How Ancient Food Strategies and Culinary Techniques May Be Applied in Present

18 Aug 2022

To Bring More Fun and Health, and Reduce Expenses and Environmental Exploitation


Presentation of foods of the Roman era in the Przeworsk culture (iron age) made by Chwastozercy Slow Food Dolny Slask during the iron age festival “Ludzie Ognia” in Archaeological Museum – Department of City Museum Wroclaw; Reenactment & photo credit: Anna Maria Ruminska

“Take that stone mortar and pestle, and grind it to powder, then sieve it. But first, soak the beans for 24 hours in well water, then cook it for 6 hours, mash it with a manual screw grinder, air/sun dry it, and crush by hand to make it easier in mortar. – Seriously? Why not taking a sous-vide cooker, food processor, then dehydrator, and finally an electric grinder to make this bean powder?”

Why not trust your muscles, hands, mind, eyes, and just do it slowly by hand? What is that hurry for? Why not slow down and experience all those amazing natural textures that boost your sensors and mind?

Contemporary kitchens designed by architects, interior designers and kitchen layout specialists hired by producers are uploaded with electric food processors, hence all those drawers, boxes and towers. Kitchen became a producer’s presentation field. It became a small home-factory. It is not a community room anymore.

Since modernistic and functional kitchen started to develop in early 20th century, a kitchen became a place of food processing. It stopped being a space for sharing

The question is, do we exploit tools or… rather tools exploit us…?


Crushing grains in wooden ‘stępa’ at the stand of Chwastozercy Slow Food Dolny Slask during iron age festival “Ludzie Ognia” in Archaeological Museum – Department of City Museum Wroclaw; Reenactment & photo credit: Anna Maria Ruminska

The citation above describes the way we process the Ark of Taste bean – Polska Fasola z Orzelkiem – into fine powder in order to take it for travels or to work, to make quick, but sustainable meal: bean soup or bean sandwich. In this processing series, we follow our predecessors and ancestors. We use ancient and medieval techniques – nearly totally hand techniques. We use more time and muscle power. And no need to explain how much it’s friendly for environment, health and soul.

What Is Food Reenactment?

Firstly, let’s explain what we mean by reenactment. It is a type of education, passion and leisure or play, in which educators go deep into the time period we educate about. We do it by dressing up with period related clothes and recreating period environment or surrounding – the more historically correct, the better. The correctness varies among the reenactment groups. Being historical reenactors, we sometimes make what is called diorama – a small performance made to show the specific situations and people in the possible best way – best means historically accurate. You may ask what period we reenact? The answer is: any. We personally are cross-period, but there are also reenactors who prefer focus on one period – rehistoric, antient, medieval, early modern or even 2nd world war. They all include reenacted food in their activity. It all depends which period we are all passionate about.

So, what is food reenactment? In my definition, it is just the same, but it is focused on food, while other disciplines of life remain in the background. Many common reenactors do not specifically care for using historically correct food ingredients, but they are highly accurate in historical garments: clothes, shoes, accessories, tools, weapon etc. They follow archaeological scholar papers and books and manufacture their items following the limited archaeological data. In most of cases it is much of interpretation, improvisation or inspiration. Food ingredients are conventional, although recipes are reenacted too, meaning they are recreated from antique cook books. While food reenactor is a food focused one.


The easiest example to show the difference between those two are millet groats: a general reenactor uses desiccated and often imported millet grains to make “historically accurate” meal. This millet is cheap, and he/she focuses on other issues much more, for example hand sewing his/her linen garments, and using hand woven linens, which is then historically accurate. While a food reenactor uses glyphosate free millet from local farmers, processed with antique techniques, and he/she does not focus on garment seams that much as those previous do. It is not the question one is better o worst. They are just different approaches and both are worth practicing or following. But the first one definitely does not bring a good change in the food system, as an education activity could do.

Photos on the left: A) ‘zsiadanie’, or curdling raw milk to make ‘twaróg’, fresh lactofermented cheese, ancient method long practiced in Slavonic and Germanic area of Central, Eastern and Northern Europe. B) slow skimming of raw cow milk. C) ‘zsiadle’ milk, or sour milk made by ‘zsiadanie’. D) cow milk curdled with those natural ancient slow methods. Reenactment & photo credit: Anna Maria Ruminska

What Antique Tools and Techniques Are Worth Using Again and Why?

