Saturday, January 5, 2013


"Terry!  Terry!  Listen to this!
This is so cool!"
I look up from my Mac in excitement.

"Do you know that you can participate in an archeological study
for a week in Pompeii this summer?
There's this study called The Pompeii Food and Drink Project
and you can help investigate
what life was like in Pompeii and in the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago!
They're looking at things that are associated with,"
I start reading,
"'the storage, distribution, preparation, serving, and consumption of food and drink.'"

Villa of the Mysteries Kitchen and Oven

"I just want to eat and participate in orgies,"
says he, not looking up from his iPad.

"I'm serious!"

"So am I," says he.  "That's the Roman way, isn't it?"

Terry has been patiently putting up with all things Pompeiian since we went to see the
A day in Pompeii exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science earlier this week.
I expected to see dramatic reconstructions of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD
and haunting plaster casts of its victims;
but I did not expect to learn so much about what Pompeiians ate and how they ate.
Did you know they had lots of fast food joints in ancient Pompeii?

But I digress.
I'm exploring a fascinating new word I learned at the exhibit:  garum.
It doesn't look like much, but the story behind it is something else!
I have a lot of fisherman in my family tree,
so perhaps that is why I felt so connected to

Exhibit Fish

These fish look so pretty painted on the wall of the DMNS exhibit,
and then you find out what Pompeiians did to the fish to produce garum!
Pompeii was known throughout the ancient Roman empire 
for producing and selling excellent garum,
a popular, spicy fish sauce or paste used as a condiment.

I was amazed to see 2,000 year old carbonized garum paste in the exhibit!

Garum:  Carbonized Fish Paste

Carbonization is a process by which organic material is preserved as a carbon film.  
It takes place when organic material is buried in an anoxic environment where there is no oxygen.
Anaerobic bacteria consume the hydrogen and oxygen in the organic material, 
leaving concentrated carbon behind.  
The carbon films are usually black, light brown, or dark brown in color.
The burying of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius 
created the conditions necessary to preserve garum and other foodstuffs.

Garum was essential to Roman cuisine, 
because it enhanced the flavor of bland food with a pungent, salty flavor.

Pompeiians made it in their kitchens for home consumption, 
and produced it in factories by manufacturers 
Pompeii's most famous garum producer.

Mosaic of a Garum Jar from the House of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus

Garum, discovered at the bottom of seven jars at the house of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus,
has been used to confirm the date of the eruption of Vesuvius,
most likely August 24, 79.

This is the date reported by Pliny the Younger, a Roman historian,
who reported his detailed observations of the eruption
in two letters to Tacitus, another Roman historian, twenty-five years later.
The letters included an account of the death of Pliny the Elder
who tried to escape by boat from shore but died of suffocation instead.
Pliny the Younger's observations were so detailed
that volcanologists now describe Vesuvius-like eruptions
as Plinian eruptions.

  Eruption of Vesuvius, Painting by I.C. Dahl (1826)

So how did Pompeiians produce the garum prized throughout the early Roman Empire?

Gurry, a good Nova Scotian term,
or fish guts,
was macerated in salt
and left to cure in the sun for one to three months.

This fragrant concoction fermented and liquified in the dry climate of Pompeii,
with the salt inhibiting the rotting of the entrails.
Oh good!

a clear liquid that rose to the top of the container,
like cream rising to the top of milk,
was collected and strained for use.
The liquid garum could be combined with various aromatic herbs
to add flavors that differed by locale.
Oh double yum!

Italian Herb Garden

Garum, a nutritious condiment,
was rich in protein, amino acids, vitamins, and B minerals.
It also contained a lot of glutamic acid
and was used somewhat like monosodium glutamate is used today.
Garum had a natural umami flavor!

All those years I taught third graders there were four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty!
Suddenly we have a fifth: umami!
And it's been around for thousands of years!

Umami has a
"... a mild but lasting aftertaste difficult to describe.
It induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue,
stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth." (Wikipedia)

Yummier and yummier, especially the furriness part!
(Perhaps Vitamin Cottage should carry this!)

