Articles

Fresco of Panis Quadratus, or Panis Siligineus

Fresco of Panis Quadratus, or Panis Siligineus


Pompeii Bread

Farrell Monaco in the Kitchen. Photo by Gina Salerno Somma.

Farrell Monaco in Roman Garb at Caupona. Photo by Nello Petrucci.

Bread Sale Fresco from the House of Julia Felix at Pompeii (National Archaeology Museum Naples). Photo from WIKIMEDIA COMMONSPUBLIC DOMAIN

Panis Siligineus or Panis Quadratus Fresco (National Archaeology Museum Naples). Photo by CARLO RASOFLICKRPUBLIC DOMAIN

Carbonized Panis Siligineus (Quadratus). Photo by Farrell Monaco courtesy of Antiquarium of Boscoreale.

Carbonised loaf of bread AD 79 Roman Herculaneum.© Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei

Panis Siligineus or Panis Quadratus Fresco (National Archaeology Museum Naples). Photo by Farrell Monaco.JPG

Carbonized common wheat grains (triticum aestivum) also known as bread wheat. Photo by Farrell Monaco courtesy of Antiquarium of Boscoreale.

View of Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii Street. Photo by Farrell Monaco.

Portico of The Palaestra at the Stabian Baths (Pompeii). Photo by Farrell Monaco.

Farrell Monaco on site at Pompeii. Photo by Maureen Doyle

Garum Amphora with Residual Fish Bones in Base. Photo by Farrell Monaco courtesy of the Antiquarium of Boscoreale.

Farrell Monaco and her resident canine companion Enzo on a morning walk through Pompeii. Photo by Farrell Monaco (3)


Roman bread

Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) already knew: “The excellence of the finest kinds of bread depends principally on the goodness of the wheat, and the fineness of the bolter” and “persons who eat sourdough bread are stronger”. Bread was a staple, and producing it was a business in Roman antiquity.

Last week my new cookbook, Historisch Bakboek Brood, with historical bread recipes from over the last 4000 years, was launched. In the book are Roman bread recipes and other breads from antiquity.

Roman bread

When leavened bread spread from Greece to Italy in the second century BC, all hell broke loose. Conservative Romans refused to sink their teeth into the fluffy bread. They swore by unleavened bread and puls (grain porridge). Despite this, sourdough baking quickly became popular and took over from puls as a dietary staple.

Bread was made from various grains in the Roman period, but mainly from spelt and wheat. In Italy, the popular bread wheat triticum aestivum grew poorly. It was widely imported from the Balkans, Sicily, and also from Egypt during the Roman imperial period. Barley, millet, rye and even legumes and rice are also known as bread ingredients. In Southern Europe, oats were seen as a weed and as food fit for animals. But they were on the human menu in Northern Europe. For flavor, oil, lard, butter, grape must, wine, milk and eggs were added to bread. As were seeds such as cumin, pepper, caraway, fennel, sesame and poppy.

Roman bakers and bakeries

In Roman cities, professional bakeries increased in number in the second century BC. Cities had dozens of bakeries where bakers (pistores) sold their fluffy breads to city dwellers. In the small provincial town Pompeii there were about 35! One of these bakeries belonged to Terentius Neo. This baker, and his wife, has been immortalized on a fresco in the house adjacent to his bakery.

Their portrait was visible from the bakery, where staff and slaves could see it during their work. Viewed from the other side, the baker and his wife had a good look on their bakery. The prize of their hard work, and proof of their acquired social status. Isn’t it a special experience to be able to look into the eyes of a proud baker that lived 2000 years ago?

Terentius Neo, Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum, Napels

Bread is fortune

Another baker who speaks to us from history was Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces. His huge burial monument, on the outskirts of the center of Rome, shows that he must have made a fortune with bread making.

The size of the monument may be impressive, but the execution of the structure is even more impressive. It consists of gigantic columns on which a structure, with large circles in it, rests. Above that, a sculptured frieze has been placed all around. It is all purely symbolism. The columns are a symbol for bins, in which the dough was kneaded. The circles symbolize kneading machines. The frieze is worth a stiff neck, from peering up. It shows the bakers trade beautifully.

The sculptured frieze shows scenes in which the quality of the grain is checked, flour is sifted, grain is ground by a grain mill powered by a donkey, state officials record the receipt of the grain, dough is kneaded in a kneading machine powered by a horse, men knead bread, someone puts bread into the oven, men carry large baskets of bread, bread is weighed and bread is taken on its way to hungry mouths.

Antique breads

The breads that came out of the ovens in Roman antiquity, were very diverse in nature. In ancient texts dozens are mentioned, such as oyster bread, mushroom bread, sponge bread, hatred bread, pot bread, cake bread, water bread, camp bread, Cappadocian and Picenian bread, depending on their shape, baking method, ingredients or origin.

The most famous bread from Roman times is PANIS QUADRATUS. We know its name from Athenaeus of Naucratis (second century AD). Its appearance has been frequently depicted on fresco and is known from archaeological finds. It is formed as a wheel. In the bakery of Modestus in Pompeii, 81 charred breads with this form were found!

Panis Quadratus

Ingredients
350 grams of spelt flour *
150 grams of wheat flour **
150 grams of sourdough
7 grams of sea salt
225 ml tepid water
2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of caraway seeds
1 tbsp of fennel seeds
1 tbsp of aniseed
6 bay leaves

Preparation
Put the spelt flour and wheat flour with the sourdough, salt, water, honey, olive oil and all the seeds in a bowl and knead into a ball of dough. Put this on your bench and knead into a smooth dough in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover and let it rise for 30 minutes. Fold the dough and let it rise for another 30 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and let it rise for about one hour. Degas the bread a bit, form into a ball again. Put a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray and place the bay leaves on it. Put the dough on the baking tray and gently press it into a flat disk. Allow to rise for approximately 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees well in advance. Make cuts on top of the bread in the shape of a wheel. Put the bread in the oven and turn the temperature to 200 degrees. Bake the panis quadratus for about 25 minutes.


Published by Askos Tours

'Specialising in archaeology and art tours, Askos Tours aims to bring Italy’s cultural riches to life in an insightful and entertaining way. As well as trips around Naples — the bustling, atmospheric Campanian capital — Askos Tours can also arrange a variety of travel experiences for visitors looking to make unforgettable Italian memories, with particular expertise in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Amalfi, Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Rome and the Vatican. Askos Tours strives to offer the very best in private and small group tours in order to help travellers gain a deeper understanding of the world of archaeology, art and local traditions.' View more posts


Learning More about Ancient Bread

One of 81 carbonized bread loaves from the bakery of Modestus at Pompeii, showing eight wedges on top and the indentation of twine once tied horizontally around the body.

