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Cooking Babylonian stews, the oldest recipes ever found

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

The Yale Babylonian Collection has four cuneiform tablets that contain the world’s oldest known food recipes — nearly four thousand years old. Scholars think the recipes weren’t everyday cuisine, but dishes prepared for royal houses, because they’re 1) fairly complex and 2) written down. A Yale-Harvard team decided to cook three of the recipes (two lamb stews, one vegetarian) for an event at NYU called “An Appetite for the Past.”

The undertaking was not without its challenges, says [Yale curator Agnete] Lassen. “Not only were some of the ingredients that were used during this time period not available, but two of the tablets are poorly preserved — there are big holes in them. Some of these terms that appear in the Akkadian original are difficult to translate because these are words that don’t appear very often in the other texts that we have and that makes it very difficult to decipher them.”

“Having an understanding of what the food is supposed to feel and taste like is very important,” says Lassen. “We didn’t know what we were looking for. When we were recreating one of the recipes I kept thinking they were doing this wrong, ‘this is not how I would make this.’ And then when it had boiled for a while it suddenly transformed itself into something delicious.”

I wonder which of our recipes will still survive in four thousand years, and what historians of the future will make of the people who ate this food.

Update: University of Chicago Press has a book of ancient Mesopotamian recipes. “Offering everything from translated recipes for pigeon and gazelle stews, the contents of medicinal teas and broths, and the origins of ingredients native to the region, this book reveals the cuisine of one of history’s most fascinating societies.” I’ve never eaten pigeon, but people I know who have say it’s delicious. (I don’t know anyone who’s eaten gazelle.) Via Amy Drummond.