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Archive for the ‘digging out the details’ Category

ApothermumThe results of the Apothermum recipe. If you missed the tweet, here’s the recipe in 140:

boil spelt grains w/pine nuts & bleached almonds into a pudding; add raisins & sweet wine, sprinkle nuts over, dust w/white pepper

I used 3 TB spelt flour, a half cup each of pine nuts and almonds. I ground the nuts and mixed them and the flour with about 2 cups water, which turned out to be a little too much. Stirred over a low flame at a simmer for about a half hour, then mixed in a cup of raisins and 1/3 cup sweet cooking wine. Stirred and simmered a while longer, adding a little more flour, until it was an acceptable porridge. Spooned into bowl, garnished with raisins and a dusting of white pepper.

Serves 2 Romans, or 4 who only feel snacky.

My sweet tooth wants to drizzle honey over it. If a Roman couldn’t reasonably pour fermented fish sauce over a dish, honey was often the next choice, so I think that’s acceptable. (I paired it with a refreshing cup of posca—water and wine vinegar. I opted out of the option to add honey and coriander to taste and went with the simpler soldier’s version.)

This is far too simple a dish for Cook in Knife of Narcissus to serve. She’d send master Bassus into the kitchen to make it himself.

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I’m returning to the ancient Roman recipes today, and will be in the kitchen playing with some simple ones. Eventually I’ll try something elaborate, since, as Martial might sniffingly say,

Knowing how to cook is not enough to be a cook
One cannot have the tastes of a slave
But must possess the palate of a master

I’ll be out back convincing a thousand larks to give up their tongues in the name of fine cuisine.

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I was ridiculously charmed by this typo in the online transcription of a 1919 Loeb Classical Library edition of Martial’s epigrams at Archive.org:

“That Martial was capable of a very sincere and lusting friendship is shown by many of his epigrams.”

Indeed it is.

As the rest of the Loeb introduction mentions, we don’t know much about what the poet Marcus Valerius Martialis got up to between the collapse of Nero’s court and his acceptance into the favour of the Flavian imperial dynasty—well, other than what he complains about in his poems, such as his lousy walk-up living space. That allows for a lot of leeway for him to make a guest appearance in The Knife of Narcissus starting in Book 3, the new installment that releases on Monday.

Martial’s poems show up before he does, as graffiti in public spaces and copied into various unauthorised editions; then the poet himself arrives, selling the equivalent of holiday greeting cards and busking in the marketplace. As one of ancient Rome’s raunchiest poets, he’s a perfect fit for Lucius’s taste in literature, even though he doesn’t turn out to be the sort of person Lucius expected him to be.

Martial left behind an enormous output, and one of the most fun (and sometimes outright funny) parts of my research was finding poems to fit the various parts of the story; then translating them to use as-is or with tweaks to suit the scene (we’ll assume Martial wrote a few first drafts). And if I needed a new turn of phrase for an age-old act, Martial was a good place to look for creatively inspiring wording.

Pliny the Younger, one of Martial’s illustrious patrons, called him “a man of genius, of subtle and quick intelligence, and one who in his writings showed the greatest wit and pungency, and just as much fairness….But it’s likely his writings will not last. Maybe they will not—but he wrote them as if they would.”

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