Pizza? Yes, please!

This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Social distancing has recently been making the process of normal food shopping a much longer one than usual, during the current ‘COVID 19 pandemic’ lockdown situation, though this post isn’t about our current global health crisis. It’s about a very ancient issue of feeding people when the supply chain is either interrupted, or needs to be established.

I bake quite often so my larder generally contains baking supplies, though not a sufficient amount for many months. Re- stocking has become an issue, of late, because flour became scarce almost overnight as a result of panic buying and stock-piling, at the end of March. (And we’ll not talk of toilet rolls! … till maybe later 😉)

Being mindful of waste, quantities for bread making, pizza dough, shortbread – and even my breakfast porridge – have been scrutinised more than normal. And in an odd way, this fits in well with my current fiction writing, since I’m often considering what my characters might be eating some 2,000 years ago in Roman Britain.

My usual breakfast is porridge, topped with whatever fresh fruit I need to use up. Many of my Ancient Roman military characters are also eating some form of porridge, though not only for their breakfast. Ancient Greek writing refers to the soldiers of the Roman Empire as being ‘pultiphagonides’ – meaning porridge eaters – and evidence proves that the Roman Army marched effectively on a high carbohydrate, low meat diet. There’s textual evidence of soldiers complaining of being fed too much meat, which might seem strange for some people today.

My 1/3 cup usual measure as opposed to 500 g worth of rolled oats.

My porridge, made with a 1/3 of a cup measure of rolled oats (113g/4oz.) to 200 ml of water, sustains me in energy over the morning hours much better than any other cereal. And it worked well for the average Roman soldier, though the estimated quantity of grain each soldier consumed per day is pretty huge in relation to my tiny plateful.

I’ve read a few sources which estimate the typical daily grain ration for a Roman soldier was in the region of 1 – 1 ½ kg, though the amount varied depending on whether on campaign, or barracked in a Roman fort. My scale pan can’t hold much more than the 500 g worth you see in the photo above, but that amount of oats may have been tripled per day and consumed in a limited variety of ways, depending on circumstances.

Roman grain supplies tended to be of hulled wheat. Emmer (triticum dicoccum) and Spelt (triticum spelta) were carried as grain to prevent mould, and then milled using a small portable quern stone when required. Other grains were oats, millet and barley, though the latter was often considered to be a ‘punishment’ ration. (Perhaps because of digestive results and no toilet paper to hand! 😉 ) The grain was cooked as porridge, bread, hard-tack biscuits, and even in a sort of pancake form when mixed with oil or wine – edible, or not, depending on who cooked for the basic contubernium squad of 8 men. Some lucky squad might have had a poor enslaved captive to do this for them.

In Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Saga, my Romans are mainly on campaign in A.D. 84, marching northwards in Caledonia. They expect to receive the higher end of the above estimate of grain but, sadly, the general supply chain is somewhat hampered by the successful guerrilla incursions of my local Iron Age tribes. General Agricola’s army consists of upwards of 20, 000 soldiers on the march, so a regular grain supply – sourced from around the Roman Empire and sent to point of need – is critical. The Taexali local tribes grow and rear enough food for their own small communities, but even if Agricola requisitions every last morsel from them, it will only make the tiniest dent in the amount needed for his army. And to add insult to injury, as they say, the cool Scottish climate hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. Wheat doesn’t grow so readily – though barley does very well! (Where’s a dock leaf when you need one? 😉 )

In my current writing, Book 5 of the series, the Romans are mainly fort-based so their daily amount of grain is adjusted and supplemented by some meats when locally sourced, or foraged. My garrison at Vindolanda Roman Fort have reasonable regular supplies arriving at the gates, evidence for this found in the many fabulous Vindolanda tablets that have been excavated.

My writing is set during the very first garrisoning of the Vindolanda site, so the supplies of A.D. 90 may have been a bit less varied than on some of the tablets which were written a little later than that date. There are mentions of pickled and preserved products, olive oil, garum fish sauce, olives, garlic paste. Salt, pepper, various spices and herbs are available to those who can afford them – perhaps the fort commander and the officers? There are seasonal fruits and vegetables mentioned like apples, plums, blackberries, onions, leeks, a kale-type cabbage and various nuts. Common food items listed on the Vindolanda tablets, over the centuries of Roman occupation, are impressive and would not be out of place in a kitchen today.

Vindolanda Tablets- Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I used up the last of my 00 Bread flour to make pizza. My favourite is fully-loaded. Smeared with tomato-based passata, it’s then topped with mushrooms, capsicum peppers, sliced onions, olives, chorizo, artichoke hearts, anchovies, at least one type of cheese and olive oil. YUM. Would the ‘pizza’ eaten by my Ancient Roman soldiers be similar? 

No, to tomatoes since they came to Europe from the Americas long after my Roman era. The Romans did have a kind of sausage, though maybe not quite chorizo. Yes to mushrooms, maybe no to capsicum peppers. Artichokes and anchovies are very possible. Definitely olive oil and maybe a form of cheese. Some of these may have been added to round ‘flat’ breads made at Vindolanda Fort.

My tagine which resembles a clibanus type of cooking pot.

There’s evidence that some Romans cooked using a dish named a clibanus, a flat pottery plate which was covered with a domed lid, similar to my Moroccan tagine in the photograph. Rounds of bread, and flat bread, were baked in these when set upon a fire.

In the village of Kintore where I live, in north-east Scotland, there’s evidence of an Ancient Roman temporary camp used by General Agricola c. A.D. 84. When excavated in 2004, it yielded more than 180 ‘Bi-Partite Roman Bread Ovens’ which were used for the campaigning Romans to make their ‘flatbread and pizza’, with or without a clibanus. The design of the keyhole-shaped ‘fire’ meant that slow cooking could be done on the flat stones adjacent to the burning fire.