Food archaeologist Farrell Monaco explores the ancient evidence for Roman bread and shares her own recipes on her blog. Look for her classes and presentations online.

Go beyond baking with The Classical Cookbook, which includes fifty recipes from the ancient world.


We Are What We Eat: How the Archaeology of Food Conveys Expression of Identity

I don’t know about you but I spend a great deal of time thinking about food. Who doesn’t, really? Food is a central part of my life. I enjoy cooking it, reading about it, writing about it, and photographing it. I eat large meals several times a day, it is a pleasurable experience for me, and this is how I sustain myself to keep going from one day to the next. But do I value it in the same way that my fore-mothers and fore-fathers did? Am I connected to food in the same way that my ancestors were? One of the best ways to explore this question is through the archaeology of food.

The archaeology of a food is a fascinating area of study but one that is also multi-layered. If we are to simplify it, we could study animal bones and plant remains in the archaeological record and conclude that human beings in the past ate seafood, red meat, lentils, or barley, for example. Beyond the basic remains of food, however, we can detect what resources were available locally, what foods were plentiful and what foods were ‘special’ or rare if they are represented in lower concentrations. But there’s so much more to the archaeology of food that just diet, resources and the remains of food itself and we can confirm this by examining some of our own modern food cultural practices: Christmas dinner isn’t just about eating turkey with cranberry sauce a vegan breakfast burrito isn’t just a low-fat alternative to bacon and eggs and dinner on a first date isn’t just about picking any old restaurant out of the phone book — there are many more factors involved when it comes to the role that food plays in our daily lives. Food is more than sustenance it is a reflection of who we are. It is a reflection of our cultures, associations, familial groups, political and religious beliefs, and traditions. It is a reflection of identity and one of the best places to study this phenomenon in a modern context is on Facebook.

Not a day goes by on Facebook that we don’t see one of our friends post a “lunchie” on their timeline for all to see and marvel at. This is the term that I use to describe the ubiquitous “lunch selfie” that we see almost daily on most social media platforms: The sexy lunch shot of a glistening salad crowned with rainbow radish and pea shoots the carefully staged overhead shot of a bowl of Ph? with chopsticks positioned just so or the low-lit shot of an edible gold-dusted chocolate ganache. You know the type of photo I am referring to. The photo that is alluding to much more than just the food pictured in the frame. This “lunchie” is telling you who your friend is, what preferences they have, how they view themselves, how they want to be viewed by others, what foods they find to be attractive, and what foods and food experiences they value. In addition to this, your friend may also be telling you what they abhor, disapprove of, or are intolerant to based on what is not present in their photo such as meat, bread, alcohol, or fast-food, for example. These images are projections of identity on the part of your friend and food is just the vehicle for that projection. But what does any of this have to do with food archaeology? This food culture that we observe and participate in daily on Facebook actually didn’t start the day that Facebook went live in 2004. These types of personal and cultural expressions through food have been present in the archaeological record for millennia. All one has to do is visit the ancient site of Pompeii (Italy) to see similar expressions of identity through food but in an ancient context.

On the second floor of the MANN (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) in central Naples (Italy) is a small room that holds most of the food-related frescoes that were removed from the walls of several houses at Pompeii during the various phases of excavations. Almost every inch of space on the walls of this room is adorned with still-life paintings that depict what may have been commonly found in Pompeiian pantries and gives the viewer an idea as to what ingredients were typical in the Pompeiian diet. But beyond the face-value of these images, these frescoes tell us what foods Pompeiians preferred to eat, what foods they aspired to eat, what foods they had access to, and what foods they found beauty in.

These stunning pictorial representations of foodstuffs at Pompeii not only give archaeologists an idea as to how the Pompeiian people expressed identity through the foods that they ate, or desired to eat, but they also provide supporting evidence with which to fill in the blanks when the archaeological record cannot produce a ‘complete picture’ of what the Pompeian diet looked like using carbonized grains and olive pits alone, for example.

The panis quadratus, the iconic 8-sectioned rounded loaf of bread, is also featured in several frescoes at Pompeii as were they represented highly in the archaeological record at the site. 81 carbonized panis quadratus loaves were excavated from the Bakery of Modestus. What we may interpret from these representations is that the bread was produced in high volume at Pompeii but that it was also valued enough by Pompeiians to be painted on to the walls of several of the homes and businesses at Pompeii. This type of Roman bread was often considered a ‘luxury’ bread as the flour was refined several times producing a lighter, leavened loaf. The representation of this loaf in Pompeiian food frescoes could have symbolized status, industry, a well-fed community or household, or a community with unfettered access to grain and a complement of competent bakers. These images weren’t just about the bread alone. These are projections of identity depicting status, preference and access to resources through food imagery and these “lunchies” are almost 2,000 years old, dating to the first century AD.

While I stood in front of the Pompeiian food frescoes for the very first time in the summer of 2013, I couldn’t help but to compare the two media of expression and see the stark similarities. The curiosity that I felt in studying the food frescoes at the MANN made me wonder what archaeologists of the future would interpret about us, the humans of the digital era, when they find our modern projections of self through the digital food images that we post on our virtual walls on a daily basis. Archaeologists of the future will excavate zettabytes of digital culture, not material, sifting through billions of photos looking for clues about who we were and what we valued. If our food images are going to say anything about us it’s that food was indeed valuable to us and that we were as connected to it as all the generations who came before us were but that our medium of conveying this value and connection was simply different. In the digital era, we have continued to connect with our food, value it, protect it, fight for it, and we have continued to use it as a mode of expressing identity as human beings. We are what we eat and the archaeology of food will continue to allow us to explore food and identity in the human past while shining a light on our own relationships with food at the same time.


How to Make 2000-Year-Old Roman Bread from Pompeii | Panis Quadratus

In 79AD, a baker in Pompeii fled for his life as Mt. Vesuvius erupted, leaving his bread to burn. In this episode, I recreate the Panis Quadratus and explore the history and archeology behind this iconic loaf of bread.

