Dinner was, well, a boar
An ancient repast of roast wild porcine - with all the fixin's - is prepared in France to celebrate the turn of another century
Throughout history people have listened to their stomachs.Skip to next paragraph
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In ancient times, the Romans widened their empire, but, it turns out, failed to broaden their repertoire of seasonings.
In the cover story, right, we look back 2,000 years to set the mood. We realize it's the "wrong" millennium, but writer Peter Ford's re-creation of a Roman-Gallic feast was too compelling to let the calender get in the way.
Food has been a powerful influence in human events.
The British Navy could not have conquered the seven seas without Persian limes and ship's biscuits. The American Civil War could not have been fought without hardtack and johnnycake. And US soldiers would not have been fit for Persian Gulf duty in the 1990s without MREs, "meals ready to eat."
One of the worst evils in human history - the slave trade - was set in motion by sugar-cane cultivation in the Caribbean.
Lack of food caused vast migrations, such as those that followed the Irish potato famine.
Over millennia, mankind has indeed marched on its stomach.
The idea struck us one autumn weekend, as we were driving down to my wife's family home in Burgundy, pondering how to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000.
Suddenly we passed a roadside billboard, portraying a long-haired warrior offering up his bronze shield in an act of surrender. "Alesia," the sign read. Here, in the rolling pastures now grazed peacefully by cattle, the leader of the Gauls, Vercingetorix, had lost his final battle against the Roman invader in 52 BC.
That's what we would do - re-create a meal that could have been eaten by Vercingetorix or his triumphant enemy, Julius Caesar, 2,000 years ago.
We had the location for such a feast: Our house in Burgundy, an 18th-century blacksmith's home, is large, welcoming, and right in the middle of the territory once inhabited by the largest Gallic tribe.
We could find friends to share the meal - though we would need a fair number to make it a real banquet.
But how on earth would we come up with a menu? Or, for that matter, the ingredients?
Authenticity in all things, we decided, or this adventure would lose its flavor. So clearly we had to rule out potatoes, tomatoes, and anything else that European tongues did not taste until the 16th century.
But if we knew what Gauls and Romans didn't eat, (we had plumped for serving some Gallic dishes and some Roman ones, in a historical gesture of reconciliation), the challenge was to find out what they did eat. And how they cooked it.
My wife, Edith, who already had visions of herself dressed as a patrician Roman matron presiding over the table, undertook with a friend to come up with the Roman food. I happily assumed a role taken from France's favorite cartoon strip, Asterix - that of Obelix, a gargantuan Gaul of supernatural strength and appetite who devours wild boar by the herd - and promised to cook Gaulish.
The first thing I discovered, to my dismay, was that the Gauls hardly ever ate wild boar.
Since roasting and eating a wild boar was half the reason for holding this feast, I began to have my doubts. But a conversation with Christian Goudineau, a professor who is one of France's preeminent experts on life in Gaul, reassured me.
Though the Gauls raised chickens, cattle, swine, and sheep, which accounted for more than 90 per cent of their meat consumption, they did eat other animals, he told me. Horses, for example (as some French still do), and occasionally dogs, bred specially for the table.
And, from time to time, when an aristocrat went hunting with success, they ate boar.