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Greeks; the diet of ancient

The ancient Greeks were very keen on their food. As far back as 350BC, a Greek poet, Archestratus (see below), wrote an entire work on Gastrology; and about half a century later, Epicurus created an approach to life that survives in our word epicure.

To the Greeks a cook was a professional, and paid better than a hired hand. A new dish was as important to Greek intellectuals as a new poem. This love of food extended to the Greek colonies - the city of Sybaris (in the arch of the Italian boot) used to crown cooks who came up with new recipes on a dais before massed crowds. Although the city was destroyed in 510BC, a "sybarite" is still someone devoted to luxury and sensual pleasures.

There is evidence that at least a dozen cookery books existed with titles such as "The Art of Cooking"; and "Sicilian Cooking"; as well as books on gastronomy, pickles and vegetables by authors such as Eristratus, Euthydemus, Glaucus of Locris, Hegesippus, Heraclidus and Mithaecus. But the father of Greek cooking was Archestratus, who in the 4th century BC " diligently traversed all lands and seas in his desire . . . of testing carefully the delights of the belly".

However, Greece was a rocky, barren land, much as now, with only a quarter of its land being suitable for tiling. Although these early inhabitants knew nothing about crop rotation, they realised that ground had to recover, and would leave fields fallow every other year. They reaped wheat with sickles, having no scythes, the threshed the grain by driving their cattle over it.

One reason for seeking out colonies was that they were never able to be self-sufficient in food, and relied on imports from more luscious climes. Cheese and pork from Sicily, grain and dried fish from the Crimea, more grain from Egypt.

Dietary favourites have in some ways changed little, with the likes of olive oil, olives, goat"s cheese and meat, mutton, bread and wine plus the aforementioned imports - being staples. Garlic was not much used (and still isn"t), while the chief herb was basil and called "basilkon" signifying royalty. They certainly force-fed geese (in a manner learnt from the Egyptians) to enlarge their livers, and produce some kind of paté de foie gras.

Fruit was popular - including apples, pears and quinces - while plums were introduced from Damascus (the Greek word for plum is Damas"kinon).Grapes were introduced from Macedonia (archaeologists have found seeds dating back to 4000BC) and popular dried as currants (the name coming from the city of Corinth).

Luxuries included caviar, roasted crickets, oysters, shrimps and pistachio nuts.

Like the Romans of a later date, they ate little breakfast, a light lunch, but finished with a heavy dinner.

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