17 Mar 2018

Edible archaeology: recreating Pompeii's bread

From This Way Up, 12:15 pm on 17 March 2018

Farrell Monaco researches and recreates recipes from ancient history.

Her culinary exploration ranges from cheese made to Roman farmer Columella's recipe, to Roman porridge, and Cato the Elder's Globi – that’s deep fried honey-soaked ricotta and wheat balls.

Monaco, an experimental archaeologist, documents the recipes on her blog Tavola Mediterranea.

One of her most memorable food recreations is of an unusual bread found in the ruins at Pompeii, the town of 15,000 people that was buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2000 years ago.

It’s one of the most well preserved archaeological sites in the world and offers up a huge amount of data on food and drink, Monaco says.

Forty commercial bakeries have been recorded along with household hearths and braziers used for cooking, while frescos illustrate the food of the time.

In one bakery alone, eighty loaves of the bread panus quadratus were pulled out of the ovens.

“Bread was the centrepoint of the daily diet … along with olive oil, and wine of course,'  Monaco says.

Porridge was being made 9000 years ago, and we still make it today. "The Romans ate porridge throughout the entire day, and they made it savoury or sweet, mixed fruit or meat in it. We still eat it – it ain’t broke so we didn’t fix it.

“Same with bread; in artisanal settings is made the same way that our ancestors made bread – with starter, water, and flour and a little pinch of salt.

“What has changed … is the Romans had a very deep connection to their food and their food supply … slaughtering animals, for example, they were connected to where their meat came from. We have a firm separation now with respect to where our meat comes from … we don’t know the process with which it comes to us and we don’t want to know.”

Get Farrell Monaco’s recipe for panus quadratus here.