Today, XII Kalends September in the Roman calendar, was the festival of Consualia, in honor of Consus, the deity in charge of counsel – especially kept counsel – and secrets. Most famously it is known as a set-up by Romulus, by which he planned to keep his new city of Rome going through the forcible abduction of brides for his men.
Yep, this was the day of those sobbin’ women, “who lived in the Roman days.”
According to Sir William Smith in his Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography: “In the fourth month after the foundation of the city, he [Romulus] proclaimed that games were to be celebrated in honour of the god Consus, and invited his neighbours, the Latins and Sabines, to the festival. Suspecting no treachery, they came in numbers, with their wives and children. But the Roman youths rushed upon their guests, and carried off the virgins.”
They never did return their plunder
The victor gets all the loot.
They carried them home, by thunder,
To rotundas small but cute.
And you've never seen, so they tell me,
Such downright domesticity.
With a Roman baby on each knee
Named "Claudius" and "Brute"
Johnny Mercer, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, 1954.
Not a whole lot is known about Consus or his festival, although a lot of interesting stuff has been written. Varying accounts by both ancient and modern writers have muddied the waters, identifying him with the gods of the lower world and of the harvest (making this another harvest festival. Or perhaps the festival made him another harvest god. Who knows?). At some point, he was associated with Neptunus Equestris (in Greek, Poseidon Hippios, the Horse God), hence (supposedly) the prominence of horses, asses, and mules in the celebrations, where the equines were decorated with flowers and given a holiday from work. Horse races and mule races in the Circus Maximus were traditional to the day, as was the annual unearthing of the buried altar of Consus in the Circus.
Pretty much, it seems like a day to have fun, which is probably what it was for the Romans.
So what would the Romans eat as they watched the horse and mule races? The Food Timeline has excerpts regarding ‘fast food’ in Rome along with the kinds of eatables at the Coliseum. Since it is summer, I offer for your consideration a recipe from the famous ancient Roman cookbook of Apicius, De Re Coquinaria, for what Michaela Pantke calls “a kind of Roman burger”.
This version comes from Joseph Dommer Vehling, in his 1926 book “Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome”, available online at Project Gutenberg:
ALITER ISICIA OMENTATA
FINELY CUT PULP [of pork] IS GROUND WITH THE HEARTS OF WINTER WHEAT AND DILUTED WITH WINE. FLAVOR LIGHTLY WITH PEPPER AND BROTH AND IF YOU LIKE ADD A MODERATE QUANTITY OF [myrtle] BERRIES ALSO CRUSHED, AND AFTER YOU HAVE ADDED CRUSHED NUTS AND PEPPER SHAPE THE FORCEMEAT INTO SMALL ROLLS, WRAP THESE IN CAUL, FRY, AND SERVE WITH WINE GRAVY.
Note: ISICIUM refers to minced or hashed meat, like sausage meat. Ground beef works. OMENTATA refers to the caul or intestinal membrane, such as used for sausage casings. Since I’m not making sausage, I’ve left that out of my version of the recipe, along with the Wine Gravy.
For the modern kitchen:
Soak ½ cup of cream of wheat (or fine bread crumbs or two pieces of toast) in ½ cup of wine (or other liquid such as milk or water)
Crush 4 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts; reserve.
Mix the soaked wheat (and liquid if any is left) and crushed nuts with 1 lb of ground meat, ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper, ¾ teaspoon of ground allspice [aka the ‘myrtle berries’], and 3-½ tablespoons of garum (a salty fish sauce)* or substitute a mixture of a scant ½ teaspoon of salt dissolved in 3 – 4 tablespoons of white wine. Shape into burgers and either pan-fry or grill until done.
Apicius didn’t serve his Aliter Isicia Omentata on a bun, but that shouldn’t stop us.
*You can buy garum or make it yourself.
Micaela Pantke entered her translations of some of Apicius’s recipes here, if you are interested in trying more Roman cookery.
Artwork: Nicolas Poussin, c. 1635. The Abduction of the Sabine Women, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Wikipedia.
“Dinner Gong: A Roman gong from Pompeii”. Pen-and-ink drawing by Joseph Dommer Vehling, in his 1926 book Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, available online at Project Gutenberg.