat succulent, whereas the solid salt extracts the juices.

The Romans also made a cheaper version with fewer herbs by not putting the fish, salt, and herbs in the sun for fermentation, but boiling them for a short time. In this way, the fish quickly becomes pulverized and releases its liquid, which, depending on the quality of the bones, tends to become a jelly. Just before this happens, the liq- uid is strained and kept as a substitute for garum. The Romans called this salty juice allec, which in the Middle Ages became the word for (salted) herring.

Besides garum, the Romans used another favorite product now called asa foetida. This gum, derived from the roots of a Near Eastern umbellifer, not only smells bad but also tastes bad; nevertheless, it seems to have been consumed lavishly by the Romans. Originally, the Ro- mans had used not this plant, which they called laser Parthicum, but the silphium or laserpicium from North Africa, a plant they consumed so recklessly that it was nearly extinct at the beginning of our era. The Romans then started to import laser Parthicum, which is called “ferula asafetida” by modern pharmacists, as a substitute. In large quantities it is hardly digestible for our stomachs and soon gives one a feeling of satiation and even nau- sea, but in small quantities it is not disagreeable.

From these two products, liquamen or garum and asa

foetida, we may conclude a lot about the taste preferences of the Romans: savory with herbs from the Mediter- ranean region, which were grown partly in their own gar- dens. They favored East Asian spices like ginger and cardamom much less, although these were well known. Only the peppers, both black and white, were commonly

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

used. As for sweeteners, sugar was still unknown; it was not imported from Ceylon and Asia Minor until the sev- enth century. Sugar cane was grown by the Arabs in Sicily starting in the tenth century, but it was only after the Crusades that it found its way to Europe as a very ex- pensive kind of spice. Instead of sugar, the Romans used honey or reduced wine (defrutum) and raisins, dates, and figs. For the rest, their victuals consisted of fish, fowl, a bit of pork, beef, or mutton, many legumes such as chick- peas and lentils, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, eggs, cheese, and various kinds of grain.

Pasta already existed, if we may translate the word

tracta this way; however, it was not pasta in strands like spaghetti but in sheets like lasagna. These were used as di- viders between wet fillings to make layers within a pie. The very thin, round sheets, called tracta, were rubbed between the fingers and used as a binding agent for stews, a prac- tice which survives as Reible in South German cooking.

The Early Middle Ages

How long this kind of nourishment held the stage in Western Europe during the Middle Ages is hard to say because detailed information is lacking. We can only con- clude that there must have been a certain continuity in the taste for herbs and spices, at least until the Carolin- gian era of the ninth century. This can be deduced from a 716 charter of the Merovingian king Chilperic II for the abbey of Corbie in Northern France that was, in turn, a confirmation of a charter of King Chlotar III from the third quarter of the seventh century. In the charter, free- dom from duties at the toll in Fos near Marseilles was granted for the following imported foodstuffs: olive oil, garum, pepper, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, spikenard, cos- tum (an aromatic root from India), dates, figs, almonds, olives, peas, and rice. So garum was still in use in that pe- riod together with a few Indian spices, but asa foetida is no longer mentioned.

Not only some of the spices, but also the garden herbs must have remained in favor, judging from the last chapter of the Capitulare de Villis (Ordinance in chapters about the demesnes) of Charlemagne, in which the cul- tivation of about seventy kinds of herbs and vegetables in the gardens of every demesne in his empire was enu- merated. There we find most of the herbs needed for the making of garum, as well as several other plants like beans, peas, onions, chives and garlic, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds, beets, endive, and lettuce, as well as fruit trees. The Carolingian population could be assured of a healthy diet if it lived according to the prescriptions of Charle- magne.

The same holds true for the monks at St. Gall in Switzerland, provided that they actually grew and used all the plants that are shown on the map of their monastery from about 817. There we find three gardens with edi- ble plants: the hortus or vegetable garden, the herbularius or herb garden, and the orchard. The species, however, were not strictly separated, for in the hortus there were

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