Oct 092016
 

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Today is World Post Day. It commemorates the date of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874 in Bern, Switzerland. The UPU was the start of a global communications revolution which allowed people to write to others all over the world. October 9th was first declared World Post Day at the 1969 UPU Congress in Tokyo. Since then, World Post Day has been celebrated all over the world to highlight the importance of the postal services.

In these days of the internet and email we can forget the obstacles that had to be overcome as late as the 1870s to get a letter from one country to the next. Prior to the establishment of the UPU, each country had to prepare a separate postal treaty with other nations it wished to carry international mail to or from. In some cases, senders would have to calculate postage for each leg of a journey, and potentially find mail forwarders in a third country if there was no direct delivery. To simplify the complexity of this system, the United States called for an International Postal Congress in 1863. This led Heinrich von Stephan, Royal Prussian and later German Minister for Posts, to found the Universal Postal Union. It is currently the third oldest international organization after the Rhine Commission and the ITU. The UPU was created in 1874, initially under the name “General Postal Union”, as a result of the Treaty of Bern signed on October 9, 1874. Four years later, the name was changed to “Universal Postal Union.”

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The UPU established that:

There should be a uniform flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world

Postal authorities should give equal treatment to foreign and domestic mail

Each country should retain all money it has collected for international postage.

One of the most important results of the UPU Treaty was that it ceased to be necessary, as it often had been previously, to affix the stamps of any country through which one’s letter or package would pass in transit. The UPU provides that stamps of member nations are accepted for the entire international route. Toward the end of the 19th century, the UPU issued rules concerning stamp design, intended to ensure maximum efficiency in handling international mail. One rule specified that stamp values be given in numerals (denominations spelled out in letters not being universally comprehensible), another, that member nations all use the same colors on their stamps issued for post cards (green), normal letters (red) and international mail (blue), a system that remained in use for several decades.

After the foundation of the United Nations, the UPU became a specialized agency of the UN in 1948. In 1969, the UPU introduced a new system of payment where fees were payable between countries according to the difference in the total weight of mail between them. These fees were called terminal dues. Ultimately, this new system was fairer when traffic was heavier in one direction than the other. For example, in 2012, terminal dues for transit from China to the USA was 0.635 SDR/kg, or about 1 USD/kg.

I’m old enough to remember when sending a letter internationally was the only effective way to stay in touch with friends and family, and how exciting it was to find a letter from Kenya or England in my mail box. I would keep those letters and read them again and again. Ancient history. Imagine, therefore, how amazing it was – not all that long ago – to be able to communicate with people abroad AT ALL. Until the 1980s we would stick a stamp on a letter and send it off to someone in another country, and not even stop to think about what was involved. Who pays for transit once the letter leaves your home country? How do you guarantee safe transit abroad? Etc. etc. These problems still exist although most international communication now involves telephone and internet. Packages are still an issue, however. A year ago I tried to send a package from China to the U.S. and it took over a month to work out the details with the Chinese postal service. I’ve also wrestled with problems in Argentina and on Easter Island.

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What I miss most in the electronic age is having a tangible artifact in my hands from friends abroad. The letter I held in my hand from a friend abroad was solid, real. It was once in that person’s hands and is now in mine. The paper was distinctive, the handwriting was distinctive. Of course I love having instant messages from all over the world, but the physical tangibility is missing. The words are there, but not the body. In his essay “Self Reliance” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that every technological advance comes with a human price tag. That is certainly true of the replacement of “snail mail” with binary code traveling across the internet in electronic blips at the speed of light. There was a time once when my living room was festooned each Christmas with cards from around the world, making my house rich with a physical sense of connectivity. All gone.

Mailing letters is definitely a rarity for me these days but I do send packages. Quite often I send edibles as presents with unusual herbs and spices featuring heavily. True cinnamon is one grand favorite. Most cinnamon sold commercially is cassia, Cinnamomum cassia: nice enough in its way, and very useful, but nowhere near as aromatic and complex as Cinnamomum verum or “true cinnamon.” I’ve never found it in stores, only online, so if I want it myself or to send it to someone (usually my sister) I have to use the international postal service. The old botanical synonym for the tree—Cinnamomum zeylanicum—is derived from Sri Lanka’s former name, Ceylon. Sri Lanka still produces 80–90% of the world’s supply of Cinnamomum verum, which is also cultivated on a commercial scale in the Seychelles and Madagascar.

Cinnamomum verum trees are 10–15 meters (32.8–49.2 feet) tall. The leaves are ovate-oblong in shape and 7–18 cm (2.75–7.1 inches) long. The flowers, which are arranged in panicles, have a greenish color and a distinct odor. The fruit is a purple 1-cm drupe containing a single seed which can be used as a flavoring although rare. The bark is the source of the spice.