Follow Tasting History with Max Miller here:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tastinghistorywithmaxmiller/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TastingHistory1

LINKS TO INGREDIENTS & TOOLS**
Thermapen &ndash https://fave.co/2XW6e9L
Bread Cloche &ndash https://amzn.to/3bv6TmB
King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour &ndash https://amzn.to/2VuX56g
8-inch Cake Pan &ndash https://amzn.to/2KpJDub
Baking String &ndash https://amzn.to/350JreC

**Amazon and Sur La Table offer a small commission on products sold through their affiliate links, so each purchase made from this link, whether this product or another, will help to support this channel with no additional cost to you.

PANIS QUADRATUS (1st Century AD)
INGREDIENTS
&ndash 1 kg whole wheat flour (or a mix of buckwheat, wholewheat and/or spelt)
&ndash 125g &ndash 150g bread starter (this depends on how loose the starter is)
&ndash 700ml tepid water
&ndash 1.5 tsp salt

METHOD
1. Create a ring of flour on your work surface and pour the starter into the center working in a bit of the flour.
2. Mix the salt into the water and slowly pour it into the ring of flour, mixing as you go. Depending on your flour and starter, you may need a bit more or less than 700ml. Your dough should come together and be only slightly sticky. Once the dough comes together, knead until you reach a stretchable dough.
3. Put the dough into a lightly oil bowl and cover with a towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size, or a bit more. About 90 minutes.
4. Once risen, remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured surface. Measure out 1316g (4 Roman Pounds) of dough then stretch it and form it into a ball, then place it into a floured 8 inch round cake pan and allow to rise until dough is puffed out over the lip of the pan. About 1 hour.
5. Preheat Oven to 400°F/200°C and set a clean pan on the bottom rack.
6. Flip the cake pan over and let the dough gently fall onto a floured baking sheet. Then, using a wooden dowel or the handle of a wooden spoon, create four intersecting lines across the top of the loaf creating 8 equal triangle segments.
7. Wrap a piece of baking string or twine around the circumference of the loaf, pulling it tight but not breaking the loaf, then tie to hold in place.
8. Add cool water to the pan in the oven to create steam and set the loaf inside. Bake about 45 minutes. (If you are using a cloche, remove the lid 15 minutes before the end of the bake time to allow loaf to darken.) Once baked, set bread on a rack to fully cool.

*For more information on the recreation of the Panis Quadratus, I recommend the excellent blog by Farrell Monaco: https://tavolamediterranea.com/2018/06/14/baking-bread-romans-part-iii-panis-strikes-back/

PHOTO CREDITS
UNDER CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
*Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker &ndash Livioandronico2013
*Mt Vesuvius with Pompeii &ndash ElfQrin
*Sepolcro di Eurisace &ndash Byus71
*Buckwheat Flour &ndash Oliwier Brzezinski

UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30179821
*Pompeii Bakery &ndash By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany &ndash The Pistrinum (bakery) on Vicolo Storto (Reg VII, Ins 2, 22) belonging to N. Popidius Priscus, Pompeii
*Bakery of Propidius Priscus Oven and Millstones &ndash By Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup from Centennial, CO, USA &ndash BakeryUploaded by Marcus Cyron
*Pompeii panorama &ndash By Norbert Nagel &ndash Own work
*Pompeii Loaf of Pants Quadratus &ndash User:Beatrice
*Fresco showing bread and two figs &ndash Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany
*Pompeii Shops and Theater &ndash David Sivyer
*Herculaneum Bakery &ndash Amphipolis
*Quadrireme &ndash Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany
*Royal Cream Recipe &ndash Lisa Yarost
*Modius &ndash Luis Garcia
*Roman Slaves &ndash Ashmolean Museum
*Vesuvius Pompeii &ndash supergingerale (pixabay.com)

*Pompeii Bakery Artifact &ndash By Ad MeskensYou are free to use this picture for any purpose as long as you credit its author, Ad Meskens.Example: © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

PUBLIC DOMAIN
*Black and White Bakery &ndash Joaquim Morelló
*Fresco of man giving out bread &ndash Naples National Archaeological Museum

*Map of Gulf of Naples &ndash MapMaster

MUSIC CREDIT
Bushwick Tarantella by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1300002
Artist: http://incompetech.com/

Bourree 4th Lute Suite & Gigue From 3rd Cello Suite
Exzel Music Publishing (freemusicpublicdomain.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

