If you've ever used a 50-year-old cookbook, you might find yourself confused at an ingredient list that calls for a "box" or "can" of something. That something might have come in one size then, but is available in many sizes or altogether different packaging today. Recreating what people ate thousands of years ago is even more complicated. One archeological site that has an intriguing amount of information about food is Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Farrell Monaco works at the site, with its 35 bakeries complete with frescoes and burnt loaves of bread, frozen in time by the disaster. She chronicles her work with the Pompeii Food and Drink project at her site Tavola Mediterranea.
Each morning, Monaco picked her way across the site early, before it was beset by throngs of tourists. These walks, she says, stoked her imagination. She wondered about daily routines from 2,000 years ago, when the volcano was of little immediate concern and bakers and cooks fussed to fortify the busy city. What smells drifted from ovens in the morning? How did lunch taste? In pursuit of answers, Monaco decided to recreate a panis quadratus and bring the past into her kitchen.
Piecing together a 2000-year-old recipe took study, experimentation, and guesswork, but the result is something Monaco plans to make a part of her regular meal planning. Read about Monaco's panis quadratus and the difficulty of recreating ancient food at Atlas Obscura.
(Image credit: Farrell Monaco)