Tag Archives: ancient food

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Gullah Bacon Corn Muffins and the Gullah Geechee Saga

Southern cuisine has deep roots in Africa. One of the most vibrant cultures contributing to the South’s identity was actually one that evolved from unintended diversity.

The Gullah Geechee is a distinct group descended from slaves brought from West Africa to the coastal areas of the South in the early 18th century.  They were instrumental in building the wealth of the southern states for decades. However, when the Civil War loomed, and fearing anti-slavery retribution, many plantation owners moved inland for safety reasons, leaving slaves to fend for themselves on the coast islands. Out of this circumstance grew the Gullah Geechee culture, one with unique community, spirituality, farming, music, crafts and cuisine.

The origins of the names are somewhat shrouded. The name Gullah is possibly a truncating of Angola and Geechee may have come from the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia, although both find linguistic similarities in African tribal languages. Gullah is associated with residents of South Carolina, while Geechee those of Georgia. They live in an area referred to as the Gullah Coast reaching from Sandy Island, South Carolina, to Amelia Island, Florida.[1]

The Gullah Geechees’ West African ancestors were selected for enslavement because of their regions’ suitability for raising crops, especially rice, indigo and cotton, that were important to the southern economy. With similar climates in the American South to those in their native lands, the slaves were exceptionally skilled at working the land, and their efforts contributed substantially to the foundational wealth of the South’s plantation industry.

The Gullah language has a singular history as what linguists call an English-based creole language. It illustrates the way slavery so profoundly altered and created its own subculture:

Creoles arise in the context of trade, colonialism, and slavery when people of diverse backgrounds are thrown together and must forge a common means of communication….In the case of Gullah, the vocabulary is largely from the English “target language,” the speech of the socially and economically dominant group; but the African “substrate languages” have altered the pronunciation of almost all the English words, influenced the grammar and sentence structure, and provided a sizable minority of the vocabulary.

The British dominated the slave trade in the 18th century…. This hybrid language served as a means of communication between British slave traders and local African traders, but it also served as a lingua franca, or common language, among Africans of different tribes. Some of the slaves taken to America must have known creole English before they left Africa, and on the plantations their speech seems to have served as a model for the other slaves.[2]

In this melting pot of African and southern influence, the Gullah Geechee created their own society, not reflecting one culture, but drawing from a need for self-identity in their own defined space. According to Gullah expert and cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson, the Gullah Geechee were “artists and makers, weaving stunning sweetgrass baskets for agricultural uses and cast nets for fishing. And their spiritual beliefs, combined with the praise melodies they inspired, helped sustain and guide them through conflict and heartache.”[3]

The Gullah Geechee farmers being so highly skilled, many crops of African origin were introduced and incorporated into the dishes now known as Southern cuisine. “Southern food and Gullah food are well connected,” Robinson explains. “When people didn’t know what to call Gullah, they called it Southern. It was shrimp and grits, fried chicken, collard greens, lima beans, cornbread, biscuits, gumbo, and cabbage. It was a little of everything.”[4]

So enjoy the recipe-with-a-past below knowing it came from far overseas across centuries of time to bring homemade goodness to your table. It certainly has a history to remember.

Coffin Point Praise House, St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Visit Geechee and Gullah Culture and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to explore more about the history, cuisine, music, crafts, religion and other attributes of the Gullah Geechee people, and learn how they are working to preserve, share and pass on their cherished heritage.

 

GULLAH BACON CORN MUFFINS

Recipe courtesy of Sallie Ann Robinson, Gullah Geechee – Southern Cast Iron

Cook Time 15-20 minutes

Serves: About 16

Filled with crisp, smoky bacon, these savory corn muffins are the perfect companion to any Southern supper.

Ingredients

  • 16 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2½ cups warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted butter, to serve

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 3 (6-well) cast-iron muffin pans with baking spray with flour.
  2. Chop the bacon into small pieces; reserve 3 tablespoons. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, cornmeal, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, then blend in the warm milk and melted butter. Combine with the flour mixture; fold in bacon pieces, mixing all together. Spoon mixture into prepared pans until wells are about three-fourths full; sprinkle with reserved 3 tablespoons bacon.
  4. Bake until tops are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm with butter for best taste.

