alcman – Pass The Flamingo: Ancient Food History and Recipes (2024)

“Bread sprinkled with poppy-seed is mentioned by Alcman in Book V as follows:‘Couches seven, and as many tables laden with poppy-bread, and bread with flax and sesame-seed; and in cups…chrysocolla.’This is a confection made of honey and flaxseeds.”
~ Athenaeus quoting Alcman, Deipnosophistae Book 3 (early 3rd century CE)

alcman – Pass The Flamingo: Ancient Food History and Recipes (1)

Athenaeus of Naucratis is perhaps the greatest Ancient Greek food writer, though he lived and wrote in Rome at the height of its Empire. His masterwork Deipnosophistae (The Philosopher’s Dinner Party, among other possible translations) is an overview of Greek food culture that attempts to document just about every literary reference to food in Greek. In order to accomplish this ambitious objective, Athenaeus draws on a vast array of sources, not only food critics and chefs but poets and historians. He is nothing if not comprehensive: writing in the third century, Athenaeus recorded a reference to a sweet called chrysocólla(χρυσοκόλλα) in the work of Alcman, a poet who lived about a thousand years earlier, in the 7th century BCE.

alcman – Pass The Flamingo: Ancient Food History and Recipes (2)

A papyrus fragment from Greek Egypt, now in the collection of the Louvre in Paris, with one of Alcman’s poems. Alcman’s Greek combines features from different dialects,possiblyfurther evidence that he was not a native speaker. Public domain (2011).

Lighthearted and celebratory, Alcman writes often of the joys offoodand his own great appetite, even calling himself in one poemho panphágos Alkmán, “the all-devouring Alcman.” Yet we know that he lived in Sparta, that most austere of Greek cities, whose other poets are far more serious and grim. An ancient tradition maintains that there was good reason for Alcman’s un-Spartan ways: he wasn’t Spartan, or even Greek, by birth, but came from Lydia in modern Turkey. The poet himself seems to support this claim with a remark that he learned poetry from the chukar partridge, a Near Eastern bird that is not native to Greece. According to Aristotle, Alcman arrived in Sparta enslaved, but his master freed him because of his remarkable poetic ability. He would go on to be listed with literary rockstars like Sappho and Pindar among the Nine Lyric Poets, those deemed most worthy of study by later Greek scholars. Evidently, it pays to listen to partridges.

alcman – Pass The Flamingo: Ancient Food History and Recipes (3)

Alcman called the chukar kakkabi, after its three-note call. It would probably enjoy this recipe (at least the flaxseeds). Photo from Wikimedia Commons (2004).

In Ancient Greek, chrysocolla means “gold glue.” Alcman’s confection shares the name with a striking blue mineral that was used as solder by ancient goldsmiths, gluing the precious metal together. From the name and ingredients, we can infer that Alcman’s chrysocolla was a crunchy hard candy, resembling the sesamepasteliof modern Greece, the amaranth tzoalli of the Aztecs, and similar seed and nut candies enjoyed around the world.Deipnosophistaeitself contains a reference to another ancient version, a Cretan specialty with both sesame and nuts called koptoplakous, from a word meaning “cut off” or “broken” (compare English “brittle”).

Today this type of candy often contains sugar refined from sugarcane, a plant which was unknown in Greece until 326 BCE, when Alexander the Great’s men returned from India with stories of “the reed which gives honey without bees.” The genuine honey in this recipe is enough to bind the flaxseeds together. The added olive oil helps keep the gold glue from sticking to everything else.

THE RECIPE

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-1 cup honey
-1 cup whole flaxseeds
-Olive oil

First, toast the flaxseeds by placing them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir continually for 5-7 minutes, until the seeds are glistening and start to jump around in the skillet. Remove from the heat. Oil a glass or ceramic dish and set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the honey to a boil while stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the honey is boiling, lower the heat, stir in the toasted flaxseeds and cook for an additional 15 minutes, continuing to stir.

Remove from the heat and spread the mixture onto the dish, smoothing it as much as possible with the back of a spoon. Let cool for 1-2 hours in the fridge, until it has set into a hard, amber-like candy. Snap the chrysocolla into pieces and place in cups.

