Cena Romana Lexintoniensis MMXII
- Iustinus gregalibus salutem plurimam dicit,
My Cena Romana is tomorrow night. Wish me luck!
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Iustinus Apicianis salutem plurimam dicit!
Well, I'm back home from Lexington, and this year's Cena was a hit (more
than one person, including one lurker on this list, claimed it was the best
ever). Demetria nostra asked me to post a full report, and so I shall:
First of all, some background: due to a bit of a miscommunication between
me and Terentius, there was only one day the Cena could be held, and it was
on the third night of the Conventiculum�not much time to prepare!
Fortunately, I had been hoping for an earlier night anyway, and had already
managed to make my gustationes, and most of the drinks in advance. So
things worked out. And really, it was nice to get the Cena out of the way,
and not have to worry about it for the rest of the week!
An unfortunate consequence of this confusion, though, was that Kevin could
not provide us with bread this year (as he has done every time he could for
the last several years). Terentius wants to arrange to set a date in
advance next year to avoid the problems we had this year, and obviously
this is a good idea.
I can't give you an exact figure for how many diners came, but I know it
was more than 38. A safe guess is low-to-mid forties, 43ish.
I made two kinds of conditum in advance, namely Apicius' "conditum
paradoxum," and Aetius' "conditum for melancholics." Of course I've made
paradoxum many times before, but I only first made the melancholic conditum
last year (because last year I finally found a source for polypody). Last
time I miscalculated the amount of honey and accidentally made it too
sweet. This year was much better.
The night of the dinner, I also made hydromelum, the apple-honey-water
drink described in the Geoponica. The only other time I'd made this was for
a small dinner at my apartment long, long ago (before I'd ever been to the
conventiculum even)... since a couple of my guests that night were
teetotalers I wanted a period drink that was non-alcoholic. Unfortunately,
my guests said it was way too heavy to drink. Only recently I came to the
realization that my problem was that I'd served it cold, so at the Cena I
served it hot, and it was a hit. In total the guests drank approximately 7
quarts (that is, about six-and-a-half liters) of the stuff.
I also donated one of my bottles of Dog Fish Head's Ta Henket (
is such a rarity, and such a valuable experiment, I bought four
"fifth"-sized bottles, forgetting that beer doesn't keep well, and I rarely
drink it. Of course by now it has likely already started to go, and
Terentius (always a connoisseur of beer) said "gustavi, et cervisia non
fuit!" ('I tried it, and it wasn't beer!'). Others who tried it were
interested, but not enthralled.
I made large quantities in advance of my two standbys: pseudo-Virgil's
moretum, and Cato's epityrum (both in Sally's redaction). I may experiment
with other epityra and moreta in the future, but I don't think it's a good
idea to ever do a Cena Romana Lexintoniensis *without* the traditional
ones: they tend to fairly overwhelmingly be listed among the diners'
New this year was the pickled purslane. I'd been experimenting with
purslane for the last several weeks, as the local farmers' markets had been
selling it. So I couldn't resist looking for a Roman recipe, and found
Columella's De Re Rustica 12.13.2. It's a very simple recipe: dry the
purslane, put salt in a pot, then purslane, then more salt, then vinegar. I
"canned" this is a mason jar, and let it sit in the fridge for several
days. When I opened it, I drained the vinegar (probably should have saved
it for cooking!) then plated the pickled purslane. It was *very* sour, and
pungent, with an almost fermented flavor. I rather liked it, but resisted
nibbling on it: I had very little of it to go around. Granted, I figured
the cenatores would not like it: it was so strong it had to be an acquired
taste. Towards the end of the dinner I asked what people had thought of the
purslane... I was shown the empty plate. Since there hadn't been a lot to
begin with, so that didn't mean much. So I asked explicitly: was this good
enough to make again, and in larger quantities next year. There was an
overwhelming chorus of YES. Go figure. So, I can't wait to try making this
III. MENSA PRIMA
For the main course I nearly invariably make Parthian Chicken (in Sally's
original redaction), and a vegetarian lentil dish (the exact one varies
from year to year). The one year I didn't make Parthian Chicken was a
disaster... even though it wasn't strictly the fault of the dishes I did
make, the experience has soured me to experimenting with other entrees. The
parthian chicken went a little too quickly this year (too many diners, not
enough effort to cut up the larger pieces), but otherwise it was just fine.
As for the lentils, I made Galen's teutlophace ("lentils and beets") in
Grant's redaction (the version with beet leaves, not beet roots). I am very
fond of this dish, and I needed a lentil dish I could make quickly and
easily. That went just fine, but was perhaps not my best rendition of this
dish--the fluid didn't all cook off in time, so I had to serve it wetter
than usual, and I think it was the only dish to have more than a pittance
Last year, due to the massive increase in guests, I also made Galen's
chickpeas with cheese (Grant's redaction, but really it's so simple who
needs a redaction?) This is REALLY easy to make, and is great trick to
maximize the amount of food while minimizing the amount of effort. So I
made that again this year and... well it was a little *too* successful.
More than one diner specifically told me that next year I should make twice
as much! Um... I'm not sure I have a pot that big!!
IV. MENSA SECVNDA
For dessert I made Cato's puls Punica (which in recent years has become a
standby), and the cherry preserves from the Geoponica (which I made a
couple times last year).
The puls punica was slightly different for a couple of reasons. First of
all, when I went shopping I somehow found no ricotta, so I made it with
mascarpone instead. Now, I've always wanted to try this (and manouri cheese
too!), but have used ricotta just because it's cheaper. Mascarpone has a
greater volume, though, and is wetter, so it needed to cook longer (and I
didn't have time to do it as long as I would have liked). I also tried
using two eggs this time, another experiment I've long wanted to do: first
of all because the Roman pound is smaller than ours, so a larger egg is
called for; and second of all because one egg seems pretty absurd compared
to half-a-pound honey, one pound grain, and three pounds cheese. How did it
come out? Very nicely, actually. The diners unanimously said this was
better than previous year's puls, and I'm frankly still craving another
The cherries were also slightly different this year: I finally managed to
acquire the more authentic sour cherries (although only at the last
minute!) When I made a test batch at home, it wasn't very good. But I now
realize the problem was that I didn't let it sit long enough. The batch I
served at the Cena had longer to marinate, and the sweet and sour flavors
mixed more smoothly.This too was very well received (more than one request
for the recipe), and many were convinced it was a new dish. (One diner
confused it with the moretum, which boggled my mind until he mentioned he
was color blind.)
The Cena Romana is always a highlight of my year, but I admit it seems to
have gone extra well this year. I'm already occupied with thoughts of next
year's banquet, which will hopefully be at least as good, and twice as well
When I have a little more time, I'll try to post some photos.
2012/7/24 Justin Mansfield <iustinus@...>
> Iustinus gregalibus salutem plurimam dicit,[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> My Cena Romana is tomorrow night. Wish me luck!