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Apicius de re Coquinaria (2023)

by Thomas Oboe Lee

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Conditi paradoxi compositio. Mellis partes XV in aeneum uas mittuntur, praemissis vini sectariis, ut in coctura mellis vinium decoquas. Quod igni lento et aridis lignis calefactum, Commotum ferula dum coquitur, Si effervere coeperit, Vini rore conpsecitur, Praeter quod subtracto igni in se redit. Cum perfrixerit, rursus accenditur. Hoe secundo ac tertio fiet, Ac tum demum remotum a foco postridie despumatur. Tum mittis peperis uncias quattor iam triti, Masticis scripulos III, Folii et croci dragmae singulae, Datilorum ossibus torridis quinque, Isdemque dactilis vino mollitis, Intercedente prius suffucsione vini de suo modo ac numero, Ut tritura lenis habeatur. His omnibus paratis supermittis vini lenis sextaria XVIII. Carbones perfecto aderunt. >>>Trans. The composition of [this] excellent spiced wine [is as follows]. Into a copper bowl put six sextarii of honey and two sextarii of wine; heat on a slow fire, constantly stirring the mixture with a whip. At the boiling point add a dash of cold wine, retire from the stove and skim. Repeat this twice or three times. Then add four ounces of crushed pepper, three scruples of mastich, a drachm each of nard or laurel] leaves and saffron, five drachms of roasted date stones crushed and previoulsy soaked in wine to soften them. When this is properly done add eighteen sextarii of light wine. To clarify it perfectly, add [crushed] charcoal twice or as often as necesarry which will draw [the residual] together [and carefully strain or filter through the charcoal].
Adicies in mortarium piper, ligusticum, origanum, fricabis, suffundes liquamen, Adicies cerebella cocta, teres diligenter, ne astulas habeat. Adicies ova quinque et dissolves diligenter, Ut unum corpus efficias. Liquamine temperas et in patella aenea exinanies, coques. Cum coctum fuerit, Versas in tabula munda, Tessellas concides. Adicies in mortarium piper, ligusticum, origanum, fricabis, In se commisces, mittes in caccabum, facies ut ferveat. Cum ferbuerit, tractum confringes, obligas, Coagitabus et exinanies in boletari. Piper asparges et appones. >>>Trans. Put in the mortar pepper, lovage and origany, moisten with broth and rub; Add cooked brains and mix diligently so that there be no lumps. Incorporate five eggs and continue mixing well to have a good forcemeat which you may thin with broth. Spread this out in a metal pan, cook, and when cooked [cold] unmould it onto a clean table. Cut into handy size. [Now prepare a sauce] Put in the mortar pepper, lovage and origany, crush, mix with broth put into a sauce pan, boil, thicken and strain. Heat the pieces of brain pudding in this sauce thoroughly. Dish them up, sprinkled with pepper, in a mushroom dish.
Cumini unc.II, gingiberis unc. I, rutae viridis unc.I, dactilorum pinguium scripulos XII, piperis inc.I, mellis unc.IX: Cuminum aut Aethiopicum aut Siriacum aut Libicum. Tundes cuminum et postea infundes in aceto. Cum siccaverit, postea melle omnia comprehendes. Cum necesse fuerit, dimidium coclearium aceto Et liquamine modico misces aut post cenam dimidium coclearem accipies. >>>Trans. 2 ounces of cumin, 1 ounce ginger, 1 ounce green rue, I ounce of meaty dates, 12 scruples of ground pepper, 1 ounce of good honey, and 8 ounces of either Aethiopian or Syrian cumin. Make an infusion of this in vinegar, the cumin crushed, and strain. Of this liquor use a small spoonful, mix it with stock and a little vinegar: You may take a small spoonful after the meal.
Pulpas piscis assi vel elixi minutatim facies Ita abundanter ut patinam qualem voles, Implere possit, Teres piper et modicum rutae, suffundes liquamen quod satis erit Et olei modicum, El commisces in patina com pulpis, Sic et ova cruda confracta Ut unum corpus fiat. Desuper leviter compones urticas marinas Ut non cum ovis misceantur. Impones ad vaporem Ut cum ovis ire possint et, Cum siccaverint, Super aspargis piper tritum et inferes. Ad mensam nemo agnoscet quid manducet. >>>Trans. Boneless pieces of ancovies or [other small] fish, either roast [fried] boiled, chop very fine. Fill a casserole generously with the same [season with] crushed pepper and a little rue. Add sufficient broth and some oil, and mix in. Also add enough raw eggs so that the whole forms one solid mass. Now carefully add some sea-nettles but take pain that they are not mixed with the eggs. Now put the dish into the steam so that it wam congeal [but avoid boiling]. When done sprinkle with ground pepper and carry into the dining room. Nobody will be able to tell what he is enjoying.
Coques pisam, Cerebella vel aucellas vel turdos exossatos a pectore, Lucanicas, iecinera, Gizeria pullorum in caccabum mittis, Liquamen, oleum, Fasciculoas porri capitati, Coriandrum viridem concidis; Et cum cerebellis coques. Teres piper, Ligusticum et liquamen … >>>Trans. This adroit, tempting dish of peas is prepared in this manner: Cook peas; brains or small birds, or boned thrushes, lucanian sausage, chicken livers and giblets — all of which are out in a sauce pan; broth, oil and a bunch of leeks, green coriander finely chopped, cook with the brains; crush pepper, lovage and broth …
Lavas, ornas et in olla elixabis cum acqua, Sale et anetho dimidia coctura. Rapas coque, Ut exbromari possint. Levabis de olla, Et iterum lavabis, Et in caccabum mittis anatem cum oleo et liquamine Et fasciculo porri et coriandri. Rapam lotam et minutatim concisam desuper mittis, Facies ut coquatur. Modica coctura mittis defritum ut coloret. Ius tale parabis: Piper, cuminum, coriandrum, Laseris radicem, Suffundis acetum Et ius de suo sibi, Reexinanies super anatem ut ferveat. Cum ferbuerit, Amulo obligabis, Et super rapas adices. Piper aspargis et adponis. >>>Trans. Take out [remove entrails]. Clean, wash and dress [the bird] and parboil it in water with salt and dill. Next prepare turnips and cook them in water which is to be squeezed out. Take them out of the pot and wash them again. And put into a sauce pan the duck with oil, broth, a bunch of leeks and coriander; the turnips cut into small pieces; these put on top of the [duck] in order to finish cooking. When half done, to give it color, add reduced must. The sauce is prepared separately: pepper, cumin, coriander, laser root moistened with vinegar and diluted with its own broth [of the fowl]; bring this to a boiling point, thicken with roux. [In a deep dish arrange the duck] on top of the turnips [strain the sauce over it]. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.
Assaturam: assam a furno simplicem salis plurimo conspersam cum melles inferes. >>>Trans. Simply put the meat to be roasted in the oven, generously sprinkled with salt, and serve [it glazed] with honey.
De porcello utriculum eicis. Praeduras, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum. Suffundis liquamen, cerebella cocta quod satis sit. Similiter ova dissolves, liquamen temperabis, farcimina cocta integra praecides. Sed ante porcellum praeduratem liquamine delavas, Deinde imples, infiblas, in sportella ferventi ollae summittes. Coctum spongizas sine pipere inferes. >>>Trans. Remove the womb of the pig. Parboil. crush pepper, lovage, origin, moisten with broth. Add cooked brains, as much as needed, likewise dissolved eggs, [add] broth to taste, make a sausage [of the forcemeat] fill the pig which has been parboiled and rinsed with broth. Tie the pig securely in a basket, immerse in the boiling stock pot. Remove when done, wipe clean carefully, serve without pepper.