#ancientrome #baking #pompeii #bread #tastinghistory

is there anything more aggravating thanburning a loaf of bread because you leftit in the oven too long well yeah likewhen your bread is burned because ashower of scalding hot gas and ashreaching temperatures of 750 degreesFahrenheit completely envelops yourbakery now that&rsquos a real bummer andthat&rsquos what happened to poor papa deuspre scoops one autumn day in 79 AD as hewas baking in Pompeii lucky for us thatloaf carbonized as it is still existstoday along with many others pulled fromthe ashes of Pompeii and Herculaneum inthe shadow of Mount Vesuvius and todaywe&rsquore going to try our best to recreatethat iconic ancient Roman loaf thePanisse quadratus this time on tastinghistory[Music]now modernizing any recipe whether it bemedieval or even just from a hundredyears ago can be kind of tricky theyusually don&rsquot have measurements or goodbake times or temperatures and justleave out a lot of different things thatyou would normally have in a modern-dayrecipe but at least with those you stillhave something written down not so withwhat we&rsquore making today today all thatwe have to go on is a charred remnant ofa loaf nearly 2,000 years old nowusually I would dive right into therecipe but there is some fascinatinghistory that is going to inform some ofthe ingredients that we&rsquore going to beusing so without further ado GaiusPlinius secundus aka Plenty the elderbest known as an author and aphilosopher and naturalist was also theAdmiral of the Roman Imperial fleetmoored at Misenum north of Naples on theday Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD now hisnephew Pliny the Younger this family wasnot incredibly creative with their namesgives the only eyewitness account of thedisaster a blow-by-blow of the explosionif you will blow by blow but he alsogives some interesting insights into howhis uncle died the day that the volcanoerupted the morning of the explosionplenty the elder received word probablyby carrier pigeon from some friends whowere trapped in stop EA so being thehead of the Imperial fleet he set outwith 12 quadri more warships on a rescuemission they ended up rescuing about2,000 people it&rsquos thought but none ofthem were his friends and unfortunatelywhile leading a group of survivors backto the ships he was like so many peoplethat day overtaken by a cloud ofpoisonous gas and died on the beach andthat is why it&rsquos so fitting that we aregoing to be using the writings of plinythe elder to decide on some of theingredients in this recipe so two of themost important ingredients in any breadrecipe are the meal or whatever grain isgoing to be used and the leavener ifthere is one and luckily for us plentyof the elder had plenty to say aboutboth of them he mentions multiple grainsthat were used in breads in Rome at thistime including spelt barley andhuit and when it comes to wheat he goesinto fantastic in even annoying detailabout every type of wheat that came fromall the different parts of the Empirethe wheat of Cyprus is swarthy andproduces a dark bread for which reasonit is generally mixed with the whitewheat of Alexandria the mixture yieldingtwenty-five pounds of bread to the MOEDias of grain am odious was a roman unitof dry volume about two gallons and hegoes into extreme detail about everytype of wheat and how much they weighforum odious it&rsquos a lot now since hegoes into so much detail about wheatthat&rsquos what we&rsquore going to use for thisloaf you could use buckwheat which wasplentiful in Rome at this time or youcould use white whole wheat which is Ithink going to be the closest thing tothe Alexandria white wheat that hementioned before and it&rsquos gonna be theprobably the most flavorful and theeasiest to find as well now it&rsquos not thesame as all-purpose flour because it&rsquosnot actually white it&rsquos still going tolook like a whole grain but I will put alink to my favorite brand down belowwhere you can find that now when itcomes to leaveners plenty said in Gaulin Spain where they make a drink bysteeping corn they employ a foam whichthickens on the surface as 11 hence itis that the bread in those countries islighter than that made elsewhere at thepresent day however the leaven isprepared from the meal that is used formaking the bread and that second one isthe one that we&rsquore going to use becauseessentially he&rsquos talking about sourdoughnow plenty mentions several differenttypes of starter in his writings hetalks about one that is made from boiledwheat and water and one that is madeonly during the harvest time from newwine grapes but unfortunately I don&rsquotlive on a vineyard and it&rsquos not harvesttime anyway so we&rsquore going to just useregular starter sourdough starter thatyou could get at the store or just makeyourself with flour and water over acourse of a few days so for theingredients in this recipe you will needone kilogram of flour between 125 and150 grams of bread starter now it reallydepends on how loose your starter is andhow active your starter is so mine endedup being a little bit more active than Ithought I used 150 grams I wish I hadused25 but you just kind of have to playwith it either way it&rsquos gonna be finethen 700 milliliters of tepid water andone and a half teaspoons of salt thereare also a couple tools that you&rsquoll needthat aren&rsquot quite traditional in normalbread making one is string another is an8 inch cake pan and lastly a woodendowel I used the long part of a woodenspoon but you could just use a regularwooden dowel or even a pencil will workso yeah let&rsquos get started the first stepis to clear a large surface on yourcounter or table and spread the flourout into a ring as if you were going tomake fresh pasta next pour your starterinto the ring of flour and mix in a bitof the flour then very slowly just a bitat a time pour in the water now thewater should actually already have thesalt in it so technically that should bestep 1 put your salt and mix it into thewarm water we&rsquoll call that step 1 a yeahnow as you pour the water mix it intothe flour with your fingers now theamount of water that you&rsquore actuallygoing to use is going to depend on thehumidity the type of flour you use andthe consistency of your starter so don&rsquotpour it all in at once because you mightnot need it all what your on the lookoutfor is a dough that comes together butisn&rsquot too too sticky it&rsquos gonna be alittle sticky but it&rsquos not going toleave huge streaks on the counter oncethe dough comes together you&rsquore going tostart the kneading process now I neededmine by hand which took about 20 minutesor so but you can feel free to use astand mixer or a bread machine orsomething like thatnow one benefit to using a stand mixerhere is that you&rsquore going to have a freehand so you can hit that like button andtap the notification Bell so you nevermiss out on another episode of tastinghistory because that would be such adisaster not Vesuvius but a close secondnow once you&rsquove kneaded the dough to anice smooth consistency put it into alightly oiled Bowl and cover it with atea towel and let it rise until itdoubles in size or maybe even a littlebit more now going back to the kneadingit&rsquos okay to use the stand mixer becauseactually that is probably closer to whatthey used than doing it by hand becauseeven in 79 ADused machines safe what that sounds likea cue for some history the bakeries orpiece patina of ancient Rome were quitean industry there were 35 in Pompeiialone serving just 12,000 people becausebread was the staple of the Roman dietand they knew it though they knew itthe bakers of the Empire formed anorganization called the Collegium peacetotem and they were powerful membersoften became civic officials orinfluenced local elections maybe byslipping a little dough under the tableand if you weren&rsquot part of the CollegiumPeace totem they better not find youmaking any bread yourself and selling itotherwise you might end up under agrindstone or something capisce now tosee just how powerful and influential abaker could become in the