Alcman described himself as an indiscriminate eater, but it would be hard to find anyone who would turn up their nose at this sweet, crunchy treat made with just three ingredients. Sometimes the simplest recipe can bring the greatest joy, a principle of cookery which Alcman well understood.

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“And then I’ll give you a fine great cauldron, wherein you may gather food in heaps. It’s still unheated by fire yet, but soon it’ll be full of that thick stew that the all-devouring Alcman loves, piping hot when the days are past their shortest. For he eats not what is nicely prepared, but demands simple things like the common people.”
~ Alcman quoted in Deipnosophistae Book 10

alcman – Pass The Flamingo: Ancient Food History and Recipes (2024)

FAQs

Did ancient Romans eat flamingo? ›

What's the weirdest thing the Romans ate? We don't want to call anything weird, but exotic birds, like parrots, peaco*cks, flamingos, and ostriches, were considered extravagant delicacies.

What are ancient foods? ›

Oatcake – known to exist at least from Roman times in Britain. Oxygala – a dairy product in ancient Greece and Rome. It was also consumed by ancient Persians. Papadzules – a common dish in Maya cuisine that may be "one of the most ancient traditional dishes of Yucatán, Mexico.

Why did Romans eat flamingo tongues? ›

By the ancient Romans, to celebrate various feasts; this was a symbol of being very rich and sophisticated in those times. Besides the flamingo tongues the whole birds too used to be cooked with especial recipes. Rich guests were invited. Some religious feasts were signified by eating these bird's tongues as well.

How did Romans cook flamingo tongue? ›

For Flamingo and Parrot

Finish cooking with a bunch of leeks and coriander, and add some reduced must to give it color. In the mortar crush pepper, cumin, coriander, laser root, mint, rue, moisten with vinegar, add dates, and the fond of the braised bird, thicken, strain, cover the bird with the sauce and serve.

What is the oldest food ever eaten? ›

  • Bread : 14,000 Years Old.
  • Tamales: 10,000 Years Old.
  • Chinese Fermented Alcohol: 9,000 Years Old.
  • Chicha: 7000 Years Old.
  • Popcorn : 6,500 Years Old.
  • Garlic Mustard Seed Spice: 6,000 Years Old.
  • Bog Butter: 5,000 Years Old.
  • Mesopotamian Stew: 3750 Years Old.
Apr 13, 2019

What is the oldest food we still eat? ›

First found in a tomb in Ancient Egypt, honey is about 5,500 years old. Revered in ancient Egypt, honey remains edible over long periods. In 2015, while excavating tombs in Egypt, the archaeologists found about 3000-year-old honey that was fully edible.

What is the oldest dish ever? ›

Nettle Pudding

Originating in 6000 BCE, England; it is the oldest dish of the world that's rich in nutrients. Nettle pudding is made with stinging nettles (wild leafy plant), breadcrumbs, suet, onions, and other herbs and spices.

Did ancient Romans eat flamingo tongues? ›

The tongue of the flamingo, which was considered a delicacy in Ancient Rome.

Did the Romans eat jellyfish? ›

For the ancient Greeks and Romans fishing served as a source of income, food, and entertainment. Fishes such as tuna, sturgeons, mackerel, jellyfish, anchovies, lobsters, sprat, red mullet, oysters, mussels, sea urchins, salted fish, squid, and octopus were popular meals in ancient Greece or Rome.

What birds did ancient Romans eat? ›

The Roman's didn't discriminate when it came to birds. They ate everything from peaco*cks to parrots to pigeons. In Roman times, flamingos were considered a status of wealth and class, so it's no wonder why upper-class Romans enjoyed them at banquets and feasts. In particular, though, were the tongues.

What birds did Romans eat? ›

Rich Romans could afford to eat lots of meat.

Poultry dishes were of almost every known bird: chicken, geese, ostriches, cranes, pheasants, pigeons, doves, thrushes, fig-peckers, and- for the rich- peaco*cks" (Cowell, 1961: 78).

References

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