On Thursday 18 May SIIBS member Dr Meredith Warren shared her research on the meal and religion in the Roman world by hosting a Roman banquet as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Arts and Humanities.
The banquet, which some participants said was “the best Festival of Arts and Humanities event they’d been too in the three years of the Festival,” also included a philosophical oration by Dr Stephen Makin, poetry readings from Virgil and Praxilla, ancient Roman music, and libations of wine to various Roman deities.
Guests were given cards with biographical details of historical Roman people who had lived across the Empire, from Egypt and Rome to Doncaster and Glasgow.
INOX Dine chef Joe Berry developed the menu in collaboration with Warren, using recipes based on the ancient cookbook attributed to Apicius. After a traditional welcome drink of chilled Roman spiced white wine, the four-course dinner (convivium) began with a gustatio (appetizer) of patina of Plaice (or vegetarian Vitellian Peas) with olive relish and soft boiled eggs. The patina is a fish pâté, to be spread on bread with the olive relish.
The prima cena, or first course, comprised roast quail legs with a creamy celery puré, accompanied by toasted pistachios and pomegranates; vegetarians enjoyed ricotta and oregano baked parcels along with the sides.
The main course, or altera cena, was an impressive shoulder of pork topped with crackling and served on bread trenchers, or, for vegetarians, roasted “gourd” with millet and lovage. Accompanying dishes included lentils, barley, and sweet-sour Athenian cabbage salad. Dessert was fruit platters with grapes, melons, figs, dates, and strawberries, served with a baclava-like honey and walnut cake and deep-fried ricotta sweet meats.
In between the courses, Makin, Warren, and Berry spoke to the guests about ancient philosophical ideas about the sense of taste, the rituals and social practices that Romans included in their formal meals, and the process of translating ancient flavours and ingredients for the modern palette. Several guests opted to attend in Roman costume, including Dr Robyn Orfitelli and Dr Gerry Howley of the School of English, and Greg Oldfield, Head of Public Engagement & Impact for the University of Sheffield.