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by Fred McMillin
for October 6, 1999

 

The Oldest Cookbook

 

Prolouge

I am looking at the first English translation of the oldest surviving cookbook of the Western World. It was written by the Roman epicure, Marcus Gabius Apicius (ah-pish-ih-us), who lived sometime between 80 B.C. And 40 A.D. What has this to do with wine??


The Rest of the Story

Well, the first five chapters of this cherished cookbook deal with the preparation and clarification of WINE, not of any specific dish. Also, wine is used in a large number of the recipes. For example, the sauce to accompany Boiled Boar includes "pepper, cumin, mustard seed, add some pure wine, a little onion, crushed almonds, honey, more pure wine..."

So who was this epicure? He was an extremely wealthy merchant who collected recipes during his travels. He created dishes...his "Julian" soup was namel in honor of Julius Caesar. His passions included oysters and crayfish. He invented a method of preserving oysters, using vinegar in a vessel lined with pitch. He heard of a superior crayfish in Tunisia, so he chartered a ship and set sail immediately in spite of a severe storm at sea.

Apicius banquets were the talk of Rome...guests served a ragoût composed entirely of song-bird's tongues, while rose petals showered down on them.

Winemaker Gary Martin Thus, our wine today must be from an Italian varietal that existed in the days of those bountiful banquets...Sangiovese. Here's a fine, affordable California version.


Wine of the Day

1997 Sangiovese, Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA
Pedroncelli Winery, Geyserville, CA,—Bonded Winery 113 (1904)
INAUGURAL RELEASE—The Tuscan vines were planted on the hillsides of Dry Creek Valley where they face the warm, afternoon sun. Winemaker Gary Martin (pictured), aged the wine for 16 months in American oak. Flavors—Lots of berry and cherry. (Would drink well in a shower of rose petals!)
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Contact—Julie Pedroncelli St. John, (800) 836-3894, FAX (707) 857-3812
Price—$14


Postscript

About that Apicius Wild Boar recipe...I have tasted the dish! I ordered it in the early 1960s at the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, a New York City restaurant that featured dishes based on the recipes of Apicius. As I recall, James Beard was the consultant...and the boar had a very substantial pork flavor. Today's substantial Sangiovese would have made a fine companion.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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