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Pompeii Pea Soup

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By Caroline JanePublished 8 days ago Updated 7 days ago 6 min read
"Daedalus" looking out from the excavated ruins of Pompeii. The monumental sculpture, created by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, was a gift to Italy and the UNESCO site of Pompeii in 2016. Photograph by author.

I have stood inside ancient stone circles in the historic heartlands of British countryside, visited historical sites of some of the oldest civilisations of the western world, climbed up through the clouds in remote places like the Andes to reach the echelons of mystical civility, supped on tea served with arcane ceremony while sat inside some of Japan's oldest pagodas, sat in caves where cannibals once hoarded the bones of their victims, and read many, many stories writ by the hand of those who lived millennia before I, but it is only in Pompeii that I have felt genuinely connected to the lives of the ancients.

A month ago I took my mum on a simple sightseeing tour, a day trip from Rome, where we had been staying. The trip was nothing more than an exercise in tourist voyeurism. We went to tick a box on some bottom-drawer bucket list. "Let's 'do' Pompeii while we are here," said I. "Why not," said Mother and off we went... along with around a thousand other people who had thought similarly. As we chugged up through Naples on our coach, it felt as though we were on a trip to Disney Land, not a city killed and buried by an act of nature two millennia ago.

When we arrived, it was raining. Now that I look back, it seems fitting, but at the time, all of us day-trippers cursed the skies. You don't expect rain on Italy's Amalfi Coast. We were sparsely prepared for dodging raindrops. Still, as I say, back home in the warm and dry, a warrior with a keyboard, I can wholeheartedly say that the swirls of grey skies added something suitably macabre and the soaked, glistening stone city streets seemed all the more real for the drenching.

The drenched central street of Pompeii. To me the addition of rain makes it feel less picture bookl.

I have wondered if it was simply the sober circumstance that made Pompeii resonate so profoundly with me. But then I remember that death is the unspoken constant at every historical site. All our visitable history is merely a collection of relics, large or small, entangled by the stories of the dead. Yet there in Pompeii, a city defined by how it died, it was not the spectre of death that reached out to me. What I have come to realise is that while death, more than anywhere, pervades every inch of Pompeii, it is not this omnipresence that connects me to the place. It is, in fact, the opposite. What connects me to Pompeii, this ancient Italian city born from the heartlands of ancient Greece and smothered by layers of Versuvian volcanic ash, is categorically the enduring essence of life.

Pompeii feels alive, palpable. Frescos tell stories, buildings tell of practicalities, streets describe character, infrastructure tells of organisation, the eateries provide a sense of flavour, and the brothels and hidden gardens hint at secrets. Everywhere you look you find details of real, fully-fleshed lives caught and frozen inside a moment. Each detail, each nuance, each revelation wraps itself into the next like a bundle of synapses, or nerves, feeding and firing information and meaning until the whole starts to rise as a real, existential life from the ruinous bones.

Pompeii felt to me like the antithesis of the death for which it is famed. There was such truth and honesty preserved amongst the ashes that I felt as though I could reach out and touch the lives of people who lived two millennia before me. I wondered if I listened hard enough, breathed deeply enough, whispered quietly enough, stroked my finger along a brick poignant enough if perhaps I would be wholly transported into another way of life. It was as though I was just out of earshot of their conversations, slightly on the edge of their jokes, a welcome friend at a family gathering. I was so close that I could practically taste what they were preparing in their eateries for supper.

I may not be able to breathe the air as they did, walk the street as they would have, or visit the bars that they once did, but I have been inspired to recreate food that I imagine they once ate. The streets of Pompeii comprise many, many eateries. Every other building seems to have a bank of holes that once housed clay pots from which soups and stews were served.

Behind this high street servery lies a secret cottage garden

People did not have their own kitchens in first-century Pompeii. It was too expensive for your everyday person to eat at home. That was a luxury that only the wealthy enjoyed. The hoipolloi ate out, enjoying their version of ready-made mass-produced foodstuff sold from shops like those in the pictures above. They used local produce which grew plentifully in the fertile soils and they kept livestock like goats.