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Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported into Egypt as early as 2000 BCE. Cinnamon was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a god; a Greek inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. Its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for centuries by the middlemen who handled the spice trade, to protect their monopoly as suppliers. True cinnamon is native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India, and Burma. The first Greek reference to cinnamon is found in a poem by Sappho in the 7th century BCE where it is mixed with myrrh and frankincense. According to Herodotus, both cinnamon and cassia grew in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh, and ladanum, and were guarded by winged serpents. The phoenix was reputed to build its nest from cinnamon and cassia. Herodotus mentions other writers who believed the source of cassia was the home of Dionysos, located somewhere east or south of Greece.

The Greeks used kásia or malabathron to flavor wine, together with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). While Theophrastus gives a good account of the plants, he describes a curious method for harvesting: worms eat away the wood and leave the bark behind. Egyptian recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, included cinnamon and cassia from Hellenistic times onward. The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes included cassia and cinnamon, as well as incense, myrrh, and Indian incense (kostos), so one might conclude that the Greeks used it for similar purposes.

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The Hebrew Bible makes specific mention of the spice many times: first when Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew: קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia in the holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-25); in Proverbs where the lover’s bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon (Proverbs 7:17); and in Song of Solomon, a song describing the beauty of his beloved, cinnamon scents her garments like “the smell of Lebanon” (Song of Solomon 4:11-14). Cassia was also part of the ketoret, the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem temples. The ketoret was an important component of the temple service in Jerusalem. Psalm 45:8 mentions the garments of the king (or of Torah scholars) that smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia.

Pliny gives an account of the early spice trade across the Red Sea that cost Rome 100 million sesterces each year. Cinnamon was brought around the Arabian peninsula on “rafts without rudders or sails or oars,” taking advantage of the winter trade winds. Pliny also mentions cassia as a flavoring agent for wine. According to Pliny, a Roman pound (327 grams (11.5 oz)) of cassia, cinnamon, or serichatum cost up to 300 denarii, ten months’ wages for a laborer. Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices from 301 gives a price of 125 denarii for a pound of cassia, while an agricultural laborer earned 25 denarii per day. Cinnamon was too expensive to be commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, but the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of the city’s supply at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina 65.

Through the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. From reading Latin writers who quoted Herodotus, Europeans had learned that cinnamon came up the Red Sea to the trading ports of Egypt, but where it came from was less than clear. When the Sieur de Joinville accompanied his king to Egypt on crusade in 1248, he reported – and believed – what he had been told: that cinnamon was fished up in nets at the source of the Nile out at the edge of the world (i.e., Ethiopia). Marco Polo avoided precision on the topic. Herodotus and other authors named Arabia as the source of cinnamon. They recounted that giant cinnamon birds collected the cinnamon sticks from an unknown land where the cinnamon trees grew and used them to construct their nests, and that the Arabs employed a trick to obtain the sticks. Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century that traders had made this up to charge more, but the story remained current in Byzantium as late as 1310. You can get yours by international post direct from Sri Lanka. You’ll still pay a fair price, but not ten months’ salary. Its aroma is magnificent. You’ll never go back to cassia.

 

May 242016
 

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For some reason, today is designated as National Escargot Day In the United States. It’s one of hundreds of useless and trivial “special” food days accorded national status by the Congress. I assume it all has to do with marketing. Why cooked snails should get a special day is beyond me. But the date gives me the opportunity to talk about food preferences and prejudices, so I’ll  accept the celebration this once.

Strictly speaking, the word “escargot” in English applies to cooked snails only. Raw snails are snails. Even calling cooked snails, “escargot,” strikes me as pretentious or affected. I can understand referring to a French dish, such as escargots à la Bourguignonne, using the French word, but I don’t see why cooked snails in general can’t simply be “snails.” That’s the term I’ll use.

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Not all species of land snail are edible, and many are too small to make it worthwhile to prepare and cook them. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species. In France, the species Helix pomatia is most often eaten. The “petit-gris” Cornu aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum. Several additional species, such as Elona quimperiana, are popular in Europe.

Burnt snail shells have been found in several archaeological excavations, indicating that snails have been eaten since prehistoric times. In addition, a number of archaeological sites around the Mediterranean have been excavated yielding physical evidence of the culinary use of several species of snails. The Romans in particular are known to have considered snails a delicacy, as noted in the writings of Pliny. The edible species Otala lactea has been recovered from the Roman-era city Volubilis in present-day Morocco. Romans also practiced snail farming, or heliciculture. The method was described by Fulvius Lippinus (49 BCE) and mentioned by Marcus Terentius Varro (Terrence) in De Re rustica (On Rural Things)III, 12. The snails were fattened for human consumption using corn flour and aromatic herbs. People usually raised snails in pens near the house, and these pens were called “cochlea”.

