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
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I, meanwhile, was struggling with my boar. Even a small boar is a sizable beast, and the butcher had presented my purchase complete with head, hooves, and tail. This being a family newspaper I shall spare you the details of how to remove a head from a boar, but there was nothing to be done with the hooves except take a hacksaw to them.Skip to next paragraph
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Luckily, the village where Edith comes from holds an annual open-air lamb roast in the summer, and I was allowed to borrow the village spit (electrically operated - authenticity has its limits). Luckily, too, we have an almost limitless supply of logs, chopped over the years from adjacent woods, so we had plenty of fuel to keep a roaring fire going for the four hours it took to roast the boar.
That was about all the cooking I had to do. I basted the meat with goose fat (the Gauls were ignorant of oil, a Greek traveler was surprised to discover) and sprinkled it with sea salt, but otherwise left it alone to turn and sizzle in the courtyard.
The Romans, on the other hand, found they had a good deal of preparation. Edith, for example, had to slice and fry her cuttlefish (a larger version of squid), before cooking them gently in honey and vinegar flavored with pepper, lovage, cumin, coriander leaves, mint leaves, and garum. (Garum, which the Romans often used instead of salt, is the liquid that results from fermenting fish in saltwater.)
She also boiled the duck tongues, before sauteing them and serving them - garnished with roasted almond flakes - in a sauce prepared from honey, vinegar, pepper, parsley, lovage, mint leaves, and garum. Sound familiar? Martine, the friend who had prepared more Roman specialties at home to add to our table, also found herself dipping into the same old spice and herb jars: a spicy pumpkin dish (see recipe above), for example, called for pepper, cumin, coriander, mint, honey, and vinegar. Even a pear-based dessert required pepper, cumin, honey, and garum.
In the end, the Roman dishes drew mixed reviews. "Interesting" was a more commonly heard comment than "delicious," though the pumpkin dish went down well. Its strongly flavored, slightly crunchy crust contrasted well with the blander and softer pumpkin mix below.
The duck tongues, interestingly, turned out to have bones in them, which meant that eating them involved sucking a slim piece of heavily textured (chewy, to be honest) muscle off a tongue-shaped bone. But the sauce was good. And the Roman vegetable dishes, such as a lightly boiled lettuce (still crisp, surprisingly) delicately flavored with mint and onions, or carrots boiled with honey and sultanas, went down very well.
Overall, said Martine, "it was a curious experience, but not one that I would call gastronomic. It was not a very imaginative cuisine, and the same tastes cropped up everywhere." We could have varied things, I suppose, while remaining authentic. After all, the Romans put patchouli in some of their food, and rubbed their plates with rue, a bitter leaf used nowadays only as insecticide.
If we have traveled far from our classical forebears' tastes, however, our Celtic roots were all too evident when a guest and I shouldered the boar, complete with its head, to the dining table. Roast boar and lentils offered comfortingly familiar, farmyard flavors that everyone enjoyed, and there was enough to satisfy even Obelixian appetites.
Next year, when the millennium really starts, we are thinking of devising a menu that looks a thousand years into the future. Fine by me. Just so long as wild boar are not extinct by then.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society