I am a foodie. I love all kinds of food. I especially relish the experience of trying new dishes found at cutting-edge restaurants. But I am also a fan of traditional cooking at a local trattoria or bistro. I also love to cook in my own kitchen, for family and friends. I used to make Chinese food, but after spending a year in Italy as a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, 1986-87, I became a convert to Italian cuisine. These days I basically only cook Italian. My "teachers" are Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich, and the ubiquitous 60-Minute Gourmet author, Pierre Franey.

So when I recently came upon this ancient cookbook, "De re coquinaria" by Marcus Gavius Apicius, AD 14-37, I immediately thought I would set the recipes from the book into a song cycle for tenor and piano.

There are ten chapters in the book. But there is a dispute as to whether Books IX and X were written by someone else other than Apicius. With that in mind, I am only setting recipes from the first eight books, or chapters.

I. Epimeles - The Diligent Cook - Fine spiced wine
II. Sarcoptes - The Butcher - Brain sausage
III. Cepuros - The Gardener - For digestion and inflammation
IV. Pandectes - Miscellanea - Smelt pie or sprat custard
V. Ospreon - Legumes - Peas, supreme style
VI. Aeropetes - The Fowl - Crane or duck with turnips
VII. Polyteles - The Sumptuous - Roasting, plain
VIII. Tetrapus - The Quadruped - Stuffed boiled suckling pig


released July 4, 2023

Ethan DePuy, tenor
Jung-A Bang, piano

Recorded in the Fraser Studio @ WGBH
June 26, 2023
Audio engineer and editor, Antonio Oliart

Music by Thomas Oboe Lee
Texts in Latin by Marcus Gavius Apicius, P.D.
Translation into English by Joseph Dommers Vehling, P.D.

© Departed Feathers Music, Inc. - BMI - 2023

Photo credit: Thomas Oboe Lee
Spaghetti alla carbonara @ Cambio in Trastevere, Rome, Italy

YouTube link: youtu.be/amKRuEAe0MA


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Thomas Oboe Lee Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thomas Oboe Lee was born in China in 1945. He lived in São Paulo, Brazil, for six years before coming to the United States in 1966. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he studied composition at the New England Conservatory and Harvard University. He has been a member of the music faculty at Boston College since 1990. ... more

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