Columella Loved Making Moretum
During the reign of the notorious emperor Nero there lived a man in Rome called Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella.
He was born AD 4 and died ca AD 70. In the first part of his life he was a soldier, but later on he took up farming, and then he wrote one of the most important ancient books on this subject: Twelve volumes called De Re Rustica.
They have been completely preserved, and in them Columella cites many other authors who are no longer extant, and therefore he is one of the few sources to these almost forgotten writers – some of them very ancient.
Columella also wrote a smaller book called De Arboribus, which is a book about trees.
De Re Rustica presents itself as advice to a certain Publius Silvinus. In the book Columella writes about soils, viticulture (the cultivation of grapes), fruits, olive trees, big animals (cattle, horses and mules), small animals (asses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs), fish and fowls (chickens, doves, thrushes, peacocks, Numidian chicken and guinea fowl, geese, ducks), fish ponds, wild animals and enclosures for wild animals, bee-keeping (production of honey and wax), gardens, personnel management, calendars and household management. His range of subjects was indeed very comprehensive.
In volume XII of the book Columella has written down several recipes of moretum.
Moretum is a spread made of fresh cheese, herbs, olive oil, some vinegar and sometimes nuts. If you make it with pine nuts it is very similar to what we today know as pesto. The name moretum was given to the dish because it was made by crushing the ingredients together in a mortar.
This is what Columella wrote in De Re Rustica, XII-lix:
“Addito in mortarium satureiam, mentam, rutam, coriandrum, apium, porrum sectivum, aut si non erit viridem cepam, folia latucae, folia erucae, thymum viride, vel nepetam, tum etiam viride puleium, et caseum recentem et salsum: ea omnia partier conterito, acetique piperati exiguum, permisceto. Hanc mixturam cum in catillo composurris, oleum superfundito.”
This is Columella’s moretum recipe for us to use today:
- 1 small head lettuce
- 100 g fresh mint
- 50 g fresh coriander
- 50 g fresh parsley
- 1 small leek
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 200 g feta cheese (or other fresh salted cheese)
- olive oil
Tear the lettuce leaves into small pieces and put them together with the herbs and the sliced leek in the mortar (or use a blender) . Add the cheese and crush it all together. Stir in a little peppered vinegar. Put this mixture on a plate and pour oil over it. If you like you can add nuts, eg walnuts or pine nuts.
You can also experiment with the herbs you use – try different herbs and use both fresh and dried.
Columella loved to eat his moretum with fresh bread.