When I think of the process for making garum, I keep getting the ridiculous Dr. Demento song “Fish Heads” in my own head. This is strange, because in Roman times, it is more likely that the heads of various fishes were not indeed used to produce garum. Heads and fillets would have been snapped up by customers in the fish market. Just about any sort of fish would do, from species such as small mullets to sardines, but mackerel was most prized.
Fishermen (women? unlikely…) would bring in their haul and after selling the choice cuts, they would be left with things like blood, intestines, and whatever else didn’t happen to sell that day. All of these parts would then be thrown into large containers. They would be mixed with lots of salt and left to cure in the sunshine for anywhere from 30 to 90 days or so. This mixture would ferment and liquify, while the salt would prevent decay.
When judged to be ready, a clear liquid would remain on the top. In essence, this is garum; however, the liquid could be strained and was sometimes called liquamen. Eventually, the two terms were synonymous. The remaining sludge was called allec—this would be sold to the poor. All varieties could be flavored with herbs, wines, or vinegars depending on family recipes or locales. Is it good for you? Well, it is loaded with sodium, but also with protein. It was a completely natural product. It can’t be any worse than all the synthetic crap we sophisticated moderns shove into our bodies.
Would you like to make your own garum? I found a few links to people who have done so and blogged about it. This one in particular enjoyed the process: The Silk Road Gourmet makes Garum. The whole experience is not appealing to me. Yes, I’ll admit it—I will be perfectly content to buy my bottle of already-prepared fish sauce.
This dessert, however, is perfectly fine without any garum.
Caseus Bellaria cum Uvis Passis et Armeniacis
(a.k.a. Sweet Cheese with Raisins and Apricots)
- 3 ounces raisins
- 3 ounces dried apricots, cut into ¼” bits
- 2 cups boiling water
- 15-16 ounces Ricotta cheese (I use a lower-fat variety)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt (or use a few drops of garum)
Place the raisins, apricots, and water in a large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain very well.
Don’t bother to wash the bowl; just dry it out. Combine the cheese, honey, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl with a whisk. Add the fruit and mix well. Cover and chill leftovers. Stir before spreading. Makes about 2½ cups.
Serve with sweet varieties of crackers, cinnamon bagel chips, chocolate bagel chips, or spread on some pound cake. Sprinkle with some garum if you dare.
I happened to find the original Dr. Demento video of the song “Fish Heads.” It’s very disturbing in a quirky way. It also seems appropriate for Halloween time, so if you like, I have provided a link below.