Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2
So. . .I just realized that this year Purim falls on the Ides of March. I guess that means you should be extra wary while consuming your wine and hope you don’t choke on your Hamantaschen. And stay away from theaters. And people with knives. You know, just in case.
The Ides of March simply means the middle of the month. Other Roman months also had Ides, but Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BCE. So that event—and then Shakespeare’s words–imparted a meaning to the date that had not existed before.
True confession: Despite a Ph.D. in history, I’ve never had a course in ancient world history. My lack of knowledge of Greek and Roman history is only matched by my even greater lack of knowledge about other ancient civilizations. I did have a book of mythology by Edith Hamilton that I used to like to read when I was a child. I think I “borrowed” it from my older sister. Yes, I was a nerdy child. What I have learned about ancient Rome I’ve gathered from my own browsing through texts, watching I, Claudius (I’m convinced that Claudius sounded exactly like Derek Jacobi and spoke with an English accent), and hearing my daughters discuss the information they acquired in their Latin classes in high school. Shout out to their wonderful Latin teacher! Woot! I also witnessed a couple of “reenactments” of historical events in Rome and Pompeii during a trip to Italy with Latin students from my daughters’ high school. That was the same trip in which I discussed sex in ancient Rome with a grad student chaperone, and the girls’ Latin teacher and I compared the Rape of the Sabine Women with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (Clearly, I transitioned from nerdy child to nerdy adult.)
Second True Confession: I haven’t read Julius Caesar since I was in ninth grade. I do remember reading some of Calpurnia’s lines to my then boyfriend, now husband’s Caesar. And for some reason, “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look” became a favorite phrase in our little ninth grade group. I have no idea why now. I guess because we were ninth graders–and nerdy.
I do know that Romans, including Caesar, drank wine.
Caesar: Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.
And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
Brutus: (aside) That every “like” is not the same, O Caesar,
The heart of Brutus earns to think upon.
—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene 2
And that they had feasts, during which they reclined. Maybe because they were drinking wine, too. That’s a joke. Perhaps. (The men—I’m not sure about the women–participating in the feasts reclined. Their slaves did not, which is why we’re told, to recline on Passover, since we are free.) Ancient Roman food often consisted of simple fare, such as bread, salty cheese, and fruit. Porridge-like dishes were common. Banquets featured more elaborate preparations, and the households of the wealthy displayed their wealth through the use of exotic ingredients. Dishes were often boiled or fried in olive oil—and strongly flavored sauces were essential. Garum, a fermented fish sauce was very popular. They also liked sweets made with honey.
On Purim, you’re supposed to drink wine, eat sweets, and celebrate! Traditional Purim foods often focus on beans, seeds, nuts, and dairy, as Queen Esther, it is said, did not want to eat food that was not kosher.
So what to eat for an Ides of March/ Purim feast? I haven’t quite decided. I’m thinking perhaps homemade falafel, pita bread, along with some feta or goat cheese and olives. The Romans ate chickpeas, if not exactly falalfels, and goat cheese, and olives. Queen Esther may also have eaten those foods. You’re welcome to top your falafel with some garum, if you want and happen to have it handy, but I think I’ll pass. Of course, top off the feast with lots of wine and Hamantaschen!
This is also the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, when many cities in the US host special bar crawls, and revelers in green hats and clothing stumble through the streets. For some who partake, the crawl will no doubt be literal. Feel free to add green food coloring to your Hamantaschen if you feel the need to eat green food. I don’t.
Enjoy your food and drink this weekend, whatever your cultural background. You might even want to start off your gastronomic weekend with a pie for Pi Day today! But remember, if a soothsayer tells you to avoid going somewhere tomorrow, you might want to heed his or her advice.
I wanted to try more recipes for Hammantaschen, but with looming deadlines and various projects, I didn’t get a chance this week. This is the recipe that I’ve used in the past, and which I prepared for a talk I gave this week. It uses oil instead of butter, but it has a great orange flavor. I made prune and apricot fillinggs. Just cook the fruit with some water, orange juice, lemon, and sugar until they’re soft and then mash them and chill. I also mixed some ground walnut and coconut into blueberry jam. Experiment with various jams and fruit fillings. YUM!
I used large eggs instead of extra large eggs, and it came out fine.
(This recipe was in The Philadelphia Inquirer several years ago, but I don’t know who created it.)
5 extra large eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup corn/vegetable oil
½ cup orange juice
Grated rind of 1 orange
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
Beat eggs until thick, but not foamy. Beat in sugar. Add oil, OJ, grated orange and lemon rinds, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix at low speed. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt; slowly stir into egg mixture to moisten. Do not overbeat. Dough will be sticky. Spread dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet; cut into quarters and chill at least 3 hrs., up to 3 days. (Dough may be frozen. To use defrost overnight in refrigerator.)
When ready to proceed, work with one-quarter of dough at a time, leaving the rest refrigerated. Lightly dust a cutting board with flour. Gently knead the dough pliable. Roll to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into circles, fill, and shape into triangles. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes until golden. Makes about 60 cookies.