Colcannon

Colcannon is an Irish dish of boiled potatoes and cabbage or kale mashed together and flavored with onion, shallots, or leeks and cream or butter. Colcannon is strongly associated with Samhain, in which it was used for various forms of divination.

Linguistic evidence suggests that cabbages were known to the Iron Age Celts. The Romans believed cabbages to have several medicinal qualities. While cabbage was a food of the working classes in Medieval Europe, the other principal ingredient of colcannon, potatoes, were a New World food that arrived in the sixteenth century.

The word “colcannon” comes from the Gaelic “cal ceannann” (‘white headed cabbage’). Some hold that the ‘cannon’ part of the name might be derived from the old Irish ‘cainnenn’ (‘garlic, onion, or leek’, depending on the translation). This suggests that early forms of colcannon were simple mixtures of brassica and allium. The earliest Irish reference to colcannon is found in the Diary of Wiliam Bulkely, of Bryndda, near Amlwch in Anglesey, in 1735. Colcannon appeared in England in 1774. In England, colcannon became a favorite of the upper classes.

1 lb shredded white cabbage

1 lb potatoes peeled and quartered

2 leeks finely chopped (white part only)

1/4 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

pinch of ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons butter

Boil the cabbage in water until cooked; drain and keep warm. Place the potatoes and leeks together in a pot of water and boil until tender, about 15 to 20 min. Drain the potatoes and leeks and mash in a large pot with the milk and butter. Stir in the cabbage. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Thor Cake

Thor Cake

Apparently oats were originally a weed found in wheat and barley crops that eventually became a crop on its own. The Greeks and Romans of classical times regarded oats as coarse and used them mostly as animal fodder. The Romans called it avena, and considered them only fit to feed barbarians.

Their neighbors, the Celtic and Germanic peoples, took an entirely different view and used oats extensively. In the northern and upland regions of Europe, oats are the only cereal which will ripen in the cold wet climate. Oats were first cultivated around 1000 B.C.E. in Central Europe. The first record of the cultivation of oats in England is a location called athyll (“on oat hill”) in Anglo Saxon records from 779 CE. There is a record of the bishop of Worcester’s oat lands mentioned in a boundary charter dated 984 CE. Ground oats mixed with milk, cream or water was a very common meal for working people. It was not until the fifteenth century that flour made from oats was first referred to as oatmeal.

1 1/2 cups oatmeal

3 cups all purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup golden syrup

3 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or lard

1 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon mace

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

Soak the oats in the milk in a small bowl for a half hour.

Whisk together the rest of the dry ingredients in a larger bowl. Stir the brown sugar and the egg together in another large bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the molasses and golden syrup. Mix the butter/syrup mixture to the brown sugar mixture. Stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Place in a greased 9 X 11 inch pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake starts to come away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean and the cake should spring back when touched.

Alternatively you can roll the batter into small balls, roll them in oatmeal, and bake them on a cookie sheet until brown.

Ancient Greek Food: Sesame Honey Candy (Pasteli)

In Greek: παστέλι, pronounced pah-STEH-lee

In markets these days you can find sesame honey bars. The main difference is that the ancient Greeks did not have refined sugar. The sugar used today helps to harden the bars and make them crunchy. The ancient version was chewier, but simple to make with only two ingredients: sesame seeds and honey.

Warning: The quality and taste of the honey will have an effect on the final product.

Pasteli can be eaten as a candy at any time, or as an energy booster, and it is a wonderful accompaniment to tea.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups honey
  • 3 cups hulled white sesame seeds
  • Optional: 1 strip lemon peel (about 1/4 x 1 inch)

Steps:

In a saucepan, bring honey and lemon peel, if using, to a boil. Add sesame seeds, stirring continuously and continue to cook while stirring to mix completely and thoroughly. When the seeds are fully mixed in and the mixture has boiled again, remove from heat. Remove lemon peel and discard.

Place a piece of baking parchment on a cool work surface and spread out the hot mixture thinly and evenly (about 1/4 inch high).

When the pasteli cools to room temperature, refrigerate on the parchment paper (it doesn’t need to be covered). Chill for at least 2 to 3 hours.

With kitchen shears, cut the pasteli together with parchment paper into small pieces, and serve.

To eat, peel off the parchment paper. Store in the refrigerator.

Ancient Egyptian Food: Falafel (Ta’amia)

Ta’amia was very popular with the Ancient Egyptians and continues to be popular in the middle east today. It was made with fava beans, but these can be substituted with chickpeas to make the well known version of Ta’amia known as falafel.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fava beans or chickpeas soaked overnight and drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1-2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • A pinch of salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Sesame seeds to coat the cakes
  • Olive oil for frying

Preparation

  1. Ensure the beans are soft and remove their skins. Mix the beans together with all of the ingredients except the oil and sesame seeds and either mash or blend them in a food processor until you have a thick paste.
  2. Set the paste aside for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to set.
  3. Knead the mixture and form into small round cakes about 2cm thick.
  4. Sprinkle each side of the cakes with sesame seeds and shallow fry in hot olive oil for two to three minutes until golden brown.
  5. Serve with flat bread and lettuce tossed in olive oil, lemon juice and pepper. Alternatively you can also serve with a tahini dip.

Ancient Egyptian Food: Date Candies

This recipe was found on an ostraca (pottery shard) that dates back to 1600 BC. Here’s is a modernized version:

1 cup of fresh pitted dates
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 cup ground walnuts
small amount of liquid honey
1/2 cup finely ground almonds

Put the dates, cardamom, cinnamon, and walnuts in a food processor and run at high speed to make a paste. Take chunks of this paste and form it into walnut sized balls. Brush these with some liquid honey and roll them in the ground almonds to coat them.

Ancient Egyptian Food: Bread

Ancient Egyptian bread was made of barley, millet, and once available, wheat. Though not always combined, sometimes two or all three of these were used in a single recipe. Bread was a very simplistic form. Yeast did not exist in Egypt until well into the Middle Kingdom and was not particularly popular until the New Kingdom era, so loaves were what we would consider today “flat” breads.

Bread consisted of only three simple ingredients:

  • Flour made from barley, millet or wheat.
  • Water
  • Leavening: leavening nowadays means yeast, but Egypt used sourdough starters or spent brewery grains which, unknown to them, had yeast in it.

To this basic recipe, flavorings were often added prior to baking: sesame seeds, honey, herbs, oil, egg washes, fruits and even sometimes bits of leftover chopped meat were added to help spice up these supplementary loaves.

Ancient Egyptian Bread Recipe:

  • Mix three parts flour to one part water. Mix with your hands until it forms a sticky dough. If needed, add more water. You’re looking for the dough to pull away from the side of the bowl, as in normal bread.
  • Use a sourdough starter or ground brewery grain if available. You can grind brewery grain in a food processor.
  • Let rise for thirty minutes, separate into rounds, place on a baking sheet and insert into a 300 degree oven. If you have an outdoor fireplace that is food safe or barbecue grill these work wonderfully to recreate the same sorts of cooking environments these recipes originally came from.
  • Cook for around 45 minutes. Check halfway through with a knife, when it comes out clean, pull your bread from the oven and let it cool.
  • Slice like a pizza and serve with the accompaniments of your choice.