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.

UPDATE: It turns out, the Minoans did indeed have hearths, but only in domestic homes. For a long time, archaeologists thought the Minoans didn't have hearths because there was no evidence of them in any of the temple complexes. This remains true; apparently heating in the temples was done via portable braziers, and the kitchens also used braziers - and may even have been separate outbuildings that have long since decomposed (having the kitchen be a separate building helps to reduce fire hazard). But the ordinary people in ancient Crete did have small, chimney-less hearths in their homes. They appear to have used these for heat and for some amount of cooking, though they also used portable braziers for indoor cooking as well as cooking over coals outdoors, perhaps in the garden areas that appear to have flanked most homes.

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.