by Fred McMillin
The Oldest Cookbook
I am looking at the first English translation of the oldest surviving cookbook of the Western World. It was written by the Roman epicure, Marcus Gabius Apicius (ah-pish-ih-us), who lived sometime between 80 B.C. And 40 A.D. What has this to do with wine??
The Rest of the Story
Well, the first five chapters of this cherished cookbook deal with the preparation and clarification of WINE, not of any specific dish. Also, wine is used in a large number of the recipes. For example, the sauce to accompany Boiled Boar includes "pepper, cumin, mustard seed, add some pure wine, a little onion, crushed almonds, honey, more pure wine..."
So who was this epicure? He was an extremely wealthy merchant who collected recipes during his travels. He created dishes...his "Julian" soup was namel in honor of Julius Caesar. His passions included oysters and crayfish. He invented a method of preserving oysters, using vinegar in a vessel lined with pitch. He heard of a superior crayfish in Tunisia, so he chartered a ship and set sail immediately in spite of a severe storm at sea.
Apicius banquets were the talk of Rome...guests served a ragoût composed entirely of song-bird's tongues, while rose petals showered down on them.
Thus, our wine today must be from an Italian varietal that existed in the days of those bountiful banquets...Sangiovese. Here's a fine, affordable California version.
Wine of the Day
1997 Sangiovese, Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA
About that Apicius Wild Boar recipe...I have tasted the dish! I ordered it in the early 1960s at the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, a New York City restaurant that featured dishes based on the recipes of Apicius. As I recall, James Beard was the consultant...and the boar had a very substantial pork flavor. Today's substantial Sangiovese would have made a fine companion.
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