Roman Empireyou only have to look as far as the tombof marcus virgilius yarissa sees who isa baker in rome during the first centuryBC now Marcus was likely a free manmeaning he was born a slave and workedhis way to freedomso it&rsquos impressive that he has such anopulent tomb he even has the inscriptionthis is the monument of Marcus or Juliusyarissa sees Baker contractor it&rsquosobvious now that last part the it&rsquosobvious is up for some debate but it&rsquosprobably a joke because the monument iscovered in reliefs of people baking hahaI want something that clever on mymonument now returning to Pompeii wehave several examples of wonderfullypreserved bakeries but probably the mostimpressive is the piece three knew ofPope Edie&rsquos priests coos that was theguy I mentioned at the beginning he hadhis own mill attached to the bakery withfor massive mill stones made ofironically basalt lava foreshadow muchthe mill stones would have been drivenby donkeys to grind the grain comingfrom the countryside into flour forbaking in the next room is where thedough was prepared and here is wherethere&rsquos some evidence that it&rsquos okay touse your stand mixer because even PopeyDias had a giant machine with paddlesthat would mash the dough together tomix everything andthen they would go to yet anothermachine that was made especially forkneading which was also powered byeither donkeys or slaves in fact theonly part of the process that wasactually done by hand was the shaping ofthe loaf and the stamp that they put onit to let you know this bread came frompoppy Dias now while I don&rsquot have adough stamp though it would be so coolif I did it is time to shape our loafnow once the dough has risen dump it outonto a lightly floured surface nowbecause we all probably ended up usingslightly different amounts of water thelobes are going to be different sizesand in Rome there was a fairly standardsize just like throughout most ofhistory bread was regulated now while wedon&rsquot know the actual size or weight ofa Roman loaf we do have a fairly goodidea based on their depiction infrescoes and the actual loaf that wefound we found that peoplearchaeologists found in Pompeii and thatmeans that they&rsquore between 8 and 9inches round in diameter rather sothat&rsquos why we&rsquore going to use an 8 inchcake pan what&rsquos interesting is to fillan 8 inch cake pan we need four romanpounds of dough which is one thousandthree hundred and sixteen grams now ifyou don&rsquot have a kitchen scale that&rsquosokay just eyeball itit&rsquos basically enough to almost fill theentire pan so go ahead and knock the airout of the dough and give it a littlestretch and shape it into a round loafthen lightly flour the bottom of the panand set the dough inside flattening itjust a bit so it&rsquos almost flat on topthen cover that with a tea towel and letit rise for another hour to 90 minutesor until the loaf is expanding over thetop of the pan now why are we using acake pan to shape this loaf well oneartifact that we&rsquove had for a long timefrom ancient Rome our bread pans and itwas thought for a long time that thebread was actually baked in those pansbut when they opened the ovens inPompeii and Herculaneum they found thebread right on the floor of the oven sothere goes that theory so a new theorypostulates that these bread pans wereonly used to shape the dough and thenthey were flipped out before bakingwhich would explain the rather bulbousbottom that these loaves haveBalbus bottom so once your loaf isalmost unproven take another pan anempty pan any size and put it into youroven in the bottom rack we&rsquore gonna fillit with water and make steam which willgive a nice crust to the loaf then setyour oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or200 degrees Celsius now once that&rsquos donesprinkle a little flour on either abaking sheet or if you have a cloche oneof these sprinkle a little flour on thatI actually also use some parchment paperit just makes sure nothing sticks Ialways use parchment paper anyway thenonce that is done flip the pan over andgently let the dough drop onto thebaking sheet or the bottom of the clochenow it&rsquos time for the most important andcontroversial aspects of recreating theponies&rsquo quadratus the first is whatgives the bread its name quadratus fourlines which intersect and cut the breadinto 8 2 different sections but they&rsquoreactually not cuts if you look at theoriginal picture of the loaf they&rsquoremore indentations so well for a longtime bakers have been recreating this byscoring the breadmore recently bakers have been using adowel to make indentations which is whywe have the spoon so create four linesin the top and press fairly hard Ididn&rsquot press hard enough so I didn&rsquot getquite the definition that I would haveliked so you know give the old collegetrythen take either the dowel or a fingerand make a little hole right in thecenter of the bread that&rsquos going to letthe the steam come out so it doesn&rsquotcrack the final step in shaping the loafis creating that line around the middlewhich kind of reminds me of the linethat is now created whenever I put onpants after a month of quarantine eatingI have addressed this issue by no longerwearing pants now there are a fewtheories about how this line wasachieved and why most historians believethat it was achieved using a string sothat&rsquos what I&rsquom using so cut yourself anice long bit of string and tie itaround the loaf you want to pull itfairly tight again you don&rsquot want tobreak the loaf but you want that loafcinched within an inch of its life nowwhy they tied a piece of string around aloaf of bread is really anyone&rsquos guessbut I&rsquom inclined to agree with PharrellMonaco who believes that it was to stopthe loaf from spreading in the oven asopposed to the other theory which isthat it was used to either hang thelobes or carry the loaves namely becauseI&rsquove looked at a lot of pictures of thisbread in contemporary art and never isthe loaf hanging never is the loaf beingcarried on a string and frankly never doyou see a string so there&rsquos that maybeit&rsquos something about the name but seemsthat any string theory causes endlessdebate physics joke boom now that yourloaf is shaped go ahead and pour somecool water onto the hot pan you couldeven put ice cubes on it that works aswell and put the loaf into the oven forabout 45 minutes now if you are usingthe cloche take off the top about 15minutes before the bread is done so itdarkens up nicely now if you&rsquore like meknowing when the bread is actually doneis a little bit difficult when you&rsquoreusing darker wheats my oven doesn&rsquotreally know how to tell temperature it&rsquosterrible so I&rsquom often under baking breadbut if you stick this into the loaf justan inch or so and within a second itwill tell you exactly what thetemperature is and for this loaf youwant between 190 degrees Fahrenheit and210 degrees Fahrenheit so I will put alink in the description to these if youwant to buy one if you&rsquore baking a lotof bread these days they are a lifesavernow once you know the bread is doneremove it from the oven and set it on acooling rack until it&rsquos completelycooled so let&rsquos try it and I suppose itshould be cut kind of like a cake sinceits quartered twice whatever aidid ochdid I don&rsquot know so we&rsquoll do that pouraround a little olive oil because oliveoil makes everything betterhmm it&rsquos rustic it&rsquos a nice textureit&rsquos definitely whole-wheat you havethat kind of heavier flavor it&rsquos afairly dense loaf I think that&rsquos becauseof the 100% whole wheat which makessense but not stodgy at all it&rsquos it&rsquosactually really niceI think it&rsquoll also go well with somebalsamic vinegar just to give it even alittle bit more flavorbut it is quite good it just definitelyfeels healthy you know this healthy isyou can be with bread any way theingredients and all the links Imentioned along with the recipe I usedare down in the description so pleaselike this video and join me next time ontasting history I can do thatyou


