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88Condiments Around the Roman Table

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  • James Mathews
    Mar 7, 2011
      Defrutum (Syrup)

      "Defrutum" was a syrup, made from "must" (first fermentation of grapes) and was not the same as grape-juice syrup we can buy today, although it makes an adequate substitute.  Neither was it the full-bodied, savory residue from reduced wine, as used in the kitchens of modern French restaurants (another delicious substitute).  It was obtained by slowly reducing a quantity of "must"  until it had the thick viscosity of treacle, which is how Palladius describes it, other authors suggest it was thinner.  According to Varro and Columella the 
      "must" had to be boiled down to a third of its original quantity, but Pliny stipulated half.


      "Caroenum" resembles "defrutum" in that it is sometimes prepared from "must" but according to Palladium, it was reduced to only two-thirds of its original quantity.  Some commentators  describe "caroenum" as reduced wine rather than reduced "must".  The word "caroenum" derives from the Greek word for wine, "oinos." One major culinary difference between "must" and wine is that the former is sweet, and the latter is not.


      According to Palladium, "sapa" is also made from "must," which is not reduced to the same extent as "defrutum," but more so than "caroenum" to one-third its original volume -- which is what Varro and Columella describe as "defrutum."  Consequently the difference between "sapa" and "defrutum" is not entirely clear, especially since other authors  refer to the syrupy nature of "sapa," a characteristic of "defrutum."  If we keep to Palladium's instructions for clarity's sake, we can differentiate  the three types as follows:

      "sapa"              =   one-third reduction
      "caroenum"    =    two-thirds reduction
      "defrutum"      =    syrup

      We can assume that all three were made from red wine, because Apicius uses them to colour dishes.  Palladium also remarks that plums should be added when boiling down "sapa," and the fire stoked with fig-wood.


      Patrick Faas, "Around The Roman Table, Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome," University of Chicago Press,  Chicago, London, 1994 (ISBN 0-226-23347-2 (paper)

      Respectfully Submitted;

      Marcus Audens

      Note:-- I would suppose that since the Byzantines thought of themselves as Romans and if the same foods were available to them, that certain condiments would have been the same as Roman.  If this is not accurate, I would appreciate any corrections that might be made.   MMA

      On Mar 7, 2011, at 9:34 AM, Cassius wrote:

      Greetings all, 

      Hmmm! Of all the lists I excpected wouldn't go completely quiet, I didn't expect it would be the Culture list! 

      Byzantine "culture" is the largest overall topic we have for study and discussion, and it is the one thing that ALL of us share no matter what our interest!

      So, what's been happening with everyone? Care to share anything you've read or worked with concerning: 

      Byzantine Cooking, costuming, history, art, jewelry, music,icons, collecting, museums, architecture, philosophy, etc? 

      Time to share updates and news, experiences, or ask questions!

      Here's my personal update: I just finished reading "Daily Life in Byzantium" which had a really good overview of common Byzantine civilization. 

      One thing that really struck me was how much Byzantium really DID remain a continuation of the Roman Empire as far as social structure. 

      When people in the west were for the most part scrabbling out an existence in mud huts (say, AD 500 through 1000) Roman life really was continuing in Constantinople. One could still go out to eat at a restaurant, go to the gymnasium and the baths, borrow a book from a library, go to the theater or out to the races, go shopping in permant shop areas (as opposed to weekly town markets) attend dinner parties, etc. 

      I'm starting to think that one reason Byzantium doesn't get so much attention as the classical world is that scholars just dismiss it as "more of the same" only without the titillating bits such as bloodbaths in the colosseum!

      So... any news from anyone else? 

      -Marcus Cassius Julianus

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