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Ancient Egypt’s prosperity, impressive court culture, and their isolation from conflict led to a sophisticated food tradition and the emergence of the world’s first “elite” cuisine. In this podcast we’ll study the archaeological evidence of Ancient Egyptian food customs, the religious significance of Egyptian foodstuffs and animals, and the specific components of their cuisine.
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Culinary Activities for this Episode:
• Egyptian Beer
Sophisticated archaeological techniques that have been developed in the past few decades have allowed researchers not only to identify vessels that stored beer in ancient times, but they also can identify exact ingredients as well. Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania is the best-known biomolecular archaeologist of ancient drinks, and he has even worked with breweries to develop modern versions. Although they taste quite good, they use modern strains of yeast and brewing protocols that are very different from ancient practice. These are the dictates of modern regulations and the demands of commerce—but at home, you can brew exactly as the ancients did, using wild yeast and simple pottery vessels. Be prepared, though, it will not taste like your standard fizzy lager.
First, you will need barley, which must be whole, fresh, and not pearled, which kills the seed. You are going to germinate the grains by sprinkling on some water, leaving it in a sunny spot, and waiting until they just begin to sprout. Turn them around every now and then, drain off the liquid, and replace it if it begins to smell a bit. They should stay moist during germination. This should only take a few days. Once you see them sprout, dry them off, and place them in the sun to dry completely. If you want a darker brew, toast a few of the grains gently and add to the rest. Then, break everything up in a large mortar. You want small pieces, but not powder. Next, heat the grain in water at about 140 degrees, and maintain that temperature for an hour. Strain this into another pot, and pour some more hot water over just to release the last bit of sugars in the mash. Now is the fun part. Cover the pot with a cheesecloth, and let it ferment at room temperature. Wild yeasts will invade, and it will start to bubble in a few days. Taste it periodically; it will probably be a little sour, thick, and of course still room temperature. That’s ancient beer—fairly low in alcohol but refreshing. If you insist, strain it again, funnel into bottles, and refrigerate.
Darby, Food: The Gift of Osiris.
Mehdawy, The Pharaoh’s Kitchen.
Rivera, The Pharaoh’s Feast.
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