16 Comments

Love this stuff. Great work.

delightful and mouth watering…brava !

There is simply no evidence that Roman bakers used string. This rather nutty idea seems to have been originated by the Italian baker who cobbled together a (widely criticized) recipe for the Pompeii bread. The one image we have of someone distributing Pompeii bread shows no string on it and the first Italian archaeologist to examine the loaves said the indentations had been made with a knife.

I’m very confused by the lack of a leavening agent, not least because the breads shown are if anything over-risen relative to the actual breads found in Pompeii. But Pliny the Elder (who died during the eruption) says quite specifically that the Romans mainly used sour dough as a leavening and that is almost certainly what was used at Pompeii (it certainly woudn’t have been yeast, since that required beer, which wasn’t made in Pompeii.)

Thanks for you comment. Indeed, twine and leaven are two very heated topics! There is no archaeological evidence, but experiments show that twine could account for the horizontal line around bakery bread (1st century AD). Still debated! We did not use leaven, and whole wheat and spelt loaves rose well anyway, but we also experimented with letting the dough rise (2-30 hours).

I’m still confused. Are you saying the bread rose with NO leavening agent? Neither yeast nor sourdough? I suppose that’s just possible if you leave the dough so long it in effect picks up yeast from the air (effectively becoming sourdough), but I’ve never seen that method referenced.

The thing about the string is, sure, it COULD explain the indent (found only in certain breads, all so far as I know in Pompeii), only there is utterly no evidence that it actually did. The image below is is, I believe, the only one we have of someone actually distributing these loaves and one would think that if string were used anywhere to carry the loaves, it would be here.

But there is no sign of it. Nor on the image you use from the Villa Julia for your post.

The ONLY source I know for the idea is the Italian baker who did the recipe for the British Museum (“Locatelli believes a string may have been tied around the loaf as a carrying handle after it was baked. You could buy a trussed up loaf at a street market and carry it home on your wrist like a purse”), and his whole approach is roundly criticized by bread historians. And so a really flimsy hypothesis has been given extended life not because it is proven, but because it is theoretically possible. And now TWO major museums have lent their credit to it.

One of the most frustrating things about being a bread historian is fighting these myths once they get established. Hell, there’s one that cites ME as its source and I haven’t been able to fight even that.

Jim,
Thanks for your responses and investment in ancient bread. I appreciate interest in fact-based research. We’ve made some edits to the post for clarification.

Cato’s bread
My first goal within as constrained space was to encourage people to try Cato’s whole grain bread, using only flour and water, and bake it right away. It did rise well and made very dense, nourishing loaves. Not a style appreciated today, though! I also experimented with all purpose flour and with different lengths of time before baking (bread rose higher but was still dense).

The twine issue
M.S. de Luca examined Pompeiian loaves from the bakery of Modestus in the early 1860s and concluded that the wedges and the horizontal line around the loaves were made by multiple knife cuts. The idea of twine for carrying grew later. I agree that the one fresco showing this kind of bread doesn’t show twine.

De Luca wasn’t a baker, and a new examination of the indentation over 150 years later is worth considering. Farrell Monaco recently gained permission to examine carbonized loaves and also experimented with various ways to bake a successful loaf with the indentation. She felt that it was an impressed rather than a cut line (so twine was feasible – not certain). And cuts on the top and sides of a loaf before baking have a different effect than we see on the loaves.

Even if twine was used, why make the horizontal indentation? I was having fun with the idea that in crowded professional bakery ovens (post-Cato), where loaves were packed in together, twine might help a low hydration loaf hold its shape. That actually worked for me in my home oven. Without the twine the loaves spread out a bit.

I hope some day we’ll find archaeological evidence that solves the heated debate, and meanwhile, although the blog must remain relatively simple, I have amended it to sound less certain on this topic!

Thank you for your comments.

Thank you for your response. (Sorry if I got a bit fervent in my own.)

There is one school of thought that this was actually two different layers (a style which exists elsewhere). There are also a number of images of such quadrati without any lower layer at all.

I do note this in your own instructions: “if the dough sags and spreads, it will cover the twine. ” I suspect this would have happened more often than not another argument against the concept (though one could of course have removed the string before the actual baking).

We are, I fear, a long way from having a definitive answer. But that is a good reason to be tentative on the subject.

Some time’s we over think our art or science .Variables always play a roll , controlled and uncontrolled . Current environment factors, water content ,wheat composition etc. . If we were there with what we know now , then we would know, maybe .Other than that, it’s partially opinion and personal experience , in which both are not absolute ,and that’s what is great about History discussion

30 hours. That explains the rising. Do you know how old the use of leaven is? For the Romans around Cato’s time? It must have been around earlier somewhere where ever they were brewing beer and wine.
My sourdough bread takes about 2 days to make from start to finish and that’s with a starter. It should be easy to do if it survived this long, but it takes practice and a lot of patience!
Wonderful article, thank you so much. Next time I make bread, I’ll be thinking of the Roman Ladies and their patience, grinding grains, kneading dough, waiting 30 hours to proof it and baking it just right…then serving it to their family and guests, to be eaten in one hour.
Maryke

Maryke,
Pliny (1st century A.D.) tells us that the Romans adopted the use of leaven in the second century B.C. from the Greeks, but certainly, as you say, many people knew about natural fermentation that made bread rise and created alcohol. And many must have figured out early that adding some dough from the day before (one of the ways to use a sort-of “starter” that Pliny describes) helped the bread’s texture and rise. But it is hard to tell, given relatively few comments about leaven from ancient authors, how it was used in different cultures in home baking. Practices became more regularized with the rise of city bakeries.
Cato was the kind of crusty old Roman who – when he heard about any newfangled Greek idea – might have rejected it and figured no one needed more than flour and water and what was good enough for grandpa should be good enough for him!

In my next trip to Trader Joe’s, I will be asking for Roman Bread and tell them where they can find the recipe…


Roman Bakeries

Professional bakers were common in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greeks felt that the best bakers were, in this order, the Cappadocians, the Lydians, and then the Phoenicians. The habit of buying professionally baked bread from a shop seems to have come to Rome sometime around or after 280 BC. Before that, bread was baked at home — perhaps part of the reason that Puls remained a dietary staple as it was easier to make than bread.

A bakers’ guild was formed around 168 BC. Called the Collegium Pistorum, it was an important, respected guild. Bakers could become wealthy. By Augustus’ time (31 BC – 14 AD), there were over 250 bakeries in Rome. Modern estimates put their output at 500,000 loaves a day.

A bakery was called a “pistrinum.” Many bakeries ground the grain as well, thus the alternative word “Pistorum”, meaning “grinders.” The mills for grinding would be turned by asses or horses.

Bakeries had large bowls made of volcanic stone for dough kneading, with the blades turned by animals or slaves. The oven doors would be made of iron. Bakeries would keep on hand baking pans made of bronze for making cakes with. Bakeries even made dog biscuits.

Most Romans in Rome lived in apartments without kitchens, let alone ovens, so they couldn’t bake their own bread. They would buy bread from the bakeries.

Whenever they were given free grain by the state, they would often take most of it to a bakery to grind it for them into flour and make bread from it for them. They still had to pay the bakers for the milling and bread-making, so rather than receiving free grain, it perhaps more accurate to say they got cheap bread (as only the grain part was free.)

Wealthier homes could bake their own bread in their own ovens, but even they still seemed to send their grain out to millers for grinding.


