Esoteric Eating: Ancient Roman Recipes from Master Chef in Trier

Many gastronomes and wine lovers visit Trier, where Roman legions planted vines but they do not sample the dishes of Apicius in a unique cellar restaurant.

Rosemarie Gracher Started it All

According to Rosemarie Gracher, the first woman to qualify as a master chef in Germany, her source for Roman cooking is the oldest recipe book in existence, De Arte Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) written in the first century A.D. by Marcus Gavius Apicicus. He was the most famous cook in the Roman Empire at that time.

Rosemarie Gracher read Latin, so she translated the recipes. She also found two of the cookbooks of Apicius that were transcribed in the ninth century by monks. As she told me: “Even in the 16th century his cookbook was important because it was the most printed book after the Bible.”

Trial and Experimentation

As recipes of that time gave neither directions nor quantities, Rosemarie has, through trial and error, come up with delicious Roman dishes which are served in the familys restaurant, Zum Domstein in downtown Trier. She has travelled the world to find the unusual spices – asafetida, for example, which is used in Indian cookery and a spice called silphium which she found in a Bedouin market and which she told me may be the same spice used by the ancients. My Websters Dictionary states that it might be the laserwort. One sauce mentioned frequently in Roman literature is garum. This, said Rosemarie, is made of fish and used much as we use ketchup.

Three of Rosemaries Recipes

Those with culinary curiosity sbould remember that, as Rosemarie, said “Gastronomes may find the experience more historical than culinary,” for ancient Roman cookery is not exactly a culinary event.

Mulsum with Mushrooms

This is sauce for a mushroom appetizer

750 ml. bottle of very dry white wine
3T. honey
1 stick cinnamon Pinch of whole anise seeds

Take 1/4 of the wine and bring to boiling point with the honey. Add spices to hot liquid. Let stand till cool and then return to bottle. Fill with remaining wine. Shake well. Seal the bottle and let stand in a cool place for two weeks. Serve chilled with gustatio – hors doeuvres, usually raw mushrooms, stems removed.. Asparagus, salads made with lettuce, cress and sorrel or snails, shellfish and salted fish were also served with mulsum.

Lepus Medidus

Rabbit with Dates and Raisins

4 hind legs from rabbits Sweet white wine
4 finely chopped anchovies Dates and raisins
Olive oil, Onions, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, Flour

Take the rabbit legs and soak them for one to two days in the sweet wine with anchovies and the dates and raisins. Remove rabbit and pat dry. Reserve marinade and fruits. Fry rabbit in hot olive oil. When it is brown on all sides, take it out and set aside. Add onions and a little flour to pan. Cook to brown and thicken. Add marinade. Then add rabbit and cook it thoroughy. Finally, add raisins and dates. Continue cooking for a few minutes.Season with pepper. Serve hot.

N.B. I marinate the rabbit in the refrigerator and recommend this


Artichoke Hearts

1/8 tsp. rue 1/8 tsp. fennel
1/2 tsp. coriander 1/2 tsp. fresh mint, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. artichoke hearts 1 cup Riesling wine reduced to half
1/2 tsp. lovage 1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. honey 1/4 cup water
4 T. butter

Mix all ingredients in an enamelled saucepan. Bring to a boil and add artichoke hearts. Cover and simmer until tender. Add the butter and toss. Serve slightly cooled.

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