Saturday, September 15, 2012

Brother Cadfael Calls Me Away...

Brother Cadfael is tempting me to read again the 20 mysteries by amazing author Ellis Peters. I was caught by a beautiful book called The Benediction of Brother Cadfael. It’s not new but is introductory to Peters’ series on Brother Cadfael and his involvement in mysteries in and around the abbey and the town of Shrewsbury in the twelfth century. It includes the first two books in the series but between them is a wonderful chapter with photos and the history of "Cadfael Country," in Shropshire and along the border with Wales. I was caught, couldn’t resist for awhile. But I will put it aside as a treat for other moments....

The book I really want to review today is The Food and Feasts of Jesus by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh and published by Rowman & Littlefield ( These authors love to cook, though one is a CPA and one is an Episcopal priest. They believe "there is much to be gained by studying the connections between food, culture, and history."

Many of the meals described in the gospels are plain and simple, though some were banquets and feasts. Jesus ate often with his disciples, and sometimes with local authorities or sometimes with the ordinary people of Galilee. Those meals included discussions, even arguments. "Food and feasting were important to Jews, Christians, Romans, Greeks, and everyone else of the first century," write Neel and Pugh. They claim that "in studying food and customs, we may gain historical, cultural, and theological insight."

Food and feasting were times of community in those days, as they are today. Common meals meant community for all who attended. Think of the Eucharist and our weekly attending, listening, sharing, praying, receiving the bread and wine together. Is that community? I think so.

Chapter 2 tells us of first-century ingredients and cooking methods. The authors list foods that were available, including grains and legumes; vegetables; fruits; nuts; meat, poultry, game and fish; milk products; and herbs, spices and condiments. Wines and vinegars were used, as well as honey, "the primary sweetener in the ancient world." Salt was common, and olive oil the fat that was used. Meat was a luxury and a blessing. Diet consisted mostly of whole grains and legumes, and bread was served at every meal probably, with fruits and vegetables in season.

Chapters that follow begin with a few Scripture verses describing one of the meals or feasts common at the time. Each then tells how to plan that kind of meal with a menu and recipes so that readers may try it on their own. Hmmm, just reading it makes me hungry.

Chapter 8 has a supplement offering directions for a first-century Passover feast for those who would like to try that. In the final chapter, Neel and Pugh tell how they spent years making wine, cheese, and breads; how they studied farming and cooking; how they held first-century banquets and Passover feasts for family and friends. Now they encourage readers to join the feast, create their own first-century feast. Invite friends, get neighbors and church groups involved. "Your feast doesn’t have to be fancy." It just needs to be "an offering of generosity and hospitality."

---Lois Sibley