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Ancient Egypt

"Egyptian civilization probably began about 3100 B.C., following a predynastic period from 5500 B.C. during which time hunter-gatherers settled in agricultural villages and animals and people migrated into the region from western Asia...During this time, as revealed by evidence from sites in the Fayum region, the population supported itself first by hunting the many wild species that lived in and around the Nile. These included wild fowl, fish, pigs, cattle, antelope, and gazelle. As the population began to establish agricultural communities, the wild pigs and wild cattle were domesticated. Hunting became more of a sport for the wealthy than a means for obtaining food, although poorer people continued to hunt game and wild fowl, and to snare fish to augement their mainly cereal and leguminous diet. Cattle, sheep, and goats were more useful to the poor for their milk, cheese, and butter than for their meat. Agricultural communities grew grains as well as legumes, and these became the major crops of the Nile valley. They provided the two main staples of Egyptian life-bread and beer. Grain was used as a currency, something with which to barter or to pay taxes and wages. The main grain cultivated in Egypt until the fourth century B.C. was emmer; barley was also grown and was probably the grain of the poor. Production of these grains throughout Egyptian history was the main agricultural activity and provided the basic diet of bread for the Egyptians...Grain was also used to make pottage or thicken soup or added to pulses, for lentils, peas, and fenugreek were also common at this time, and were the most important pulses until fava beans were introduced in the Fifth Dynasty. Honey or dates might be used to sweeten the bread...dates were culitvated and...also used to produce a sugary drink...other sources of food were lotus and aquatic plant seeds...Melons, watermelons, and chufa, or yellow nutgrass, were grown. Bread as also used to make the other staple, beer, which was part of the daily ration given to soldiers and workers....The making of beer was woman's work...Wine seems also to have been drunk at this early period." ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005 (p. 136-8) "It is clear that the Egyptians enjoyed their food. Nobles and priests were particularly well served, with at least forty different kinds of bread and pastries, some raised, some flat, some round, some conical, some plaited. There were some varieties made with honey. Others with milk, still others with eggs. And tomb excavations show what a wide range of other foodstuffs the great had set before them even as early as the beginning of the the third millennium BC--barley porridge, quail, kidneys, pigeon stew, fish, ribs of beef, cakes, stewed figs, fresh berries, cheese...Much time was spent organizing supplies. Until about 2200BC the Egyptians perservered with attempts to domesticate a number of animals like the ibex, oryx, antelope and gazelle, and then, abandoning this fruitless occupation, turned to the more entertaining pursuits of

hunting in the marshland preserves, collecting exotic vegetables like wild celery, papyrus stalks and lotus roots, trapping birds and going fishing. The Nile marshes and canals contained eel, mullet, carp, perch and tigerfish...The origins of salting as a preservation process remain obscure. Although in Egypt there was a positive link between salt's use in preserving food for the living and embalming the bodies of the dead. Preservation by drying presents fewer questions, if only because figs, dates and grapes fallen from the tree or vine would dry themselves on the hot sandy soil, and no lengthy period of experiment would be needed to establish that fish, for example, responded well to the same treatment...The peasants' food, like their way of life, was more circumscribed than that of the great officials...Their standard fare may have been ale, onions and common flatbread... bought from a stall in the village street, but they could look forward to quite frequent days of plenty when they feasted on the surplus from temple sacrifices or one of the great high festivals. They ate pork, too." ---Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers Press:New York] 1988 (p. 53-4) [NOTE: These books contain much more information than can be paraphrased here. Your librarian will be happy to help you find a copies.] How did Ancient Egyptians preserve their food? Ancient Egyptians employed a variety of methods for food preservation. Great silos were constructed to preserve grain for long periods of time. Fish, meat, vegetables and fruits were were preserved by drying and salting. Grains were fermented to create beer. "There is evidence that as early as 12,000 B.C., Egyptian tribespeople on the lower Nile dried fish and poultry using the hot desert sun. Areas with similar hot and dry climates found drying to be an effective method of preservation...Herodutus, writing in the fifth century B.C., describes how the Egyptians and their neighbors still dried fish in the sun and wind and then strored them for long periods." ---Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Processing Changed the World, Sue Shepard [Simon & Schuster:New York] 2000 (p. 31) "...the Babylonians and Egyptians pickled fish such as sturgeon, salmon, and catfish, as well as poultry and geese. Sometimes salt was relatively easy to extract; in other parts it was more difficult." ---ibid (p. 76) "Salt has been used to preserve fish since ancient times, possibly even before meat was cured. The early Mesopotamian civilizations relied on a staple diet of salt fish and barley proridge...Fish curing, depicted in the tombs of ancient Egypt, was so highly regarded that only temple officials were entrusted with the knowledge of the art, and it is significant that the Egyptian word for fish preserving was the same as that used to

