By now you all now that food facts and food history are a bit of an obsession in my household. When I eat I like to feel the connection with those who came before – that a centuries old olive tree in Greece could still be producing fruit is a miracle. The basil leaf I chop for my pasta tastes exactly the same as the one Romans ate two thousand years ago – it gives me peace to know that, in the age of Monsanto, some things never change.
My other mania is Roman history – it might be it’s my two very Roman names that keep me linked to my ancestry but since childhood I had fantasies of being a noble woman (never a servant, mind you) at the time of Anthony and Cleopatra and, for the longest time, my favourite book was “Quo Vadis”. I can still swoon over antique ruins of any kind, even piles of rocks, much to the dismay of most fellow travellers.
An interest in mythology came much later – the science fiction of ancient times, it was too full of imaginary beings, horses with human heads, gods who can turn you into stone, golden birds and it didn’t really capture my imagination because I knew it wasn’t real. As a child I was actually a bit disappointed in knowing that I would never fall into a hole and find Wonderland – at least until I morphed into an adult and the metaphors of other people’s minds and ancient mythology found a place in my imagination.
There are parts of my job that are tedious and routine but there are other occasions when unexpected twists and turns bring me fun and reward me with little gems that brighten my day. During a meeting with some Docents who will be offering gardening and food related tours at a Museum, I found myself trading stories, apocryphal or grounded in reality, that would only delight a bunch of like-minded geeks but that I will share with you nonetheless.
For instance, I wasn’t aware that the apple as we know it was predated by the quince, what we now consider a distant (and annoying) cousin that can’t be eaten raw. Whoever wrote the bible had probably a quince in my mind when relating the fatal Adam and Eve story. And it was a quince that Paris offered Aphrodite at the height of their love story. What I found interesting, and more earthy, is that, quince being the symbol of love, Greek brides used to nibble on it to purify their breath before entering the bridal chamber on their first married night. Remember, Colgate wasn’t an option.
Rosemary, that grows so abundant in my garden, used to be rubbed on tables in ancient Rome before a feast, thereby perfuming the rooms where the guests would spend hours reclining and essentially gorging themselves. To this day, it might be a better and healthier air freshener than plug-in Glad.
The silver tinge of the olive tree leaves was supposedly graced by the Moon Goddess Artemis who would stop at night, on her chariot, over the branches and sprinkle them with moon light. Now, isn’t it a nice thought to have every time you reach for your extra virgin bottle?