The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Five: Io Saturnalia!

Saturnalia was one of the best parties of ancient Rome. Starting on December 17 and going through December 23, slaves would be waited on by their masters, people would give gifts, public banquets made everybody happy, and it was generally a non-stop party for those days. It was seen as a time when everyone was free — slaves, freedmen, plebians, and nobility alike. People gave gag gifts, or small pottery or wax figurines called sigillaria. And did I mention the feasting?

Since today is the first day of Saturnalia, I’d suggest you get out your best plates and goblets, and have yourself a Roman feast. Candied or dried fruit would be appropriate as appetizers, along with nuts, cheese, olives, and sausage rolls. Roast pork or chicken would make a great Roman main course. Gild the lily with a fruit-based sauce for the meat. Don’t forget the bread — the Romans loved their bread (you could use pita). And the best part of a Saturnalia feast? Dessert, of course! Gingersnaps, pfeffernusse, any spiced cookie would be a perfect ending to your Saturnalia spread. And for Jupiter’s sake, drink wine with the meal!

If you’re feeling squirrely, you could whip up this gorgeous pear pudding, from a recipe by Apicius:

Pear Pudding (Patina di Piris)

3 pears

1/4 t black pepper

1/4 t ground cumin

2 t honey

1 T sweet sherry (to replicate the Roman sweet wine called passum)

2 t fish sauce (I know, gross, but this is the Roman garum, and they put it in EVERYTHING. It really just adds a kick of savory to the dish.)

1 t oil

1 egg

Peel, quarter, and core pears. Place in saucepan, cover with water, and simmer until tender, about ten minutes.

Puree two pears until smooth and return to saucepan. Chop remaining pear coarsely and add to pureed pears. Add pepper, cumin, honey, sherry, fish sauce and oil to pears. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until warm.

Beat egg and add 3 t of hot pear mixture, whisking between additions, to temper. Then stir egg mixture into pear puree and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Makes two servings.

Scoot on over to for more spooky tales of Christmas.

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