What secrets of ancient cuisine were discovered by recipes from Babylon, written on clay tablets
What secrets of ancient cuisine were discovered by recipes from Babylon, written on clay tablets

The oldest cookbooks known to mankind were written with wedges on clay tablets, that is, in Ancient Babylon. They are nearly four thousand years old. The dishes described in them can even be reproduced. True, one will have to make allowances for the fact that over four thousand years the taste and appearance of many vegetables, fruits and cereals has changed significantly.

In the early twentieth century, excavations in Iraq and Iran found a number of cracked clay tablets covered with something like an ingredient list. Cuneiform writing was still not read as confidently as it is now, and the tablets were attributed to medicinal prescriptions. Medicine was part of religious practice, and historians believed that the privilege of being described in detail might have been medicine and medical manipulation (and their attendant prayers) rather than anything more mundane.

In the forties, the scholar and specialist in Sumerian history Mary Hussey suggested that the tablets should be regarded as collections of culinary recipes. Although, without a doubt, it was worth at least trying in case it provides a clue to their understanding and deciphering, the scientific community ridiculed her and then simply ignored her. It took several decades before scholars of Sumerian history recognized it as right.

Agatha Christie excavating the ruins of Ancient Babylon

Most of the recipes recorded have proven to be relatively straightforward and reproducible. Relatively - because some of the names remained a mystery, although scientists understood how they sounded. For example, an ingredient designated as tarru is only conventionally now recognized as a kind of bird. Sukhutinnu was identified as a root vegetable, but which one remains a mystery. Of course, he was definitely not a potato - potatoes were brought to Eurasia much later, but was he a turnip, carrot, something else? Scientists do not yet know and, perhaps, will never know.

Another difficulty is that the appearance of these recipes more resembles the descriptions of cooking from Tik-tok than the instructions we are used to from modern cookbooks. That is, the ingredients are listed and the order in which they are put into the broth is indicated (almost all Babylonian broths are stewed in broth from water and fat dissolved in it). Moreover, however, neither the amount of ingredients nor the time elapsed between each cooking stage is indicated. Probably because the recipes were intended for people who already knew approximately how a particular dish should look in consistency and how much to stew for a particular vegetable, grain and type of meat.

One of the recipes discovered, the "pache" dish, resembles a modern Iranian pash. Only in our time, pash is not considered a particularly expensive dish, but on tablets from Ancient Babylon, no doubt, there are written not recipes common to peasants, artisans and soldiers, but dishes for the elite of the Babylonian kingdom. They combine many different types of meat - mainly game and lamb, although there are recipes from fish and turtle or from some vegetables, albeit with animal fat.

Many details of the life of Ancient Babylon were preserved in Iraq for thousands of years. For example, wicker round boats were also used in the twentieth century

Not all of the recipes found are worth trying to cook. One of the tablets is clearly a parody of cookbooks and palace etiquette. What is cooked in such and such a month, she asks, and immediately gives an answer with a recipe full of the nastiest ingredients, like musk-stinking donkey meat and fly dung.However, this tablet also gives an idea of ​​the culinary culture of Ancient Babylon. Thanks to her, it is clear that each month had its own main dish.

One of the recipes on the Internet has already been dubbed the most ancient borscht. As you know, until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, borscht was made mainly or completely on a fermented basis (this feature has been preserved in Polish borscht). The Babylonians also knew a dish based on sourdough (made from beer) and beets. True, beets came to the Slavic lands much later than the local borscht already existed - from pickled edible hogweed.

Not all of the recipes for the Babylonians were familiar. The plates indicate separately which cuisine, local or foreign, a particular dish belongs to. Just as in our time many cultures borrow different dishes from each other, they did so in the ancient world. Some regional differences, seen in the tablets from Iraq and Iran, persist to this day. So, in a recipe found in Iran, dill is mentioned, but in Iraqi tablets it is not mentioned. And until now, this seasoning is widely used in Iranian cuisine, and in Iraqi it is unpopular.

Prescription plaque, from the Babylonian collection of Yale University

The preparation of almost every dish began with the addition of fat to the boiling water, which dissolved, turning into broth. However, it is unclear how much fat was used, how thick the final dish was, or whether it looked more like a soup or a stew. Some dishes resembled modern pies, only baked in a pot - with layers of dough and toppings. They were all very spicy: ancient chefs actively used the spices that were at their disposal, especially garlic.

You can also join other ancient culinary cultures: 5 delicious old Russian desserts, which are now almost forgotten.

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