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Minoan Cooking: A taste of the ancient world

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

One way we can connect with ancient cultures is by exploring their daily lives: how they cooked, dressed, worked, played, and so on. These are things we all do, things we in the modern world can relate to and that can help make ancient people more real to us. And this, in turn, can help us connect with their spirituality.

So how about the Minoans? Let's explore their food a little bit so we can get a taste (ahem) of what their life was like.

First of all, one thing the Minoans didn't have was hearths. When we think of ancient societies, or even people during the Middle Ages, we tend to think of large fireplaces or at least hearths (without the chimney) where the cooking was done. But Crete, where the Minoans lived, has a warm climate most of the year so heating wasn't a high priority for the Minoans. In fact, keeping cool during the long, hot summer was pretty important to them, just as it is now to the people who live there. They didn't have hearths in their homes or in the larger buildings like the temple complexes. So how did the Minoans cook? With braziers and portable ovens.

The terracotta oven/brazier combo pictured at the top of this post is from Akrotiri. To use it, you would pile some coals into the opening and let it heat up. Then you could cook on the top by setting a pot on it or putting your flatbreads directly on the terracotta. Or you could bake food near the coals in the oven - say, a few small birds or fish or perhaps a loaf of bread.

The Minoans also made what we might call kebabs: pieces of meat and vegetables on skewers, roasted over coals. Here's a nifty little kebab grill thingy from Akrotiri:

 

Minoan grill from Akrotiri

 

It's easy to see how they could have piled coals between the two pieces then grilled food above the heat source. I like the handles on the sides - that would make it easy to pick the pieces up and store them when they're not in use, without getting soot on your hands. The air holes would also keep your coals from dying out.

During the heat of the summer, the Minoans (like many ancient people) probably cooked outdoors to keep from heating up their homes. For this kind of cooking, they used footed terracotta pots that look an awful lot like ancient versions of the familiar iron cauldron. You can see this kind of cooking in action in the modern world via Minoan Tastes, a group of archaeologists, potters, and cooks who re-create Minoan food and cooking for the public as an educational activity. I'm hoping that one day this awesome group will publish a cookbook so those of us who can't attend their events will still be able to sample Minoan cooking.

Would you like to cook on a brazier like this? Bear in mind, food cooks in the same length of time whether you're doing it on a gas or electric cooktop or a brazier; it's the "extra" chores like chopping the firewood that take so much more time. The entire world cooked over coals in one way or another until just a century or two ago, and in some places they still do. So this is a bit of ancient history that stretches all the way up into our world.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

 

 

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Tagged in: Cooking Crete food Minoan
I'm an artist, writer, and lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a particular passion of mine since a fateful art history class introduced me to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. My first book was published in 2001; my most recent work is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. I've also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When I'm not busy drawing and writing, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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