Today I subbed for a Grade 9 history teacher. They are studying Ancient Egypt and I have offered to give a class on the food of Ancient Egypt. This is my program!
We had a blast! I had no time for pictures! Actually I walk to the school and I couldn't carry anything more. My hands were full.
I made a spice kit so they could see and smell. I had cumin, black cumin, coriander seeds, ras el hanout, za'atar, cinnamon sticks, star anise, saffron, sea salt, dried mint and bay leaves. They especially enjoyed the spice kit.
They loved the pita bread and carrot sticks with the cheese dip. Not so many were interested in the hummus. They all loved the pomegranate and feta and some even tried olives! A couple of them tried capers. Even the difficult kids who refused in the beginning to taste anything, joined in when they saw how interested everyone else was. All in all, it was a huge success.
They definitely know where Egypt is now!
1 cup coarsely chopped feta
2 cups very thick yogurt (Middle Eastern style or labne)
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
Puree in a food processor. Chill and serve with fresh vegetables or pita bread or chips.
The Story of Food in Ancient Egypt
Looking at the location of Egypt on the map, you can see it is in North Africa and very close to Asia and the Mediterranean. This location has influenced the food as much as the climate and land. Even though Egypt is in Africa, its food is considered more Middle Eastern than African. They mainly have influences from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Palestine. Dishes are simple and hearty, made with naturally ripened fruits and vegetables and seasoned with fresh spices and herbs. The food in the south, closer to North Africa, is zestier than that found in the north, but neither is especially hot.
The Nile River area was also known as the Fertile Valley. It would flood every summer and this would provide rich silt to keep the soil fertile and to provide water. If you look at a map of Egypt the only fertile areas are those close to the Nile River. Crops were also irrigated using the water from the Nile River. Today the flow of the Nile River is regulated by the Aswan Dam.
The climate is very hot and mostly arid. Not all plants will grow in this climate. The most common fruits were citron (lemons), dates, figs, grapes and pomegranates. A type of wheat and barley were the main crops. Olives were common and were pickled or pressed to make olive oil.
The food eaten varied greatly according to your wealth. Most people were very poor and they lived on a diet of mainly vegetables, grains, lentils, beans and fruits. It was more rare to have meat. And they would have fish, of course. The wealthy had the best access to meat that would include chickens, geese, duck, lamb, beef and goats mainly.
The commonly grown vegetables were cucumber, onions, garlic, tomatoes and greens.
Cows and goats were also raised for their milk. Milk was very important especially in the poor families. From the milk, they would make a very thick yogurt and some unripened cheeses.
Nuts were commonly used. They used almonds, pistachios and walnuts. Honey was the most common sweetener but they also grow sugarcane and make cane sugar.
Seasonings included salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, sesame, dill, fennel, saffron, sumac, black cumin, anise, bay leaf, sage and cinnamon.
The average person ate from pottery bowls and plates. Knives and spoons were the main utensils. Forks were not used until the Middle Ages. So the typical way to eat would be to scoop up the food with bread like pita bread. Stone was also commonly used for storage jars.
The storage of foods was critical. In the extreme climate food would rot easily. They would dig holes in the ground. Some of these pits would be large enough to store the entire supply of the village’s dates or grains. Holes would be dug into the ground and lined with stones. Caves were also good storage places. Olive oil would be poured into pottery jars and stored in caves. Fruits and vegetables would be dried so they would keep longer. Pickling was another way of preserving food. Olives, fish and onions would be pickled. Fish were also often salted and dried.
Ovens were simple and could possibly be a simple bed of coals. Larger clay ovens would typically be in the courtyard or often one commercial oven would be available for several households to share. They would take their mixed and formed bread to the commercial oven and the person operating the oven would bake it for the women.
Other food was cooked in simple clay pots, using wooden utensils and stored in jars. There were few kitchen tools – pestles, mortars and sieves.
Some Ideas for Recipes to Taste
2. Cheese Dip (feta and yogurt) with carrots, celery & cucumber
3. Stuffed Vine leaves
4. Roasted carrots with ras el hanout
5. Turkish delight (made with rhubarb)
Other things to Taste
1. Pomegranates and pomegranate syrup