Mortar – in Poland we used to call it stępa, and the other tool was called moździerz. Stępa was wooden or stone. It was used for dehusking or dehulling grains, legumes or other seeds, and crushing them into groats or flour. Moździerz was smaller and served for crushing herbs, fresh or dry, mainly for medicinal use. In preset times, stępa went practically out of use. It remained only in slow houses, museums and living history museums. Moździerz is still in use – porcelain, wooden, metal or wooden. Why using them back? Because as all manual tools, they give you occasion to practice your muscles. Tradition kitchen is a gym hall indeed.

Grinder – handy, unplugged, with a crank. You just fix it to the kitchen table with a screw and ready to go. No danger you will fail with the party if power goes down. It refers to beans, potatoes, lentils, but also to coffee. Slow grinding does not change the molecular structure of food ingredients, which is pretty important, but underestimated. It is the reason, processing milk for cheese with centrifuge is often not accepted in Slow Cheese standards of Slow Food movement.

Slow skimming – it refers to milk and cheese making. In my region, Dolny Śląsk, low fir wood bowls were once used for skimming milk. This type of wood is perfectly antibacterial, but it still keeps lactic acid bacteria. It helps in curdling and skimming raw milk, so it helps also in achieving slow, not conventional cheese. It also involves artisan wood carvers if only fir wood is supplied in sustainable way.

Photos on the right: A) ‘Gomółka’, ancient lactofermented dried (very hard) cheese long practiced in Slavonic area of Central Europe, an Ark of Taste product – dried in herbal nest. B) Wooden ‘stępa’ used for crushing grains nd legumes in the past – still useful today. C) Manual grinder (unplugged) very popular in Polish homes in the past and having its renaissance today due to growing costs of energy power. D) small handmade ceramic stove used for warming drinks or rosting bread. Reenactment & photo credit: Anna Maria Ruminska

Natural milk curdling – this technique is well known and practiced since the Neolithic times (likely earlier too) in the Northern, Central and Western Europe where we have cooler climate. In our local Archaeological Museum all may see a Neolithic (ca. 7500 years ago) strainer used for fermented milk – likely the oldest evidence of fermenting milk in Europe. Milk is let sit for a few days to become curdled naturally, with only natural lactic acid bacteria in milk and the room. After that, milk is heated gently and processed for Twaróg (Ark of Taste pending Polish product from our region) Curdled milk is called various ways, but is always made with the same method: in Poland zsiadłe mleko, in Scotland clabber, in Germany Dickmilch, in Ukraine kyslyak, in Sweden surmjolk… The thing that differ is lactic acid bacteria and animal breeds with their herbal pasture fodder, hence types of milk. We never use rennet, lemons or vinegar. We just let lactic bacteria work. It saves money and labour. It provides healthy lactic bacteria and amazing flavours in twaróg and other types of cheese.

Wooden boards – as for skimming in fir bowls, it is worth using them in cheese seasoning shelves. Using plastic changes this issue completely and requires use of chemicals for decent disinfection. Especially scratches on plastic planks make it hard to clean, hence dangerous for food safety. Thus they must be heavily chemically disinfected, unless wooden planks.


Open fire cooking – if only you have this possibility, you are the lucky one. And I don’t mean gas, but wood. That incomparable fragrance that burning wood gives to food is the best price for this activity which some consider waste of time. Flavour of wood roasted food are the most wonderful, because they are the most atavist. This scent transports us to the prehistoric times of hunters and gatherers and – most of all – to the close relationship with nature and Mother Earth. Fire is a powerful element. Smelling and tasting fire in your food sets you down in the proper place in relation to nature – not anthropocentric at all. Besides, if you have free wood, you have free cooking.

Steaming – water steam is a powerful cooking agent. It has higher temperature than boiling water, so less energy may be used to cook food. The other advantage is you can cook several ingredients in one pot at the same time – less washing, less power, less work, less water, less waste of nutritional ingredients – more nutritional values, more leisure.

And so on… There are much more items you can do manually and unplugged. This definitely may decrease power use, increase your health and wellbeing, as long as condition of your surrounding and the planet. Besides, it is much cheaper and more fun to sustainably use the best power engine we have access to: a human. Let us not always replace ourselves by machines


Photos on the left: ‘Gomółka’ in an ‘osełka’ shape with with dried ground elder herb (foraged in forest); a historical Polish lactofermented dried cheese, an Ark of Taste product, and its use in Polish dish ‘kluski’. Reenactment & photo credit: Anna Maria Ruminska



Anna Maria Rumińska
architect, cultural anthropologist, public spaces consultant, researcher, food anthropologist, food reenactor and curator, forager, gardener, chef, author; Slow Food Dolny Slask Convivium leader, president of the Chwastozercy group.

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