Friday, June 15, 2012


Sometimes You've Gotta Have a Bite of Chocolate
Hello My Friend and Welcome

For several months now we’ve looked at the various Foods of the Century…what they had and what they ate. Now we’re going to turn the tables and look at some of the foods they didn’t have.

As we’ve pointed out before, some translations of the Bible mention corn. Corn, or more properly, zea mays, is a new world grain and definitely not known to First Century inhabitants of the Levant. In the Middle Ages, the word corn was a catch-all term for grain. It could mean oats, rye, barley, wheat, etc. Consequently, when the Pilgrims came to the United States and encountered the crop zea mays — the Indians’ staple grain — they referred to it as corn. Which is why what Americans call corn is known everywhere else as maize.

Although it has become a staple of Middle Eastern cooking, First Century residents also did not have rice. Its cultivation methods did not suit the semi-arid regions of the Levant. Rice is a native lowland crop of the Far East where it has traditionally been grown in flooded plains called paddies so its roots could make use of the nutrient content from the water. Paddy rice farmers usually plant the seeds first in small seedbeds and later transfer the plants into the flooded fields. 

Now let’s participate in some internet telepathy. First we’ll give you a phrase, and then we’ll tell you the first thing that popped into your mind.

Okay, here we go. The phrase is Italian Restaurant. 

The first thing that came to mind was pasta with a tomato- based red sauce. Perhaps it was spaghetti with marinara and freshly grated Parmesan, or maybe a steaming pan of lasagna. Neither of them? Well, how about farfelle, fettuccine, linguine, macaroni, manicotti, mostacolli, penne rigate, pierogi, ravioli,rigatoni…risotto? I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that 99 out of a hundred people equate Italian cooking with tomato sauce and pasta.  

The thing that makes this so interesting is that First Century Romans, the precursors of today’s Italians, had neither tomatoes nor noodles. They had all the ingredients for the noodles, but the technology never appeared until Marco Polo’s fabled trip to the Orient. And the tomatoes didn’t arrive until the Age of Exploration carried seafaring adventurers to the New World where, in addition to looting gold, silver and precious gems, they discovered such New World vegetables as squash in its myriad forms, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and peanuts.  

Early Christians also didn’t have tea to drink, if by tea you mean the dried leaves of the tea bush.      Legend says that one summer day Shen Nung, an early Chinese emperor, was visiting a distant province and ordered his servants to boil some water. Dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the pot, turning the liquid brown. Intrigued, Shen Hung drank some and found it very refreshing. Tea drinking was restricted to the Orient until the 16th Century when missionaries encountered it when they journeyed to the Far East.  

What people in the time of Christ did have is what we call herbal tea today. If you check the ingredients on several packages of Celestial Seasonings herbal teas, you’ll find that they often utilize dried berries and fruit, aromatic leaves and various herbs and spices. All of which the First Century dweller had at their disposal and undoubtedly partook of.  

One of the beverages I mention in my Seeds of Christianity Series is apple peel tea, made by steeping dried apple peels in hot water. In the interest of research I saved the peels the last time we canned apple sauce and dried them in our food dehydrator. I crushed the brittle peels, added them to boiling water, then strained and sweetened the resulting pink decoction. I found that it lacked pizzazz. However, the addition of some crushed cinnamon bark, dried berries and a pinch of allspice might perk it up quite a bit. 

Now we come to the saddest, most heart-wrenching part of this post — the final two food items that the earliest Christians were forced to do without. I do not exaggerate when I say that more than a few people have sworn to me that they could NOT live without these two items. Perhaps those first Christians were a lot tougher than we give them credit for. The poor souls had no coffee and (shudder) no chocolate. They were aptly named. Anyone who can function without their morning cup of coffee surely must be a saint. 

When my children were young and, as all children are prone to do, moaned about how deprived they were, I consoled them by telling them that the all ancient rulers and kings of this world never lived as good as they did. If the lack of coffee and chocolate doesn’t prove my case, nothing ever will. 

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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