Thursday, May 07, 2009

Classical Eggs

There are few, if any, egg recipes in the Classical texts, either Roman or Greek. This is quite simply because people generally didn't bother trying to cook them as there was no reliable way of timing the things. A few, faltering attempts were made, though. Take boiling, for example. Here, the cook would call a slave couple into the kitchen and order them to get down on the floor and fuck whenever the egg went in the pan. Upon ejaculation, the egg was deemed ready. Depending on the slaves’ sexual proficiency, you could end up with anything between a three minute egg and a rather hard boiled two hour one. If you were lucky.

Where this method fell down severely, of course, was when you got a male slave who was predisposed to premature ejaculation, or worse. In this case, the egg would be so under-cooked that you'd risk salmonella poisoning. (That's assuming there was anything to time in the first place.)

You'd have thought they'd have been on surer ground with scrambled or poached eggs on toast, but sadly, no. Here, the main problem lay with pop-up toaster technology, which, then, was still in its infancy. The toast eject mechanism was based on the principle of the ballista, or elementary catapult. Here, the bread slices, which were cooked on each side by a slave holding a flaming torch, rested on a bent-back tree branch. This was kept taut by a rope positioned over a burning candle. Once the rope had burnt through, the branch sprang back and the toast was ejected. Sadly, the force was such that the slaves were often propelled out with the toast, and could be deposited several miles away. So by the time the egg was eventually reunited with its toast (and with the slave), all three were usually cold.

Basically, all Classical age cooking was a bit of a hit and miss affair. The only generally available timepiece was a sun dial. This meant that cooking had to be restricted to sunny, daylight hours when there wasn't any likelihood of an eclipse. Late dinner was therefore totally impossible. Furthermore, as the smallest unit of time on a sun dial was an hour, all but the largest roasts tended to be pretty well done. Sometimes inedibly so. This is why no Ancient Roman or Greek restaurants ever got a Michelin Star.

1 comment:

K. MacEgan said...

I have yet to encounter the Egg caterpult (or in Tacitus Ova Balista) in Suetonius though it is given a passing mention in The Gallic Wars. Horace Ode to a copule of fucking slaves is of course de rigeur for Classics Studies. Werent we at Cambridge together?