Leftovers is a blog that explores historical cookbooks as a way of understanding culinary history. Each post contains an introduction and historical overview that moves outward from the dish to its broader social and historical aspects, followed by notes on reconstruction of the recipe and some of the larger inquiries raised through this process. A specialized historian (graduate student or professor) reviews each post for accuracy and suggests books and articles for further reading, while an experienced food photographer takes professional photographs of each dish. Leftovers draws upon methodologies of historical reconstruction and culinary history. As historian of science Pamela Smith has concluded through her Making and Knowing Project, one cannot understand complex technical recipes, and the world that they illustrate, without trying and testing them. The same is true of culinary history, in which the preparation of dishes is crucial to the study of culture and social practices.
Reconstructing recipes offers our readers a glimpse into bygone eras, into worlds at once similar and different from our own, as we unearth different kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the palate, actions guided by muscle memory, and traditions that were so obvious that no one bothered to spell them out.
One post that might be of particular interest to readers of the Ancient Jew Review is Ancient Mesopotamian Beet Broth:
MAKING ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIAN BROTH IN OUR 2015 KITCHEN:
What are these veggies? Several of these translations of ingredients are only approximations – for instance, this word for “beet” is not known from any other text. As this recipe dates to almost four millennia ago, there is a possibility that some of these vegetables have evolved or even gone extinct. Such is the problem with ancient history!
How much? Like many historical recipes, this recipe does not include any specific amounts or measurements. We tried to work with quantities that we usually use for a soup or broth.
Animal Fat? The original recipe uses animal fat, but doesn’t specify what type. We thought that this fat was possibly lamb fat, so we used lamb chops.
Beer from 3500 years ago? It might be surprising for us today, but beer actually dates WAY back. In ancient Mesopotamia, women would make beer at home and people would drink it out of the vat in which it was made. They also had the ancient equivalent of taverns, where people would drink beer away from home and get into all sorts of mischief.
TUH’U (BEET) BROTH:
Thigh meat is used. You prepare the water. You pour in animal fat. You peel the vegetables. You gather together salt, beer, onion, arugula, coriander, soapwort, cumin, and beet. You crush leek and garlic. You sprinkle coriander on top of the ingredients.
2 onions, chopped loosely
1 beet, chopped in large chunks
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 leek, diced
2 lamb chops, chopped into cubes
1 bottle of beer (12 oz)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
Fresh coriander leaves
Chop the onions and beet loosely. If you have some of the beet leaves, keep them aside to add some later. Dice the leek and mince garlic (we didn’t really know what “crush leek and garlic” meant, so we diced them to small pieces).
In a large stockpot, heat olive oil and add the cubed lamb chops and brown them so that they release juices that will flavor the broth. Add leek, beet, garlic, and onions and sauté.
Once vegetables are soft and meat is browned, pour in the bottle of beer. Add enough water to cover all of the ingredients. Stir in the salt and cumin, and cook the broth on a low flame for about an hour. Coriander and arugula should be added at the end, so that they will still be fresh and green.
The soup tastes better after simmering for a while.
To learn more about this recipe and discover other historical culinary recipes, visit Leftovers: History of the World in 1000 Cookbooks