I had the good fortune to spend a day with Project Germani. They are a small but growing group of people who enjoy demonstrating what it was like to live in the Iron Age.
Most of the members are high school students who are still getting use to the idea of cooking for a group. So they asked me to come along and help them do some cooking.
Together we made oatcakes, always a yummy and popular treat. Then we had a look in the cooler which was full of an interesting, albeit eclectic, selection of foods. There were lentils and pot barley, but also mustard and ketchup, radishes and kale. I felt like being thrown into an episode of Chopped with no access to pantry and fridge.
With no real plan, we set to work soaking the barley. Without any meat to include in the stew, we decided to toss in the lentils too. As we were feeding a bunch of teenage boys, we definitely needed the extra protein from the lentils. Protein and fat help them feel full, and the carbs from the barley help give them long term energy.
Once the lentils and barley were soaked for an hour or so, we par-boiled them in a pot over the fire. Drained the water, and added chicken broth, turnips, beet, some butter, and a bit of salt. Let simmer over the fire until the root veg were tender, adding more broth as needed. Then it was time to make some greens.
Got some people cutting up greens, which included the kale, and the radish tops, and an impressively large amount of parsley. Cooked it in butter, stirring frequently until wilted enough. Served it on top of the stew. Yummy!
I say 'we' but really it was them that did the work. I just sort of asked questions about what they wanted, and suggested the method that would work best with the ingredients and cooking facilities. They did a fantastic job! It also turned out to be a much healthier meal than I expected from teenagers. Well done guys!
It was great fun hanging out with them and learning about what life was like two thousand years ago. My favourite part was learning about the different tools, especially the knives, they used during that time. This also seems to be a time when there was a lot of interaction between cultures, which is always exciting. Not just because they traded/acquired forcefully tools and objects, but also the more subtle exchange of culinary traditions, movements of ingredients between cultures, and how it affects the cooking and agriculture practices of the different peoples. It's very different than the time I've spent in the 14th Century when the culture in Europe was far more uniform.