 

 

[1] Geechee and Gullah Culture | New Georgia Encyclopedia (archive.org)

[2]  https://glc.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Gullah%20Language.pdf

[3] Gullah Geechee – Southern Cast Iron

[4] Ibid

Related:

https://antiquitynow.org/2015/09/02/bon-appetit-wednesday-sweet-and-easy-corn-on-the-cob/

https://antiquitynow.org/2014/06/04/bon-appetit-wednesday-grilled-butter-miso-corn/

https://antiquitynow.org/2014/02/02/super-bowl-2014-and-aztec-chocolate-caramel-popcorn-sweet-victory-all-around/

 

 

Throwback Thursday! Food on the Go, Pompeii Style

By Mosborne01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Pompeii is still dishing up its surprises. In December 2020 a significant find was announced after the expansion of an excavation site of a thermopolium.  For those not familiar with Pompeian fast food, that’s an establishment, one of possibly 150 in Pompeii, that served up the best of takeaway and sit-down eats. Yes, Pompeii had its eat-as-you-go devotees as we do today.

By Jebulon – Own work, CC0

The recent excavation of the thermopolium has revealed exuberantly painted and finely detailed frescoes that have excited the archaeological world and given Pompeii another reason to be ranked among the most important of international treasures. Of particular note is that the uncovered frescos were no mere decoration adorning the walls and counter of the thermopolium. Rather, they served as menus depicting the popular dishes that could be purchased. Since many of the clientele were illiterate and from poorer populations, the pictures indicated food choices; customers merely had to point to pictures to order. To see what the excitement is all about, take a look at the colorful drawings of daily fare, including fish and fowl, here. Listen to Massimo Osanna, who is Director General of National Museums, Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, and Director of Pompeii, describe the importance of the frescoes. Then revisit our Bon Appetit Wednesday! blog for more fascinating facts on thermopolia, their status in Pompeian culture and the menus that whetted the appetites of their patrons. Finally, flaunt your culinary chops by whipping up a dish from a recipe we included for a Pompeian staple.

Thousands of years haven’t changed our love of food nor it seems the business of life. There’s always something needing to be done and not enough time to do it. As those Pompeians would attest, tempus fugit (time flies). So follow the advice that served so many, so well, two thousand years ago. If you are hungry and in a hurry, get yourself to your own 21st century version of a thermopolium, celerius quam asparagi cocunter (faster than asparagus is cooked).

Further reading:

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/dig-of-pompeii-fast-food-place-reveals-ancient-tastes/5716251.html

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Shrimp Avocado Salad…Courtesy of Our Ancestral Genes

A while back we posted a holiday recipe for eggnog that explained how 7,500 years or so ago, humans in the region between the central Balkans and central Europe developed “lactase persistence.” According to a study by Professor Mark Thomas of University College London (UCL) Genetics, Evolution and Environment, “Most adults worldwide do not produce the enzyme lactase and so are unable to digest the milk sugar lactose. However, most Europeans continue to produce lactase throughout their life, a characteristic known as lactase persistence. In Europe, a single genetic change (13,910*T) is strongly associated with lactase persistence and appears to have given people with it a big survival advantage.”1

Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Fish, Chips and Pompeii’s Fast Food Thermopolia

fish and chips

Image courtesy of An Italian in My Kitchen

Nowadays fast food comes in all forms throughout the world.  A life on the go means quick fare at affordable prices. Whether hamburgers, tacos, satay, samosas, crepes or today’s recipe of fish and chips, fast food is ubiquitous.

Modern convenience? Not if you take a page from Roman culinary history.