“Wall fish” were also often eaten in Britain, but were never as popular as on the continent. People sometimes ate snails during Lent, and in a few places, they consumed large quantities of snails at Carnival, as a foretaste of Lent.

U.S. imports of snails were worth more than $4.5 million in 1995 and came from 24 countries. This includes preserved or prepared snails and snails that are live, fresh, chilled, or frozen. Major exporters to the U.S. are France, Indonesia, Greece and China. So people do eat snails in the U.S., but in my experience a great many turn their noses up at them as hideously disgusting as food. Here we run up against food prejudice. Lots of people look at snails much as they do oysters, insects, and even offal (especially tripe), making the gargantuanly ethnocentric assumption that these things are inherently distasteful, and, therefore, anyone who eats them is weird. I’ve heard people say things like, “it was a very brave person who ate the first oyster.” How stupid can you be? Foragers (hunters and gatherers) eat whatever is edible. It’s not that they are stuck for enough to eat, it’s that their overall diet is much broader than that of sedentary peoples.

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I’m not going to say that I find every food available in the world completely delectable. I’ve struggled a little sometimes with brains on toast. That’s because of the texture, not the idea. There’s plenty of slimy foods in Asia that don’t appeal to me even though the ingredients are straightforward. I just have a thing about certain textures. I can eat oysters all day because their texture does not bother me. My very narrow distaste may come from the fact that my mum used to make junket (a rennet custard) when I was a little boy, and I didn’t like it. I did eat it though. When my son was little we had a house rule – you cannot refuse a dish until you have tasted it. Fortunately, in that regard he was quite strange enough. He still won’t eat things made with eggs (including cake), or mushrooms, but finds duck tongue and pig stomach perfectly tasty.

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In French culture, snails for cooking are typically purged (voided of unpleasant intestinal matter), killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken soup or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. Additional ingredients may be added, such as garlic, thyme, parsley and pine nuts. Special snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided, and the snails are served on indented metal trays with places for six or 12 snails. In Maltese cuisine, snails  of the petit gris variety are simmered in red wine or ale with mint, basil and marjoram. The snails are cooked, and served in their shells.

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Like most molluscs, escargots are high in protein and low in fat content (if cooked without butter). Snails are estimated to contain around 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water, although this depends on the method of preservation. I expect that many readers will have trouble finding fresh snails in the market. Even buying them canned can be difficult in some places. I’m a little spoiled in that in Argentina, China, and (now) Italy, I have no problems. Canned work fine, and you don’t absolutely need the shells either (they’re mostly decorative). Here’s two-fer.

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Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Ingredients

1 clove garlic
salt
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp finely minced shallot
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dry white wine
12 to 16 snails
kosher salt (for stabilizing snail shells)
12 to 16 sterilized snail shells

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with a small amount of table salt. Beat together the butter, shallot, garlic paste, parsley, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. You can use a hand electric mixer or immersion blender if you are lazy. Just be sure that the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Then beat in the wine to combine.

Divide up half the butter mix between the shells, put one shell in each shell, then top up with the remaining butter mix. Spread ample kosher salt in a shallow baking dish and nest the shells in it with the open sides up.

Bake the snails until the butter is sizzling. This should only take about 5 minutes. Serve immediately with crusty bread – 4 to 6 per person as an appetizer.

Snails and Mushrooms

Ingredients

6 fl oz crème fraîche
8 oz black mushrooms
1 tbsp minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (7-oz) can snails (18 to 24 snails), rinsed and drained
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tsp finely chopped tarragon
1 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper

Instructions

Simmer the crème fraîche with the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a heavy medium saucepan, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender – about 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, add the snails, herbs, and butter, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the snails are heated through – 1 to 2 minutes. Serve in small bowls.

Jul 192013
 

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Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Fire of Rome.  The origins of the fire and its course have been the subject of considerable controversy because there were only two eye witnesses who have written anything about it: the historian Tacitus, who was 9 years old at the time, and Pliny the Elder who mentions it in passing (using it merely as a benchmark to indicate the age of some trees). The account by Tacitus is riveting and detailed but archeology has not entirely borne out his account, and there has to be a question, given his age at the time, concerning the degree to which what he writes is based on what he saw versus what others saw and he heard about. Clearly his account is drawn from other eyewitnesses, probably in the main. All other accounts of the fire were written by people who were not there at the time, and in many key points conflict with Tacitus.