denote the process of embalming the dead." ---ibid (p. 79) "For thousands of years the survival and power of a tribe or country depended on its stocks in grain. Harvesting, processing, and storing grain stocks was of huge importance, and war was declared only after harvest...One of the earliest records of large-scale food preserving was in ancient Egypt, where it was enourmously important to create adequate stocks of dried grain to insure against the failure of the Nile to flood seasonally. Huge quantities of grain were stored in sealed silo, where they could be kept for several years if necessary. Records from 2600 B.C. show that the annual flooding of the Nile produced surpluses of grain that were stored and kept to feed builders of irrigation schemes and pyramid tombs. The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza was built around 2900 B.C. by slaves fed with stores of grain and chickpeas, onions, and garlic." ---ibid (p. 51) "Dried saltfish was part of a soldier's rations. Roe from the mullet, a periodic visitor to the canals of the Nile, was also extracted during the drying process of the fish, to be pressed into large flat cakes and preserved." ---Food: A Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Masimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 1999 (p. 42) Meals & dining customs "In Egypt banquets started in the early or middle afternoon, but few details are available about the eating of ordinary meals. The basic Egyptian meal was beer, bread, and onions, which the peasants ate daily, probably as a morning meal before they left to work in the fields or on works commanded by the pharaohs. Another simple meal would be eaten in the cool of the evening, probably boiled vegetables, bread, and beer; possibly wild fowl...The wealthy would expect to eat two or een three meals a day comprising vegetables, wild fowl, fish, eggs, and beef. Butter, milk, and cheese were also easily obtainable. Dessert would c onsits of fruit--grapes, figs, dates, and watermelons. In a Saqqara tomb of the Second Dynasty, a full meal was found that had been laid out for an unnamed noble. It included pottery and alabaster dishes containing a porridge of ground barley, a spit-roasted quail, two cooked lamb's kidney's, pigeon casserole, stewed dish, barbecued beef ribs, trianguar loaves of bread made from ground emmer, small round cakes, a dish of stewed figs, a plate of sidder berries, and cheese, all accompanied by jars that had once contained wint and beer. In the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians are around a small table a few inches high, using their fingers to eat. Normally dishes were placed in the center of the table, and each person sitting around dipped berad or a spoon into it. The lower classes continued this form of eating in the New Kingdom, but the upper classes then preferred to sit on tall