Look at the size of that Pompeii lemon!! Mother's hand for perspective!

Here is my culinary ode:

Pompeii Pea Soup ~ With Lemon, Mint, and Greek Yoghurt

It is a speedy-to-make, tangy, fresh bowl of soup that sings with crisp summery flavours while offering the comfort and depth of nutritious substance.

Pea, mint and lemon soup served with Greek Yoghurt.

Recipe:

In a pan sauté an onion in vegetable oil until it becomes transparent. Add some crushed garlic to your own taste, add vegetable stock and a good handful of fresh garden mint. Add the chopped potato, bring to the boil and then simmer until the potato in the broth is soft. At the end, add the peas. You need a lot, it is the main ingredient but you barely need to cook them. Only cook until they are tender or you risk losing their flavour. I used frozen peas in mine because I did not have enough fresh ones (I live in England, not Italy!). Before blitzing the soup add a good squeeze of lemon. My lemon was palm sized, and I used half of it. Keep tasting and remember you can always add more post processor blitz. Season as desired and serve with a spoonful of greek yoghurt and a side of goat's cheese on toast (see below).

Sautéed onion and garlic with a soft, floury potato and frozen garden peas.
Mint from my garden.

Goat's Cheese on Toast Side

Slice one large hot dog roll as you would a loaf of bread (yes you read that correctly - this is fast food after all!) Toast one side and turn. Place a slim disc of goat's cheese on top of each miniature slice and return to the grill to toast. Serve with a sprinkle of diced, fresh sugar snap pea on top.

Fast Food. A side of toasted goat's cheese with a garnish of sliced sugar snap peas.

And which of these beautiful wines, which were served to us as part of our end-of-tour meal at a local vineyard, would I choose to pair with this simple meal?

None.

Instead, I would opt for Pompeii water and if I could, I would have it poured straight from the mouth of one of these Pompeii street fountains:

Archaeologists have stated that the teeth of the Pompeii people unearthed from the ash were in excellent condition because of their low sugar, healthy diet and because the local water is full of teeth protecting fluoride.

Here are some other facts that I did not know about Pompeii and its people:

1. They had no word for Volcano and were clueless about the fact that they lived on the skirts of an active Mount Vesuvius.

2. They have pictures of phallus everywhere. Apparently, these pictures are neither seedy (sorry for the pun) nor patriarchal. They symbolise fertility and life.

There are so many of these that you really do start to understand why the Carry On team in the 1960's came up with the idea of the film "Up Pompeii!"

3. In their brothels, of which there are many, the beds are made of concrete. Here is a picture of one such brothel and another of a pussy cat sitting nonchalantly and somewhat ironically right outside the front door enjoying the first of the day's sunshine. Behind the pussy cat, you will see a hole for one of the clay pots used to serve the fast food.

Post-coital snack anyone?

A brothel.

Well, when in Pompeii!

I hope you enjoy the soup as much as I do!

Bye from me!

Completely shattered after a full day in Pompeii. This is me, back in Rome, enjoying the last of the day's sun with a much-needed Aperol Spritz (Aperol, prosecco, and freshly squeezed OJ).

C J

XX

***

Note:

If you would like to follow me at my WordPress blog you can here >>> thoughtfulrecipes.blog <<<

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About the Creator

Caroline Jane

Warm-blooded vertebrate, domesticated with a preference for the wild. Howls at the moon and forages on the dark side of it. Laughs like a hyena. Fuelled by good times and fairy dust. Writes obsessively with no holes barred.

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Comments (3)

  • Rachel Deeming8 days ago

    That lemon. It was a mutant. This was a great travelogue and that pea soup looks scrumptious. I, too, was very moved by Pompeii and Herculaneum. And I agree with you - it's one of the places where I felt closer to the people who lived there, maybe because so much of it is intact and the colours remain.

  • Oh wow, the irony, because now it's a luxury to eat now. Also, whoaaaa, that lemon was hugeeeee!

  • Great Story to live on, fantastic, thanks for sharing

Caroline JaneWritten by Caroline Jane

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