I thought for a change of pace I might give Tacitus’ account in its entirety (Loeb translation):

Tacitus Annals XV

38 There followed a disaster, whether due to chance or to the malice of the sovereign (Nero) is uncertain — for each version has its sponsors — but graver and more terrible than any other which has befallen this city by the ravages of fire. It took its rise in the part of the Circus touching the Palatine and Caelian Hills; where, among the shops packed with inflammable goods, the conflagration broke out, gathered strength in the same moment, and, impelled by the wind, swept the full length of the Circus: for there were neither mansions screened by boundary walls, nor temples surrounded by stone enclosures, nor obstructions of any description, to bar its progress. The flames, which in full career overran the level districts first, then shot up to the heights, and sank again to harry the lower parts, kept ahead of all remedial measures, the mischief travelling fast, and the town being an easy prey owing to the narrow, twisting lanes and formless streets typical of old Rome. In addition, shrieking and terrified women; fugitives stricken or immature in years; men consulting their own safety or the safety of others, as they dragged the infirm along or paused to wait for them, combined by their dilatoriness or their haste to impede everything. Often, while they glanced back to the rear, they were attacked on the flanks or in front; or, if they had made their escape into a neighboring quarter, that also was involved in the flames, and even districts which they had believed remote from danger were found to be in the same plight. At last, irresolute what to avoid or what to seek, they crowded into the roads or threw themselves down in the fields: some who had lost the whole of their means — their daily bread included — chose to die, though the way of escape was open, and were followed by others, through love for the relatives whom they had proved unable to rescue. None ventured to combat the fire, as there were reiterated threats from a large number of persons who forbade extinction, and others were openly throwing firebrands and shouting that “they had their authority” — possibly in order to have a freer hand in looting, possibly from orders received.

39 Nero, who at the time was staying in Antium, did not return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the Gardens of Maecenas. It proved impossible, however, to stop it from engulfing both the Palatine and the house and all their surroundings. Still, as a relief to the homeless and fugitive populace, he opened the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own Gardens, and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces. Yet his measures, popular as their character might be, failed of their effect; for the report had spread that, at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had mounted his private stage, and typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung the destruction of Troy.

40 Only on the sixth day, was the conflagration brought to an end at the foot of the Esquiline, by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing to the unabated fury of the flames a clear tract of ground and an open horizon. But fear had not yet been laid aside, nor had hope yet returned to the people, when the fire resumed its ravages; in the less congested parts of the city, however; so that, while the toll of human life was not so great, the destruction of temples and of porticoes dedicated to pleasure was on a wider scale. The second fire produced the greater scandal of the two, as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name. Rome, in fact, is divided into fourteen regions, of which four remained intact, while three were laid level with the ground: in the other seven nothing survived but a few dilapidated and half-burned relics of houses.

41 It would not be easy to attempt an estimate of the private dwellings, tenement-blocks, and temples, which were lost; but the flames consumed, in their old-world sanctity, the great altar and chapel of the Arcadian Evander to the Present Hercules, the shrine of Jupiter Stator vowed by Romulus, the Palace of Numa, and the holy place of Vesta with the Penates of the Roman people. To these must be added the precious trophies won upon so many fields, the glories of Greek art, and yet again the primitive and uncorrupted memorials of literary genius; so that, despite the striking beauty of the re-arisen city, the older generation recollects much that it proved impossible to replace. There were those who noted that the first outbreak of the fire took place on the nineteenth of July, the anniversary of the capture and burning of Rome by the Senones: others have pushed their researches so far as to resolve the interval between the two fires into equal numbers of years, of months, and of days.

42 However, Nero turned to account the ruins of his fatherland by building a palace, the marvels of which were to consist not so much in gems and gold, materials long familiar and vulgarized by luxury, as in fields and lakes and the air of solitude given by wooded ground alternating with clear tracts and open landscapes. The architects and engineers were Severus and Celer, who had the ingenuity and the courage to try the force of art even against the veto of nature and to fritter away the resources of a Caesar. They had undertaken to sink a navigable canal running from Lake Avernus to the mouths of the Tiber along a desolate shore or through intervening hills; for the one district along the route moist enough to yield a supply of water is the Pomptine Marsh; the rest being cliff and sand, which could be cut through, if at all, only by intolerable exertions for which no sufficient motive existed. Nonetheless, Nero, with his passion for the incredible, made an effort to tunnel the height nearest the Avernus, and some evidences of that futile ambition survive.

