I recently checked out A Taste of Ancient Rome from the library. It has a lot of ancient Roman recipes, including Punic Porridge, which comes down to us from Cato. My own personal breakfast grain is oats, so I decided to make it that way, and it came out delicious. It’s a very filling breakfast, and a great way to get some whole grains, too. An interesting note is that this is the same Cato who ended every speech by saying that Carthage* ought to be destroyed, but apparently he liked the way they made porridge. It reminds me a bit of the end of the Third Punic War.
When Rome conquered Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War, Scipio took possession of the city’s libraries and great troves of books. He wrote back to the Roman Senate, asking what was to be done with them. The senators regarding but a single book as being worth translating into Latin: an agricultural manual by Mago. The rest was to be given away to Numidian princelings. Today, even this small piece of Punic literature has been lost to us forever.
Punic Oatmeal (Serves Two)
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1 cup water
- A dash of salt
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Fruit (optional)
Bring the water and salt to a boil, then add the oats and milk and simmer for ten to twelve minutes, stirring every so often. Depending on what sort of oats you have, the timing my be a bit different, so check your oats to see their cooking instructions.
Next, add the egg and stir until it’s fully cooked. Add the cheese and honey, and mix thoroughly. Serve and enjoy! Top with fruit if you like. I’ve found that sliced strawberries are simply amazing with this.
For comparison, the original recipe is below:
Recipe for Punic porridge: Soak a pound of groats in water until it is quite soft. Pour it into a clean bowl, add 3 pounds of fresh cheese, ½ pound of honey, and 1 egg, and mix the whole thoroughly; turn into a new pot.
*Punic is another adjective for Carthage, coming from a word meaning “purple.” Their ancestors, the Phoenicians, whose Greek name also comes from a word meaning “purple,” were famous for the Tyrian purple due they sold, and which color has ever after been associated with royalty in the west.