    DMNS Exhibit

    Advertising was alive and well in ancient Pompeii!

Jug or Urceus

Pompeii's garum factories have not been found.
They most likely lay beyond the walls of the Pompeii
where the stink of garum production would not bother the citizens of the city.
The DMNS exhibit says that the garum was mass produced in large vats along the Sarno River,
but I have not been able to verify this with another source.

Here is a modern recipe for garum
from the Pompeii Food and Drink website:


560 g black olives, stoned
16 anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 1 hour and patted dry
1 hard-boiled egg yolk
90 g capers
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
60 ml olive oil

Mix all ingredients together in blender or food processor until light and fluffy. Puree the mixture in a food mill or push it through a sieve with a wooden spoon. Return to the blender or food processor and process briefly to obtain a smooth paste.

Note: Do not substitute fresh herbs with dry as they will not puree properly, either omit, experiment with other fresh herbs, or increase the amounts of parsley.

I can't say I've tried it,
but have at it, if you wish!

Now how to get to Pompeii this summer to work on the Pompeii Food and Drink Project?
Maybe I can work a bacchanalian angle!

Painting of a Roman Orgy
Horace and Lydia byThomas Couture (after 1843)


  1. Um, I'll pass on the garum.
    It would be fabulous to go to Pompeii for a week? I read on the project's website that Pompeii is one of the 100 most endangered cultural sites.

    1. Hi Terry,
      I was surprised to read about how endangered Pompeii was on that site. It would be a great loss to lose it. I would love to go to Pompeii this summer, but we have several trips planned for this year already, so I'm aiming for next summer. My Terry, who has been to Italy, says that I should have been born Italian and that I was made to go to Rome. We'll see! Fingers and toes crossed!
      Have a good day.

  2. This is a very interesting post!
    I always said that anchovies tasted like fish guts. Man, I hate being right all the time.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Kay. Anchovies are definitely an acquired taste!
      Happy day to you!

  3. I'm not a fan of capers, but it's the anchovy fillets that have me heading for the hills. Hubby might look at it differently though; he loves anchovies!

    Pompeii for a week? What an experience that would be. Imagine the pictures!

    1. Hi Martha,
      I lol at your reaction to capers and anchovies!
      I would dearly love to go to Pompeii! One of my sisters was there last summer with her husband. Not only did she go to Pompeii, she climbed Mt. Vesuvius. Talk about a dream trip. Maybe next year. I would really enjoy having my own photos without having to get images from Wikimedia Commons.

      We seriously contemplating a trip to India later this year with a stop in Kuwait to see my brother and his wife. Plus a few other trips! I need to win the lotto!

      Have a good one!

  4. This was fascinating Louise! I do like capers and anchovies, so I'd be very willing to try this garum. Asian cooking uses a 'fish sauce' frequently....very mild.
    I KNOW where you'll be this summer for a week!! I majored in anthropology/archaeology and this would be right up my alley. I love to 'dig around' for things.

    1. Hi Jim,
      I'm discovering people either love or hate the idea of capers and anchovies.
      It's quite funny.
      I would dearly love to go to Pompeii this summer.
      But I might have to wait until next summer - because I also want to go to India before my in-laws move and that chance is lost.
      So you were an anthropology/archaeology major. Fascinating stuff!
      I love exploring all the Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners area. I keep going back.
      Both my mother and I had such a spiritual and emotional connection to Monument Valley and the surrounding area.
      Anthro/Archaeo are tough areas to make a living in.
      As bad as paleontology.
      But how wonderful it is to learn about the past.
      What was your favorite period or area to study? I'm pretty entranced with Egypt and Angkor Wat.
      Have a good day!

  5. Oh my, this is absolutely fascinating! I can add a new word to my vocabulary ~ garum. I'm actually a vegetarian so I have the perfect excuse to NOT try it. Still, I was an anthropology major and I'd do anything to go work on an archaeological dig for a week. Truly sounds like heaven!

