A Roman pie 🥧 for pie day

Ave and Happy Pie Day ! Since it’s Roman month, I thought I’d talk about the most infamous pie in Shakespeare’s Roman plays, and give you an ancient Roman recipe that tastes a lot better!

In Act V of Titus Andronicus, the titular general and his household cook and serve the Empress’ sons to their mother in a pie! Here’s how the scene plays out in the 1999 film Titus:

The infamous pie scene from Titus Andronicus

Before he cooks the Empress’ sons, Titus actually tells them what he is going to do to them, like some kind of psychotic chef giving a cooking program:

This one hand yet is left to cut your throats,
Whilst that Lavinia 'tween her stumps doth hold
The basin that receives your guilty blood.
You know your mother means to feast with me,
And calls herself Revenge, and thinks me mad:
Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust
And with your blood and it I'll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallow'd dam,
Like to the earth swallow her own increase.
This is the feast that I have bid her to,
And this the banquet she shall surfeit on;

I’ve adapted Titus’ recipe into this creepy recipe card below:

Now when Titus says coffin he’s actually referring to a pie crust, (though ironically this coffin will also be a tomb for two human bodies). Ancient Romans did in fact make meat pies, so Tamara wouldn’t have immediately been suspicious It also was not unheard of for the ancient Romans to actually eat brains! According to DE RE COQUINARIA, one of the oldest surviving Roman cookbooks, there was a recipe called Patina frisilis, a pudding made of fresh vegetables, wine, and calf brains:

Take vegetables, clean and wash, shred and cook them cool them off and drain them. Take 4 calf’s brains, remove the skin and strings and cook them4 in the mortar put 6 scruples of pepper, moisten with broth and crush fine; then add the brains, rub again and meanwhile add the vegetables, rubbing all the while, and make a fine paste of it. Thereupon break and add 8 eggs. Now add a glassful of broth, a glassful of wine, a glassful of raisin wine, taste this preparation. Oil the baking dish thoroughly put the mixture in the dish and place it in the hot plate, (that is above the hot ashes) and when it is done unmould it sprinkle with pepper and serve.

APICIUS- DE RE COQUINARIA (c. 1st century CE).
Medieval edition of De Re Coquinaria

My research suggests that the coffin was mainly just flour and oil and was not actually intended to be eaten. It would be similar to a modern salt crust pie that seals in juices and helps preserve the pie in the absence of refrigerators.

Thankfully Apicius has another recipe for a Roman pie that I find much more appetizing

Elderberry Custard or PiePatina de sambuco

A dish of elderberries, either hot or cold, is made in this manner: take elderberries, wash them; cook in water, skim and strain. Prepare a dish in which to cook the custard; crush 6 scruples of pepper with a little broth; add this to the elderberry pulp with another glass of broth, a glass of wine, a glass of raisin wine and as much as 4 ounces of oil. Put the dish in the hot bath and stir the contents. As soon as it is getting warm, quickly break 6 eggs and whipping them, incorporate them, in order to thicken the fluid. When thick enough sprinkle with pepper and serve up.

A modern recipe for Elderberry pie 🥧

While I’m at it, here’s another historical pie recipe that was a favorite of Shakespeare’s Richard II:

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