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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Cumbrian chef recreates Hadrian's Wall dishes

The eating habits of Roman soldiers who lived on Hadrian’s Wall are being brought to life by Cumbrian chef John Crouch.

John Crouch photo
John Crouch

An expert in Roman cookery, John is showcasing his skills to give visitors to a popular frontier fort a taste of the Roman diet.

He has an astounding 4,000 cookery books at his home in Wigton, including original Roman recipes.

Referring to the typical diet of a soldier he said: “It wasn’t very pretty – everything was rather sludge-coloured.

“What people often don’t realise is that they didn’t have tomatoes, red peppers, and other interestingly coloured ingredients. There were carrots, but even so the food was almost all greeny-brown.

“Wild garlic and other herbs were widely used to give flavour,” added John.

“The soldiers were, on the whole, well fed, although through the winter supplies could run low. It was too cold to grow wheat in the north, so oats were a staple. Sour-dough bread was made on open fires, as an oven would have been a luxury, and a variety of cheese was made.

“Wild boar and chicken would also have featured in the northerner’s diets. Interestingly, records show some of the soldiers complained when they were given too much meat, when grain was rationed.”

John explained that wine production was introduced to the UK by the Romans, and later this became a key product for many medieval monasteries.

He added: “When the climate allowed, melons were also cultivated. Evidence shows that wine and imported luxuries such as olives, apricots, damsons and nuts reached the fort and were highly valued”.

Other foods introduced by the Romans included rabbit – considered a huge delicacy – pheasant and eating apples of many varieties.

Visitors to the Roman Army Museum at Vindolanda can sample a taste for themselves of the Roman diet at a series of events being hosted by John.

The first is next Saturday, April 6, when he will cook a compote of early fruit, with apples and pears poached in white wine, vinegar, mint, honey and pepper, together with a robust soup made of lentils and vegetables.

John was originally introduced to Vindolanda four years ago through TV producer, Alistair Moffat, who was filming along the wall.

Patricia Birley, director of The Vindolanda Trust, said: “Visitors love talking to John about his recipes, and tasting them for themselves. Everything we do here is geared towards helping people to better understand what life on the edge of the empire was like.

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