    (Is your name Louise? It so, that is one of my most favorite names ever. My youngest daughter is actually Clara Louise...but I often call her LuLu for Louise Brooks who inspired the choice of her middle name!)

    1. Hi Audrey!
      Thank you for visiting my blog and becoming a follower. That is so exciting to me!

      I have a number of vegetarian nieces and nephews. But I not as evolved yet!

      I've never been on an archaeological dig, but I've been fascinated with archaeology all my life. I've had the good fortune to go on two paleontology digs with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science - two of the most amazing experiences in my life.

      Yes, my name is Louise. It's an old family name that has been passed on and on. I have a cousin named Claire Louise and a niece named Natalie Anne Louise, so the name continues. I'm actually Myrtle Louise, but I was never called Myrtle, except by my brother who likes to push my buttons! Even my grandmother hated her name Myrtle!

      LuLu is so cute! And now I've learned about Louise Brooks.
      Have a good day!

  6. Hello Louise,
    What a fantastic post, right up my street! I had a tube of Umami paste from my Brother last Christmas (quickly used!). I didn't know about the Garum so thank you! Definitely will make the 'modern' version of the Garum this summer, sounds good in fact! Imagine if you get to go to Pompeii, what a trip that would be! Hope you are both having a good weekend.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging comment, Ivan!
      I had so much fun at the Pompeii exhibit and exploring Garum on line.
      I may try the Garum recipe myself. I'll have to grow the herbs first though. They are very expensive at the store.
      I'm sure you can head out to one of your gardens and pluck fresh herbs.
      In Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, there is an incredible group of historical gardens, and one of them is a beautiful and fragrant herb garden.
      I have to satisfy myself with container pots!
      I hope you have had a good weekend.
      I've been battling a cold that is getting worse not better. It had better get lost before Wednesday because I have a ticket to go back to the Pompeii exhibit one more time before it closes. I'll get there if I have to crawl!
      I hope that you and yours are doing well. :)

  7. Louise, this has me roaring with gales of laughter....imagine garum producing so much humour......anyway......Terry needs an orgy for sure, for God's sake woman....wink the man a good time. Trip>< works!
    I wouldn't be surprised if Jim tries this recipe with his new food processor a la Xmas....Did you say you had tried something like this?
    Listen take care of that cold...douse yourself with whatever...nothing worse than taxing the brain with all this blogging stuff and you can't enjoy it!

    1. Hee hee Ron!
      Wink wink right back at you!
      Terry has been definitely been teasing me about orgies. He comes up with some of the funniest comments.
      I've been exerting all my efforts and charms in an attempt to get to Sri Lanka and India later this year, so Pompeii might have to wait one summer. Not to mention I'm also campaigning for a stop in Kuwait City on the way to Asia. Terry has been dragging his feet a little on both. If his sister and brother-in-law weren't living in New Delhi right now, India would definitely be a no go for Terry.
      My brother says he feels safer in Kuwait than in the US. With everything that's been going on in the past few months, he could be right.
      I'm glad that you enjoyed the humor, Ron. I was having fun writing it.
      The cold is winning right now, but I'll bounce back soon. Meanwhile blogging helps distract me!
      I hope you are having a great day. It's fun to see all those laughing pictures that Jim took of you.

    2. Jim is truly a sweetheart....he just has a way about good vibes...I know you guys would hit it off so well!

      PS....huge response on my latest post re: photo editing did I go overboard....!


  8. Your photo editing post was great, and I'm going to head back to it after I get supper made and cleaned up. Jim is a sweetheart! I'm enjoying our back and forth very much. Have a good evening!

    1. PS...I sent you a personal email through FB. Have a read and then let me know what you think!
      Thanks R

  9. I will, Ron!
    I've been down and out still with this nasty cold,
    so I've just not gotten on line today.
    I'm doing better, and I got the first relatively decent night's sleep in a week last night.
    I hope that you are having a good day. :)s + belly rubs for Soph!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.