43 In the capital, however, the districts spared by the palace were rebuilt, not, as after the Gallic fire, indiscriminately and piecemeal, but in measured lines of streets, with broad thoroughfares, buildings of restricted height, and open spaces, while colonnades were added as a protection to the front of the tenement-blocks. These colonnades Nero offered to erect at his own expense, and also to hand over the building-sites, clear of rubbish, to the owners. He made a further offer of rewards, proportioned to the rank and resources of the various claimants, and fixed a term within which houses or blocks of tenement must be completed, if the bounty was to be secured. As the receptacle of the refuse he settled upon the Ostian Marshes, and gave orders that vessels which had carried grain up the Tiber must run down-stream laden with débris. The buildings themselves, to an extent definitely specified, were to be solid, untimbered structures of Gabine or Alban stone, that particular stone being proof against fire. Again, there was to be a guard to ensure that the water-supply — intercepted by private lawlessness — should be available for public purposes in greater quantities and at more points; appliances for checking fire were to be kept by everyone in the open; there were to be no joint partitions between buildings, but each was to be surrounded by its own walls. These reforms, welcomed for their utility, were also beneficial to the appearance of the new capital. Still, there were those who held that the old form had been the more salubrious, as the narrow streets and high-built houses were not so easily penetrated by the rays of the sun; while now the broad expanses, with no protecting shadows, glowed under a more oppressive heat.

To my mind Tacitus is being fairly even handed here towards Nero, and has clearly done his homework about the course of the fire and its aftermath.  He points out, for example, that Nero opened up his own lands for the homeless and organized shelters for them, quickly brought in food supplies, and kept the price of wheat low so that people could eat.  Yet Tacitus also acknowledges that many people thought Nero started the fire in order to remodel the city featuring a gigantic palace and estate for his own pleasure.  He is skeptical about Nero “fiddling while Rome burned” (it would have been the lyre), and seems to believe that the rebuilt city is more glorious than the old one, whilst acknowledging that some older people preferred the way it used to be.  I find it a most compelling and complex account.

We know a fair bit about classical Roman foodways from multiple descriptions of meals, banquets, and so forth in contemporary writings.  We even have a cookbook, of sorts, from the late empire (4th to 5th century), De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”) by an anonymous author given the pseudonym Caelius Apicius. The recipes are very short and not enough in themselves to reconstruct the original.

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Here is one:

IX. In mitulis: liquamen, porrum concisum, cuminum, passum, satureiam, vinum, mixtum facies aquatius et ibi mitulos coques.

9. Mussels: liquamen, chopped leeks, cumin, passum, savory, wine. Dilute the mixture with water, and boil the mussels in it.

This reminds me an awful lot of the classic French Mediterranean dish moules marinières, so I think it is easy enough to make something of it along those lines.  Two ingredients need explaining.  Liquamen was a ubiquitous seasoning.  It was a sauce made from fermented fish, and was used primarily for its salt content.  You’ll see it in Apicius as often as salt in modern recipes. As a substitute you can use a SE Asian fish sauce such as the Vietnamese n??c m?m (nuoc-mam). If you have nothing else you can just use salt to taste without great harm done. Passum was a sweet white wine, a variety of which, vino santo, is still produced in Italy. The cumin adds a surprising twist to a classic dish. I prefer to eat this dish with my fingers as the Romans would have done. One useful tip is to eat the mussel from a nice springy shell and then use the empty shell like tweezers to remove the meat from the others. Use bread like a sponge to sop up the sauce.

Mitules in genere Romanae (Mussels in the Roman manner)

1.5kg (3 ¼ lb) or 4 liters (7 pints) mussels
1 leek, white part sliced in thin rings
½ cup (100 ml) dry white wine
½ cup (100 ml) vino santo or sweet white wine
1 cup (200 ml) water
1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh savory (divided in two)
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp liquamen substitute

Instructions:

Wash the mussels in plenty of cold water. Scrape away any barnacles with a short-bladed knife as best you can without damaging the shell. Pull off all the beards and wash the mussels again. Discard any that are open and do not close when tapped sharply.

Take a large lidded pot that is big enough to hold all the mussels. Add the mussels, liquids, leek, cumin, and half the savory, and set over high heat, tightly covered. Turn the mussels over every now and then as they start to open. Keep the lid on the pot in between turning them. When they are all open, remove the pot from the heat and leave for 30 seconds or so to let all the grit settle.

Scoop out the mussels with a slotted spoon and divide them between four large, deep soup plates. Pour all the juices from the pan over the mussels, but pour gently and stop before the last tablespoon, which will be gritty. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped savory over the mussels and serve.

Good crusty bread is a must.  The Romans ate sourdough bread made with a mix of two different flours.

Serves 4