Food is essential in our daily life. Some food can be eaten raw and some may also undergo some forms of preparation for reasons of safety, palatability and texture.
How was food prepared in ancient times?
- History of Cooking
- The earliest people ate raw foods picked from their surroundings.
- Food had to be eaten quickly before it went bad.
- The discovery of how to use fire to cook food
- Other methods of cooking were boiling and roasting.
- The Paleolithic diet was more nutritious than the early Neolithic diet.
- Neolithic Diet
- The invention of pottery allowed foods to be cooked more easily.
- Popularization of pigs, sheeps and goats as food
History of Cooking
The origins of cooking are obscure. Primitives may first have savoured roast meat by chance, when the flesh of a beast killed in a forest fire was found to be more palatable and easier to chew and digest than the customary raw meat.They probably did not deliberately cook food, though, until long after they had learned to use fire for light and warmth. It has been speculated that Peking man roasted meats, but no clear evidence supports the theory. From whenever it began, however, roasting spitted meats over fires remained virtually the sole culinary technique until the Palaeolithic Period, when the people of Southern France apparently began to steam their food over hot embers by wrapping it in wet leaves. Aside from such crude procedures as toasting wild grains on flat rocks and using shells, skulls, or hollowed stones to heat liquids, probably no further culinary advances were made until the introduction pottery during the Neolithic Period.
The earliest compound dish was a crude paste made by mixing water with the cracked kernels of wild grasses. This paste, toasted to crustiness when dropped on a hot stone, made the first bread.
The earliest people ate raw foods picked from their surroundings.
They would have picked their food from the forests and grasslands where they lived and eaten raw. They ate anything they could find, from a grub to a leopard to a mammoth.
In the earliest ''hunts'', which took place around 30 million years ago, a man would only catch small prey such as lizards, porcupines, tortoises, ground squirrels, moles, plump insects (still eaten in some cultures), and grubs.
Food had to be eaten quickly before it went bad.
Once they caught and killed a wild animal, all the meat had to be eaten immediately, as there was no means of storing it. Any that was not eaten very quickly rotted and caused health problems.
The discovery of how to use fire to cook food
This enabled them to eat a wider range of food. Cooked food was also tender to eat and did not require heavy chewing.
Cooking was done on open fires and meals may have developed into more social events. At this time, meals may have started to become as important as they have been in traditional societies ever since. The open fires were often made in shallow pits to conserve the heat and protect from the wind.
Cooking used easy to obtain items such as plant leaves and stones.
One cooking method was to dig a large hole, light a fire in it, place large stones on top and heat them to a high temperature, then place meat on top of the hot stones between layers of green plants and cover the whole thing with earth.
The layer of moist green plants was spread over the stones, followed by the meat with herbs, vegetables, nuts and other plants to add flavour. Another layer of moist plants was spread over the top, and finally the hole filled in with earth. The layers of moist plants protected the food from getting dirty and provided moisture for steam.
Other methods of cooking were boiling and roasting.
A different method of cooking was to fill a pit with water, and then drop heated stones into it to boil the water. Meat would then be dropped into the water to be boiled and more stones added to keep the water hot.
Roasting animals over spits was also common.
Small animals could easily be skewered, kebab-style, and placed on hot stones. Larger animals required the construction of a full-scale spit - a piece of wood shafted through the animal and hung over a fire by means of cross-sticks.
The Paleolithic diet was more nutritious than the early Neolithic diet.
Overall, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers would have experienced less malnutrition than the Neolithic farming tribes that followed.
This was because they had access to a wider variety of plants and foods, providing a more nutritious diet.
Early people often lived near the coast, supplementing their diet with seaweeds and shellfish.
Fish, both freshwater and seawater, were a very common feature of prehistoric diets.
Fish could be quite difficult to cook, so they were baked in wet clay.
If fish get too hot, their meat is easily charred. An effective method that prevented this was to cover the fish entirely in wet clay, then place it in a hot fire
After some time, the clay would be baked and the fish also. The clay covering would be broken and the fish was ready to eat.
Autumnal harvests of nuts and berries would bring groups inland to collect, prepare and store food to survive through winter.
The making of alcohol also started in the Paleolithic period.
It was also during the Paleolithic period that people first began fermenting grapes in animal skin pouches, to create wine.
Nearly every human society, since, has learned how to use plants to make alcohol.
Farming changed the diet of humans radically.
People settling down in one place were able to develop new, heavy implements for cooking. This changed what was cooked and how it was cooked.
Mortars and pestles were used for crushing and pounding wheat and barley seeds, to make bread. Nuts could also be pounded in this way.
The Neolithic was a period in the development of human technology that is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. It is the age of the use of both wild and domestic crops and the use of domesticated animals.
The Neolithic period saw the diet change to one of cereals and produce from domesticated animals.
The diet became restricted to a mixture of successfully cultivated cereal grains, such as wheat and barley, other cultivated plants (such as beans, cabbages, spinach, onions, garlic, cucumbers) and domesticated animal products, including milk.
Although the diet may have been supplemented by hunting and gathering, in some cultures there would have been a significant increase in starch and plant protein.
The invention of pottery allowed foods to be cooked more easily.
Pottery allowed liquids to be boiled over fires, so that porridge, stews and soups could be made much more easily. The spreading use of iron, after about 1000 BC, made the manufacture of pots, pans and cauldrons even easier.
Bronze was usually far too valuable to ancient people to be used for cooking, so it was not until the Iron Age that cooking with metal pots and implements really took off.
Popularization of pigs, sheeps and goats as food
Farming saw the introduction of animals that we still use for meat or dairy today.
As people started to move towards more settled communities, domestication of livestock saw animals that we are familiar with today. Pigs, sheep and goats became popular as food.
In the Bronze Age, sheep were the most popular meat and, during the Iron Age, pig breeds, similar to the saddleback today, were farmed.
Farming altered every aspect of life for our ancestors.
Better farming methods led to the production of enough crops to support larger populations. People were able to live in ever-larger settlements.
At first, settlements of a few families must have existed, but, within a thousand years or so, small towns of over a thousand inhabitants had appeared. From living in temporary huts, they started building mud-brick houses, of ever more elaborate design. Large public buildings soon followed, temples and palaces forming the focus of the communities. Technological advances continued to be made: pottery, woolen textiles, spinning and weaving.
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