Thermopolia (s., thermopolium) were eateries found aplenty in the Roman Empire. In fact, Pompeii boasted around 150 thermopolia. A thermopolium was an open air room with an L-shaped counter distinguished by large storage urns called dolia containing dry edibles such as nuts.  Each day the thermopolium featured different dishes available for purchase. People could select such standard victuals as “coarse bread with salty fish, baked cheese, lentils and spicy wine.”1 Other fare included pizza (tomatoes were not yet brought to Europe at the time) made of cheese and onions, soups, pickles, eggs and ham.2 A tempting array of palate pleasers no doubt. And like our 21st century fast food menus, thermopolia  meals were based on their convenience and simplicity. Customers knew what to expect and would merely point to the blue plate specials they wanted. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Um Ali

om_aliWe love Egyptian recipes! There are so many delicious ancient Egyptian foods, ingredients and dishes to explore and today we’re bringing you one more. Um Ali, also called Om Ali, is a sweet and creamy bread pudding dessert that has become a traditional modern Egyptian dessert. It brings so much joy to the palate, but it has a surprisingly dark history. It was actually created in the 13th century to celebrate the murder of Shajar al-Durr, a sultana. Click here to read the entire sordid affair.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be celebrating something so dark and dismal in order to enjoy this traditional sweet. It can be served cold or warm depending on the season and it’s made with ingredients you most likely have in your kitchen right now. For a fancier and more complex version, visit click here. Enjoy some Um Ali this holiday season!

p.s. Click here for a list of our other Egyptian recipe posts.

Um Ali

Ingredients

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar, divided
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  2. Place the pastry sheets in the baking dish and place the dish in the oven. Watch it closely. When the top layer turns crunchy and golden, remove it from the oven. Continue until all the sheets are cooked.
  3. Preheat the oven’s broiler.
  4. In a bowl, combine walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, raisins, coconut and 1/4 cup sugar. Break cooked pastry into pieces and stir into nut mixture. Spread mixture evenly in 9×13-inch dish.
  5. Bring milk and 1/2 cup sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Pour over nut mixture.
  6. Beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread evenly over nut mixture in dish.
  7. Place dessert under oven broiler until top is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

 

Bon Appetit Wednesday! National Pork Month

porkPork is an ancient food with a complicated past. It has nourished numerous cultures for generations and yet, for religious reasons, has been taboo in others. This month we celebrate the succulent meat by looking back on some of our ancient pork recipes below. And then check out this new ancient recipe for Roman Pork Bites (Aliter Ofellas).

Of course, we know that not everyone will want to celebrate this holiday, so for our vegetarian and vegan followers, check out some of these scrumptious ancient recipes.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Figs Part 1: Pork and Fruit Ragout

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Pork Dumplings for the Year of the Horse

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Slow-Cooked, Mustard-Crusted Pork Loin

 

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Have You Seen Our Free E-Cookbooks?

Do you love Bon Appetit Wednesday? Are you always on the lookout for new and interesting recipes to delight your family and dinner guests? Or do you just love to read about ancient history and how it still impacts our lives today? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to check out our free Recipes With a Past e-cookbooks.

We have three books, free to download and packed with all of our fabulous Recipes With a Past. The holidays are coming and it’s not too early to start planning those holiday meals. Also, these books make great gifts!

Check out the books below.

Click on a book cover to view the pdf.

Recipe Ebook Cover Recipes 2104 Ebook FINAL Recipe Ebook 2015 cover

Bon Appetit Wednesday! National Beer Lover’s Day

beersIt’s National Beer Lover’s Day! Did you know we’ve been enjoying this beverage since ancient times? The ancient Egyptians enjoyed a good beer, the ancient Sumerians knew how to chill out with a cold one, even the Chinese enjoyed a version of this libation. So, on this most festive of days, we’re bringing you a story about a 5,000 year old Chinese beer as well as some of our best beer-related blog posts and recipes. Cheers!

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Ancient Hurricane Party

tropical storm trackIt may seem crazy to most people, but when true Floridians see a tropical storm or hurricane coming, they break out the chips and dip and throw a Hurricane Party! Of course, you don’t have to live in Florida to throw a good old fashioned Hurricane Party and we’re going to help you put an ancient spin on it. First, read our post about ancient storms and then check out the Recipes With a Past below to create your first Hurricane Party With a Past!

Bon Appetit Wednesday! National Peach Month

PeachesNot that we needed a reason to celebrate the sweet, juicy peach, but August is National Peach Month! This fuzzy little fruit has a deliciously ancient history and can be enjoyed solo or in numerous recipes, both savory and sweet. Click on the link below to learn all about the peach and a recipe for Peach Almond Cake. Or click here for an ancient recipe for yummy Filled Peaches!

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Peach Almond Cake