cushioned chairs. Servants brought around water in small bowls to that guests could wash their hands before and during the meal." ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005 (p. 181-2) "The Egyptian Banquet. For Egyptian peasants there were some feast days, as at the New Year and after harvest and local religious festivals, but the peasants preferred to be offered sports and pastimes rather than elaborate dining. Meat was probably given to them after religious sacrifices. Dinner parties or banquets appear to have been one of the favorite entertainments for the middle and upper classes of the Egyptians, but literary evidence is scarce. There is no word for banquet in Egyptian...The information for feasts or banquets comes almost entierly from scenes found in tombs. In the Old Kingdom they seemed to be mainly family gatherings...Banquets in the New Kingdom were more elaborate, with family and guests enjoying the meal. Pharaohs gave official banquets...Banquets usually began in midafternoon...The tomb scenes show the guests being greeted by their hosts and servants coming forward to offer garlands of flowers. Next basins of water are offered for the guests to wash their hands...Tomb scenes show men and women on alternate panels as if they ate in separate groups or in separate rooms...Guests could...be seated on...[chairs]... stools or cusions...They ate from small tables, but side tables were seemingly loaded with food in the almost buffet style, although servants would bring the food to the guests and offer them napkins to wipe their mouths. Jugs and basins were placed on stands nearby, ready for washing of hands and feet...The main food would be bread, fruits, pulses, and vegetables. Fruits would have included dates, figs, melons, and possibly fruits imported from other countries. Meat could be in abundance at banquets. Whole oxen were roasted; ducks, chickens, geese, and pigeons were served. Fish seems to have been less popular...Honey was a precious food, mainly the preserve of the wealthy, and therefore expected at feasts. Jars underneath the table held beer, wine, and fermented fruit dirnks...Toasts were drunk to the goddess Hathor...The meal would be accompanied by music...After the meal there might be storytelling or acrobats." ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005 (p. 188-191) "Cuisine and Social Class. Elite Egyptians ate three daily meals: morning, evening, and night. Laborers probably ate twice daily...Social superiors might include lowerstatus diners at banquets, with different foods offered to each guest dependign on his or her rank. tablewares varied from magnificent gold, alabaster, and class for the elites to earthenware and base metals for workers. Spoons and knives appeared the table. High-status banquets were often segregated by gener...The genders mixed at family meals, regardless of status. Egyptians buried food with their dead to ensure a comfortable afterlife. Diversity in diet was a mark of wealth...Beer and bread

appeared on everyone's table and were the most common form of payment..." ---Cooking in Ancient Civilizations, Cathy K. Kaufman [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2006 (p. 43-44) In ancient Egypt, what would pharaoh feed his guests? Same as most rulers, the very best his land and wealth had to offer. And??? Plenty of it! "The Ancient Egyptians lived well. Although they left no recipe books, we can still get a good idea of what the pharaohs and their people may have eaten from the wall paintings in their tombs, the meals they buried with the dead to ensure that they did not go hungry in the next world, and from the tales of travellers such as the Greek Herodotus." ---Food Fit for Pharaohs: An Ancient Egyptian Cookbook, Michelle BerriedaleJohnson [British Museum Press:London] 1999 (p. 7) The feast given by King Mereptah in his eighth year for the Festival of Opet served these items: fish (filleted and salted), oxen, ducks (spit roasted), oryx, gazelle (basted in honey), beans, sweet oils (for sauces), celery, parsley, leeks, lettuce, bread, pommegranates, grapes, jujubes, honey cakes, heads of garlic, figs, beer and wine. ---Ancient Lives: Daily Life in Egypt of the Pharaohs, John Romer [Holt, Rinehart and Winston:New York] 1984 (p. 51-3) "A typical, lavish banquet consisted of a group sitting on the floor or at individual round tables. Often they reposed on low chairs or stools under which lay a basin for washing their hands, sometimes with a pet cat or monkey beside it. Men and women ate together, both dressed in flowing linen gowns that reached the floor The women held lotus flowers in one hand for the perfume and wore a perfume cone on their head made of a fatty substance that released a pleasing aroma as heat from the head slowly melted it during the course of the evening. Heaps of food completely covered the small tables There were breads of several shapes and varieties, whole roasted trussed fowl and joints of meat, several kinds of vegetables and assorted fruit...At an actual banquet...various courses would have been served one after another in containers. Plates were not used, but ceramic bowls, or more likely at such formal affairs, blue glazed and painted faience dishes would have held the food. Cups of similar material stood ready for wine and were continually refilled from large pitchers carried by circulating servant girls." ---Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 1999 (p. 111-2) [NOTE: this book has a "meaty" chapter on period foodstuffs (p. 99-115) and several references for further study.]