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Friday, April 17, 2015

Roman “Meatloaf”

By Todd H. C. Fischer, known in the SCA as THLaird Colyne Stewart, April AS 49 (2015)

As a member of the Royal Guild of Ealdormerian Feast Cooks, I was earlier this year charged with researching a recipe for inclusion in a guild calendar (to come out in 2016). While perusing the Medieval Cookery site I came across a recipe that purported to be for Roman meatloaf. As I love meatloaf, I was intrigued and decided to try my hand at redacting the original recipe.

The redaction I found helpfully noted that it had come from a book called De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”), though it is more commonly known as Apicius (a name that had been closely associated with food since Marcus Gavius Apicius became a renowned gourmand in the 1st century). The book Apicius was compiled in the 4th or 5th century and is easily available thanks to Project Gutenberg.
My ingredients.
I found the original version of Apicius (in the Latin) and located the recipe that Medieval Cookery had called “Roman Meatloaf”. The original recipe (which actually had no name) read as follows:

adicies in mortarium piper, ligusticum, origanum, 13fricabis, suffundes liquamen, adicies cerebella cocta, teres diligenter, ne assulas habeat. adicies ova quinque et dissolves diligenter, ut unum corpus efficias. liquamine temperas et in patella aenea exinanies, coques. cum coctum fuerit, versas in tabula munda, tessellas concides. adicies in mortarium piper, ligusticum, origanum, fricabis in se, commisces, <mittes> in caccabum, facies ut ferveat. cum ferbuerit, tractum confringes, obligas, coagitabis, et exinanies in boletari. piper asperges et appones.

The herbs in the mortar.
Thankfully, as my understanding of Latin is limited, Project Gutenberg also offered Vehling’s translation which he called “Brain Sausage”:

Put in the mortar pepper, lovage, and origany, moisten with broth and rub; add cooked brains and mix diligently so that there be no lumps. Incorporate five eggs and continue mixing well to have a good forcemeat which you may thin with broth. Spread this out in a metal pan, cook, and when cooked [cold] unmould it onto a clean table. Cut into handy size. [Now prepare a sauce.] Put in the mortar pepper, lovage, and origany, crush, mix with broth, put into a sauce pan, boil, thicken, and strain. Heat the pieces of brain pudding in this sauce thoroughly, dish them up, sprinkled with pepper, in a mushroom dish.

Seasoning the meat.
Needless to say, I opted to replace the brains with something else (in this case, ground beef). I was able to verify (thanks to Raghavan’s Handbook to Spices, Seasonings and Flavoring) that origany was another name for oregano. As I had no lovage (at first) I opted to replace it with a mix of celery seed and minced celery leaves (as several cooking websites suggested such a substitution for lovage). I prepared my “meatloaf” (as I prefer to think of it) and then my sauce. I again made a small deviation from the original recipe by putting sliced mushrooms in the sauce, rather than serving the meat in a large mushroom cap (which I assume is what was meant by a “mushroom dish”.)

Adding the eggs.
While my tasters and I agreed that the final product tasted fine, it was thought that the celery taste was a little strong. Also, though the recipe said the broth would thicken, it did not (which did not surprise me as there was no thickening agent listed in the recipe).

Another member of the guild, who has previously won an award at Queen’s Prize Tourney for her herbs, gave me some lovage and I adjusted my recipe to use this herb as per the author’s original intent. This time my tasters and I were much more enthusiastic in our reactions. The lovage worked much better than the celery had.

The meat, cooked and cooling in the pan.
My recipe ended up as follows:


2 pounds ground beef
5 eggs
1½ tsp dried oregano (or 2 tbsp fresh)
1 tsp black pepper
Beef broth to moisten
3 tsp dried lovage (or 3 tbsp fresh)
Or instead of lovage
2 tsp celery seed and 2 tbsp diced celery leaves

Place oregano, black pepper and lovage (or celery seed and leaves) in mortar and grind. Put herbs in large mixing bowl and slightly moisten with beef broth. Mix well until smooth. Add five eggs. Mix well until smooth. Place mixture in a lightly oiled pan and cook at 350º for 50 to 60 minutes. Let the meat cool, then remove it from the pan and cut it into several pieces. Serve with sauce and sprinkled pepper.

Cooking the sauce.

2 cups beef broth
6 mushrooms, sliced
3 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tbsp fresh)
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp dried lovage (or 1½ tbsp fresh)
Or instead of lovage
2 tsp celery seed and 3 tbsp diced celery leaves
Stale bread or pastry, crumbled

Place oregano, black pepper and lovage (or celery seed and leaves) in mortar and grind. Add herbs and broth to pot and bring to a boil. Add crumbled bread or pastry (as a thickening agent, if desired) and sliced mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are tender. Place meatloaf in large skillet and heat. Add sauce. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.
Reheating the meat in the sauce before serving.

Anon., Apicius (De Re Coquinaria), 4th or 5th century, Project Gutenberg, August 4, 2005, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16439/16439-h/16439-h.htm

Debbage, Felice, “Roman Meatloaf”, Medieval Cookery, November 4, 2010, http://medievalcookery.com/recipes/meatloaf.html

Raghavan, Susheela, Handbook to Spices, Seasonings and Flavoring, Second Edition, CRC Press, Florida, 2007.

Vehlig, Joseph Dommers, trans., Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome, 1936, Trans. of Apicius (De Re Coquinaria) by Anon., Project Gutenberg, August 19, 2009, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/29728-h/29728-h.htm

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