The concept of cooking with wine has been known since pre-Roman times, although it is they who are credited with refining the art and establishing the ground rules.
One of the earliest and still most comprehensive cookery books ‘De re coquinaria’ (lit. On Cookery) dating back to the first century, includes dozens of recipes that use wine.
There is a modern translation of it in the archive that was given to me by my father many years ago.
It makes for fascinating reading. The roots of all modern cookery can be seen in its pages.
The Coquinaria was compiled by a celebrated Roman epicure named Apicius. Now who Apicius actually was is confusing. There are three renowned gourmet’s of that name who may qualify but by the end of the first century the name had become synonymous with vast wealth.
Indeed, so great was his love of food that he committed suicide by taking poison due to an irrational fear of dying of hunger!
After you’d spent 60 million on your stomach, Apicius,
10 million still remained,
An embarrassment, you said, fit only to satisfy
Mere hunger and thirst:
So your last and most expensive meal was poison . . .
Apicius you never were more of a glutton than at the end.
Martial, Epigrams, 3.22
How the recipes have survived is not much better known except that an anonymous Roman clerk transcribed Apicius recipes into fourth century Latin and to another called Vinidarius who contributed to it further early in the fifth century.
The principal cooking wine used by the Romans was Passum, a raisin wine made from psythian or muscatel grapes.
It is also used for what are best referred to as boiled wines.
These were made from the must obtained from crushed and pressed grapes.
This was then reduced by half to produce defrutum which was kept near the hearth to be used much as blackjack is today, to colour and sweeten dishes, crenum, which was basically the same but reduced by one third and sapa, which was reduced by two thirds (assuming the sweetness and consistency of honey)
But be that as it may. In mid 20th century Great Britain wine was not the commodity it had been or would be.
The most common wine in the country was of the home-made variety. And recipes for Mead and Metheglin (both honey based concoctions) were still being handed down through families.
‘Foreign’ wines were something to be imbibed only on special occasions, due mainly to the cost factor, or just as importantly, availability.
The average Brit knew little or nothing of wine.
But the era of cheap travel for all was well underway and the average Brit was becoming more versed in the ways of the world.
These recipes are from the Woman’s Own book that has supplied the national recipes and are quite interesting for the language alone.
But the last word must go to the anonymous wag, unfortunately not me, who said :
“I always cook with wine, sometimes I even put some in the food!”