Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (the former Tiberius Claudius Drusus) died today in 54 AD. He had been the Emperor of Rome for thirteen years, succeeding his infamous nephew Caligula at the age of 51.
After 51 years of doing pretty much nothing - which probably had a hand in saving his life - Claudius embarked on an energetic career as Emperor. There were his building projects: aqueducts, roads, canals, and the port at Ostia. There were his empire expansions: the additions of Britain, Thrace (northeastern Greece), Noricum (western Austria), Pamphylia and its neighbor Lycia (southern Turkey), Judea (part of Israel) and Mauretania (Morocco and western Algeria). There were his edicts, some of them very humane.
And then, there were his wives. The first two aren't noteworthy - at least, they didn't provide exciting material for historians and composers of opera like the last two - Messalina and Agrippina.
So we come to today in 54 AD. Rumor has it that Claudius was poisoned. Rumor can't decide how the poison was administered (although the 'dish of mushrooms' story is very popular), or who provided the poison, but rumor seems quite set on the person at whose instigation the poison was given - Claudius's fourth wife and niece, Agrippina, mother of an unassuming young man named Nero. Yes. That Nero. Martyrdoms-of-Peter-and-Paul-and-a-whole-bunch-of-others Nero. Who became emperor after the death of his grand-uncle and step-father, Claudius.
And who is said to have called mushrooms "the food of the gods" - supposedly because his step-father had become a god by eating them.
Well, I don't know if that's true, but I will agree that mushrooms are a divine delight. Here are three recipes to make yourself and your guests feel divine.
Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a skillet until hot; place 2 pounds of mushroom caps in skillet (cap side down); season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and cook until brown. Turn the mushrooms and cook until the liquid has evaporated and there is only butter (and mushrooms) in the pan. Stir lemon juice into the mushrooms. Serve immediately, spooning the butter/lemon sauce over the mushrooms. (These are nice served on hot toast)
BAKED MUSHROOMS IN CREAM
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Take the caps of one dozen large fresh mushrooms and wipe them with a damp cloth. Put 1 drop of onion juice* in each cap; arrange, cap side down, in a baking dish. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Dot with 1 tablespoon of butter and then pour 1/2 cup of light cream over all. Cover and cook in oven for 15 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Serve on buttered toast.
* Onion juice - either buy it, if you can find it, or make your own by grating an onion, then either placing the gratings in a strainer and mashing it through, or by placing the gratings in cheesecloth or a towel and squeezing the liquid out. Or use a food processor.
Preheat oven to #50 degrees F.
Remove the stems from 16 large mushrooms and chop them fine; set mushroom caps aside. Remove the casings from 6 ounces of sweet Italian sausage; add sausage, chopped mushroom stems, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet. Cook, breaking up the meat, until lightly brown. Add another tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of minced Italian parsley, and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and mix well.
Spoon mixture into mushroom caps; put caps in a shallow baking pan. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to 1/4 cup of water and pour into the bottom of the pan. Bake for about 20 minutes.