Roman dice bread – kyboi

Ancient sources mention a lot of ingredients that were used in bread. Some of them served to improve the quality of the bread, others had a medical function, but most ingredients were added as a seasoning. The collection of texts written by Athenaeus of Naucratis (2nd century AD) is an important source for types of bread and ingredients in antique bread. These kyboi or dice bread are a good example. The recipe is from my Historisch Bakboek Brood (Historical Bread Baking Cookbook).

Bread with cheese, dill and olive oil

Athenaeus writes in his book Deipnosophistae:

How should you know that dice, not the kind you always use, are square-shaped loaves seasoned with dill, cheese, and oil…

The kyboi recipe contained dill, cheese and olive oil as seasonings. It turned out to be an excellent combination. Fresh dill didn’t do the job. It didn’t gave much flavour. I used dill seeds instead. Dill seeds were regularly used in antiquity. It gives dishes a strong aromatic flavour. I didn’t know what would be best to use: a young fresh cheese or an older cheese. The young fresh cheese didn’t gave much flavour. My experiments with a pecorino romano was astonishingly delicious, especially in combination with the dill seeds.

What about the shape of these ‘dice’ buns. What would Romans have used in ancient times to shape bread into dice? Baking tins and pans in all sort of shapes were in circulation. I used a square baking dish and left the buns in it, in their second and third period of proofing. Slowly the buns became a bit more square, while they were looking for some space to rise. The result is square buns! I doubt whether you can play a game with these buns. I don’t think they will make it to the gambling table. Then they are long gone!

Roman fresco with bread, Pompeii

Roman bread recipe: kyboi

Ingredients
For 12 dice
400 grams of bulged wheat flour
100 grams of sourdough
8 grams of sea salt
180 ml lukewarm water
4 tablespoons of olive oil
3 teaspoons dill seeds, coarsely ground in a mortar
100 grams of grated pecorino romano

Do you prefer yeast to sourdough? Then use instead of the sourdough:
* 7 grams of dried yeast
* 210 to 230 ml lukewarm water (instead of 180 ml water)
And follow the instruction behind YEAST instead of SOURCES in the preparation below.

Preparation
Put the flour, sourdough (or yeast), salt, lukewarm water, olive oil and ground dill seeds in a bowl and knead into a ball. Place the dough on your kitchen counter and knead into a smooth dough, in about 10 minutes. Add the grated pecorino and knead for another 5 minutes.

SOURDOUGH: Put the ball of dough in an oiled bowl. Cover, and let it rise for 30 minutes. Pull up the dough on one side, stretch it, and fold it over the other side. Let it rise for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold again and let it rise for another 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form them into little balls. Roll them up tight. Let them rise for 1 hour. Gently degas them (push gently, they will lose a bit of air) and roll them up tight again. Put the little balls in a square or rectangular baking dish or baking tin, just against each other. Flatten them a little by pushing the tops down (gently). Cover, and let them rise for 1 hour. Gently press again on their tops and let them rice until they have approximately doubled in volume (about 2 to 3 hours).

YEAST: Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form them into little balls. Roll them up tight. Let them rise for 30 minutes. Gently degas them (push gently, they will lose a bit of air) and roll them up tight again. Put the little balls in a square or rectangular baking dish or baking tin, just against each other. Flatten them a little by pushing the tops down (gently). Cover, and let them rise for 30 minutes. Gently press again on their tops and let them rice until they have approximately doubled in volume (about 1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees, well in advance. Leave the buns in the baking tin!

Put the buns in the oven and bake at 240 degrees for about 10 minutes until they are nice and brown.


Putting Ancient Recipes on the Plate

Today the bread is crisped black as charcoal, and run through with cracks. A baker had kneaded and shaped the squat, round loaf, known as a panis quadratus, and slid it into an oven one day in A.D. 79, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. We all know what happened next.

Over the last couple of hundred years, since the ash-shrouded cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered, dozens of these loaves, carbonized by the sudden, searing heat of pyroclastic flows, have turned up. They’re relics of an astounding disaster, but there’s something intimate and familiar about them that collapses time and distance. You can imagine the routine of mixing and rolling the dough, the smell of fermenting starter, the sound of a perfect crust cracking under your thumb.

This carbonized panis quadratus was preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

That scene had lodged itself in Farrell Monaco’s mind when she volunteered at the seemingly endless archaeological site last summer, with the Pompeii Food and Drink project. Monaco, who chronicles her adventures and research in ancient food on her blog, Tavola Mediterranea, helped document features there related to eating—from a restaurant to a small peasant kitchen to altars where animals were sacrificed. “If you gave me a huge research grant and a lifetime supply of water and sunscreen, you’ll likely find me camped out, alongside Enzo the stray dog, in one of Pompeii’s 35 bakeries,” she wrote.

Each morning, Monaco picked her way across the site early, before it was beset by throngs of tourists. These walks, she says, stoked her imagination. She wondered about daily routines from 2,000 years ago, when the volcano was of little immediate concern and bakers and cooks fussed to fortify the busy city. What smells drifted from ovens in the morning? How did lunch taste? In pursuit of answers, Monaco decided to recreate a panis quadratus and bring the past into her kitchen.

Pompeii’s Thermopolium of Pompeii was a sort of ancient snack counter. Carole Raddato/Wikimedia Commons/CC-By 2.0

Most research into the archaeology of food focuses on three broad slices. There’s physical evidence, from vessels and eating implements to bones and botanical remains. There’s also the visual record, such as cave paintings of a hunt or frescoes of plump figs. And then there’s the written record, everything from mentions of dishes to full recipes in ancient texts or on cuneiform tablets.

Monaco has long been interested in ancient foodways, from daily habits to continent-spanning trade networks. A few years ago, she volunteered at Monte Testaccio, a mountain in Rome composed entirely of fragments of amphorae that carried olive oil around the Mediterranean. The ancient garbage dump reaches more than 100 feet high and contains the broken remains of tens of millions of containers, spanning 250 years. Many of the fragments bear stamped or painted inscriptions, which help researchers understand the volume and origin of the contents of Rome’s market districts. The information is invaluable to archaeologists, Monaco says, but it is an overwhelming tide of data. To most people, it’s not necessarily much help for imagining life in the classical world.