Roman Bi-Partite bread oven at Kintore.

Maybe the Roman soldiers in the ‘Deer’s Den’ camp at Kintore were lucky enough to have both ‘pizza’ and porridge for their evening meal, once their temporary camp was built!

You can read about my Romans and the avenging local Celts in the Celtic Fervour Saga Series. (Click to access the novels on Amazon)

Whatever you are reading during the COVID 19 lockdown period- enjoy! And if you have some flour, will you be baking? Tell me about your favourite ‘lockdown’ recipes, please.

Or why not make some Roman bread or Roman flat bread ? I made some bread with spelt flour a few years ago.

Read about it on my own Blog It was delicious- and highly nutritious. Now where will I get spelt today?

Slaìnthe!

Serendipity and Discovery

This post is by Nancy Jardine

When I’m writing my Celtic Fervour Saga Series, set in late 1st century Roman Britain, I depict a reality that my readers can immerse themselves in and totally relish. A 2019 review of Book 1 included: “The descriptions of the people, places, tribes etc are phenomenal – I literally felt like I was there.” Comments like these are absolutely delightful and tell me that what I strive for is well-appreciated.

Award Winning – Celtic Fervour Saga Series

Since written evidence for late 1st century Roman Britain is so scant, more than a quick dip into archaeology is needed, and other sources also help with world-building. Scientific disciplines like soil culture, land erosion, natural plant and animal habitats assist with describing the landscape of 2000 years ago – because, to me, it’s wrong to put characters of Roman Britain into the fields and farms of the 21st century and call it historical fiction.

However, I also acknowledge that what I write comes from speculative information. An archaeologist digs out an artefact from a situation, takes care to detail its surroundings, but what happens after that is his/her interpretation of its use in society. Since beginning the writing of my series in 2011, I’ve discovered a recent archaeologist interpretation of a historic site may differ from an interpretation of the 1970s. Both of those may also be quite different from those of the earliest historians and ‘hobby archaeologists’, from the Medieval era onwards (before archaeology was a proper scientific study with documented procedures).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hadrian%27s_Wall_west_of_Housesteads_3.jpg

I love reading that evidence uncovered four or five centuries ago is being given a new examination because the very early investigators were sometimes a little bit off the mark. A glaring example might be that, for a while, it was thought that the c. 73 miles of stone wall, which extends across the north of England, was built by Ancient Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. Severus’ Wall? I can see lots of heads negatively shaking right now! That opinion was formed by some of the early classical scholars who relied on translating the scant written texts available to them, in conjunction with studying some artefacts unearthed in the area. It was only after a lot more physical evidence was gradually uncovered that Emperor Hadrian was given the glory for being such an incredible frontier builder. Emperor Severus WAS in the Hadrian’s Wall area during his Caledonian campaigns of c. A.D. 210, but by then the wall had existed for around 90 years.

Now, it seems that almost every day, there’s new information on social media about artefacts uncovered from the forts and settlements that peppered Hadrian’s Wall. I’m heartily glad that we now get an almost daily update on archaeological digs, and it’s really exciting when we get glimpses of the evidence before they are cleaned. Even better is when I see daily webcam footage of ongoing archaeological investigations!

Trimontium Museum, Melrose – Nancy Jardine

In late 2018, I visited a wonderful little museum in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders, run by the Trimontium Trust – though it’s currently closed to visitors and under expansion. When re-opened, its upgrade will make it mirror the typical museum style of the 21st century and in some ways, this saddens me. When I visited the one-roomed museum, it was literally crammed to the ceiling with evidence collected from the nearby Trimontium Roman Fort (Newstead Roman Fort) and wonderful reconstructions of what life might have been like at Trimontium during the few centuries of fort occupation. I hope the new museum will still have a similar tactile and visual impact. The most recent excavations indicate that the area housed multiple successive forts with adjacent temporary camps – the Romans adept at dismantling a building, levelling the ground, and rebuilding over the top. The downside being that process makes it difficult for archaeologists to asses the layouts of the earliest Flavian forts, especially the one which my characters would have inhabited.

Trimontium Museum, Melrose -Nancy Jardine

Trimontium Roman Fort, named for the three peaks of the Eildon Hills behind it, was situated at a crossing of the River Tweed where the Ancient Roman Road we refer to as Dere Street wended its way northwards. Trimontium was therefore an important, strategic fort on the main route north/south and, unlike many forts in Scotland, had longer periods of use than some others.

reconstructed Parade Helmet and Mask – Trimontium Fort, Melrose – Nancy Jardine

The evidence collected at Trimontium has been astounding, as has that of another location on Hadrian’s Wall named Vindolanda Fort. I expect to be writing at length on my own blog about Trimontium and Vindolanda…not to be mistaken with Vinovia, which is yet another fort on Dere Street and not so far away from the ‘wall’

All of these forts feature in Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Saga, expected to be published later in 2020 when I complete the stories of General Agricola, Beathan the Brigante and my Garrigill Clan.

Ocelot Press novels are all well-recommended, wonderful tales. Whatever you may be reading – enjoy the experience!

For the link to Nancy Jardine’s Author Page on amazon click HERE . All novels are available in #KindleUnlimited and paperback versions are available to order/buy at bookstores.

Look at the History on Your Doorstep, Advocates Nancy Jardine

 

Ocelot Press author Nancy Jardine is a mine of information about the Romans in the north of England and Scotland, knowledge that she’s put to good use in her Celtic Fervour series: four novels, soon to become five. The series concentrates on a particular clan and its struggles to oust the Romans. Each book focuses on a specific character. Continue reading “Look at the History on Your Doorstep, Advocates Nancy Jardine”