As noted in an earlier blog, I have always been fascinated by ancient Roman cooking. My second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (Thunder’s Mouth Press) has a whole chapter on this. Roman meals, especially at the time of the Empire, were sumptuous productions for the upper classes. They were ostentatious and sometimes downright weird. Imagine eating dormice, sow’s womb, and peacock’s brain in a sauce. Admittedly, not something for everyone
Yet, in a Roman banquet (and some of the dishes were quite sophisticated), each meal began with a sweet aperitif, mulsum, a mix of wine and honey. Then the successive courses were served and here, early in the dinner, the guests ate without drinking. Then they drank without eating. Wisely, the Romans, like the ancient Greeks before them, normally drank their wine mixed with water.
An ancient gourmand, Apicius, who lived in the time of Emperor Nero, wrote a tome, On Cookery, or De Re Coquinaria. In it he has a recipe for spiced honey wine that calls for peppercorns, mastic (a sort of resin), bay leaf, saffron, and dates. Trying to emulate this recipe would be a daunting undertaking. I prefer to make the mulsum by simply combining the honey and the wine. The recipe follows below; and note that it is best to use pure, unprocessed raw honey, the type sold in health food stores.
1/2 cup honey
1 bottle medium-dry red wine
1. Heat the honey in a small saucepan. Do not boil. Remove from the honey and let it cool.
2. Mix the wine and honey in a ceramic jar or pitcher and serve at cool room temperature. the wine and honey can also be mixed in a bowl and served in a decanter.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.