We at AntiquityNOW are always on the prowl for ancient and modern connections that prove the past is never really behind us. So it is the case with food and the many different cuisines that have stood the test of time.
It’s Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, a holiday of remembrance and a symbol of Jewish identity, history, resistance and freedom. Celebrated around the world, the holiday also has its own cultural variations, especially in foods.
Today we’re bringing you once again a recipe for a traditional Sephardic Hanukkah food, sfenj. This yeast doughnut, often dipped in sugar or honey, originated with Sephardic Jews, particularly those who trace their roots back to Morocco. The “Moroccan doughnut” is often eaten for Hanukkah for a very special reason: Sfenj are fried in oil, which commemorates the Hanukkah miracle where the oil that was supposed to light the lamp in the Temple in Jerusalem for one day endured for eight.
Sfenj are a delectable way of celebrating the miracle of this Jewish holiday. Whatever our background or religion, doughnut lovers can learn more about sfenj and enjoy making this festive recipe here.
Today, we at AntiquityNOW commemorate that most wondrous of all human emotions: Love. On past Valentine’s Days, we have explored how love enters through the eyes and nose, how the brain on love is a power to behold (Robert Palmer does a cameo in this one) and even offered up an ancient Thai rose salad recipe to enjoy on this holiday. But being the curious afficionados of ancient history we are, we wondered, where did the heart-shaped symbol originate?
Ancient silver coin from Cyrene depicting a seed or fruit of silphium.
As where many ancient secrets begin, let’s look at nature. There are numerous plants with blossoms or leaves in the shape of the symbol we now see as a heart. But the one in history that is most relevant, had multitudinous uses in ancient times and is an eternal mystery to the science of propagation is silphium. Also known as silphion, laserwort, or laser, it was widely used by Egyptians, Knossos Minoans, Greeks and Romans as a seasoning, medicine and perfume. And in a cheeky irony by Mother Nature, it was also popular as an aphrodisiac and a reportedly effective contraceptive. It grew naturally around the North African city of Cyrene (founded as Greek city in 631 BCE at what is now Shahhat, Libya), and was such an important trade item that Cyrenian coins displayed its heart-shaped seed or fruit. It was documented as literally worth its weight in gold. From this description, it certainly appears to be a cure-all:
It was said to have short, thick leaves, tiny yellow flowers, and bulky, vigorous roots. The sap that oozed from the silphium plant was particularly aromatic and medicinal, at least by ancient standards. The wonder drug of its day, silphium was said to cure such maladies as tooth decay, warts, dog bites, stomach ailments, coughs, leprosy, and anal growths. But it was more valued for its use as a contraceptive…more specifically as an abortifacient. Ancient medical texts all repeat the claim that a pessary made of silphium sap was effective at “purging the uterus” to “bring forth menstruation”, all clever euphemisms for drug-induced abortions. In a society that placed a high value on legitimate heirs …, silphium’s (sic) became highly sought after as the first “morning-after” pill.
Tonight, the world will watch as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad open in Rio. In the opening ceremony, we will enjoy stunning displays of modern technology and in the games that follow we’ll witness fascinating feats of modern sport. It is incredible to see how far we’ve come in our athletic pursuits, but it is important to remember when all of this began. Check out our posts below on the history of the Olympics and get ready to watch the world unite in Rio!
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a month of prayer and fasting, began last week and ends on July 5th. If you are observing Ramadan, you know that planning the Iftar and Suhur meals is key. While Ramadan has ancient roots, today many households are mixing their modern habits into the month. Health is a top priority for many families. Perhaps this year you’re trying to be a bit healthier in your observance and plan meals that are delicious and nutritious. It is important for these meals to provide all of the nutrition you need for the long days of fasting. For a list of healthy ideas, check out Nestle Family’s Healthy Ramadan Recipes.
And for a history of Ramadan as well as some ancient ingredients and recipes, look no further than our AntiquityNOW Ramadan posts below. Don’t miss the bonus post about the ways in which professional athletes observe Ramadan.
The photo was taken by the crew of Apollo 17 on their way to the Moon. Antarctica, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Madagascar, and part of Asia are visible.
Today is Earth Day. It’s a time to celebrate the glorious bounty of this planet, which despite hurtling through a hostile and unforgiving universe, has nonetheless fostered an abundance of life for millions of years. Quite an accomplishment. Continue reading →
Did you know that March is National Noodle Month? Neither did we! We almost missed out on celebrating this ancient and fantastic food! In our humble opinion, noodles may be one of the world’s most perfect foods. They are the base for recipes from China to Italy and can be savory, sweet, salty and more. Today you can find noodles to suit every taste and inclination. There are zucchini noodles, gluten free noodles, cellophane noodles, flat noodles, thin noodles, long noodles, short noodles, so many noodles! Read our Ancient Noodle post below to learn about the noodle’s fascinating history and scroll down for a yummy zucchini noodle recipe. Continue reading →
In preparation for Valentine’s Day, today we are celebrating the rose. You may not think of the rose as a food, but we assure you it is an ancient culinary treat. In fact, the rose has been cultivated since ancient times as a source of food, medicine and for perfume. In some cultures, rose gardens were considered important croplands, much like orchards. Read our post, The Rose in History: Power, Beauty and the Sweet Smell of Success, for a fascinating history of this beautiful, fragrant and delicious flower. And once you’ve learned all about the rose’s past, you’re going to want to indulge in some rose cuisine. Look no further! We’re bringing you an exotic and delightful recipe for an ancient Thai Rose Salad. This Valentine’s Day, don’t just shower your love with a bouquet of roses. Serve up this dish redolent with flavor and flair! Continue reading →