Monte Testaccio in Rome is made up entirely of tens of millions of fragments of ancient amphorae. Lalupa/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Experimental archaeology with a sensory bent, Monaco says, can be a more accessible bridge between then and now. She’s not alone in thinking so. “There is nothing more commonplace than eating and drinking,” writes the French historian Jean Bottéro in The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia. “Certainly nothing can acquaint us better with the representatives of a culture than joining them for a moment or two in these activities.”

Attempting to recreate the meals of the ancient past, at least based on the crumbs of available evidence, invites modern cooks, bakers, and eaters to roll up their sleeves, pull up a seat, and tuck in. “For so long, we’ve only done archaeology with our eyes,” Monaco says. She wants to help get our stomachs involved.

Experimental archaeologists role-play the past in service of understanding it. Some replicate ancient tools and technologies, or create historic crafts. Last year, a group of researchers at Texas Tech University recruited game grad students and professors to launch themselves through the air to reconstruct the mechanics of the classical Greek halma, or long jump.

It’s not uncommon for experimental archaeology projects to hinge around food and drink. Take the work of Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. McGovern resurrects historic libations by analyzing the residue on jugs and bottles. In one such effort, he scrutinized traces left behind on bronze vessels from a raucous funeral 2,700 years ago at the Midas Tumulus, the tomb in central Turkey, where King Midas is thought to have been interred. To his surprise, the investigation detected a concoction that mingled grape wine, barley beer, and honey. He wasn’t convinced that it would go down easy, and, in 2000, he challenged contemporary brewers to reverse-engineer the recipe. In response, Dogfish Head brewery cooked up Midas Touch beer, 𔄚,700 years in the making.”

McGovern finds molecular evidence, but a general problem with reconstructing ancient cuisine is that specifics are hard to come by. For one thing, the written record is spotty. For many places and periods in the ancient world, Bottéro writes, “we can easily find out what they ate, but not how they prepared or enjoyed it.”

This tablet contains some of the oldest surviving recipes. Trust us. Courtesy of Yale Babylonian Collection

Even when ancient recipes have survived, their instructions can be maddeningly vague. The ingredients may evade easy translation or prove difficult to source. Among the oldest surviving recipes are three clay tablets housed in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, from the Old Babylonian period, around 1700 B.C. Even translated from ancient Akkadian to English, they remain puzzling. The tablets’ age, fragile medium, and “long sleep underground” have erased some of the specifics, Bottéro writes. Other seemingly crucial fine points were omitted from the beginning. “There is still an element of interpretation, because [the tablets] don’t mention amounts, time, or other details that seem to have been taken for granted,” says Agnete Wisti Lassen, associate curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection.

One recipe, for a clear broth, reads like this, with brackets indicating illegible words and question marks denoting reasoned guesses: “Meat is used. Prepare water add fat [ ], milk (?), cypress (?) as desired, and mashed leek and garlic. It is ready to serve.”

Next month, Lassen will recreate some of the recipes on the most-detailed tablet with a team including a philologist and a food chemist from Harvard University, as well as food historian Nawal Nasrallah, author of the cookbook Delights from the Garden of Eden. Each expert is bringing a batch of questions to the table, and they hope to have some answers to present at a symposium later this year at New York University. “Carefully documenting and describing the process is one of our main aims,” Lassen says.

Monaco often brings together bits and pieces of various recipes, such as when she paired Cato’s recipe for tracta (a farro-and-flour bread) with Apicius’s recipe for fabam vitellianam, a dip made from beans and eggs. The latter required a bit of experimentation, because though Apicius called for yolks, broth, wine, vinegar, pepper, ginger, and honey, he ignored the quantities.

Sometimes, she’ll have to swap, substitute, or tinker with ingredients, particularly when they prove hard to track down. She enlists asafoetida (a pungent dried sap commonly used in Indian cuisine), to use as a stand-in for silphium, a mysterious herb that is believed to have been harvested to extinction. This particular replacement was even suggested in antiquity: Roman agricultural writer Columella suggested it in an agriculture manual dating to the first century.

Since many ancient recipe are skeletons, the palate is a useful guide. If the first attempt results in a gummy texture or off flavor—something “that might keep you fed, but is not very enjoyable,” Monaco says—she’ll give it another go. “We all have the same tongues, we all have the same reactions to spice and salt,” she explains.

But it’s not guaranteed that our palates haven’t changed over time. “You can’t definitively conclude that the Romans didn’t like to put a ton of garum [a common fermented fish sauce] in their food because they liked it to be extra fishy. That’s archaeology in a nutshell,” she adds. “Everything will always be subject to interpretation to a degree.”

A fresco of bread changing hands from the wall of a villa in Pompeii, now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Monaco’s panis quadratus required some detective legwork and a little imagination. There’s no recorded recipe, so she conjured one by combining information from a number of sources, including frescoes and references in Roman texts such as Historia Naturalis, by Pliny the Elder. From these, she devised a recipe that brought together spelt and whole wheat flour, both of which were staples of the classical diet.

She deliberately skipped some elements of the ancient production process—no donkey to power the grain mill—and approximated other steps, since the details are a little hazy. Using a knife, she scored the bread into eight sections, mimicking the shape of the carbonized loaves. The historical record doesn’t offer any specific information about how or why these marks were made. Monaco, like Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli, who attempted a loaf of the bread for an exhibition at the British Museum in 2013, also used a piece of twine to indent the deep groove that wraps around the loaf’s middle. (The purpose of that groove is an open question, too. Monaco speculates that it could be a useful carrying method, but ultimately ruled it too clumsy for a baker in a high-volume bakery to manage.)

Recreating ancient recipes, like this panis quadratus made by Farrell Monaco, requires translating, tinkering, and a little imagination. Courtesy of Farrell Monaco

Monaco’s take on panis quadratus browns to an oak color, is dusted with coarse flour, semolina, or wheat bran, and has a heavy crumb. And the taste works. Monaco plans to make it a staple of her table.

She’s also heading back to Italy this summer, this time to cohost a week-long culinary retreat in the Roman countryside. With Ken Albala, a professor of history at the University of the Pacific, Monaco will stage demonstrations and lectures, and shuttle a group of history-loving gourmands—from food historians to students and hobbyists—to markets. Together, they’ll try to recreate historic meals, and think about ancient tables and the people clustered around them. “It’s an alternative way of exploring our history,” Monaco says—one that she finds filling.

Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week.


Watch the video: Making the Panis Quadratus with culinary archaeologist, Farrell Monaco, in National Geographic. (December 2021).