Ingredients That Would Have Been Used
A commonly accepted version of would have been used to make the custard in Ancient Rome would have been flour, milk, eggs, honey and olive oil. Flour was were available in diverse types of textures and sources, ranging from the finest made from barley to course wheat. Water mills set the standard for grinding flour, while larger wheat mills could be found in estate or wealthy villas. Milk would have been produced from cows, goats, sheep or mares, or one could buy it from a farmer. Honey would have been collected from beekeepers who had established hives. Fresh eggs were a plentiful source for Roman cooks for custard and other dishes, and olive oil was used in abundance in the Roman diet.
Secrets of Preparation
When making the custard, Roman chefs made sure that that the ingredients were well-combined and free of lumps. The flour was slowly added to the warm milk and stirred until well-combined, followed by slowly adding the egg whites to the mix. Honey was then added to taste, making sure that it was not too much and the custard does not become too sweet. Finally, the custard was slowly cooked over the fire until it became firm and creamy.
Although vanilla is the standard for custard in modern times, Ancient Romans would have added other flavors that are still prevalent today such as rosemary, oregano, saffron and cinnamon. Herbs, spices and fruits were available to them in abundance and added sweetness and depth of flavor to their dishes. Elderberry was probably used sparingly as it is a quite tart fruit and was more associated with desserts. A handful of unripe elderberries, cooked gently with the custard, would have been enough to add a subtle tartness and kick of flavor.
The last step in making the custard in Ancient Rome would have been pouring it into a baking dish or mould and letting it cool. Butter or lard along with some ground nuts and rolled oats were toasted and added on the top during the cooling process. These were added for crunch and texture.
The finished product of elderberry custard could have been served with a sprinkle of spices and some sweet fruits, or consumed warm using a spoon and shared between family and friends. This dessert was often made in large quantities and served at banquets and feasts, as a subtle dessert.
Ancient Roman Cookbooks
Preserving the secrets of the Ancient Roman kitchen proved to be a difficult task for the generations that followed. In the early 1900s, Julia Della Croce’s translation of the manuscript attributed to Apicius (De Re Coquinaria) has become the go-to source when it comes to Ancient Roman cuisine. However, this is only one of many manuscripts that have been translated, making Ancient Roman cuisine something worth exploring.
Conclusion of Elderberry Custard
It is uncertain that recipes as complex and nuanced as custard were very common in Ancient Rome, as many other ingredients overshadowed it. Today, elderberry custard it is not very often found in traditional custard recipes, however, the modern kitchen is open to experimentation, and the original craftsmanship of the Ancient Romans lives on through the recipes we make today.